Interview with Entrepreneur - Kike Oniwinde - CEO of BYP Network

Updated: Sep 27, 2021



Hello Kike, thank you for taking the time out to participate in this Q&A interview session. This interview is going to explore your entrepreneurial journey, influences and perspectives. Our readers would like to know your origin story, a little bit about your background, initial career aspirations, when and how you got unto the path of entrepreneurship?


Kike: Well I grew up in East London and was very academic, but also very athletic. So, "A " stars in school, but also did Javelin at a high level. I represented Great Britain but also got a sports scholarship to University of Florida to do Javelin, and that's a NCAA Division One school. My initial career aspirations was actually to be an athlete. I wanted to be an Olympic champion, world record holder, that was my aspiration. At the same time, I did kind of have plan B and was doing internships in investment banking. At university, I studied Economics and then did a Master's in Management. Even though I was doing my sports, I also had a backup plan, but my true desire was to be a professional athlete.

But yeah, after my time in America, essentially that didn't happen. I didn't go all the way, I did well, but not Olympic level. After that, i guess the entrepreneurship gene just kind of started in me. I worked in a Financial Technology startup company, and I was pretty inspired by what I saw. In terms of BYP Network, I wanted to solve a problem and I felt like entrepreneurship was the solution for.


What would you say drives, inspires and influences the entrepreneur in you?


Kike: What drives me is the mission to change the black narrative and I am very passionate about it. I started BYP after my sporting career, when I noticed there was a problem in terms of the representation the black community was given. Me wanting to be an athlete was because that was success. As a black person that's what we see, athletes and musicians, we don't really see ourselves in any other industry. While working in Florida, I got to meet so many different people that I felt like should be celebrities or should be seen because they're doing incredible things. On the other hand, we were going through Black Lives Matter and the media representation of the black community, in terms of life and crime, was essentially rife with negative statistics.


I am really driven by the fact that this narrative has to change and that we have to be the generation that does that. The solutions that need to be built are sustainable legacy solutions, so that in a 100 years time, the next generation isn't having to campaign the way we are. The BYP Network is a real solution for the black community, so I'm just driven by knowing that.


I'm driven by seeing the wins, you know, seeing that with every kind of hard work we put in, the output is something great as well. The impact we are making, the testimonials we're receiving, you know, drives me every single day, and just knowing that I'm able to run this business for my community is truly amazing.



How much of your environment, background and upbringing influenced your entrepreneurial journey?


Kike: My grandma was an entrepreneur, she never worked for anyone, she was a trader into buying and selling. She would travel across the world to buy goods and then come back to sell them in Nigeria. She said she did very very well, but we didn't personally benefit from that money. My mom came to the UK and very much started on her own here, and was working. But I guess I always grew up knowing about my grandma and I'll say I met her a few times and sadly, she passed away in 2014. So I do think I get the entrepreneurial gene from her.


When I was 18, me and my friend, started a clothing line. We were very inspired by an event that I went to in sixth form. We took part in a competition to start a company or something like that, and pitch it. We got to go to the Institute of Directors and from that event, I was very inspired to start my own company. So, me and my friend tried to start a clothing line but it didn't go so well and we didn't know what to do.


I think I never once saw myself as an entrepreneur or saw that as my future, rather it was just something to dabble in. But then, you know, I did a Masters in management, and I did best in my entrepreneurship modules. I guess all of these things added together is what sparked that entrepreneurial gene, or that kind of entrepreneurial flair.

I also did Business studies in my GCSE. Business acumen runs in my blood. I just never really took it in, because I was focused on my sports and I was doing finance internships. So when I decided to start BYP network, again, it wasn't me thinking this is going to be my future.


Has your entrepreneurial journey been influenced by any black leaders, present or past, and how?


Kike: Honestly, I have been influenced by all black people. People like Obama, Oprah, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, inspire me, but then, so does the everyday individual, because human capital is so important. I mean, who is that individual that no one's looking at, that no one's seeing, that hasn't been given an opportunity. That person could be the next big thing, but we don't even know. They could be the biggest business leader of the future, they could be someone that transforms the world, they could build the best architecture ever, but they're just not given an opportunity. So I'm very much influenced by that, by the BYP community, by black professionals, black students, by people that just want to be human and want to achieve whatever they can achieve by themselves. Unfortunately, they're just not given much opportunity to do this. So, yes, I'm inspired by just everyday professionals.


