Timi Dayo-kayode always liked to do things his own way. From a young age, his mom gave him snacks, and he would sell them to his friends at school. This self sufficiency manifested itself as an interest in solving problems as he grew older. Focused on fixing things himself, he quickly became the go-to person to address situations when they arose.
Although he was able to bring this problem solving mentality to all areas of his life from science class and math honors society to debate and student government, he never had one area where this trait would be put fully to the test until senior year came. In his last year of high school, he watched The Internship, a movie about two people who go to work at Google and write code, and he became fascinated with computer science.
With his newfound love of programming, he travelled down to Virginia for his first Hackathon. What he saw there would completely change his outlook on the tech industry. He described the scene,
I got there, and I was the only black person there. It just felt weird. That experience really set the tone for how I interacted with the tech community in general. I just became super aware after that first experience of the composition of demographics within any tech segment.
From his experience back in his school, it also became apparent that certain demographics were less likely to go into the tech sector. In his majority black school, there were no programming classes and only a couple people out of the graduating class of 250 students were majoring in computer science. It was a wake-up call for Timi.
Entering college, he was still enamored with CS. He joked, “I was that guy who was talking about CS all the time in every conversation.” However, university gave him an opportunity to broaden his interests and explore other areas. He began to take classes in areas like psychology, cognitive sciences, and especially economics. The fast paced world of money, trade, and business caught Timi’s attention and in a dramatic turn of events, he found himself in an entrepreneurship class during his freshman year.
One of the projects for the class was to start a company, so he thought he might as well do something that solved one of the issues that he experienced on a day-to-day basis, the lack of diversity in the tech sector. He drew up a plan for a bootcamp for high schoolers to give them the experience to code proficiently before sending them to an internship. There was one cyber security company that had even reserved spots for the kids from the boot camp. He ran with that idea for six months, only to figure out that teaching minority students about coding wasn’t going to solve the pipeline problem.
Then, he pivoted to diversity recruiting. With a comprehensive platform that pulled an applicant’s github information, resumé, LinkedIn, and past experiences, Timi hoped he could create a platform where minority talent would be able to show off their achievements. Alas, even that couldn’t seem to solve the problem. Many times, prospective employees would enter the companies and leave early, revealing the retention problems that plagued the tech sector in underserved groups.
As Timi spoke to more and more people about the issue and delved into the topic, he began to see why retention was the biggest problem. Many of these talented people would enter the workplace, and the culture would be such a poor fit that they would end up leaving. Looking at the data, minorities were 3.5 times more likely to leave than their white counterparts.
There was a clear challenge with employee turnover, so Worksense moved deeper into the pipeline to become a long term solution to fix diversity issues within the company. Timi saw four main solutions that were being levied in the status quo.
The first and biggest was hiring consultants. He observed that it took a long time for them to diagnose the issues, and through talking to these people, he found that they were usually hired for a year, but it took six to nine months for them to finish the discovery phase, leaving them a short amount of time to create and implement a solution. The bigger hole in hiring consultants would be the inherent short term nature of the solution. If the company had hired new workers after the consultant finished or previous workers had left, there would be a shift in the demographics of the workforce and a subsequent slight change in the culture, meaning that the solution wouldn’t be as useful.
The second solution was special minority hiring softwares. Again, this went back to the whole issue surrounding retention. You can hire as much minority talent as you want, but it won’t affect your diversity and inclusion metrics if they leave shortly after being hired. The third solution was diversity officers, which would work well if the company was already somewhat diverse, so they could have something to work on. But if a company had no diversity or was already doing well, than having a diversity officer wouldn’t help much. The final solution was employee annual or quarterly engagement surveys. The problems mainly boiled down to lack of timeliness and specificity, two key factors for diversity.
Looking at these four current solutions and analyzing each of their strengths and weaknesses, Timi used what he knew best, programming, to devise a solution that would aid in diversity and inclusion for the long term.
The first aspect of his service would be the data side. “We’re collecting data from employees on a day-to-day basis and providing companies with actionable plans on a monthly basis,” Timi explained, “so you’re always adjusting the company culture to match the employees you have at a given time because the expectation is that you don’t keep the same employees that you have regularly.” The most important part of Worksense would thus be a survey based system. After a couple iterations and some tough feedback, he perfected it.
Combining aspects of social psychology and low friction methods to guarantee answers, the new surveys would slowly accumulate a plethora of data on different aspects of the minority experience within a company. First, employees put their numbers and departments into the survey software. Then, daily, Worksense sends out 3 to 5 question surveys to 5-10% of the employee population using text message. It’s both easy to see and reply to. Through sending those questions to 5-10% of the workforce at random, a particular employee may only receive a survey every 10-20 days, but because it is cycling through all of the employees, the software can quickly aggregate a lot of data and not tire out people.
At the end of the month, every department’s ranking based on survey completion is made public, thus incentivizing people to complete their surveys so their department doesn’t fall behind and look like it isn’t helping. This process could then be used to analyze topics such as advancement through the workplace. If the data that Worksense collected showed that certain minority groups had doubts about their ability to be promoted, that could pose a problem to retention. Worksense would identify that and offer ways to fix it.
