Abadesi Osunsade x Ambessa Play
Sara: Hi thank you for listening and we are joined by Abadesi Osunsade, the founder and CEO of Hustle Crew, the VP of Global Community and Belonging at Brandwatch, one half of the techish podcast which I personally love and listen to, with experience at a variety of tech companies, Product Hunt, Amazon and Groupon to name a few. You wrote a book,
Sara: Dream Big Hustle Hard Millennial Woman's Guide to Success in tech, and all around amazing supporter of young diverse entrepreneurs. I think you're the best example of lifting as you climb, because I met you through the create jobs program and you are still supporting entrepreneurs, a year later. Thank you so much.
Abadesi: My pleasure. Yeah, I'm a big believer in the journey, and I think the journey is always ongoing and, you know so much of the work that I do is motivated by what I wish I had when I was first starting out, so I really enjoy helping and I just want everyone to succeed. So,
Sara: Thank you I'm all better for it. So thank you. So first wanting to connect the dots I read that you were born in DC,
Sara: Grew up in East Africa?
Sara: Went to the UK, the secondary school and then LSE for government?
Abadesi: Yes that’s me
Sara: Firstly, what made you pick economics and government?
Abadesi: So I was really inspired by my dad who's an economist, and his training in economics, - he got his PhD at Oxford University, led to him having a really great career at the International Monetary Fund and let him live this incredible diplomatic life and there were so many benefits for that life. In my childhood - you know I was a direct recipient of benefits and I remember when I was telling all my friends in America that I was going to be moving to Tanzania, no one even knew what Tanzania was and no one could understand why I was going there, and my only answer was ‘because my dad’s an economist and a diplomat’ and that was what I knew was going to take us on this amazing adventure.
My dad would always like, ask me to read sections of the Economist to him when I was growing up, and I started to realize that economics is this incredible subject that connected, everything in the world, it connected our desires as individuals as humans with like the philosophy of like managing a society with, you know the quantitative side is like how much money is even flowing through this economy and what are other types of assets.
When I got to secondary school I was obsessed with philosophy, I actually applied for a philosophy scholarship and thought that which was great - discount on fees in sixth form. And through my philosophy education I discovered the works of Karl Marx I remember buying a second-hand copy of the Communist Manifesto, you know during secondary school and really just falling in love with the way that he and Engels and all these other folks Trotsky articulated their, their ideals.
I just really loved how an answerable question always seems to arise throughout, you know, the most ancient texts of philosophy, I’m thinking Plato, Socrates, all the way through to some of the more modern texts - you know, philosophy and economics intersect so much. I just realized, this must be a really compelling problem, if we've been spending the whole of civilization trying to decide what is the best type of society and what is the best way to govern and what are the best monetary policies and fiscal policies to create the most ideal version of the future so yeah I was really just, you know, romanticized the subject and thought there was so much potential.
Sara: Can I ask if you could go back, would you apply to economics and government?
Abadesi: It's funny because, well, actually. So, one of the things that I think I really underestimated about LSE Economics program is that it's very mathematical. So I had originally hoped to follow my dad's footsteps and get a place at Oxford, and I applied for PPE because that's really what my dad wanted me to study. He was really obsessed to this idea, but I was always much stronger at writing essays, like I'm an incredible essayist and it's really my essay writing skills that kind of got me through LSE because, you know, having then ended up at LSE where I'm really happy ended up and you know, not trade going to LSE, you know, for anything - and I think what was a real struggle was having to do really complicated problem sets, every week, and by that point in my education you know I used to love maths growing up but by that point my education I hadn't done A level maths, so I really missed a really core part of my skills training.
So I kind of came into a highly competitive, super quantitative course with GCSE maths and really spent the whole of my first year struggling with that imposter syndrome. You know I had like two whole years of like quite, you know, complex algebra and stuff that I never really learned, so I was like constantly catch up. Thankfully for my essay writing skills. It meant that I can spend literally 80% of my study time, went to the math that came with no mix. And then the 20% I could bash out an essay, and thankfully I got firsts on all of the essays and that's what kept me through the 40s and 50s I was getting an Econ. So I guess what I'm trying to say is like, it's not that I wouldn't spend Economics again, but I wouldn't take my main as my supporting so that, like I wouldn't have that dent in my confidence. I feel like if my main subjects were essay writing subjects, then I would have easily gotten distinction, and I would have had, Economics, as something fun to engage with on the side as opposed to the thing that my grades dependent upon, if that makes sense. So I don’t regret that Economics and in fact if I were to go back to university I would probably study behavioral economics which is definitely the part of economics that I always enjoyed the most.
