Nigeria-Born Tope Awotona Poured His Life Savings Into Calendly. Now He's One Of America's Wealthiest Immigrants – Forbes

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This tale seems within the April/Might 2022 factor of Forbes Mag. Subscribe
Jamel Toppin for Forbes
Tope Awotona, the 40-12 months-outdated founder and leader govt of Calendly, leans again in his chair and shall we free a noisy guffaw.
“You name it on message, I name it the reality,” he says, slapping his arms at the desk. The reality, as Awotona has it, is that everybody wishes Calendly, his scheduling instrument, to steer higher, extra productive, happier paintings lives.
9 years in the past, Awotona began Calendly, pouring his lifestyles financial savings of $200,000 into it and later quitting his process promoting instrument for EMC. Lately, the corporate has 10 million customers and counts Lyft, Ancestry.com, Indiana College and L. a.-Z-Boy amongst its consumers. Income closing 12 months handed $100 million, double what it booked the former 12 months. It might double once more this 12 months.
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The corporate, which used to be based in Atlanta however now not has any bodily workplaces, has been winning since 2016. Ultimate 12 months it raised $350 million in investment from OpenView Mission Companions and Iconiq Capital at a value that values the industry at $3 billion. That implies Awotona’s majority stake is value no less than $1.4 billion, after the ten% bargain that Forbes applies to stocks of all personal firms. Awotona is one in all simply two Black tech billionaires in the US, in conjunction with David Steward, the 70-12 months-outdated founding father of Missouri-based totally IT supplier International Extensive Generation. “Tope may well be essentially the most a hit African-American tech entrepreneur of his technology,” says David Cummings, founding father of Atlanta Ventures, which led a $550,000 seed funding in Calendly seven years in the past.
Calendly doesn’t have the scheduling industry to itself. Sq., Microsoft and Zurich-based totally Doodle be offering competing merchandise. However Calendly has received traction with its swish, shopper-pleasant design and its freemium type that shall we it acquire paying consumers with out a advertising.
Awotona is now transferring past scheduling conferences to making gear that lend a hand recruiters, salespeople and different white-collar staff organize the ones conferences ahead of and once they happen. That implies routing conferences to the correct particular person at a big corporate and including related paperwork, reminiscent of agendas and budgets, which can be had to make the assembly run extra easily within the invitation itself. It additionally comprises integrating with productiveness gear like Salesforce to trace effects. Others would possibly view scheduling conferences as drudgery, however Awotona sees it as secret to meaking connections to the whole thing that occurs inside of a company. This expansive view permits him to take a position that the worldwide marketplace Calendly is promoting into is doubtlessly value $20 billion.
“In my lifestyles, I’ve benefited from no longer taking the normal knowledge,” Awotona says. “It’s benefited me for my part, and I feel it has benefited the industry.”
Awotona used to be born in Lagos, Nigeria, into a center-elegance circle of relatives. His father used to be a microbiologist and entrepreneur; his mom labored on the central financial institution. Lagos, a town of 15 million, is economically colourful however unhealthy. When Awotona used to be 12 he witnessed his father get shot and killed in a carjacking. “There used to be part of me, from an overly early age, that sought after to redeem him,” he as soon as mentioned.
In 1996, when he used to be 15, he moved along with his circle of relatives to Atlanta. He studied pc science on the College of Georgia, then switched to industry and control data. “I liked coding, but it surely used to be too monotonous,” he says. “I’m most probably too extroverted to be a coder.”
As a substitute, he bought instrument for tech firms, together with Perceptive Tool, Vertafore and EMC (since bought by means of Dell). He additionally based a couple of companies at the facet: a relationship site, an organization that bought projectors and every other that bought lawn gear. All 3 have been flops.
His concept for Calendly used to be other in that it used to be sparked by means of his personal frustration as a salesperson putting in conferences—a role that might infrequently take dozens of emails and days of prolong. “The most obvious concept to me used to be that scheduling is damaged,” he says. In 2013, he introduced Calendly from Atlanta Tech Village, a coworking house for marketers. To fund it, he raided his 401(ok) and maxed out his bank cards. “It might’ve long gone in reality badly,” he says. “With my earlier companies, I hedged my bets a little bit bit and gave myself some way out. With Calendly I flew right into a warfare zone and installed each cent I had. In the event you’re going to do one thing, it’s a must to cross all in.”
