5 THINGS I LEARNED HOSTING MY FIRST APP LAUNCH PARTY FOR ESUSU: AN INTERVIEW RECAP WITH CO-FOUNDER ABBEY WEMIMO
As a lad, Abbey Wemimo toiled daily in the slums of Lagos, Nigeria just to survive; and a proper toilet and hot meal could never be taken for granted growing up. However, since co-founding his startup, Esusu, with Samir Goel, their two chief products have afforded Abbey with a lifestyle of comfort, constant professional stimulation and endless friendships.
Between Abbey raising $1.6 million in Esusu’s Series A round and being named in Forbes 30 under 30 for social entrepreneurship, I decided to throw an app launch party for the co-founder of one of the hottest FinTech startups of 2019, a friend.
Here’s what I learned. If you’re like me, and new to NYC’s diverse tech scene I think the below can help you too. If it does, please share this article on social media.
- What is Esusu?
Esusu is a NYC-based FinTech startup whose first product is an app that helps (primarily) immigrant communities and people of color build stronger credit profiles using a common form of community banking regularly used in neighborhoods near Abbey’s childhood home in Lagos, susu, as well as other African Diasporic communities across the globe.
Abbey and Samir’s second product is a rent reporting app that helps tenants include monthly rental payments in their consumer credit reports.
Susu means “to plan” in Twi (Ghanaian) and exemplifies a community financing model designed for the unbanked and sophisticated, alike, which unfortunately, among immigrant communities across the United States is a social necessity.
For example, say you have a group of ten friends, relatives and acquaintances and you all agree to contribute $100 to the community bank. Susu now has $1,000 of credit. This credit can be used to extend loans to any one individual in susu and $1,000 invested in a profitable endeavor returns the initial $1,000 for the next individual (and venture) to use.
Interestingly, Abbey and Samir initially learned to capitalize on these gaping market opportunities during their time in corporate America, after leveraging their respective educational journeys to arrive on Wall Street with style and a hustle that still keeps them up working into wee hours.
Their educational backgrounds include studying and researching at a handful of the finest institutions in the world including New York University’s (NYU) Wagner School of Public Service, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Cambridge.
Abbey, in particular, spent several years gleaning financial acumen at Goldman Sachs, PwC and Accenture after consulting with a range of global political leaders in various programs at the Clinton Global Initiative and the European Commission.
Selfishly, I’m always excited to catch up with Abbey when he returns stateside following trips back home in Nigeria and its surrounding countries, which he’s done for years as a global ambassador through his UN-recognized and award-winning non-profit foundation Clean Water for Everyone (CWFE). Abbey still runs CWFE to this day with a growing team of committed change agents of color.
2. A Journey from Student to Co-Founder
I met Abbey at a summer public policy program at the University of California at Berkeley called Public Policy International Affairs program (PPIA) in 2013, as rising college seniors. I think Abbey had technically graduated and he was impressive even then. All 30 of us fellows learned how to communicate collectively across differences in policy settings, using sophisticated economic and statistical language and professional writing to tell our stories.
Abbey was a standout at PPIA and we somehow ended up as partners in a number of team projects and that’s when we learned our similar interests and practiced our public speaking.
Our friendship began during these seven weeks and grew to a crescendo as we completed our post-graduate studies.
Six years later both Abbey and I found ourselves reconnecting again in New York City alongside three other PPIA alum in our cohort, who had all moved to New York City for graduate studies or employment.
As we reconnected over brunch downtown one Sunday afternoon, Abbey and I reflected on our recent visit to the inauguration ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., partly because Abbey and I remain committed to staying true to our communities from whence we came, and also to utilizing our educational privilege for more than just fancy job titles and leisurely weekends.
When Abbey decided to leave corporate America and co-found Esusu with Samir, I knew he would be up against more than just long years of exhausting work and exceptionally stressful 16 hour days. Pressures and daily struggle in any entrepreneur’s journey will take its toll on your body frame eventually, but Abbey makes clear the juice is worth the squeeze.
When Abbey and I were finally able to connect for D-TECH.FUND’s post app launch party follow up call, Abbey had just flown back from San Diego (the prior weekend he was in Cape Town, South Africa), audibly exhausted from zipping across the globe to raise money and negotiate partnerships on behalf of Esusu, to help scale the business for community stakeholders and investors.
