[0:31] Maiko: In today's episode I talked to Kike Oniwinde, the founder and CEO of BYP Network, an online platform that's often been called the LinkedIn for black, young professionals. About 30,000 people are using the network to receive mentorship, develop their carriers and collaborate with each other. BYP network hosts a yearly recruitment fair, targeted at helping black young professionals access job opportunities and helping employers to recruit from a diverse talent pool. Kike herself was just recently named one of Europe's Forbes 30 under 30 and it's great to have you on the show today, welcome.
[01:08] Kike: Thank you for having me, very excited.
[01:10] Maiko: Thank you very much. Let's talk about it all, how it all started, when you first started out with BYP Network, where were you? What were you doing? And why did you see a need for like a professional social network for black and for professionals?
[01:26] Kike: Yeah, sure. So, it really came about from my experiences growing up. So, I grew up in East London, and I was an international athlete, so I did Javelin for Great Britain and received a full scholarship to the University of Florida, and that was to do my masters. But during my, kind of journey, I saw a lot of discrepancies, so I, for example, and you know, very academic, so all the stars and A's at GCSEs and A-Levels, which was seen as quite different from where I grew up, and I gained a lot of opportunity. So, I worked and interned at Investment banks, some of the top ones, but I'd be kind of the only black woman or black person in the room or in the internship. And it kind of felt like did I have to be a, you know, international athlete with stellar grades, you know, from, you know, disadvantaged backgrounds to be in the room, like what is the standard for the community?
[02:17] Kike: And whilst I was in America, I had, you know, this great opportunity to meet other black students and professionals who I felt like I wouldn't have known existed if I didn't have this scholarship opportunity. And so, when I came back in about 2016, and it was a moment where I just really wanted us to find each of us, all the black professionals who exist, because the news only shows negative news about our community. So, whether it's knife crime, or we're seeing police brutality, or just kind of, no representation in the workforce, I felt like this was a great opportunity to actually bring us together so that we can be found by each other and by corporations and just to help you to develop and really make a difference in our community and to ultimately change the black narrative to from what it currently is perceived as, which is quite negative, to the truth, which is actually very positive, with people doing amazing things.
[03:09] Maiko: And how did you start? Did you start hosting events or did you go straight away in developing the platform that you have today?
[03:16] Kike: Great question. So, how I started was, and so I was just in my room and I knew I wanted it to be an app, a platform because I wanted it to be a global platform. I wanted to be scalable and hit millions of people with the mindset. And I knew that technology was the solution for that. But as you can imagine, I didn't have any kind of links to the tech world or know even where to start or how to build an app. And so, what I did was I started hosting events. So, we just hosted different networking events with 100 plus people, and they kind of always sold out instantly. And with the money that I made from those events, I was able to pay someone to help create the app and that was always the MVP, kind of just to get the idea out there versus the real platform I truly desired.
[04:02] Kike: But off the back of doing that, I got seen as a sky women technology scholar, so they gave us 25,000 pounds and then I won a few pitch competitions. So, one was a New Entrepreneurs Foundation, and the other one was called F Factor and it was held at the Founders Forum. And so, we kind of won a ton of money that started the acceleration of me being able to leave the job that I was working at and focus full time on BYP Network. And since then, we raised a pre-seed round of 150,000 pounds and we've grown our network to like you mentioned 30,000, made a lot of impact and won quite a lot of awards as well. And the whole mindset is just that we are here to change that narrative and we're just getting started. So, for so much great things to be happening and we haven't even like done half of what we intend to, it's really exciting for the team.
[4:53] Maiko: I think it's great that you talk about your full time now, you raised some funding for this and I think very often when I talk to some people, initiatives like yours perceived as a nice charitable thing. But it seems like you're actually onto something as a business, right? So, like, talk us through that a bit, what's the business model behind this, like, how do you think about this? Like, what do your investors believe in when they invest in you?
[05:22] Kike: Yeah, hundred percent. So, I like to say like, we're kind of everywhere at the moment, but what we're really doing is creating one platform. So like you said, the black LinkedIn, but it's more bringing the different niche networks together, so there's a lot of black networks that exist, so might be black women in tech or black men in architecture, or even just London knitting club, like there's so many niche network, we're like if we put them all on one platform, so that people can just find it easily, and get the help they need tailored to that kind of subsection or community they're interested in, that will be so much more collaborative and make even more impact than it just being us, you know, working on everything. And so, that's actually what we're building and that's kind of what we raised investment for, that will be launched this year and we're planning on like a June launch. And but in the meantime, our business model has been the fact that we have a job board, for example. So, we've had posts from kind of top companies like, Airbnb, our Ministry of Defense, etc. and they basically just post on our job, on network and apply for jobs.