For programming lend a hand he gotten smaller with Ukrainian company Railsware. Awotona used to be in Kyiv 8 years in the past as protesters battled govt forces within the streets. Now, amid the warfare, Calendly has helped relocate its 10 Ukraine-based totally contract builders at Railsware and has equipped monetary improve to them and their households.
Through past due 2013, Awotona had a viable product however no money left. Seed traders, led by means of Cummings, got here to the rescue with a part-million-greenback infusion. Calendly is unfastened for person customers, however most often prices firms $25 in line with person per 30 days. “Staff sing the praises of our product to their upper-ups and it bubbles up,” Awotona says. “That’s the Bug of the way we get into firms.”
Endeavor consumers can arrange custom designed touchdown pages, course conferences to express teams of other people and attach their Calendly instrument to different gear, reminiscent of Salesforce, Stripe, Zoom and Hubspot. Huge consumers, which Calendly defines as the ones paying greater than $100,000 a 12 months, have grown tenfold over the last three hundred and sixty five days as Calendly has constructed up its inner gross sales group. Publicly traded automotive buying groceries web site CarGurus, as an example, has scheduled some 2,000 gross sales conferences with its sellers via Calendly since signing up closing Might. That has supposed financial savings of 500 hours of workers’ time, says CarGurus senior virtual strategist Michael Riley, who led the Calendly rollout.
Ultimate June, US Meals, a big meals provider based totally out of doors Chicago, rolled out Calendly to 100 individuals who paintings with unbiased eating places, most commonly mother-and-pop stores. The deal let US Meals arrange custom designed templates for conferences, in each English and Spanish, and incorporate new gross sales and different results into its strategic making plans. “That visibility used to be an enormous promoting level for signing an undertaking settlement with Calendly,” says David Eschler, vp of eating place operations at US Meals. For its company consumers, Awotona says, the price of Calendly is greater than offset by means of productiveness will increase.
The ability dynamics of Calendly can also be sophisticated—who invitations, who accepts—particularly for the ones professions, like challenge capital, wherein that more or less factor in reality issues. Awotona, who says that hasn’t been a topic for the everyday recruiter or shop clerk, watched in amazement as his company turned into the article of a Twitter warfare this iciness. Sam Lessin, a VC with Sluggish Ventures, tweeted about his hatred of Calendly on January 26, calling it “essentially the most uncooked/bare show of social capital dynamics in industry.”
“Who harm you Sam,” riposted Dustin Moskovitz, the billionaire Fb cofounder whose venture supervisor industry, Asana, is a Calendly buyer. Added VC Marc Andreessen (internet value $1.7 billion) in a since-deleted tweet: “Understand with fast impact: Any individual who disregards my Calendly hyperlinks can be permabanned from elevating challenge capital in Silicon Valley.”
Awotona says the kerfuffle ended in tens of hundreds of recent customers signing up. “Our advertising group has spent numerous time interested by easy methods to get other people speaking about Calendly this 12 months. We didn’t know one of the simplest ways used to be to place out some tweets,” he says. “We couldn’t have deliberate it higher.”
Now Awotona, who took the 424-particular person corporate absolutely faraway closing summer time, plans extra options to push Calendly additional into what must occur ahead of conferences (reminiscent of having applicants’ résumés connected to recruiters’ calendar invites) and after them (reminiscent of greater analytics). He’s additionally making plans world growth, believing that the ache of scheduling is felt throughout all geographies and languages.
“The chance to make each and every assembly environment friendly and reach its said goal is what we’re about,” says Awotona, who confesses to spending 25 hours in conferences in a median week. “We see scheduling as a chance to set the assembly up for good fortune—the way you agenda the assembly, simplified preparation and apply-up. This is our grand imaginative and prescient.”

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