We caught up with Claudine Adeyemi, founder of Earlybird, a voice-based onboarding tool designed specifically for employability providers and a 2019 alum of our OneTech programme.
The conversation ranged from Claudine’s background as a lawyer to the single most important piece of advice she would give to potential startup founders.
Capital Enterprise: Let’s start by talking about your background. You originally trained as a lawyer, is that right?
Claudine Adeyemi: That’s right, I read law at University College London before practising at Mishcon de Reya.
CE: How did you go from law to deciding to become an entrepreneur? There must have been a moment when you were like, ‘This is what I want to do.’
Claudine: There was no one lightbulb moment, it was a gradual process over several years with a lot of learning and coaching. I spent a lot of time working on initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion at my law firm. Then in 2014 I founded the Student Development Co., which was a non-profit which provided career support to young people from less privileged backgrounds, which I ran on the side. I then looked to technology to explore how I could solve the problem I was trying to solve through a product that could be accessed by any young person, anywhere. That’s how CareerEar was born.
It took some time but I realised, actually, I was far more excited about the impact I could have on the world through my startup than about practising as a lawyer. I had been nervous about operating as a proper startup and raising investment, just because of all of the horror stories you hear and how difficult it is for black female founders to raise investment. But eventually I realised I can’t achieve the goals I have and the dreams I have without going down this route – because they are just so big.
CE: A lot of the people I talk to, they first decide they want to have a startup. And then they start looking for the specific problem, or the business model, or whatever it is they’re going to work on. And it sounds like you came to it almost the other way around.
Claudine: Yeah, exactly. You could say I fell into this because I never set out to necessarily be a founder or be an entrepreneur. But I fell in love with trying to solve this problem and trying to bring about this change. And I think that the most powerful way to do that is through business.
CE: Let’s talk about your company, Earlybird. You’ve recently gone through a bit of a pivot, is that right?
Claudine: Yeah, we’ve pivoted quite recently. Previously we were running CareerEar, a digital career support platform for people from overlooked communities. We’ve since pivoted to building software for employability providers. And that software is all focused on helping them to onboard their programme participants in a way that is far more effective. So it’s faster, it saves them time and money, but also gives them far deeper insights into that individual, their interests, their challenges, their fears, so they can tailor the employability support that they are offering on those programmes better, and support them back into work or to get into work for the first time.
We basically combine voice technology and generative AI to provide onboarding software for these organisations. And the idea is that when an individual joins that programme, even before Day One they can use our software to answer a bunch of questions. We then extract the relevant insights for the employability provider, so they are equipped with that information and can tailor the participant’s experience accordingly.
CE: Hearing you describe how it works, it strikes me that so much of this is done on paper and it can be pretty repetitive. Letting someone talk it through really would be so much faster.
Claudine: That’s true, and it’s deeper stuff as well, right? It’s capturing data on your digital literacy skills, your experience with job interviews, any challenges you’re facing, maybe personal relationships that might impact you going into work or staying in work, challenges around health, mental health and wellbeing. So there’s all sorts of things that come up that need to be understood in order to properly support someone.
CE: Awesome. So I understand you’ve raised a pre-seed round and are now in the process of raising the next one. How has that been?
Claudine: The first round ended up being easier than I’d anticipated. Part of that comes down to a bit of luck, if I’m completely honest. It kicked off at a time where we were thinking about converting into a startup properly, and then we ended up having a conversation with an investor who was keen. And that’s what made us decide to properly raise. After that we ended up meeting another investor in particular who’s awesome, who not only invested but also brought in some other angels, and then we got introduced to an exited female founder who decided to invest as well.
So active raising was probably September through to December. But it was a small pre-seed round, and then a formal close in January of the following year.
We’re raising again now and it feels more stressful already. I think raising is always just an intense and stressful process. It requires you to get into a completely different mindset to running the business. And it also requires you to make space for it. So I’m now like, X amount of my time each week needs to be dedicated just to fundraising and managing my diary for that.
I also think that, as an ex-lawyer, parts of it are easier in terms of just understanding the process, the documentation, some of the concepts, where other founders that I’ve spoken to have kind of struggled to get their heads around certain things. And so that’s definitely been a massive help.
CE: I was going to say, as a lawyer you’re probably quite well-prepared for this.
Claudine: Maybe from a legal perspective, in terms of investment agreements, articles, shareholders agreements, that kind of stuff. But raising investment is basically a sales process and most lawyers aren’t that great salespeople. That’s been something I’ve had to learn for sure.
CE: Final question. What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about founding a company?
Claudine: I would say that being a founder isn’t for everybody. It’s important to reflect on why you want to be a founder and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. The best way to get into founding your own business is to really kind of explore what motivates you, and what problems there are in the world and what you’re passionate about and could obsess over. And if you are finding that there are one or more problems that you find particularly fascinating, that you would be willing to spend 150% of your time trying to solve, then that’s probably a good indication that you could pursue the founder route. Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. You need a deep understanding of the problem and a willingness to obsess over it and try to figure out how to solve that problem for the masses.
Thanks to Claudine for speaking with us and you can follow her on LinkedIn here.
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