Ablorde Ashigbi built a startup on his belief in the power of networking

When Ablorde Ashigbi left Pritzker Group Venture Capital to build his own company, 4Degrees, in 2017, everyone around him was surprised. “You’re leaving VC? The best job on earth? Why the hell would you do that?”

Before 4Degrees, Ablorde had never thought about being an entrepreneur. “Building a company is really hard, and the rate of failure tends to be high. You should only do it if it’s something you’re really passionate about, or if you just can’t not do it,” he says. 

For him, and for 4Degrees, helping people build strong professional relationships is the driving force. He has witnessed the importance and power of networking firsthand—in his work experiences in the consulting and venture capital realms—and within his West African immigrant family, who came to America with very few professional connections. 

“There’s no more important asset in today’s modern economy than your network, and so many industries are incredibly relationship driven,” Ablorde explains. 4Degrees is a startup with a vision to equalize opportunity by enabling people to build stronger professional relationships with the help of artificial intelligence.

By plugging into communication and social channels, 4Degrees helps professionals understand who they and their teams know—and how well they know them. The app scours relevant information about the people in your network and provides pointers on how to reconnect with them, helping a team manage their leverage and optimizing connections for business purposes. In plainer terms, 4Degrees’ website explains, “Our platform identifies the right connections for you to focus on, works with you to strengthen those relationships over time, and helps you activate your network when you need it.”

Having been featured on Chicago Inno and Crain’s Chicago Business, 4Degrees is now providing services to professional teams in four verticals: VC & PE (private equity), real estate, recruiting, and M&A/IB (mergers and acquisitions/investment banking). Their clients have been growing in double digits monthly, a rate that the team and Ablorde himself are excited about. 

An Idea Based in ExperienceAblorde headshot

From a young age, Ablorde was aware of how a lack of professional connections can limit what one is able to accomplish. “Many members of my broader family had very little in the way of professional connectivity. They are all capable, smart and talented people, but a lot of them haven’t had the level of professional success that you would expect, given their levels of talent,” Ablorde explained. 

His own career path stands in stark contrast to those of his extended family. Relationships are everything in his professional life. Ablorde’s first job out of college was at global management consulting firm Bain & Company, and the only reason he even knew what consulting was was because one of his close friends—an intern at Bain—introduced him to a program designed to give minority college students early exposure to consulting careers. 

As a consultant, and later, a venture capitalist, Ablorde’s daily work was infused with relationship-building, or searching for connections who had some specific area of expertise. During this time, he found it difficult to manage and track all of his connections. 

How come that there aren’t many good products and technologies that help professionals manage and get value out of the connections? That question was the start of 4Degrees. 

Ablorde and his co-founder (and co-worker at Pritzker), David Vandegrift, decided to codify what they’ve learned in their work about building and maintaining relationships into a product that would help others—in a way that’s easier and more convenient. For example, 4Degrees can detect trip schedules and surface people in your network who are based in that travel destination, offering an opportunity to reconnect. This function came from both founders’ own experiences. 

Relationships Make It Possible

After working on a prototype  most nights and weekends while continuing their work at Pritzker, Ablorde and David decided to devote their time and energy to 4Degrees full-time in 2017. They went to Techstars Chicago, one of the best-known startup accelerators. 

The experience was extremely valuable not only because of the $120,000 investment they received, which enabled them to expand their team and brought in new design and engineering talents, but also because of the relationships they were able to build through the program. “We were blown away by the level of mentorship and support from some of the best operators, builders, and investors in the world,” Ablorde wrote on Medium that year.  What’s more, their first customer was introduced to them via a mentor they met during Techstars. For Ablorde, that was the first big milestone for the company. 

In fact, there are a lot more milestones for 4Degrees that sprang from the network Ablorde and David had cultivated. Their first hire was referred to them by a friend, and their first few investors, like Pritzker Group and R41 Capital, were people they’d either worked closely with or considered strong professional acquaintances from their prior jobs.