3. Why Throw An App Launch Party?
After reading that Abbey and Samir had raised ~$1.6 million in Esusu’s Series A round-of deliberately curated, socially conscious venture capitalist firms-I decided to ask Abbey if he’d be interested in my throwing an “app launch party” to celebrate Esusu and invite him to share his story with an engaged audience in Central Harlem.
My mission for Esusu’s app launch party in our West Harlem brownstone apartment was two-fold, to fill a room of folks genuinely interested in supporting people of color in tech and, second to open doorways to one day create an ego-free feedback community supporting network effect business led by diverse founders.
I wanted the setting to be ego-free, vulnerable and tech-enhanced to set a stage different from a lecture or pitch competition.
At the time, I was a newbie who had never thrown an app launch party for a founder before, and I had no go-to template to reference.
4. Why Did Abbey Say “Yes”?
Abbey and I grew up like most of you, nothing special, just an intrinsic desire to rise above our current life circumstances and help other people to do the same.
Abbey said ‘yes’ and we locked in a date.
Together, my roommate and I invited 50 tech-interested friends to celebrate Abbey (and Esusu), and Abbey used most of his stage time to tell his story and tie it to Esusu, referencing an old proverb, “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far go together”.
In a packed and lively, curated living room surrounded by paintings by Harlem-based Wall Street artist, Robert Newman III, at various stages of development, Abbey got vulnerable, sharing his voyage as a child kicking around worn fútbols with friends on pitches in Nigeria trying to stay fed, to walking the vast halls of the UN and Silicon Valley with former U.S. Presidents, tech giants and billionaire investors.
For some, Abbey’s journey might seem like just another economic triumph for someone in one of the most educated immigrant classes in the United States, Nigerians; and see Esusu’s success as merely a product of that evident privilege manifest in community support.
The truth is, Abbey and Samir approached over 200 investors to build their financing round, and encountered countless setbacks that startup founders of any hue often endure, and of course a few additional ones.
Just like in 2013, when we met in the PPIA, Abbey acknowledges this cultural criticism suggesting his new privileged position with such an eloquent and charming retort you can’t help but to accept as authentically Abbey.
Abbey told me in our follow up interview on the phone post-app launch party, that
“we all have privileges in one shape or the other-the sacrifice-and I’ve been privileged to go to the finest educational institutions in this country, but it doesn’t relegate the psychological baggage or financial bagage from not coming from wealth; and that baggage is always there and the core focus is ‘each one, teach one’.”
To Abbey, “regardless of where you end up in life, it still wraps up in what we fundamentally agree,” and “we all have a cacophony of privilege but it depends on how we use that privilege to accomplish goals. My co-founder and I’s focus is to give marginalized groups access to more institutions.”
5. Did The App Launch Help Esusu?
Here’s the deal, when Abbey and Samir first began promoting Esusu, all of the major credit bureaus didn’t take them seriously. However, Esusu has now fortified strategic partnerships with not only these key stakeholders but several others in the heart of Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
For a company so well connected, Abbey said that honestly he saw no direct help from the app launch party itself.
However, when pressed further to describe his conversations during the question and answer and “meet the founder” portions of the evening, he added that he identified more ideas for partnerships and working together with our party guests.
This ego-free and tech-enabled environment included mostly people of color on the NYC tech scene, including investors, other founders, lawyers, designers, marketers and students.
According to Abbey, folks who attended Esusu’s app launch party were good connections from an investment standpoint, and “had thoughtful questions that can help Esusu make sure they are getting a more perfect product for their communities and the people Esusu represents in one shape or form”.
If you’re reading this right now, as an aspiring founder of color, or even a veteran in the NYC tech scene (or Silicon Valley), please know that Abbey’s story is impressive, but certainly not unique. He and I both are the first ones to tell you, that while we each worked hard in school growing up, we had tremendous help from others at times where we fell short, and these interventions made our present opportunities vastly more accessible.
This help is available to you too.
Remember this, an unshakeable and positive attitude can make you a magnet for the exact people you need in your life to help you to reach your goals.
Stay connected to friends and continue to support them.
Realize that as a founder of color, you will always underestimate how much effort is required to reach your goals.
And one day D-TECH.FUND could be throwing an app launch party for you as well.
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