Sara: Interesting. My brother graduated from LSE studying economics, so I understand what you mean by the maths side.
Abadesi: So much maths!
Sara: He loved that, so he leaned into that instead – so when you were studying was it leaning into course content or was it libraries or tutoring outside?
Abadesi: So LSE is super solo study. I would recall, you know, finishing a lecture and recalling okay I think I understood half of that it might be something like the Cobweb model that we just done and I was like, okay, what the heck is this, so I decided I was going to go to office hours. So I get to office hours and there would be the longest queue ever, and you could just see the clock ticking and you'd be like, am I going to get in before the hour is up, you know, all of our professors were themselves pursuing their own postdoc careers right, so they're doing a lot of research, or maybe it's still PhD students themselves. And so what I decided to do was just befriend people good at maths, mostly guys who you know I would just offer to get them whatever they wanted from the café. Like oh you’re going to the library’ let me get you something, let me get you tea, let me you cake. Let me sit with you whilst you do the problem set. And they would be like ok fine.
They were so patient with me because I would ask them to do all the workings and that was what was always missing from the lectures. I felt like the professors would put the problem on the board, and then suddenly there would be the solution and you’re following along and if you miss one of those steps – if you’re logic fails on one of those steps - you’re screwed and you’re like hand out how did you end up with 0. something there? I’m getting 0.4? So just being able to appeal to my smarter classmates really really helped a lot.
I would spend 12 hours in library, I’m not going to lie, preparing for finals. I would spend 12 hours in the library and bring my packed lunch, my water bottle, get into a really like quiet corner and just work through past papers, work through previous problem sets, do timed essays, timed equations – timed problem solving, and just do everything I could to practice exams, I did.
Sara: I think what you said, touches upon any element so I resonated with that in high school, where if I missed, or didn't really understand one math lesson – I felt like I couldn’t catch up with the rest and that I’m just like ok so I’m just not good at math, so math is just not my strength. When really I’m just behind and might need support there.
Abadesi: Really yeah and I think it's also, you know, when math gets harder, it actually does become quite abstract it’s quite beautiful there's something like super creative about it. But it means that people find their own ways to articulate what's happening. And if you have a teacher or a professor who's articulating it in a way that maybe that just isn't the language that you would use or that isn't the way that you would solve it or that isn't the way you know you would break down the problem into different sections, different parts of the problem, then you're going to get stuck and you're going to get lost and you know, growing up maths was always one of my strongest subjects. I loved maths and maths was great, I just chose to not do maths at A level and that meant that there were just certain foundational things I didn't know. I literally remember going back to my old school and just asking one of my friends to lend me her A level math book, and I would spend the weekends trying to catch up on all of these things. But yeah, I think a lot of us are better at subjects then we think, we just haven't had a teacher that can explain it in the language that our brain understands.
Sara: exactly and for all – pandemic is terrible of course but it has really illuminated that part of education, even things like Khan Academy, for example, the ability to then watch the lesson by yourself as well. What would you, if you could design your own school - actually you can pick the primary school, secondary school - what things would be on the curriculum, what would you put on the curriculum?
Abadesi: I'd love to like focus on secondary school only because I recently went and did a careers talk for my old school. I think one of the things I feel my school most failed me at - so don't get me wrong I love my school and I love that I went to an all-girls school, like going to an all-girls school was so, so incredible for me. I went to a school where it was cool to be the smartest person and the sportiest person, and cool at drama. Like we didn’t label ourselves, we didn’t limit ourselves. There were no like, you know cliques and cohorts - I mean of course there were to some extent - but it was the school where it was cool to be smart, it was fun to go to the library and I brought that energy into university to be honest I’ve kept that energy in my life, I think that’s why I’m so successful.