[06:22] Kike: So, you know, a lot of companies say they can't find the talent. So, if you kind of read articles about companies that haven't improved diversity inclusion, even if they have said they've set themselves targets, they just say, oh, it just doesn't exist, the talent doesn't exist. But as I know, it does exist, and they may be are not being seen by our community, or not trying hard enough. So, the job board is one of the revenue streams where we actually have annual partnerships with corporations and smaller companies can just pay to post like one job or 10 jobs however much they want to. And obviously we have our events, so we have an annual conference now. So, last year it was a recruitment fair, but this year, it's more of a leadership conference. So, we're very excited about that, we're bringing together the senior leaders in industries to come together with these kinds of younger leaders that we can be inspired, and we can see the talent that exists, and we can see our role models.
[07:09] Kike: Because part of my problem growing up, and many people's problem is we didn't see our role models outside of athletics, well, sports or music. That's all you saw as what success look like. That the reality is that, there are successful professionals in all these industries, they might be the only one, they might be one of the few, but they need to be visible so that we can aspire for, you know, higher positions. But if you get into an organization and you don't see anyone that looks like you and you don't see anyone in high positions, it's very hard to imagine that you can be that person, you have to literally, be that trailblazer or have that confidence that you can do that, regardless of the obstacles. But when you have representation, it makes a big difference. So, this conference is all about bringing that kind of community together to really make that impact and that will be sponsored by big corporations as well. And so, really, it's our job board, our conference and our app also have kind of, if you want to go premium, and you can pay like five pounds a month, so you can see who's, kind of wants to connect with you on the platform. And so, that's really kind of what our investors believe in and, and we're quite excited, in terms of the mindset is, all companies around the world to be able to tap into our network and our talent pool. So, we have a lot of growing to do.
[8:19] Maiko: Amazing. I hear a lot of, especially with corporates that actually trying to hire more diverse talent, I think I hear a lot of comments like oh, but we don't get enough applications from the right people. So, I guess that's a really good way for companies to reach out to those people.
[08:40] Kike: Yeah and you know some people say stuff like, oh, we believe the best person should get the job, and I completely agree by that. But if not, everybody's seeing it, the best people in, you know, the black community or Asian community aren't seeing the job role, how do you know you've got the best person? So, that's kind of what I like to highlight to them.
[08:56] Maiko: Absolutely. What do you think are still the biggest challenges for black young professionals, in terms of what doors are still relatively closed, or what kind of opportunities are really still very hard to access? What do you see as the biggest problem nowadays still?
[09:14] Kike: Yeah, there's so many like, one of the things I heard even when I started the company is that the pipeline looks bleak. The whole pipeline looks bleak, so whether it's when you're in school, and you get, you know, expelled or seen as aggressive or teachers telling you that maybe you shouldn't apply to a top university, go for the lower ones, you know, so a lot of confidence knocking happens. Like I was at work in Berkeley over the weekend, just to speak to the students and a lot of them just didn't have that confidence that they need because of so many not-bats or so many people telling them that they can't be, more than their environment. And it's such a problem and it takes people really having to battle with themselves or gain that kind of confidence from seeing other people like themselves or just you know, being online and learning from each other to even battle that.
[10:01] Kike: And why confidence is so important is that, you might have all the accolades, but if you don't believe in yourself, how do you convince someone else to kind of, believe you're credible, or you know, take a chance on you and give you a job or give you funding for a company? So, I think that actually all the not-bats has that big impact on confidence and that's the biggest challenge that we've got. And just letting them understand that actually, the world really is your oyster, you can have big dreams, big ambition, and you can achieve your goals. But again, the world has given us so many statistics, like whether it's, you're more likely to go to jail, or you're less likely to earn as much as your white counterparts or you're less likely to get promoted in the world of work, or even in entrepreneurship, they tell the whole time that, not much funding goes to women or black women. So, it's like, you're up against statistics that are just consistently pushed in our faces, and you have to have a level of confidence overcome it. So, I think across everything that is our biggest challenge, just having that self-esteem, that we can be whoever we want to be on this earth.
[11:00] Maiko: Amazing. In terms of companies, so companies that are hiring maybe I would love a lot of startups and obviously, they're the shadows us even more that, you know, like, time is just very limited and, you know, like, speed is important and like sometimes a lot of these issues actually fall off the priorities, which is really actually bad. So, what do you recommend to startups or bigger corporations that, you know, try to become more diverse, but really kind of, don't know how, what should they be thinking of?