What challenges have you faced being a black woman and a CEO in UK, more importantly, how have you navigated this?


Kike: Personally, I wouldn't say I've faced challenges if I'm being honest. The way my mindset is, especially with my sporting background, is like I have a goal, I have a target, I have work to do and I just kind of get on with it. I understand that there are obstacles and I understand that maybe certain opportunities aren't given to me because I'm a black woman, but I choose to rise above it and continue to push forward. I mean, a great example was our fund raise. We raised over a million dollars from twelve hundred investors by doing a crowd fund. The statistics kept saying it is very difficult for a black woman to raise funds, so i decided to do a crowdfund. I said to myself, let me raise it from my community if it's going to be hard to get venture capital funding, and that's what I did. For me, I see these challenges and I think of solutions, then just try to go for it. I know it's not easy for everybody else.

They might say to themselves, i am a black woman, maybe I shouldn't bother, because statistically, there's no point. But if they can put that behind them and just go for it, then they can do whatever they can, to overcome these challenges, and find real success.


What advice do you have for black women aspiring to become entrepreneurs and CEOs like yourself?


Kike: Again, I think my number one advice is why do you want to be a CEO? Why do you want to be an entrepreneur? This is very important because it has to be of pure intentions, like wanting to solve a problem that exists. It might even just be a problem to do with hair care or to do with jewelry or even climate change. But there needs to be a problem that you want to solve. You're not just doing it just to say, "hey, I'm a CEO, entrepreneur, look at me", and that's important because it's a difficult journey.


If you've got the wrong reasons for doing it, you won't last. But if you're really rooted on authenticity, passion and focus to really change your industry or world, then you'll do great things.

So my advice is, really check your heart, check why you're doing it and then plan your research. Who's already in this industry? Who are your competitors? What makes your idea unique? What do you need to do, to get to the level that you want to be? Always be ambitious. Don't just think, 'oh, I want a small company that pays me and I'm good.' Even if that is true, think bigger, think about the business you can build, which could be the next big thing, and then go from there. You'll find yourself succeeding in levels you didn't even anticipate because the ambition is far greater.



Please talk to us about BYP Network. Where did the idea come from, what problem is it addressing, how did you validate the idea, who is your target market, where did you get resources to start it and what is your operating business model for value generation?


Kike: The idea came from my own experiences growing up as well as a combination of what happened in 2016 during Black Lives Matter protest.

I grew up in East London, in a single parent household, with two older brothers. I personally did well academically and as an athlete. So I gained a lot of opportunities, like internships, scholarships, bursaries, but didn't necessarily realize my own privileges. I was just so focused on being an Olympic champion, focused on my sporting career and you know, just achieving. I was always a high achiever, for example, I did internships in banking, but there wouldn't be that many black people around, or I might be the only black person on the bank floor.


I remember thinking like, what is the standard to get black people into these opportunities? I grew up in a multicultural area having loads of black friends, but yet when I entered the workplace, I didn't see us there. So it was kind of weird, like where are we? How come we're not there?

I got a scholarship to the university of Florida and I had an incredible time out there. My aim was to come out and compete in the Olympics, but that didn't happen. What did happen, is that I met so many incredible people across different fields, including black talents that I just didn't know existed. When we look at the news, they don't show us these people, they just show, gang crime, knife crime, or, you know, black musicians or black athletes. So there's this huge gap of humans, black humans that exist but are never seen, and it was weird. I felt that, why did i have to come to America, before noticing this? At the time, the Black Lives Matter protest started happening and I remember I was tweeting and quote tweeting, that this has to change, this has to stop and just feeling really helpless at the same time annoyed. Also, when I looked at Nigeria and Africa as a continent, people were talking about corruption and poverty. I'd say stuff like, "when will that change, when are things going to get better"? The response would be, "Oh, God will do it or God will fix it", and I'm thinking, yeah, he will, but I'm sure we have to do something. You know what I mean?


So all of these things combined, like I said, looking at the continent, Black Lives Matter, police brutality and lack of opportunities in the black community, and I just felt we absolutely needed a solution and things just didn't make any sense.


I asked myself what good is it for me to be good? If I get a good job, I'm making money, I get my house, i start my family and I'm okay, but a good amount of my community isn't.