Inside the office, Ablorde and David also work to build great professional relationships within the team. The company has a lot of traditions, from practical check-ins like weekly 1:1s and feedback meetings, to more unique gatherings like weekly tech talks and monthly team dinners. There’s also a flexible work-from-home policy that enables team members to accommodate various life events as they see fit. “In my view, the best teams not only work towards a mission, but work for each other,” Ablorde said. 

Building on that, Ablorde says that if he had to give future entrepreneurs one piece of advice, it would be to invest in relationships. “Figure out ways to both deepen the existing relationships you have, and to meet new people. There are lots of ways to do this—publishing online, attending events and meetups, hanging out with others who share your passions, reconnecting with old friends, using software… Pick some combination of ways that are authentic to you and go!”

The Future of the Journey

For Ablorde, 4Degrees still has a long way to go, but he’s determined and eager to continue the journey. “There were different points in time where it became clearer and clearer that we were building a product that people valued and wanted,” Ablorde said. In the short term, the company will focus on the four verticals it currently serves, but will definitely be addressing a broader set in the long run. 

4Degrees also strives to stay close to their customers. The team conducts a number of customer interviews every week and keeps track of several engagement metrics to make sure that their customers are truly taking advantage of and enjoying their product. 

In conclusion, Ablorde reflects, “Nothing is simple, from getting the right people on board to ensuring that you can build the company sustainably and rapidly. But seeing customers be really excited about what 4Degrees is doing, and seeing team members grow and advance their own skill sets, and seeing how this plugs into their own ambitions, it’s all of those things that make the journey.”


Ashlee Ammons of Mixtroz on conquering the fear of starting over

In 2014, Ashlee Ammons was living a comfortable life in New York City, producing celebrity driven events and working in brand marketing. She’s close with her mom, Kerry Shrader, and one day Ashlee called to vent about an awkward experience she’d had at a conference mixer. The two women realized that, despite having strong networks in their respective fields and feeling confident in their social skills, they’d both found it difficult to strike up conversation in a professional setting—especially in the digital age. After four hours on the phone, the duo hatched an idea. They saw themselves as natural connectors, able to bring people together from all walks of life, and wondered, “How do we do this with software?” 

Their answer? Mixtroz. A mashup of “Mixer” and “intros,” Mixtroz is an app designed to help event attendees connect, breaking the ice and building engagement while collecting real-time data for event organizers. In 2018, Kerry and Ashlee became the 37th and 38th black women to have raised $1 million in funding, and their clients include TEDX, Alabama Power, and universities that use the app to help incoming freshmen meet new people. So how did this mother/daughter team get from a phone conversation to co-founding their own company? Read on.

Go “all in”

After they came up with the idea for Mixtroz and decided to forge ahead, Kerry put in long hours in Nashville while Ashlee moonlighted from New York, holding down her full-time job. Ashlee liked predictability and order, and she enjoyed her big-city lifestyle—entrepreneurship was a total departure from who she was at the time. But in October 2015, Kerry was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a month, she went through surgery and radiation and still never once lost focus on Mixtroz. Kerry’s determination in the face of hardship inspired Ashlee to dive fully into their journey together. Ashlee packed her bags and moved into her family’s home in Nashville, surrendering her professional identity to start from scratch with her mother. It was a humbling refresh when she had already risen to the top of her career. “Entrepreneurship made me do it again,” she says. 

Take care of yourself

During that first summer in Nashville, Ashlee suffered from FOMO, watching from the sidelines as her friends explored extraordinary things. As a 28-year-old living at home, she saw life passing her by and started experiencing signs of depression. “Entrepreneurship is hard. If people don’t take care of themselves mentally and physically, it’s a recipe for disaster,” she says. Ashlee sought treatment to address her depression, and eventually got back on track. Still, founding Mixtroz—like almost every startup—meant pushing through a slow start accompanied by rejection. “There’s a huge misconception that entrepreneurship is a sprint when it’s actually a marathon,” says Ashlee. Blocking out the noise of naysayers, Ashlee and Kerry persisted: refining and iterating on their product, listening to feedback from early adopters, and continuing to push their product forward. 

