#HowSheDidIt: Meet Dayo Akinrinade, Founder and CEO of Wisdom
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
I was born in London to Nigerian parents who have served as my inspiration throughout my life. I was fascinated with computers from a young age, which led me to pursue an education in technology. This set the foundation for my career in tech where I first started as an IT Management Consultant at the Big 4. Subsequently, driven by the lack of diversity in London’s tech ecosystem, joined the founding team of OneTech, London’s largest diversity in startups programme, backed by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation. This ultimately led me to found Wisdom, a new social audio app which connects an open, diverse audio community centred on knowledge-sharing, where people gather to have conversations that matter.
Tell us about your business
Wisdom is a new social audio app where people connect to have conversations that matter. Wisdom enables mentors to give live talks on a set topic and offer listeners timed slots to ask questions - all talks are recorded which enables listeners to playback talks and learn in their own time.
Unlike other social audio applications, like Clubhouse, Wisdom is designed from the ground up to help you find a conversation that matters to you and this brings a level of intimacy and interaction not seen in this way before. Inspired by TikTok, Wisdom utilises an algorithm-friendly design which aims to land you on a live talk that is relevant to you, or to introduce you to people that are likely to be of interest for you to meet.
Since it’s launch in October 2021, Wisdom mentors have shared over 609,000 minutes of insights and guidance, while listeners have absorbed more than 7.4 million minutes worth of knowledge. The Wisdom mentor community is particularly welcoming and when we connect two people for an intimate one-to-one meaningful conversation, that’s the magic moment. That’s when Wisdom has not only the potential to change someone’s day, but to change someone’s life.
How did you come up with the idea? What is your main inspiration and driver for your business and how do you create positive change in the world?
As a Black woman in tech, having worked on the founding team of London’s largest diversity startup program OneTech, I've observed firsthand how lack of access to mentors contributes to systemic inequity and disadvantages founders from minority groups. Also, I observed that would-be mentors on other platforms like LinkedIn have a clear problem: they have no way of engaging the many inbound requests for advice that they receive so they ignore them all, unless they get a "warm introduction," which is itself a crystallisation of systemic inequality.
Hence, Wisdom was born from the mission I had to democratise access to mentorship, using the power of social audio technology.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
In Summer 2020 on #BlackOutTuesday, Twitter was awash with investors and tech leaders pledging their support for Black Lives Matter by offering mentoring office hours. Unfortunately as the Twitter timeline is transient, the well-meaning offers to mentor were only availed by those who happened to see the posts, before they were lost in the noise of social media. At the time I thought, ‘if only there was a way to bottle and distribute this mentorship opportunity, so everyone could benefit’ and that’s when I committed to solving the problem of democratising access to mentorship.
The first step to building the app was to put pencil to paper and rough sketching to test different design ideas for the app.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them? Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
A key challenge has been developing the ability to manage uncertainty. Typically, early stage startups are aiming to achieve something that’s never been done and are by nature, uncertain. Innovation and uncertainty go hand in hand and Wisdom is pioneering a unique one-to-one live audio format. To gain insight on how to cope with the constant uncertainty, I sought out mentors with experience in scaling startups. I observed how they held onto their vision despite the uncertainty they held onto their vision, focused on the available metrics and remained flexible to pivot when required. Being able to tap into the wisdom and learn from the experiences of others who have successfully overcome these challenges have been invaluable.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Our first major win was Wisdom being one of 7 startups, and the only one representing EMEA region, to be selected to participate in this year’s Apple's Entrepreneur Camp, which was an intensive, hands-on technology lab where we worked one-on-one with Apple experts and engineers to significantly accelerate the app’s roadmap.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
The amount of money required to take a tech-focused startup from inception to sale-up is typically well beyond the capacity of founders and their friends and family to finance. This created a need to raise investment for Wisdom. Traditionally, tech founders are expected to start out with a friends and family round, however this was a challenging route for me to pursue. This is because of the knownracial wealth gap which is well documented in both America and Great Britain, where the Black African household median wealth was reported at £34,000 versus the white British household at £314,000. Seeking external investments was also not an easy task due toa challenging business environment for women in tech, particularly minority women founders. Black women still receive 0.002% of venture capital backing and I was fortunate enough to be one of the few who were able to raise $2 million thanks to the support of First Round Capital and a number of angel investors.
What has been your best investment?
I think that investing in oneself does not come naturally to everyone, particularly those that grew up in an environment with limited resources; oftentimes, individuals may overlook or feel guilty about investing in themself. During my time as a big 4 management consultant, I decided that I wanted to work in startups, I applied for a role at an accelerator but was unsuccessful as although I had deep experience in enterprise technology, I did not have startup experience. I invested in a Master of Science degree in Technology Entrepreneurship at University College London, which I did part-time while working. The course introduced me to the concept of lean startup, which is a very different approach to traditional enterprise technology delivery.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Whilst building the company I have made mistakes where I self-disqualified myself (or my company) from opportunities such as entering for an awards category. Upon reading the awards criteria, I decided that I did not qualify and therefore did not apply, when in reality, I had a decent chance. Studies have shown that female professionals do not apply for jobs or opportunities unless they meet one hundred percent of the criteria. Going forward I am mindful to not self-disqualify from opportunities, as Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So take the shot!
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
I believe there are still barriers for success for women working in the startup ecosystem, although the barriers are often invisible and structural which presents an additional challenge to overcome. Organisations that operate within the start-up ecosystem (e.g. accelerators, VCs and angel syndicates) should seek to embed diversity and inclusion into every aspect of the organisation, including brand, team, processes and policy. Once a company is authentically diverse, this will go some way to breaking down the barriers.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Particularly in the early stages of starting a business, it is critical to work with people that believe in your vision. This includes the team and even external contractors; if your startup lawyer is enthused about what you are building, they will go the extra mile to deliver and may even offer up valuable introductions from their network. A CEO must be able to sell the vision, generate excitement and attract a great team who buy into the vision and in turn, become advocates.
What has been your biggest learning of 2022 so far?
Startups have finite resources, as the Wisdom platform grows, we must constantly prioritise the roadmap of what features to build next. To date, Wisdom listeners have absorbed more than 7.4 million minutes worth of knowledge - I have learned to listen to our user feedback and observe how the community uses the platform and let those insights guide what we build next.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I love reading the ideas our users have for the app and working to bring them to the community. This is made possible by innovation, the whole app is built with an algorithm-friendly design meant to enable like-minded people to connect, share ideas and have conversations across dozens of topics from parenting and startups to technology and dating - whatever subject matters to them. Today when you have a question, you Google the question and find information, In five years I would like to see Wisdom as the go-to app when people are searching for knowledge.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
- To anyone building a consumer digital product who is focussed on engagement and retention. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
- Resources for early-stage founders who may be bootstrapping to prove the concept: can take advantage of SASS (Software-As-A-Service) tools which enable entrepreneurs to achieve professional results – for example Canva for Graphic design, Zapier for automating workflows, Amplitude for product analytics.
- Andrew Chen has amassed an insightful collection of literature on startups, marketing and growth.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
As a passionate Founder-CEO, working on your business often does not feel like work, so it is all too easy to work twelve hour days and pour endless hours into building your business. However, this creates a tangible risk of CEO burnout, which puts business growth at risk. I advise new CEOs to be consistent in their efforts, over the long term, consistency wins over intensity every time.
Finally, where can we find you/how can we support you?
To support, simply head to the app store and download Wisdom. Within seconds of downloading, you can be engaged in stimulating conversations on topics that matter to you. Each of us has a unique life experience and we can benefit others by sharing and Wisdom is a great place to do it!
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