But if I could change secondary school, I would 100% make it more focused on preparing for adulthood. I think one of the things about school is that it’s very prescriptive style of learning, - you know it’s by rote. Here’s the syllabus, learn the syllabus, do the syllabus. We learn to memorize, repeat and regurgitate but we don’t learn to self-actualize and make our own choices. We don't learn how to evaluate a multitude of choices and pick the one that's most best for us, or aligned with our desires, you know, with the information that we have available to us. Then we all go through university and for the most part, you know I'm including myself in this, have a real existential crisis because it's like, holy moly, I went from being really good, really successful and doing the right things as a student of school but now I'm a student of university and I fricking lost and I’m like where’s the structure where’s the support? Where the coaching that you get when you're much younger from your teachers.
So, I do feel secondary school in particular needs to teach you more stuff about this is how you manage your money and this is how you budget, this is how you deal with rejection. This is why you need to send dozens of job applications before someone even calls you back because on the other side of that table, it's not someone picking you out of the pilot, I hate this person she's sucked, no it's someone who's 10,000s of resumes and honestly probably doesn't even get to look at yours. So there's just all these doses of realism and reality, that were never given and I actually think secondary school is a time where you need to stop being a child and start being an individual, and choose how you as an individual, are going to use your one chance at life.
Sara: Yeah, I think you've touched upon something really important there of just being okay with rejection and welcoming it and learning from it. Even within entrepreneurship, when I was in California, pretty much everyone I met had that mentality was like oh yeah because if this fails, I'm going to try something else, which is completely different to how we were taught in school versus if you make a mistake, then your grades fail, - a completely the opposite design there.
Abadesi: Yes, and I also wish you know just building on that, that there were other ways to evaluate people than exams. You know, when I got to LSE I realized how many stupid people are really good at exams, I mean there are a couple of people I met and I was just like how did you get into here? You're an idiot like literally really really just people that were so naive, had no critical thinking, people whose like biases were so out in the open, saying things that I was just like, like literally someone asked like Munich was in Israel once and I was just like, because they got confused about how that movie, Munich, about, the Israeli hostages? I was just like okay this is worrying. But I think one of the things about school is because it’s just about exams, you get people actually really good at memorizing and then really good at like regurgitating, and there are other people who probably have really incredible critical thinking skills, or other types of problem solving skills or other types of building skills but they never have an opportunity to show that off because the only time we're assessing people is in this extremely controlled environment like if you think of how exams have been designed in terms of like the environment that you're in, the way that it goes, the timing that you have, it's very controlled and therefore it's very optimized for a specific type of person. The way that we evaluate performance intellect, creativity, resilience has to be transformed.
Sara: Exactly, and also what skills we value within that. So after your degree you worked at The Financial Times and then you went to Groupon?
Abadesi: Groupon was my first tech company, so I actually did work in between the FT and Groupon. It was in the city and yeah I didn't love it very much, I left after 18 months. So Groupon was my first tech job and having an economics degree was really how I got in because I obviously couldn't be a coder. I didn't know any software engineering skills. I mean, I didn't think the HTML and CSS I used building like my geo-cities Josh Hartnett fan site was going to get me a job there. But when they asked, you know what roles, I'd be interested in - I you know was obsessed with this phrase commercial awareness because I saw it on all the job ads and everyone kept talking about it like recruiters, awareness, awareness, and you know, I think, I think when I joined Groupon I was like 23 going on 24 I think I literally interviewed a few days before my birthday. The recruiter I'd spoken to on the phone said you're going to meet the director of a newly created department and he'll just see if you'll be a good fit for his team, otherwise I'll introduce you to the director of another department and you'll see how it goes and you know he kind of talked to me about the fact that this is going to be a role looking after the merchants, making sure that like, you know, the economics of their deal made sense supporting them throughout blah blah blah and I was like economics I studied economics I know about commercial awareness I'll be able to help with pricing I'll be able to this, that the other I'll be able to have a sense on that - and he was like okay great and that's how I got my job.
Sara: and you’ve been in tech since.
Abadesi: And I’ve been in tech since. Yeah, and I think you know Economics is as much about, like I said earlier, like, understanding the numbers behind stories as much as it is understanding the people behind those stories. Yeah, so I do think it's a perfect degree in many ways.
Sara: What would you say to anyone, let's say a 10-year-old who's really interested in going into tech or any STEM roles, what would be your biggest advice there?