Do your homework

The two founders pursued every opportunity to meet with investors and began entering pitch competitions. “If I hear anybody saying anything contrary to me, my mom, my business, my team, I am ferocious. I don’t have a soft spoken bone in my body,” Ashlee said. This served her well, especially when competition was tight. At the Rise of the Rest competition in May 2018, Ashlee pitched Mixtroz to Steve Case, former CEO of AOL. “We may not have had the best product,” Ashlee recalls, “But I was the most prepared and I came ready to win.” Case commended Ashlee after she finished her pitch, the last slide of which included an African proverb that Case wrote about in his book, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In an effort to tailor the presentation to her audience, Ashlee did some homework beforehand that ultimately helped her win the competition. She walked away with $100,000, and she and her mom decided to relocate from Nashville to Birmingham, Alabama, where the competition had taken place.

Find the right geographic fit

Ashlee and Kerry had already spent time in Birmingham, where they participated in Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator. When asked what Mixtroz brings to the city today, Ashlee says, “We are literally reshaping what people think of entrepreneurship. We are making it more colorblind, more inclusive, more age agnostic, more gender agnostic—that is a great thing.” Birmingham itself is a city that implements coding programs into core curriculums and provides proper resources so that young adults don’t feel the need to move away from Alabama to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. The city has redefined entrepreneurship so that it’snot just “a sport for the elite,” as Ashlee says. She adds, “I want their journey to be a bit easier than mine was.” 

“I am as much of an entrepreneur as a guy who puts a lawnmower in the back of his truck and realizes that he can offer something that the competition can’t,” Ashlee continues. She credits Birmingham’s environment with helping Mixtroz to thrive, even positing that she and Kerry wouldn’t have been able to pursue their business anywhere else. “Birmingham listened and didn’t assume. We’ve had such an ugly history here. It’s not lost on me that my grandma is 90 and she lived in Alabama during [the fight for] civil rights, yet my mom and I raised a million dollars here.” 

Change the narrative

Although Ashlee and Kerry had a limited knowledge of entrepreneurship before embarking on their Mixtroz journey, the thing that mattered most was that they cared about solving the problem they had unearthed: how to connect individuals at networking events and gather data in the digital age. Their early promise and dedication was seen by family and friends, who raised $200,000 to fund Mixtroz at its outset. This was at a time where African American females, on average, were raising $36,000—an upsetting number when compared to white males who, at the same stage, were raising an average total of $1.3 million. From the earliest part of her startup journey, Ashlee learned an indelible takeaway: “Don’t let the fear of not knowing something stop you from starting.”


Amanda DoAmaral closes a $615K seed round—and opens up about her roller coaster year as a founder

Amanda DoAmaral is the founder and CEO of Fiveable, an edtech livestream platform with a growing user base of teachers and students from every state in the US. She has described Fiveable as Twitch for education: “If kids can get help with video games, they should be able to get help with homework, too.” amanda doamaral headshot

Fiveable focuses on preparing students for AP exams, and—as of November 2019—the platform has hosted livestreams for close to 30,000 unique users. For the 2018-19 school year, Fiveable students reported a 92% pass rate across the seven subjects offered, while the national average was 55%. (Full disclosure: Beta Boom was one of Fiveable’s earliest backers. Amanda earned $20K in capital and a spot in our Salt Lake program in June 2018.)

News hits for Fiveable suggest a near-meteoric rise: after Beta Boom’s early vote of confidence, Amanda posted a viral YouTube video advocating for students in an exchange with a College Board exec, then she and her tiny team earned a spot at gener8tor, a Wisconsin-based accelerator which promises $100K in investment, and in June 2019 she impressed celebrity entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis enough to garner $10K of his personal capital on top of taking second place at the 5 Lakes Pitch competition.

What’s more, the company announced it closed on a $615K seed round just after the new year. But rather than let that money tell her story, Amanda took to the company’s website to speak frankly about how Fiveable almost didn’t make it through 2019. We’ve pulled together some of her notes on the struggles faced and lessons learned on her startup journey so far.

Follow your passion—which sometimes means taking a detour

Amanda joined Teach for America right out of college, moving from Boston to Oakland to teach AP World History and Geography to public high school students. At first she wasn’t sure she was qualified to teach AP courses, but it turned out she loved it. After five years, however, she had to confront the fact that teaching wasn’t financially sustainable for her. “I was paying more for my student loans than my rent,” and Bay Area rental prices weren’t cheap. What she didn’t realize was that staring down her own financial precarity would be the spark for a much-needed startup.

