Issa Rae is most known for her work as an actor, writer, producer, and comedian, which spans from the HBO series Insecure to the Netflix series The Lovebirds. She is currently working on a number of projects, including the forthcoming HBOMax series Rap Sh*t, the docuseries Sweet Life, and the Emmy Award-nominated A Black Lady Sketch Show.
However, the multi-hyphenate also manages to juggle serial entrepreneurship with an emphasis on neighborhood small enterprises. In addition to HOORAE, an umbrella media company that houses film, TV, digital, music, and management divisions, Rae also supports or co-owns Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen, a gathering place for creatives with several locations in the Los Angeles region, Sienna Naturals, a vegan hair care line rooted in sustainability.
She hopes to inspire and collaborate with other Black businesses along the road. Rae has teamed up with American Express to promote ByBlack, the first national certification program for Black ownership. ByBlack was founded to encourage the growth of Black-owned companies and to offer the Black community useful options like business certification, educational programs, grants, and finance.
She also appears in the American Express Business Class series of free educational videos, which highlight business ideas and typical difficulties that new business owners frequently encounter. “I registered my businesses with it," says Rae. "It’s an opportunity to have my businesses officially certified by an accredited organization.”
Rae is proud to concentrate on small businesses, unlike many celebrity entrepreneurs who align themselves with multinational corporations and venture-backed startups. “I am very local. I love brick and mortars. I tend to focus on places I love to be at, or products that I use—it’s very self-centered in a way,” she says, laughing. “I think about the void I need to fill and tackle that. But it’s not about what’s sexy or popular, but a genuine need and an appreciation for a business.”
Ajay Relan and Yonnie Hagos established Hilltop for the first time in 2017. Rae got involved when they grew to include her neighborhood of Inglewood in 2018. She can't wait to deliver Hilltop Coffee to the Los Angeles International Airport right now. The United Airlines terminal's cafe will open in the upcoming months. “It’s really hard to get businesses in LAX so to be able to have placement there alongside Randy's Donuts, which is so iconic for Inglewood, establishes us in a real way,” says Rae.
She also saw to it that Hoorae's headquarters were located close to her home. “It was a big deal to purchase property in South L.A., and our ultimate goal is to have a studio and that is in the works.” Rae adds: “I have such a love for where I come from and my city, and I also just approach my business ventures with my lifestyle in mind.”
One of the reasons her portfolio includes clean beauty and wellness is because she builds enterprises that complement her lifestyle. This time, the company is run by a family. Rae and her sister-in-law Hannah Diop founded Sienna Naturals in 2020. (opens in new tab). She acknowledges Diop as the mastermind behind the original recipes, but she's proud to have contributed to the development of the upcoming line of goods. “I had a very big part in influencing the general development and testing of it.”
Rae also claims that despite the fact that her production company, Hoorae, has many different divisions, she is extremely strategic about the direction of the business by remaining lean and keeping an eye on all resources, particularly human resources. “For so many companies, the first instinct is to go big and go on a rapid hiring spree," says Rae. “With Hoorae we’ve been really intentional about our growth. I, personally, have been very clear that I wear many hats and there’s always an opportunity for others to maximize their potential. It’s an environment where people can help us be cost efficient.”
“Growing and scaling your business can take on so many meanings and come with so much pressure to move fast," says Rae. "But it’s important to move at your own pace.” Sage advice from a local mogul.