Abadesi: I think my advice would definitely be to keep creating things - keep creating things even if right now all you create is like a story or a painting or a Lego. Always keep building and always keep doing because the challenge of going from nothing to something tests your mind in so many interesting and different ways and as you get comfortable and confident creating things, you will therefore grow into someone that's confident, creating products, and that's what tech is all about tech is about solving problems with products and products can take so many different forms. But yeah, just keep making things happen, I'd say.
Sara: I love that answer and I love that you don’t focus on like a specific coding language or something because those things become obsolete over time.
So I went from a project that would have probably taken me, you know, three weeks, or even longer God knows how long - I was coding with a friend who was better, so she was helping me - to build a site to then a weekend.
Sara: To your point of making things, like if you're making things that you're also interested in, then you're more motivated right as opposed to being forced to do something in class.
Abadesi: 100% Exactly.
Sara: Nice, lastly, what or who would you say was the biggest influence in childhood?
Abadesi: Ooo so many things. I was obsessed with comedies, when I was a kid. I mean I still am to be honest.. So I really love like Jim Carrey because in the 90s, all of his movies were literally the best movies, Dumber Dumber, Ace Ventura - and it's funny because I watched him now and I realized that like my facial expressions and the way I react to things like being silly and literally just mimicking.
Sara: Copying his mannerisms?
Abadesi: Everything that I saw it growing up I used to watch like In Living Color which is a standup show that he did as well. So yeah, I was really really into him, I was really into the brand Lisa Frank, which is this like incredibly bright neon colored stationery brand. Obsessed with stationery and art supplies and honestly I still am like when I moved house recently, I realized I hoard stationery and art supplies so I have a bit of habit I need to work on there.
What else was I obsessed with? I was obsessed with Barney and Friends, I don’t know if you ever seen that show?
Sara: Yes purple dinosaur
Abadesi: Yeah giant dinosaur. I was obsessed with him. Also they had a character who's from Philippines, and that was like my mum’s from the Philippines and my dad’s from Nigeria. Never saw people on TV, like no one on Sesame Street was like, oh hi my name is Folabi and I’m a Yoruba. I'm like no one was ever like that on the you know - so watching Barney and there was someone from the Philippines and she was singing happy birthday Tagalog, I was just like, oh my god, mind blown. So I was like totally obsessed with that.
I was obsessed with shows like Family Matters, which had like Steve Urkel. He was like, so cool. I was obsessed with Oprah because she was kind of the only like older black woman on TV, like a black woman adult on TV that had a position of authority, and who had yeah like gravitas and status. So I always used to think she was just absolutely incredible, and I also really really loved the way she conducted interviews and, you know, she really is like an incredible journalist, as well as an incredible business mogul - I mean hello billionaire, so yeah I think that's everything.
Oh and I was of course obsessed with all the Home Alone movies. I remember like being so excited about getting a Top Boy, I remember getting a Top Boy I remember like using my Top Boy on this road trip that we took one summer, I would annoy my brother so much because I was like dictating everything like, alright, now we've just driven past a traffic light. Now we're just doing past a fire truck and he was like are you gonna actually say everything you see and I was like, I'm gonna say everything I see. But yeah I used to love all of those things and there used to be this like tech company I think they're still around, it's called V tech, and they used to have because I was like a true 90s kid obsessed with gadgets as well. V tech had a ton of different devices for kids, and they had I remember seeing the commercial - it was like the personal computer for the kids, and I was just like, oh my god they have a computer, and I was obsessed with getting the computer because like my dad had a computer, he had everything had a word processor, he had a printer, he had a laptop I was like, whoa a laptop at school we have like three computers and they're massive. So I really wanted to this V Tech personal computer slash laptop and like I finally got it, and I remember being so obsessed with it and it was the most basic product ever like it just seemed like now we're into the computer screen, like, you know, you keyboard buttons you can play a few basic games. But yeah, it was like totally obsessed about and then of course I was obsessed with Nintendo. And, yeah, shooting ducks was one of my favorites, as well as classic Mario. And when my sister got a Sega I became obsessed with Donkey Kong, original
Sara: Yeah you touch upon the importance of seeing someone that looks like you when you talk about barney and Oprah
Abadesi: and I also look like Barney so you know that worked out
Sara: Thank you for listening and a massive thank you to Abadesi for jumping on the podcast and championing diverse founders, sign up to our newsletter to find out more about our product launches and the next episode of the podcast.