Learn to see yourself as an entrepreneur

Amanda left her teaching job, traveled a bit, then moved back to the East Coast. Her next job involved making fundraising calls to potential campaign donors, and many of the people who gave money were startup founders. At that point, she had only an abstract idea of what startups and entrepreneurship looked like. But she started researching how to build a business, and realized, “I could have an idea, try it, and pitch it to people.” This was 2017, she was living with other young campaigners and looking for a way to use what she’d learned as a teacher. “It was the students who lit the way,” she explains. Kids from the school where she’d taught were asking for support, so Amanda started livestreaming AP history lessons for them. “It didn’t start out as ‘I’m gonna build a startup’—it started out as ‘I’m gonna help people [in the way] I know I can help them.’”

Turn your struggles into an asset

The fact that Amanda hadn’t ever considered founding a tech business is one indication of her “outsider” status in the startup world. But reflecting further on how that’s helped her (and her business) succeed, she notes, “I’ve always felt like I’ve had to work ten times harder to get to do whatever I have to do. Whether it was as a kid or in college, I knew I had to go faster and that’s how I’ve approached founding this company. I think that’s part of the advantage—knowing that people are going to overlook me and so I have to shoot higher than they’re gonna expect so that I can come out on top. I’m pretty sure that all female founders and founders of color operate in that way, and that’s probably what propels these businesses forward.”

Sometimes you need to go a little “nuts” 

From her first unofficial livestream to the day she completed Beta Boom’s startup program in 2018, not even three months had passed. Amanda returned from Salt Lake City with a clearer view of herself as a founder, then promptly moved back in with her mom and got to work on what she’s called the craziest thing she’s done on her startup journey: The Fiveable House. “I knew I needed a team, [but] I didn’t know any marketers or developers. I didn’t know anybody outside of my universe of teachers. The only way I could think to move this idea forward was to rent a house in Philly and convince people to come live and work with me—for basically nothing. It was nuts!” But it worked. The Fiveable house drew in Amanda’s first two employees and has since moved to Madison, then Milwaukee—where Amanda still lives and works with teammates Tan Ho and Aaron Levin.

Let your users be your guide 

As Fiveable expands its course offerings and experiments with new formats, Amanda stays attuned to what students and teachers are asking for, “because they seem to know what I should do next more than anybody.” What’s more, she’s also thinking about generational trends outside her immediate platform, observing, “This generation of teenagers is very connected. We’re seeing this with [activism]—teenagers are running massive movements because they’re connected to each other. But we’re not seeing that with education. When you think about a teenager right now, they’re on their phone, they’re hopping around on YouTube, they’re watching videos on Twitch, they’re on Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok—but where is the learning happening? I think what we’re trying to do is just connect to where kids are right now.”

Don’t be afraid to operate outside of a tech hub

Since starting Fiveable in Maine, Amanda and her team have worked in Philadelphia, Madison, and Milwaukee. Beta Boom seeks out startups that may be overlooked due to geography, and Amanda explains how being based somewhere “small” can be an asset:  “These startup ecosystems are so much smaller than Silicon Valley’s. Even just pitching in a competition [like Milwaukee’s 5 Lakes Pitch] and getting to the final round,” is a unique experience. “I’m not competing against 20 other edtech [startups]. One of the judges [at 5 Lakes] called us the most exciting startup in Milwaukee right now, and there’s no way we’d get that title in the Bay Area, in New York, even in Chicago. It’s worth it for us to be in a smaller place so that we can stand out and all of these different people can help us.”

Find a way to connect with other founders

As she found her footing as a leader and Fiveable continued to grow, Amanda and her team moved to Madison to take part in gener8tor, a “concierge accelerator” that provides three months of business development programming on top of significant capital. However, she’s said that one of her key takeaways from the experience was meeting other founders. “It’s hard when your team doesn’t understand all the pieces you’re dealing with, and neither does anybody else. My family has no idea!” Because she lives and works with her team, Amanda admits it can be hard to expand her social network: “I have to be able to know other people who ‘get it’ in order to feel less lonely. [And through gener8tor] I’ve made friends who are starting their own companies and going through the exact same things but in their own way.”