[11:32] Kike: Yeah, I know, definitely. So, number one is, if they have a job role, or you know, job opportunities, they need to get it out there, people need to see it. You know, if your company under x.com, and nobody knows about you, because you're not Google, then how do you make people be aware of your company, is about kind of posting it in these different networks, whether it's be BYP Network or other like niche networks, Asian networks, etc. that exists, and being more active on social media and just targeting under the millennials, I think that's what's really key. And as we know, culture is so important. So if we can't see the culture that you have, and maybe by your videos online, or just testimonials from work and people that work there, then we're less likely to apply. That's something that we always think about, So for example, I remember when I was choosing the university, I didn't want to go to a, kind of, somewhere remote, because I felt like there might not be anyone that looked like me, and I might have a tough time. It's the same thing with corporations, like no matter how, and even if I'm all the talent you need, and the pay is amazing, if I know that I'm not going to feel comfortable in that organization, I won't take that job. So culture is really important. And it's about letting us see that culture that you have.
[12:41] Kike: And also, we're very up against lip service, you kind of know when a company is just saying the right things, but not really doing it. And I think that's something that has always been the challenge over the last few years, people talking about how important diversity is but not actually acting upon it. Whereas now you know, government is trying to put legislation behind it, so companies are now being more exposed. But it shouldn't have to take that for companies to really understand that they need to have a diverse workforce. And the business case has been proved, why it's important but even just from a normal human standpoint, it's good to employ people from different backgrounds, you know, the different knowledge that they bring to the table is something that not everyone who thinks the same would have. And so, I really just say that company's needs to go out there and push their job roles on the different networks and different platforms, and not just focus on referrals only, because that is pattern matching, and that is bringing the same people into your organization.
[13:37] Maiko: So far, you basically have about 30,000 people in your network, tell us some of the stories or maybe one of the stories that you can share, what is like typical success story or what do people gain from being part of BYP?
[13:52] Kike: Well, we've had so many honestly and I think every time I hear another one, it just touches me. I think one of the ones that really got to me was at our fair last year, there was these group of girls, and again, all kind of lacked confidence and all at University at the time. And they met with kind of a senior leader that was there and he decided to mentor the five of them, just because he could see that, you know, they had talent, but there's something more that needed to be drawn from them. And at the back of that, four out of the five of them all got jobs within the areas that they wanted to, you know, because he was able to kind of work with them on, you know, etiquette and what they need to do for interviews. And there's so many moments like that where people have connected with the right people in our network, that helps them get to that next level. And even with the corporations as well, them saying things like, wow, there was so much talent, they're also pleasurable, and it was amazing to be in that kind of environment where you're able to see and speak to them directly. So, it really is that connection standpoint. And my mindset was always the fact that, actually if we just all come together and help each other, that's how change will be made.
[14:59] Kike: If you can imagine it, a fair of 600 people who are all talking to each other, finding out more information, and being able to say, oh, I know somebody who's done that, or I can help you with that. That's where the impact is made. And so, it has been from that, in terms of our events, but also online as well. We've had tens of thousands of connections on our platform. And I meet people that run like, oh my god, yeah, and one of my close friends now I met them on the platform, how amazing is that? And they go, they're working at this place, that they actually wanted to get into and they referred me. And so, there's so many powerful, you know, situations that can happen from this platform and I just look forward to it growing and hearing more testimonials.
[15:38] Maiko: One thing is actually, my girlfriend is a, is actually within your target club. She's a black and a professional, she's a doctor and we had a bit of a discussion when I talked her through what you guys are doing, and we discussed a bit about you know, your focus on really kind of building this network of black young professionals and that being like a great idea. But the question that we had as well was, does this need to become more part of the mainstream? Is it an issue as well, that it's kind of a separate network? Is that a question that you get a lot or and how would you respond to that?
[16:17] Kike: Well, no amazing question. So, we always say that BYP Network is here, so that it doesn't have to be here in 10 years’ time. You know, like, the whole reason we're here is because actually, you have to focus on a marginalized kind of subset of the society that needs to find each other and develop with each other so that they can then be represented in the organization. Like through BYP Network, we're working with, you know, a lot of top companies that can tap into our network, whereas if they keep saying, we can't find the talent, it doesn't exist. That will just be the continuous view, when does that change? It won't change unless something helps it to change. So, we're saying that we're here so that you can actually tap into our network so that we can work with you and collaborate with different organizations to actually help them with their problems, versus just a subset network where it's just for us, only about us. And I think we've kind of proved that with how fast we've grown, and how many awards we've won, or the fact that we are backed by a lot of top companies, it just shows how inclusive we are.
