My name is Bayo, I’m Nigerian and I’ve lived in the UK for the past 19 years. For ten of those years, I have been a business person. That means I’ve seen the world that surrounds me through the following lens, “will it make money?” If you were talking about your favourite film, I was asking how much it grossed in the box office. If you were talking about fantasy football, I was asking what the subscription fee is for the app and how often you make in-app purchases.
I grew up nervous and anxious. I’d seen my African immigrant parents build and lose a business, but on the flip side, I grew up in the come-up of Facebook when a group of guys in a dorm room at Harvard University showed the rest of us that anything is possible. My mistake was assuming that everyone was on the same playing field.
I’m a big fan of Van Jones, not because I’ve watched everything he’s produced, but because I watched one specific thing and it summed up something I had been struggling to put into clear terms for a very long time. Van once told a story of his time at Harvard University saying,
“I didn’t know until I got out of Law School that people were being invited into Professors’ homes. I didn’t know that. I thought I was doing my work, raising my hand, turning things in on time. There’s a whole world that was going on where Professors were picking students and developing them to become Supreme Court clerks, and I was some black kid from a [state] school and I didn’t even know that was possible.”
That is exactly the point. While I was at Durham University, dreaming of being the next big tech startup founder to build something that took over the world, I did it based on what I thought was possible. I entered a Dragon’s Den competition at my university and I came second, that got me a little bit of money, but to run a tech company, you need a lot more than £300 and a gift certificate to the school cafeteria. So, my next options were, find an angel investor like the ones on Dragon’s Den. I tried that; who knew high-net-worth individuals were so difficult to come by? My next option was to get a loan and that wasn’t an option. I was 20 with no collateral and no one that would be my amigo; no one could be my loan guarantor because no one I knew owned anything worth guaranteeing with. People say you start with family and friends, but what happens when your family and friends are just as broke as you are?
I had my own Van Jones moment when one day my white middle-class university housemate told me that her parents were giving her a large chunk of money to run her fledgeling business; just like that. In the days that followed her announcement, I felt like I was in the Matrix and I had seen the source code. After a couple of years of fighting it, I finally came to the realisation that the world I wanted to live in, one built entirely on meritocracy, didn’t exist. So, one day with my company strong and present in 12 universities, with over 75 volunteer staff and over 1200 weekly users, I decided to quit. I didn’t make the decision lightly, but I did make it eventually.
I recently found out that another white middle-class undergraduate colleague that I met during that fateful Dragon’s Den competition went on to join Techstars soon after graduation – I didn’t even know things like accelerators existed then. He is now retired and enjoying the life his access to networks of knowledge and resource have been able to afford him. He had networks in tech, in the UK’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and the VC pool, and I had the Google search engines. Most people think that search engines have democratised access information, but if you don’t know which questions to ask, Google is just a reflection of your immediate circle. It’s like Instagram’s algorithm; you think you’re seeing everything, but really you’re seeing about a fifth of the posts from the people you decided to follow.
Helpless to change the infrastructure in which I had to exist, I found a new dream; I would get a job, get paid and would do my best to not fly too close to the sun. A few years later, 2 Masters done, a few accolades to my name and a few new scars, I realised that the problems I had experienced in the business world were the same ones I experienced in the working world. Again, I found myself in need of help but unsure of whom to turn to; unsure whom to ask or what to ask. I felt entirely caged in. Sure that I couldn’t be the only person dealing with these issues in business or work, I began having conversations and found allies; people that wanted to access networks and opportunities that they would ordinarily not be able to reach into. I decided to turn my attention to solving that problem.
I built a community of like-minded individuals and began running events in the offices of companies like Facebook and, wouldn’t you know it, Google. I was building a network of my own so that I could open that network up to other people. Despite the wealth of good intentions, the question quickly arose, “will it make money?” I got my answer when I began getting requests from three groups, startup founders in need of opportunities, corporations seeking to give more opportunities to a wider range of people and, almost out of the blue, I found that charities were also interested in addressing the diversity issue they had been seeing through their external and internal operations. There you have it.
Hence, here at Do it Now Now, we work to champion ethnic diversity in entrepreneurship, creativity and philanthropy. We develop and deliver programs and campaigns that empower and edify communities we fight for (people of Afro-Caribbean descent living in under-served communities around the world) Thankfully, it’s working out.
Do it Now Now has helped thousands of people expand their networks, form collaborations, build better businesses, form friendships and more. We’re all about opening doors, creating more seats at the table for the people that need them, and giving those people the tools to open doors and pull up chairs for others as well.