Be prepared to weather the unknown

On top of the energy that infused her early successes, Amanda remembers a lot of uncertainty—and that hasn’t disappeared even today. This rollercoaster of emotions is one of the first things she likes to mention to would-be founders: “I honestly never knew how high the highs could be and how low the lows could be. Going from on the floor crying, calling my mom, to a total swing the next week—getting opportunities where people would see my vision with me. Just knowing that when you’re starting out, and that it will keep happening, is a big part.”


New Pattern Spotlight: Jude Chiy, Founder of Flamingo

In this first episode of the New Pattern Spotlight series, Kimmy speaks with Jude Chiy, the founder and CEO of Flamingo, which lets property managers offer residents a plethora of services ranging from housekeeping to cooking classes. Kimmy and Jude discuss building a quickly-growing tech startup in Chicago, the advantage of being an underrepresented founder, and Jude’s founder journey.

Full transcript:

Kimmy: Hi Kimmy here, and I’m here at Wicker Park in Chicago with Jude Chiy, founder of Flamingo. So Jude why don’t you tell me about Flamingo and who you are.

Jude: Yeah so Flamingo is a resident engagement platform, we basically provide a platform for apartment buildings that includes a white-labeled app that residents can use for everything from rent payment to booking a house cleaner.

Kimmy: So tell me about how you, why you started working on this and how long you’ve been working on it.

Jude: Yeah so I’ve been working on this for about four years, it’s changed a lot from the initial vision. When we first started it was focused on wellness. So looking at bringing wellness where people live, work and play, my passion for wellness came from my background in health care. So I always wanted to become a doctor but in college realized I could have a bigger impact on more the prevention side of health care. So I decided to start this company to make it much easier for people to get healthy, so when I started the goal was bringing wellness where people live work and play. So apartment buildings were part of our target market. But after I’d been exposed to that market, and realizing that there’s a lot more opportunity for what you could do, we decided to become a full engagement platform so not just fitness, but making life easier for residents from all parts of what they need. For example, if you don’t have to spend a lot of time cleaning your apartment it means you have more time to go actually work out. So we decided a full engagement platform is the best approach to actually impacting wellness.

Kimmy: Amazing, so moving from doctor to startup founder is kind of a big jump, what’s been the most surprising thing about being a founder and running your own startup?

Jude: The most surprising thing which I think it shouldn’t really be a surprise, is just how all consuming it is. So you go in knowing that starting a company’s a lot of work but it’s hard to account for how all consuming it is. Like at 11 am or 11 pm you’re thinking work, work, work, work it doesn’t matter what time of the day. So that to me was actually a surprise, yeah.

Kimmy: How do you work through that are there things that you do to get away from it and to kinda give yourself a break?

Jude: Yeah so what is actually nice about being a founder of a company is that you have a lot of different parts of the company so at one time you’re focused on sales, at another part you’re focused on actual operations, another part is focused on something completely different. So while you are doing a lot you’re doing a lot of different things where it doesn’t feel as bad and for me part of that is just balancing everything while still trying to do all the things that I do that I enjoy like running, biking, swimming the regular things.

Kimmy: What for you has been the hardest part about this journey?

Jude: I would say the hardest part has been trying to figure out what direction to take. You know where you wanna take the company, but there are always so many different things you could do that you have to be like no, that’s important but it’s not as immediate or as important as this. So that’s always a challenge is there are always things to do, a lot of directions you can take the company, a lot of things you could focus on but you just have to kind of pick and choose and that becomes really challenging because, you have a lot of great ideas. A lot of things that you wanna implement but you really have to pick and choose really specifically.

Kimmy: Are there people that have been very instrumental in your journey that maybe have helped you with that, picking the priorities or have gotten you this far?