[17:16] Kike: And I always say, in terms of those, and in our network, like, for example, our investors that will wait and it's because they understand, and they believe in BYP Network and understand how much difference we can make. And if we think on a global scale, this kind of platform, the difference it can make, you know, it blows my mind what we can achieve. And again, I get it, if we didn't have this network, then we shouldn't have, you know, African and Caribbean societies at universities, we shouldn't have BNI networks in workplaces, or the LGBTQ class, for example network, but all these small niche networks have to come about so that people can actually tap into those networks and understand what they're going through. Same as women networks, you know, so exactly the same.
[18:02] Maiko: Absolutely. And that's what I thought as well. I think the day that we don't need those networks specifically anymore for certain groups, I think will be a great day, but I think until then--.
[18:15] Kike: Exactly, let's hope that in 10 years’ time, we don't have to exist. We're just like, guys, there's no point and that's what we want.
[18:27] Maiko: Perfect, yeah, totally see the point. I mean, I think it's a really interesting, or it's a really valid argument, if you look at society today and a lot of, kind of, the old white boys clubs that play a big role in it, then obviously, there is a role for networks like yours to kind of step up and be like, hey, we're here as well and you know, we're not invisible and take that position as well. So, that's, that's great to see. I'd like to ask you a bit about your future vision, and the way I'd like to ask it is, what's the type of world you're trying to create? Okay, we quickly mentioned maybe a world where you're not even needed anymore. But how does the world look like in maybe 10 years, the world where you've succeeded in, that you helped create? How does it look like?
[19:18] Kike: Amazing. So, for example, I always say like, one of my pitches, I remember saying, like, imagine growing up in a world where you're nine times more likely to go to jail than your white counterparts, or all your idols are athletes and musicians, because there's only 1% and, you know, black CEOs. So, that's the world we currently live in, but the world that we're trying to create is a world where, actually we're not talking about, oh, crap, people are all in jail, you know, the stats show that, you know, you're nine times more likely to go to jail. No, that's not a stat or the stats that, oh, you're unlikely to get promoted in the workplace. No, that's not a stat. Or you grew up in disadvantaged backgrounds and we don't go to the top universities. It's basically to eradicate all these statistics, because we've shown everyone that we do exist, that the talent is there, we've worked together, not just as a black community, but just as a nation, to really ensure there're opportunities for everybody to excel and to grow.
[20:16] Kike: We're not reporting on the news, crazy numbers in knife crime, because actually, all these young boys managed to find mentors in our platform, you know, who were able to direct them on the right path. We don't have to talk about, oh, we need quotas, maybe in these organizations to make sure that people are color represented. No, because people saw the talent and they got promoted fairly, biases aren't there, they don't exist. Or there's a black man walking down the road in a hoodie, and people aren't holding their bags, because there is a black man. Instead, they're like, oh, this guy must be an engineer. You know, like a whole change in narrative, where the negative stereotypes that are placed upon our community isn't there anymore. It's just the opposite. If you see a black person apply to a role at your company, you're excited because you're like, wow, this person is going to bring so much great ideas to the company. You know, that's kind of what the world will look like. 21:09[inaudible] wouldn't need to have this because it's all changed. And we've been able to create new businesses, there's more funding towards black businesses, because we need those kinds of, those ideas and those business ideas to make a difference in those communities. It really just is a 360, where, again, our idols aren't just sports people or musicians, and I have to talk about that because I grew up as a sports person. And I was very academic, too but my mindset was only on my sport, because that's where I saw representation. You know, I didn't see it, you hear the stories and say, people say, oh, most of us, we don't even have degrees. That's kind of what's pushed on us when that's not true. And it's kind of like, these young people need to see, actually I can be like that person that started that company or that CEO at that top company because that's normal, that is success for our community. And so yeah, it is really a 360 on the way the world is right now, and as just being able to rework, giving collaborate, and to just offer opportunities and change such a negative stereotype on us.
[22:11] Maiko: That's amazing. I think it's still a long way to go but it's already really inspiring to see what you're already doing today. And I wish you all the best on that journey and thanks for joining me today.
[22:22] Kike: Thank you so much, thank you for having me.
[22:24] Maiko: Thank you.