Kulfi Bites: The power of virtual community when building a content platform

Samia Abbasi wearing orange and yellow

We started Kulfi Bites during a pandemic. And it would not have been possible without our community. 

Samia Abbasi, Editor

I’ve heard countless stories of people who haven’t found a community where they can truly be themselves. Sometimes, you’re part of a community that doesn’t quite feel right for you, but you linger in it as you slowly search for a new one. I’ve definitely felt this way before countless times — until 2020 when I found out about Kulfi, ironically, through a virtual community called Little Brown Diary. I began working with Kulfi in February 2020 helping to build our content roadmap. Along the way, I’ve met team members and collaborators that are now life-long friends and mentors. These are folks who I’ve never met in person, nor shared a pot of tea with. Some of my teammates joke that I could be an AI bot since they’ve never met me IRL, and I live in Silicon Valley. Who’s to say?

Following the heels of the first COVID lockdowns, Kulfi Bites launched its first piece on April 1st, 2020. Virtually all our interviews, brainstorms, bondings, and meetings have been conducted through Zoom, Google Meet, and FaceTime, allowing us to seamlessly connect with South Asian beauty and skincare enthusiasts around the world (I have so many time zones added to my Clock app!). 

Early on, I had this thought: Isn’t it profound to be a South Asian person interviewing a South Asian person? Something in that exchange brings such a level of familiarity to the work. I am reminded of how important BIPOC journalists and editors are, in industries largely composed of people who are white and privileged. 

'By us, for us' spaces can be difficult to create but are so essential!

Kulfi Bites interviews and collaborations have often led to a friendship or a maintained connection. Even when Zoom acts up or the internet is slow, we’re still able to convey our appreciation, encouragement, and concern in gentle and powerful ways. 

Some of the people we’ve interviewed have raised an excellent point: 

Part of representation entails creating it for ourselves and manifesting it by cultivating a space for people we would have loved to see more of growing up. 

If representation is the goal, Kulfi Bites is our labor of love. 

We all know that building a content platform comes with a steep learning curve and takes consistency and persistence. Just in the past 10 months of launching our platform and producing 62+ pieces of content, we’ve changed many of our internal and external practices to inch closer toward our vision and goals—and we will continue to do so. 

The parameters of social media platforms aren’t necessarily conducive for community building. What makes content go ‘viral’ and ‘gain a following,’ can be such an abstract concept. Even so, we’ve had meaningful conversations with Kulfi community members on their beauty journeys, hopes, and dreams amongst comments and DM’s. We’ve been able to build community while staying true to our values and focus: 

Bite-sized stories that celebrate self-expression and challenge norms. 

When I asked Pritika, head of partnerships at Kulfi, what her favorite part of Kulfi Bites has been, she didn’t pinpoint a particular project as I thought she would. She told me that the first call we had with Kulfi Bites contributing writers in December 2020 was very memorable to her. “Sometimes, communities and people exist in silos,” she explains, “And to come together and meet South Asian women of different backgrounds who share common experiences and perspectives was an incredible experience.” 

a picture of an office space with two screens
My desk space in my room aka Kulfi Bites HQ!

I wanted to share some actions that have had a profound impact on the way we think about building community and content during the pandemic: 

1. Leading & working with compassion. 

This is essential! Our capacities with work have shifted and areas of our lives have blended together during the pandemic. I’ve truly seen and learned what it looks like to give and receive compassion in the (virtual) workplace because of the Kulfi team. Yes, a leader must set deadlines and expectations, and at the same time, a leader must also prioritize the wellbeing of their ecosystem. It’s not ‘soft’ to take time off as a team member or be flexible about a deadline as a leader. 

2. Continuing to question and re-question.

My peers and I periodically take a step back to survey the landscape of representation on social media, only to come back wishing for more specificity, more variety. We’ve asked ourselves: 

“What do South Asian Gen Z and Millennials actually want to read and see on social media?” 

And also, “Do we really feel represented by major outlets and platforms?” We’ve slowly been able to chip away at this question and expose the answers underneath: stories that look and feel like us. That is what we’re working toward.

3. Putting in the work even when it’s hard to feel motivated.

This Ira Glass quote has brought me some clarity as a 22-year-old writer, and it might help you feel a little better, too: “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. 

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. 

And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.” Patience and consistency are key, even though it’s easier said than done. 

4. Maintaining connections for the long-term. 

It might be simple, but part of what helps a content platform move forward is the intentionality of the connections. South Asian creatives put time and energy into their work and being able to share their stories is an honor. From start to finish of a project, we try our best to infuse trust through simple interactions that add comfortability and build into an ongoing connection. I try my best to treat each piece of content with care, and I get really excited when a featured person tells me, “You really brought out my personality in this piece!”

So, as we continue to experience the constraints and exhaustion that comes with a global pandemic, we will continue to remember the transcendent positivity that virtual community brings. 

We are so grateful to our Kulfi community who we learn from, grow with, and mutually support. 

Here’s to creating more exciting Kulfi Bites content together, and here’s to Kulfi Beauty’s anticipated launch in February 2021! *Virtual hug*

 

About — Samia Abbasi is the content lead & editor for Kulfi, based in the Bay Area, CA. She has a degree in English Creative Writing from Mills College. As a volunteer of South Asians 4 Black Lives, she co-leads the communications team and has previous editorial experience with The 1947 Partition Archive and Hachette Book Group. She is an avid reader, anime-watcher, tea-drinker, and loves spending time with her cats. You can read her blog at samiaabbasi.com and follow her on Twitter & Instagram @samiabossee.


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