I had the pleasure of interviewing Olumide Gbenro, Chief Global Officer at TEAMZ Inc, a venture funding platform based in Tokyo, Japan. His primary role is to facilitate the relationships between major stakeholders from The United States, China, and Japan and facilitate the growth of the growing company. Olumide is a global entrepreneur, world traveler, polyglot, creative artist, experiential film producer, and millennial influencer. He is a multilingual businessman fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, and French (among others) whose global network of influence spans every continent. He has hosted influencer & business networking events for diverse audiences ranging from Tokyo, Japan to Los Angeles, California and built connections with some of the most notable entrepreneurs abroad in the tech world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up on 3 continents before aged 13. I was born in Nigeria grew up in London, England during the era of the Spice Girls and immigrated to The United States when my family was fortunate enough to win the green card lottery. I took the expected and traditional path, went to undergraduate college then graduate school for my Masters in Public Health. I started my first business in Grad school hosting luxury networking events which helped me pay part of my tuition. It went pretty well so I decided entrepreneurship was for me because I saw the freedom and impact it could bring. I ended up doing one of those events in Tokyo in 2016 with my now CoFounders Tianyu Yang & Toto Yanying and now we have partnered to create TEAMZ and scale our platform from our high end business summits that attracted the top investors in Asia into our upcoming VC fund.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think something interesting is how my Nigerian cultural background helped me assimilate better into Japanese business culture. Being raised by Nigerian immigrant parents the environment of bowing and respect for your elders is very important and engrained from childhood. In Japan people bow a lot as a sign of respect so it was easier for me to relate. Another one is related to how business is done. Often the first few meetings business is not discussed. Usually you learn about who the other person is first and trust is built over a meal or drink before you start to work together. I really enjoyed this part of it. Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of befriending Nick Yang, one of the top Angel Investors from China and it’s been such a great learning experience from him as a young founder.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are truly committed to creating a bridge between East and West. Although our business summits have scaled to nearly 1,000 in just our second year, we still make a conscious effort during our summits to do private sit down dinners for our investors and stakeholders in the traditional manner so real connections and relationships can be built. We’ve had top entrepreneurs like Gerard Adams and Timothy Sykes and Peter Voogd, Richard Lorenzen, joined us in Tokyo to connect with some of China, and Japan’s biggest investors. Humanizing Venture Capitalism is a point we really focus on and part of our mission includes “ To construct an ecosystem that creates business opportunities for startups and investors around the world by reducing language, cultural and regulatory barriers that may exist between Japan, China, The United States, and the World” and we try to implement this in every initiative. We want to emphasize cultural exchange in everything we do not just focus on just deals.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Our biggest task right now is raising our first fund for TEAMZ. We are raising 3–5 million this year and begin building out our own CoWorking space in Tokyo. It is no small task but I’m so excited because we’ve worked so hard to build our brand in the region.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I think it comes down to letting them breathe. What I mean is allowing people to be independent and execute their skill set. Not being overbearing and allowing them to do what they do best will give them confidence to nail it!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I’m very grateful to a few people. One being my parents despite being initially critical of my choice to pursue entrepreneurship instead of utilizing with 2 Masters degree, have been there every step of the way. My siblings have also been key in supporting everything I’ve done. My best friend Matin Nazari who travels with me every time to Tokyo and captures all the content you see of me online. Finally one of my partners Rod Watson who is a celebrity real estate agent and taught me a lot about business and branding when i first started.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Giving back is huge for me. I don’t mean donating money. One of the most important things I do when I travel is to volunteer in a local community. Whether its my birth country of Nigeria or East Papua in Indonesia I feel that getting down with your own hands can make as powerful or even more powerful impact than donating money.
Can you share the top five lessons that you have learned from your experience as a “Black Man In Tech”?
1. Just Work: I’ve found that although there are challenges in being a minority in America this should never be a limiting factor in your psyche. I’m a firm believer that the internet leveled the playing field. When you create a product or service online the market decides who wins regardless of what you look like or where you are from.
2. Focus on what matters: I’m a student in the school of Gary Vaynerchuk and I really do believe what he says that 99% of things don’t matter. Many of the daily tasks or worries that we have don’t really affect us as much as the 1 or 2 things that could make or break our companies. For me I focus on partnerships at TEAMZ and bringing in the right team to make our engine continue running smoothly. All the other nuances don’t affect us quite as much.
3. Strengthen your strengths: I’ve found that many entrepreneurs want to do 3,000 things. We are so overzealous on trying to start so many projects. For me my best outcomes started to occur when I focused on what I am good at, building cross cultural relationships in business and creating value for all parties involved. I didn’t need to be “CEO” and control everything, I simply had to find teammates and CoFounders that would allow me to shine in my own talents and amplify theirs.
4. Balance is important: This one is regarding balance in your spiritual, mental and physical life. I work out at least 5 days a week and I’ve found that adding this to your routine can really help relieve stress and give you a more balance work life schedule. Staring at a screen or conferencing 24/7 does no one good mentaly.
5. Family & Friends first: As I get older I realize how important it is to check in with family and friends. A lot of us glorify working 18 hour days but taking a few minutes to call mom or sis is something that can help recenter you and remind why you do what you do and who you are doing it for.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I think it’s the one about how kindness cost $0. I think having empathy in business is something that is so important. Having lived on and done business in so many cultures what I’ve learned is that creating authentic and genuine relationships in business and friendship often make the biggest difference in how successful each deal or project is.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Daymond John is a guy I have tremendous admiration for and would love to meet. The things he has done in culture and the class he carries himself with is truly incredible. Also breakfast with Elon (musk) would be a trip. I’ve always wanted to pick his brain. The guy has proven all his doubters wrong time and time again and this relentless trait is something I try to emulate every day.