I just felt very frustrated and eventually I put out a survey to about a hundred black professionals to see if they'd be interested in networking and connecting with each other, and you know, just being a community of like-minded people essentially. I got an overwhelming "Yes", from the participants of the survey, and that's pretty much where the journey started and how i validated the idea of BYP Network.


A lot of Entrepreneurs struggle getting the right resources to launch their startups. How did you initially resources BYP Network?


Kike: When I put out that survey, i used Survey Monkey which was free to do. I messaged my black friends and asked them to spread the word about BYP Network. I share it and I tweeted it, you know, I was kind of quite resourceful in terms of like, using myself to push out the word about BYP Network. Obviously when I got that feedback from the survey, the next steps was to arrange an event. I guess that was quite interesting because i was able to get a free venue for the event. It was one of those venues that you just needed to reserve the space, compared to other venues where you have to pay, and i didn't have money for that. So that was the first kind of luck I'd say where I found a venue that I didn't have to pay for.


At that time, my company didn't have any kind of online presence. I had just set up all the social media channels, and then made a flyer on fiverr.com, before making the tickets available on eventbrite.com. As soon as I put it out, like within a couple of days, 50 tickets sold out, and I think these were priced at £10 or £15. I had to create 50 more tickets and they sold out in a couple of days also. For me, that was, one, idea validation and two, revenue generation.

From the get go, we were revenue generating, even if it was a few thousands of pounds. I used about £500 pounds of my own money initially to buy drinks and food. I wanted a really nice environment for the event, but then obviously I got the money back from when the funds were released from the events page.

If you look at that, that was just me kind of just being resourceful. Seeing what platforms I can use, kind of following a step by step process of just starting a company. Then from there, you know, building up social media, I had my own desire to post three times every day, you know, make the posts in advance.


So a lot of it to start with, is very much grafting, groundwork and passion as well. It was that passion which got me through at the time I was still working for the financial technology firm and I was still doing my sports as well. You can imagine, I didn't have that much time, but I just found a way to spend two hours a day on my business, whilst also doing all the other stuff. Those results paid off and it did work.


I think the key thing I found, because we had a few competitors that came up then, is that we were very consistent. I think that's the word to use. Some people might put on one event and not do another in six months, but we made sure we did one every six weeks and we were online regardless. Everyone could see us and we've kind of followed that now. We always want to be visible as a company, regardless whether it's social media, whether it's campaigns, initiatives and so forth. So for a good year and a half, that was what I did, I was visible. I also entered some pitching competitions and then I won £40,000. After that, I was able to go full time and then started focusing on fundraising and actually growing the company.

BYP Network secured $1 million dollars through crowd funding. How did you go about this?


Kike: What happened was that, we'd previously raised about $200,000 a year and a half before, in our pre-seed round. It was from predominantly white investors, which I was fine with, as they are incredible allies. At the time, I did try to find black investors, but they weren't very supportive, sadly enough. It was quite disheartening and so for my next run, I really did want black investors. I was like, this is a community platform, this is for the black community, so they must be invested in this company as well as our allies.


I always knew in my mind I was going to do a crowdfund at some point, because I wanted investment from the black community. So mid last year, around the whole blackout day, we saw an opportunity to get black investors in. During blackout day, there were alot of black people investing in black businesses. So i said to myself, we are a black business, so why don't we just launch on that? This was the moment I was like, yeah, you know what, let's just go for it.


I had about two weeks before that day to just go through all the plans. So I contacted Seedrs and I had to get a marketing company in. It was an adrenaline rush but it was very exciting. We wanted it to be as ambitious as possible. Initially, we set our crowdfunding target at £500,000, but we hit that in five days of going live, which was just incredible. So we pushed our target to a million pounds and we left the crowdfund up for another 35 days. By the end of the crowdfund, we had raised £900,000, which was $1.1 million.


Some of the money raised, was high net worth money. So investors that put in like a £100,000 or £250,000. It was a combination of, high net worth funders, as well as 1200 community investors.



Networking is a core part of your business model and BYP Network are amazing at it. What's your secret?


Kike: I guess BYP was built off networking. So the very core of the company is networking, it's to connect like-minded black professionals with each other from around the globe. So in that very instance, it's a connection platform. All the other angles came out of that form of connection, like Corporates wanting to connect with our community to hire them, our community wanting to connect with each other to mentor them, and our community wanting to connect with each other to buy black business. So from the very essence of the company, networking is key.