Jude: Yeah absolutely. So luckily our customers are pretty vocal and we are pretty proactive with getting feedback from them and that has made it much easier where you are like, what’s actually going to benefit you? Is it this feature, or this feature, or this feature? And a lot of people are very vocal with that they like. So they immediately go okay I really think that’s cool, but from the customer side of things this is way more important and way more impactful.

Kimmy: So you’re staying very close to your customers. Are they all here in Chicago? Or how do you stay connected to them if they’re distributed?

Jude: Yeah so we have customers all over the U.S. They’re from DC to San Fran, so part of what we do, is we do regular quarterly check ins with each of our customers, and then we have a couple sets of customers. We have the property managers, and then we have the residents in the building, and then we have our providers. So for each of those sets we have regular check-ins. For the residents it’s a resident after every event or after every action they take. So if they attend a fitness class or if they book a house cleaner they get a survey so we know how things are going.

Jude: For the property managers we do quarterly check ins, whether that’s a survey or that’s just calling them, and then we send out regular emails just to make sure that things are going well, usually we say what things should we keep doing? What things should we stop doing, and what things should we start doing? So that really helps us get really honest, and great feedback.

Kimmy: That’s great that you’re continuing to hear from them. What could you point out maybe as your proudest achievement so far? Especially since you’ve been so close to the customer, is there something that you really point to, like I’m really proud of, that we’ve done this?

Jude: I think one of the proudest moments for us, was deciding that it made more sense to focus on our customers brand versus our brand. So one of the things that we provide to our customers is a white-labeled app, so the app itself is completely white-labeled from our perspective, it’s not that good because it doesn’t really promote our brand but from the customer side it’s a great thing. Because they get to stand out essentially, and that’s why the name of the company’s Flamingo, because we help them stand out.

Kimmy: Awesome, I like that. So shifting gears a little bit, I’ve mentioned Chicago a couple times, you are based here, and building your company here. How has it been running a startup here, versus somewhere else like Silicon Valley or anywhere else? What are the advantages or disadvantages from being in Chicago?

Jude: Yeah so it’s hard to kinda say what the disadvantages would be because I haven’t had a chance to actually build a company in those different places. So I can speak more on Chicago. So far it’s been a great city to be based out of, one of it is geography, it’s really easy to go to different cities from Chicago. So to get to the Bay Area or to get to the East Coast, everything’s less than a three hour flight, and that makes it really easy because our customers are pretty spread out, so to go to those visits it’s much easier travel-wise, and then Chicago itself is just a really great city, it’s the third largest city in the U.S. But it’s really affordable, so we have all the different neighborhoods, but everything is still pretty close to the downtown area. So it makes the city itself really really affordable, as opposed to the Bay Area where it’s a challenge to live there for anyone. So that makes Chicago just great in all those aspects, but obviously compared to the Bay Area you don’t have as many people in the tech scene meaning the whole ecosystem isn’t as developed as you might have in New York or the Bay Area.

Kimmy: Fair enough, yeah. So what have you done with that then? Do you have a group that you turn to here, or how do you find solidarity when this can be a lonely journey?

Jude: Yeah so Chicago isn’t, while Chicago is not as developed as the bay area there’s still a pretty nice ecosystem so you have 1871, you have Mather, you have a few different universities that do different programs around entrepreneurship. So that still provides you with a pretty decent ecosystem to turn to, and like anything else, if you’re proactive you are going to find your people.

Kimmy: For sure, for sure, and so where do you want to take the company? Where do you see yourself in a year, or really far down the line, 20 years from now?

Jude: It’s hard to say 20 years from now, but for us a year from now is continuing to really develop our product, to make it even better for our customers, like I was saying there are a lot of features that you wanna add. But you don’t necessarily have the time or priority to.

So we have a lot of those things to add, to really make it a lot more customer-friendly and then just continue to grow our customer base.

20 years from now, we have thought about 20 years from now. So one thing that we see in the apartment industry is that the data in the industry’s really important. But right now it’s not really well developed, so one of my predictions is that 20 years from now, the data is actually going to be more important than the monthly rent that the property managers are charging. Because in the building, residents are doing so many different things being able to capture that and understand how that impacts what development looks like what the things you provide in the apartment looks like. That’s really tremendous, everything from do we actually need a fitness center or should we focus on having a pool? Or should we have this? Because right now all the buildings have an amazing amount of amenities but they don’t really know which of those are more important to a resident.

