When I told my family I was quitting my cushy, high-paying tech job to build ParrotMob, they were shocked. As a Black man in tech, I was a unicorn of unicorns – I’d worked my way up to become a Lead Software Engineer at Mailchimp. From there, I went on to become one of BlackRock’s youngest executives. I was making $275,000 a year and sending money back home to Nigeria. I had achieved the American dream. Put simply, it was difficult to explain the decision to my single mom, who emigrated from Nigeria to the United States with 3 small children. She provided the opportunity for my sister and I to become engineers and build stable lives for ourselves. And I was giving all that up.
I explained to my parents that I knew I could do more than simply work for a tech firm. I was living an American dream, but not my American dream.
A job is just a job
When I quit BlackRock to focus on ParrotMob, I quit a job in the literal sense. But in the more spiritual sense, I quit following someone else’s dreams. My dad always wanted me to be a successful investment banker. For Nigerian parents, more generally, banking is a great career choice. It’s either Wall Street or med school.
I was following the path that was laid out for me and communicated to me as desirable. To be clear: that path was not wrong, per se. I loved my time at BlackRock. I learned a lot. I worked with great people.
It simply wasn’t my path. This really clicked for me after reading Daniel Vassallo’s manifesto on why he left his cushy Amazon job to work for himself. In Vassallo’s words, “only intrinsic motivation lasts.” Those words stuck with me as I contemplated what was motivating me, driving me, and pushing me ahead. It became clear that I was following in the footsteps of giants – my father, the tech ecosystem, and societal expectations around immigration and the American dream.
I love software and commerce
Once I realized that I was following someone else’s dreams, the next step was to understand what my own path needed to be. A couple experiences crystallized that for me.
I left Nigeria as a kid, but regularly visited my aunts who still live there and run small businesses. When visiting two years ago I observed that my aunts, along with other local retailers, ran completely mobile businesses. They sold food and other goods in roadside stalls and noise-filled markets. They used OPay and other mobile payment platforms inspired by M-Pesa (a mobile payments platform in Africa similar to WePay in China). Shopping in those Lagos open-air markets, I could see that the future of commerce was mobile-first.
During my time at MailChimp, I saw just how big mobile commerce was becoming. I led teams building commerce tools that hundreds of thousands of businesses – big and small – were using around the world. Combine that with my general nerdiness and desire to build compelling technology, it became clear that my path was going to stay at the intersection of commerce and mobile.
I followed my passion for commerce and mobile further, conducting more research and building prototypes. That’s when I stumbled on Brianne Kimmel’s newsletter, Work From Home. In particular, an article on David Sacks’ enterprise playbook.
One quote from David stuck out to me:
“A decade ago there was a really sharp divide between consumer and enterprise, these spaces were highly compartmentalized. We brought a lot of consumer thinking and consumer tactics to enterprise.”
This quote – along with the rest of Brianne’s analysis – helped me pull my two experiences together into a cohesive vision. OPay and M-Pesa showed me the early trend of taking mobile – a consumer trend – and applying it to small enterprises. My time at MailChimp showed me how startups can take enterprise-grade technology like machine learning and email APIs, and make them accessible to businesses of all sizes. Both required emphasizing user experience and personalization, something I knew was going to be critical to the future of commerce.
The birth of Parrotmob and what’s next
These experiences clarified my true vision and passion: to build the next generation of conversational commerce. I realized it had to be mobile-first, it had to leverage existing consumer understanding of how technology works, and it had to leverage powerful technology on the backend to make it seamless for users. In short: I knew that Parrotmob had to build a better, more mobile way to shop online.
Despite my family thinking I was crazy for giving up a great tech job to build a startup, they gave me their full support in the end. As I spoke with friends in the San Francisco startup ecosystem about my vision, Arup Chakrabarti and Marcus Eagan believed in me and my vision so much they angel invested shortly after I quit my job. Further, Howard Akumiah made introductions to other individuals who gave me feedback to refine my idea. I was even invited to join the Acceleprise accelerator cohort after building the initial Parrotmob product, gaining further support and mentorship.
These experiences clarified my true vision and passion: to take part in building the next generation of commerce. I realized it had to be mobile-first, and it had to leverage cutting-edge technology to make it seamless and scalable. In short: I knew that ParrotMob had to build a better, more mobile way to shop online.
Despite my family thinking I was crazy for giving up a great tech job to build a startup, they gave me their full support in the end. As I spoke with friends in the San Francisco startup ecosystem about my vision, they expressed their support. My friends Arup Chakrabarti and Marcus Eagan invested shortly after I quit my job. Further, Howard Akumiah made introductions to other individuals who helped refine the idea. I was even invited to join the Acceleprise cohort in New York after building the initial product, gaining further support and mentorship.
When I stepped into the ring as a full-time entrepreneur, the world was in chaos. The COVID pandemic had just hit its early peaks. While many horrible things happened in the wake of COVID-19, the ecommerce world experienced the greatest acceleration it has ever had. Suddenly, everyone was shopping online and expected the same personalized service they got in-store. More businesses than ever got into ecommerce and wanted to connect their customers online.
Currently our platform powers 1-on-1 experiences for great brands like Unapologetic. But our vision is much more than that. I left a path of privilege because I knew there was something more. I could feel in my heart that the future of commerce had more to offer than just a virtual storefront. And I knew the only way I could be part of that future was to build it. I made the leap even though I was afraid. The courage that I saw in my mother, and now see in the entrepreneurs we serve, continues to propel me.