Ultimately, Timi explains that the software is like a doctor. It looks at all the symptoms that the company has that could be pointing towards a particular problem, diagnoses it, and then gives a list of solutions that the company can use to fix it. Because they collect this data on an ongoing basis, the company’s executives can also see if what they are doing is working or not.
Outside of refining the survey process, Timi was also looking for a cofounder and resources to help him learn about the process of building a startup. Even though he was a CS major, he wanted to be more involved in the sales and evangelism aspect of the business, so one of his major goals was finding a CTO. “Finding a CTO was really hard,” Timi said. “I read all these articles and listened to these talks about how important your founding team is so I was very hard headed about finding the perfect person to found the company with. I spent a good amount of time interviewing people and figuring out who I wanted to come on.”
Luckily, he found just the person he needed. With a cofounder, many running the startup became easier. But before he had a chance to relax, the next big opportunity came: Mass Challenge. It was overwhelming, representing the culmination of all his hard work up to that point. There were all kinds of emotions going on: excitement that they had gotten in, confidence that came with being a finalist, but also doubt and fear about making decisions or living up to the high expectations.
Participating in the competition was a roller coaster. When the startup showcase was around the corner, Timi thought that just showing the software would be enough, but the night before, he decided that it would also be useful to have some visuals like flyers. The next morning, when he got to the venue to retrieve them, the flyers wouldn’t print out properly; they would be misaligned or not be the right size. Already stressed out of his mind, he kept trying and a few hours later, he finally got them printed the way he wanted. It was a crazy experience, but it was also like a microcosm of running a startup. Sometimes, it’s like you’re falling fast towards the ground, face first, but right as it seems like the end is nigh, you bounce back up and you’re up and running in no time at all.
Lots of obstacles came with being in Mass Challenge, but the benefits far outweighed the costs. For instance, it helped out was improving Worksense’s credibility. Being a part of the competition gave Timi greater access to strong connections and networking chances. He started going to all kinds of networking events around Boston by perusing Eventbrite; he became a power user on LinkedIn. Connecting with all types of people, poring over articles by thought leaders in the diversity and inclusion space, messaging professionals on Twitter, and finding advisors to fill in his knowledge gaps, he became an expert on the art of networking.
As he grew his network, it also became easier to connect with higher level people. By leveraging existing connections and asking for referrals, he was able to meet so many more professionals in different areas.
Even then, there were still times when luck was not on his side. One time he got a meeting with a prominent CTO, but it was ruined by his computer. Mere minutes before the meeting was to start, his laptop acted up, and it had to restart, a process that would take a while. He frantically tried to get it to start up faster, but it just wouldn’t work. The CTO emailed him and said that she was wondering where he was. Once his computer got up and running, it wouldn’t load the google meeting that he had set up. Frustrated and flustered, he ended up getting on the phone with her for only 10-15 minutes without his materials and questions on him.
That was one of his worst memories, but it was also just part of the process of running a startup. There are incredible highs and lows. “I definitely have my streaks. I have a 3 week streak where I’m getting things done, sending emails, making slide decks, and going to meetings. And then in a week I’m done. I’m not doing anything that week. I’ll have my email so backlogged, and it’ll just be crazy. I’ll just be out of it for a week,” he said.
Dealing with the bipolarity that comes with building a company has been one of the most important things for him. He stressed the need to have breaks and to take care of your mental health. After all, working constantly will only lead to burnout and a long recovery period. Giving structure and a schedule to his days also helps him stay focused on what matters.
Timi outlines his week, “I work from Monday to Friday. And then Saturday I just take the day off. On Sunday I try to climb up again. I do some readings. I do some email. I do my todo notes, and I check the ones I’ve done. I just try to build myself back up.” Being part of his college’s accelerator program has also been incredibly useful, giving him a time and a place to settle down and get his work done, connect with likeminded college students, and get help when needed.
Ultimately, even when things do get tough for him, having coping strategies and the remainder of his personal connection with the problem he’s trying to solve keeps him going. “When you have a personal connection to the problem, no matter how many roadblocks you have or how many times you’re discouraged, you always just get up and keep fighting, “Timi said. Diversity in tech is a “problem I face on a daily basis. I have a little brother who’s coming into the space. Good friends of mine are CS people. It’s very personal to me and so by virtue of that, I’m never really done with the problem. If I stop trying to solve it, I will still wake up the next day and face it again. And so I just always have that motivation to keep going.”
These days, although Worksense has moved deeper into the pipeline of the minority talent experience with the workplace, they see themselves as doing much more in the future. As the world around us shifts to accommodate the exploding tech scene, that also means that there will be more opportunities for minorities to get a job there. Timi sees his company in the long run as an end to end solution for these people. From day one, he hopes he can make the experience better.
Just do it. The worst thing that can happen is that you get a bunch of rejections and people say no. But do it, and read a lot. I think reading a lot is not the most popular advice given to young entrepreneurs, but reading about other people’s experiences is valuable, and just personally to me, it’s been so valuable seeing the things that make people fail. And then a lot of the times, when I do something, I’m like, that’s exactly what that person did in the book I read, so I probably shouldn’t do it because if they did it and it turned out to be bad, then I probably shouldn’t do it. I can’t draw from my own experiences, but I can draw from other people’s experiences. And that’s really key as a student entrepreneur, as a young founder. You can’t fast forward your life, but what you can do is incorporate other people’s life experiences into yours.
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