So being able to really capture that data is something that we are starting to build into our platform.

Kimmy: So also along this journey you tend to get many people throwing advice at you. You get it everywhere, I’m wondering from your perspective what’s the best advice you’ve received? And what’s the worst advice you’ve received?

Jude: I would say the best advice I’ve had is just be really close to your customers, and that came from the old company I used to work for, the Cancer Treatment Center of America. One of the most amazing parts of the company is just how much time they spend on customer development, so really understanding everything about a cancer patient. What do they care about? What are all the things that impact their life, not just the cancer, just for example one of the things that really blew my mind when I first started working there was how much time they spent to decide what carpeting to use at one of the hospitals. Something that small they spent a lot of time on, to know how is this going to impact patients? Is this something that actually makes a difference to them? So I learned a lot from that just knowing that you have to constantly pay attention and get feedback from your customers. In terms of worst advice, I don’t think I’ve gotten any bad advice, it’s like anything else. Everything has some nuggets there are things that you learn to ignore but mostly it’s figuring out what’s going to help and what’s not, and then kinda just trying things out.

Kimmy: The journey for a founder can be challenging and it’s sometimes more challenging for underrepresented founders. I’m wondering from your perspective, what advantages have you found from being an underrepresented founder?

Jude: So I think one of the big advantages, it’s like anything else you stand out. So I say stand out a lot because that’s really our company brand is how do you stand out? So being an underrepresented founder you always stand out, so if it’s presenting to an investor, if it’s talking to a customer, you always stand out because it’s something that they haven’t really seen a lot before. So I actually use that to my advantage because it gives you that opportunity to leave them with this impression like, oh wow. That’s not something I might have expected, so you end up just standing out more in their mind.

Kimmy: So what advice would you give somebody whose in your shoes? Underrepresented or not, that’s thinking about starting up a customer or is early in their journey?

Jude: Yeah so one thing I always say is go in knowing that it is a lot of work, so you do have to spend a lot of time on a lot of things that you might not necessarily enjoy. But if you are doing something you truly believe in, it really helps so it makes things much easier and then the other thing is just really pay attention to your customers, this is a cliche advice. But at the end of the day that’s actually what matters, is this something your customers are going to use or care about? ‘Cause if it’s not then your pretty much just lying to yourself.

Kimmy: So final question if I had a genie and a bottle for you today, what would you wish for?

Jude: Infinite customers! No, but in seriousness, I think for Chicago, it is definitely having a more connected tech ecosystem, so just making it easier which is what you guys are already doing, making it easier to find investors. Making it easier for investors to know this company exists, so I think that process still isn’t as optimized as it needs to be.

Kimmy: Well that’s great, well I like that wish and thank you all for joining today, again this is Jude from Flamingo.


Introducing the New Pattern Spotlight Video Series

After speaking with countless founders throughout the U.S. from underrepresented groups, we kept hearing a common lament, “I never see founders like me in tech media.” By failing to give founders that don’t fit the standard Silicon Valley mold, media organizations are furthering the narrative that women, people of color, immigrants and other overlooked groups cannot build successful startups.

This leads capable innovators to further question their potential and makes the often lonely startup journey even tougher for entrepreneurs. Moreover, a lack of representation in the media also undermines investors’ and ecosystem leaders’ conviction to support more diverse founders despite their involvement being critical in ensuring that such entrepreneurs succeed.

We grew frustrated at the status quo and set out on a project to highlight, via video, some amazing founders from diverse backgrounds. Each founder brings a unique perspective and story, and this variety is important because it shows that there is no playbook in tech entrepreneurship. Hopefully, seeing and hearing the founders’ stories will inspire and educate the next generation of tech tycoons.

At the same time, the old adage that it takes a village could not ring truer in startups. That is why we are also featuring investors and other supporters of diversity and inclusion in tech. We hope that this will both shine the spotlight on these dedicated individuals and organizations as well as demonstrate to entrepreneurs that they do have resources to help them on their journey.


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