And I think for me, I realized networking was key, I was always relatively good at networking. I've always been a very sociable person, had a lot of friends growing up, and gained my internships through networking. So I've always been someone who was aware of networking and the importance of it. That's why I wanted to build a networking company to help others network, and understand how networking could elevate their careers and life.


So the secret is, you've just got to be personable. It's all about the impression you make, and about the people that know you as well. It's not just who you know, it's who knows you.

Networking is amazing because, you can just be walking down street, and you get an email ping on your phone saying, we want to hire you for some reason, or we want to give you this opportunity. It's not something you asked for, it is unexpected and is the fruit of networking. It's because you met someone who remembered who you were, and then put you in touch with someone else.

That's the power of networking, it's the serendipity of it. You know, it's the opportunity you wouldn't have had if you didn't meet that person. So I really get that, I get the importance of it, and as a community, it needs to be very much foundation, so that we can build on it. I'm just grateful that, it's something people are taking on board and doing.


You have successfully secured sponsors and corporate partners which are aligned to your business goal and objectives. A lot of businesses struggle to do this, what advice do you have for them?


Kike: We started getting cooperate sponsors about a year and half or two, after the company launched. So again, it was just networking, we were doing events every six weeks, and the events were very different from each other. So it could be a social event like a Black Panther screening or it could be a networking event, like Summer Chill, or Summer network meet black professionals.


We had one event, which was a finance focused event, and a company reach out to us, asking how much it would cost for their recruiters to attend the event? We had to make up a price or think of something, and I think we only charged like £250 or something similar. But you know, that was kind of the penny drop for us, when we realised we could charge companies to access our talent and community.


When I won my pitching competitions, that gave us a bit of credibility. So I won the F Factor pitching competition, the New Entrepreneurs Foundation and Sky Women in Technology Scholarship. But the key thing is, being a Sky Women in Technology Scholar, means that Sky backed my business. Once you get one logo in, it's very easy to get more, because that builds credibility.


My advice for people wanting to get sponsors in, is just get that first logo in then maximize it. So when you send your lead generation emails, it's like, you know, we work with companies like Sky, so it would be great to get you on board too, and that's how you build it.

It's just business principles essentially. Obviously, now with we've got about 400 companies that use our job board, and we have about 50 corporate partners. So yeah, we are growing and it is exciting. Others can do the same, if your company has a good value proposition and is doing great work, then why not?



What key challenges have BYP Network faced since its launch in 2016?


Kike: It's so weird now, we've been here nearly four and a half years in, and it's just been a roller coaster journey. I guess if you start at the very beginning, I initially started the business as a side hustle, believing in the vision of the company, you know, very early on. I went through my first early challenge of another company trying to steal my company. I went through another challenge of just really bad amount of naysayers and doubters, who were really trying to get me to stop my company.

Then there was the challenge associated with the pressure around visibility, and the outward perspective of BYP Network. As a first time CEO, there was also the challenge of associated with hiring the right people, and realising that not everyone is the right hire. Some people literally just join a company for clout reasons, like saying "I was this at BYP", but not actually adding any value.


I guess the challenges we are now more focused on, are long term. We're doing really great now, but we've got to make sure we're here forever. So, how do we make sure this is sustainable? Part of this is making sure we are hiring innovators who are entrepreneurial because it is a startup company. So yeah, challenges are always there, but it's just always about overcoming them, and it's still about having a very fun journey.


One of the things I've learnt from our challenges is that, if we didn't go through that two years ago, It might've been worse right now. If we were presented with the same challenges now, we would know how to handle them better, and ensure we are not going down the wrong route. So, yeah, challenges are really good for businesses, it's just a question of how you navigate them.


Still on business challenges, the COVID 19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on a lot of businesses. What impact has it had on BYP Network and how have you navigated this?


Kike: None, if anything our business as thrived because, one, everything's remote, so we can just focus on having a remote team. Two, sales cycles are shorter because it's quicker to arrange a video call or phone call with someone, and then, you know, get the deal through the door.

Due to the COVID 19 pandemic and Black lives matter, we've had an influx of Corporates wanting to work with us, and business support as well, because there's a lot of pledges and funds for black businesses. So, no, we've actually and thankfully been quite fortunate in this period.


