Global Head of Creator Marketing
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His name is Kudzi Chikumbu, but you may know him as Sir Candle Man. When he is not leading TikTok’s creator community, which counts 100 million Americans among its ranks, he unboxes, sniffs, and reviews scented candles under the alias. Chikumbu could have had a staider career; he formerly worked as an accountant and consultant at Deloitte. An internship with Hulu, the video streaming service, during his MBA years at Stanford changed that trajectory. Chikumbu joined TikTok through its (for now) Beijing-based parent ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly, a lip-synching app, where he managed entertainment partnerships for two years. While ByteDance searches for suitors to take over TikTok before a U.S. ban takes effect (the White House is uncomfortable with its China ties), Chikumbu is making sure the app continues to make people tick—even beyond its core Gen Z fan base. There is no bigger social media sensation at the moment, and it’s Chikumbu’s job to keep the momentum going for longer than the typical viral star’s 15 seconds of fame. Oh, and in case you were wondering, his eminence’s current favorite jar of wicked wax is LAFCO’s Feu Du Bois, whose fragrances of sandalwood, leather, and frankincense are meant, the company says, “to evoke the mood and feeling of being in the ski house.”
He caught a documentary about the final season of Oprah Winfrey's talk show—Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes. That viewing sparked an interest in the world of television and production. "Seeing people in action, coming up with ideas, developing them and bring them to life, struck a mega chord, and I realized I, too, could take my ideas and transform them into creative initiatives," he says.
Such notions simmered as Chikumbu toiled through the first half of his 20s as an accountant. Ultimately, however, he followed his dream, ditching the world of finance for a career in digital media. Now 33, and based in the U.S. for the past seven years, he contributes to TikTok initiatives geared toward fostering inclusion and bolstering talent.
As 2021 began, Chikumbu helped hatch TikTok for Black Creatives. Developed with media company Macro, this three-month incubator program features forums, town halls and educational events designed to nurture emerging artists and musicians.
Other like-minded efforts include:
• The #MakeBlackHistory Creator Summit, held in February 2020 in Los Angeles, with 100 Black creators attending a weekend of community building and workshops with luminaries such as Tracee Ellis Ross, Tyra Banks and Terry Crews, who spoke about goal setting, perseverance and career development.
• #BlackVoices Live, a livestream series produced with Essence and hosted by Makayladid that just wrapped its second season, featuring guests such as John Legend, Bozoma Saint John and Alicia Keys.
• #BlackTikTok, which provides a space for more than 400 Black creators to connect, share feedback and provide content strategy. The program includes webinars, discussions with the TikTok team and community building.
• #MyPride, a celebration featuring the TikTok Trailblazers, 25 LGBTQ+ creators who define what it means to embrace self-pride.
• Amplify Diverse Voices, consisting of in-app PSA videos and a mobile site that serves as a portal to showcase diverse creators and highlight educational resources.
Chikumbu was recently honored by ADCOLOR, which advocates for diversity across creative and tech, as its top innovator for 2020. That distinction recognizes "an employee who embodies progress and imagination," and who consistently "stands out among peers as an inclusion game changer and brilliant pioneer in their role, creating breakthrough developments and/or improvements, whether tangible or intangible."