Claudine Adeyemi is the founder of Career Ear, a platform that provides careers support to young people and allows employers to recruit from a diverse talent pool.
Where did you get the business idea from?
My business idea came from the work I was doing with my non-profit The Student Development Co. We provide career-related advice and guidance, including skills workshops, insight days and mentoring.
Having worked with well over 500 students I kept seeing this issue of certain groups not having access to the industry. This is backed up by the research around people from underrepresented groups, particularly from low socioeconomic and ethnic minority backgrounds, not having the same start in life, not having the networks. The knock-on effects are exacerbated by schools underperforming in relation to the careers guidance and support that they provide. I wanted to solve that problem.
What is your vision?
My overarching vision is for these individuals to have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
The learning from my own journey is that ability is undermined by lack of opportunity.
What has been your journey into tech entrepreneurship?
I wanted to be a lawyer from a young age. I wanted to achieve something that my whole family would be proud of and to generate an income that would allow me to support everyone.
I worked hard at school. I tried to find contacts, mentors, experience. I studied Law at UCL but in terms of the whole lack of networks that was still a problem. My peers were pretty well-connected with parents at consultancy firms or running companies. I had support from Kids Company who gave me a barrister mentor. I graduated and worked in a top law firm for 6 years but the continuing lack of representation made me realise I need to do something about this.
What made you decide entrepreneurship was right for you?
To be honest I don’t think it was a decision about being an entrepreneur or being in a corporate. It was more that there’s this problem that I’m really passionate about solving and it’s starting to slightly outweigh my passion for the law right now. There’s more of an urgency for me to solve this problem right now.
Career Ear will take careers advice to the next level by providing early-career seekers with a one-stop shop career discovery experience together with opportunities in which they can thrive. We will be launching this Autumn.
What is your experience as a woman of colour in tech?
Obviously there is massive underrepresentation. I think it’s impossible to not walk into a room and not notice when you’re the only women of colour or the only person of colour. But I’ve tried not to focus too heavily on that. I’ve always tried to develop my networking skills and find other ways to build rapport with people where it’s not based on cultural background. But I do see the dangers of internalising that feeling of not belonging, not fitting in because it has knock-on effects for everything else. I think in some environments it’s really hard, especially if there are undertones of racism or a lack of inclusion.
In terms of investment, there have been challenges. I’ve had to field advice from people saying ‘You should really start with family and friends’, where they’re just not appreciative that’s not an option for me. I’ve also had to listen to people tell me that what we’re doing is great and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to raise very quickly and other founders who have moaned about a long four-month raise. People like me can only dream of raising that quickly!
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Early on, before I even incorporated, I met a woman investor who used to work for Goldman Sachs. At that stage, I didn’t know anything about investment. She said ‘Do not take this money unless you really really need it.’ Taking investment from the very early stage puts pressure on founders, rather than having the time to build the right business model.
There’s also the famous mantra from Y-Combinator: ‘Make something people want’ and this is a constant reminder. We always have students on our team and meet with existing or prospective users. They help us ensure that everything we do is what they actually want and that they shape our product and business.
What would be your message to inspire other underrepresented founders?
As underrepresented founders or underrated talent, I think a lot of us are fed this notion -which is right- of needing to be ten times better than your white counterparts. You need to excel. You need to work harder and achieve more. And I think that can sometimes translate into being a bit more cautious about what you do. So, for example, not wanting to jump into your business because it’s not perfect yet.
My advice is don’t just sit on your ideas and think you need to create a perfect business plan and impress someone. Even in tech at the most basic level, there is so much you can do without paying a penny in terms of testing concepts and building prototypes. Get yourself excited about it and then figure it out.
What do you think tech spaces can do to be more inclusive?
The starting point to being more inclusive is being more representative.
I had a call recently with a black VC and at the end, I had to communicate to him how much of a different experience it was compared to speaking to most investors. Having someone that understands my experience and can relate more.
Lots of conversations are happening behind closed doors when the founders are not there to represent themselves and a person of colour championing that perspective can make a real difference.
What are your dreams?
I’m quite impact-driven and ambitious. I want to build Career Ear into a globally profitable company. I want to make a difference on a global scale rather than just in the local community.