What is the geographical spread of BYP's member network?


Kike: It's predominantly UK, then USA, then Nigeria, Ghana, Canada and Kenya. It goes like that, but I think at least 70% of our network is from UK. Now, our focus is on our ambassador program and making sure we have a real physical presence of networks in different cities, so we are more aligned to the things that's going on in those cities. Cause if we're very UK centric, our columns are UK centric, but that might not be as relevant for someone living in Washington or someone living in Lagos.

Now, our design is to collaborate a lot with black networks that already exist, and to make our presence felt more on the ground in different cities.


What are your expansion plans for the future, especially in Africa?


Kike: We generally believe we should be the go-to platform for all things pertaining to black professionals worldwide.


So you can be a black professional in any city or town, and you know BYP network have got your back. If you need to upscale, we've got you, if you need to change jobs, we've got you, If you need a mentor, we've got you, if you need help with your business, we've got you. You know, that's what we foresee. We're are also able, to kind of be that bridge between companies, governments and institutions for the black community.

Like I said, we're all about amplifying the black community, supporting them, and just ensuring that we're not left behind with this digital revolution, and we're not left behind when it comes to health and businesses, because at the moment we are. So a solution is necessary, and I believe that being present, and working with all these black organizations, as well as other black networks, communities and charities, will help amplify their work. We don't have to do everything, that's how we see it, we just have to be there and help them amplify their work. For example, ChangeinAfrica Magazine, that's incredible, we should amplify that. That's really our desire, to amplify the great things the black community are doing.


The Black Lives Matter movement is strong and its voice is being heard but there are some individuals and organisations that believe this movement is politically motivated and has ulterior motives. What’s your take on this?


Kike: I think BLM has done so much incredible work for the black community. Like the fact that people are chanting support for BLM globally. It's a shame we have to say black lives matter, when it should just matter. But the reality is that, people don't seem to realize that it does matter. We get combated with All lives matter and Blue lives matter. So I think just for the fact that they started a global protest, and a conversation around black lives matter, I believe the organizers have been nominated for a Nobel peace prize.


I'm very pro the movement. I think in this life we need activists and we need people who speak up for our rights. We need people who educate us, and educate other people on what's going on. We also need people like myself, who are in the organizations or on the ground, kind of putting the links together.

We need our black employees, that are in the companies, and allowed to speak up if they can, to make change in their companies. Together, everyone has their role in pushing the black community forward. So whether it is, or isn't politically motivated, it has consequentially led to great things. So yeah, I'm very, very proud of the organization.



The End SARs protest in Nigeria was an eye opener for a lot of Africans in diaspora. It started as a peaceful protest but slowly escalated into an uncontrollable nationwide riot after the Lekki Gate shooting. According to public records 51 civilians, 11 policemen and 7 soldiers died during this riot. What is your opinion on the initial protest and the fallout after that?


Kike: It was very heart breaking to see. I am Nigerian, born and raised in the UK, but I'm of Nigerian heritage. I've been to Nigeria many times. We hear this all the time, we hear about police brutality in Nigeria, that you always have to be on guard, be careful, and the fact that they would just kill people for no reason.


Seeing the Nigerian youth come together to protest was amazing and powerful. But then, for the government to act the way they did was just such a slap in the face. It was very much like the government was saying, get back home, who are you disrespecting. That's how I saw it from the government, that very Nigerian mentality of respect your elders.


Even just replaying the scenes, I'm thinking on our side, we didn't know what to do. I felt like I didn't want to tweet, I didn't want to be like this needs to stop. So we just put on a very quick networking kind of facilitation for the Nigerian youths on the ground and those here. So anyone that wanted to help could help. So people were able to give them, money, food and jobs. Anything that they needed was provided from about 350 black professionals here, to 350 Nigeria youths over there.


To me, it was not enough, you know, that's why, BYP Network's growth is so important, so that we can do stuff like on a larger scale. Imagine connecting a million black professionals across the diaspora to a million Africans. So it was heart breaking, but the protest just highlights the fact that change still needs to happen.


A key point to note, if black lives don't matter on the African continent, then black people will continue to be disrespected globally. At the end of the day, Africa is a continent full of black people.


The interview was undertaken by Hubert Nomamiukor, the CEO of The Business Anecdote. It was first published in ChangeinAfrica Magazine.





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