Interview with Chuka Ikokwu, Divercity.io
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
What’s the best way to reach out and recruit diverse candidates for your technology company? It’s not easy, which is why Los Angeles-based Divercity.io exists. we spoke with co-founder Chuka Ikokwu to learn more about the startup and how it’s helping companies to recruit more diverse workers.
Describe what Divercity.io is all about?
Chuka Ikokwu: Divercity.io is an HR tech platform that makes it very easy for companies to source diverse talent.
And how do you do that?
Chuka Ikokwu: It’s simple. It works much like LinkedIn. Companies can get on the platform and set up a company profile, and post jobs, and source candidates for those jobs. On the flip side, we attract those candidates, based on their affinity group, such as Blacks in Tech, Latinos In UI and UX design, women enggineers, and other affinity groups that attract talent, making them accesible to companies that are looking to hire for diversity. It’s a community of underrepresented professionals.
How do you create those communities, and are those focused on different technical areas?
Chuka Ikokwu: We focus on both the media and technology industry, and we don’t just focus on engineering. We have not just engineers, but designers, UI, UX, analytics, product managers, user acquisition, marketing managers, and others. Those communities already exist. We found that those communities exit on many different platforms, like Slack, GroupMe, Facebook Groups, Google, and elsewhere. What we have done, is built this to centralize those existing communities, and to make them more productive. It makes it so that emails don’t get lost in an inbox, and so that those communities are actually accessible, and so people can connect with other people in their respective fields—even if they don’t already know a person. One reason we created this, was to democratize the access for underrepresented communities around career and vocational opportunities.
How long have you been offering up this service?
Chuka Ikokwu: We launched about a year and a half ago, and opened up the platform so that people can create their own profiles. that was during the summer, and we recently started allowing companies to set up their profiles.
What’s your background, and how did you start the company?
Chuka Ikokwu: My background is in data science and data anlytics. I spent the last decade building up the analytics stack at mobile game companies, mostly in Silicon Valley, leveraging that data for live operations. At the same time, I spent a lot of my time recruiting, and reaching out to these type of communities. I’ve been passionate about that. My co-founder and I both had this vision of leveraging mobile and web technology, to make it easier for people to connect to each other in their demographic. Swoly and surely, we’ve expanded that ability to different, under-represented populations. It’s not just people of color, it’s also women, LGBTQ, and even those facing age-ism, which is a big problem in Silicon Valley.
What’s your opinion on if there’s actually a big enough supply of a diverse workforce for all this recruiting? Is this a problem of finding the people, or not having enough people in the industry in the first place?
Chuka Ikokwu: Here’s just a couple of numbers on this issue. MIT and McKinsey did some studies on this, that showed about $400 billion a year is lost in the tech industry, due to lack of diversity and inclusion. The direct cost is $16 billion, and lost productivity and opportunity included costs companies $400 billion. The big part of that, Is companies not understanding the value add of diverse teams. A diverse team will increase your profitability by between 31 and 41 percent, according to that McKinsey and MIT study. Companies who understand the power of diversity, still are having a hard time finding the talent, not because that talent is few and far between, but because that talent is just lost in the shuffle. Part of it, is if I’m a hiring manager and want to hire a sofware engineer, I might look to my team now which is only male and white and Asian engineers. Women are sometimes only one in 100 or worse. So, you are not doing that great in terms of diversity. We exist to centralize access to that talent to make it easier.
How are you funded?
Chuka Ikokwu: We raised $160,000 from a combination of friends and family, and through an accelerator we were most recently part of, Netcube. They are in San Francisco, and they work with companies who leverage AI to solve problems. Other than that, we’ve been bootstrapped, and are on the verge of profitability and have a very low burn rate. We’re only burning around $15,000 to $20,000 a month for our team of 15. We’re in a raise now to scale and make some quick improvements, and enable us to grow the platform without having resource constraints.
What has been the biggest challenge for your startup?
Chuka Ikokwu: Great question. We have two big challenges. Number one, is oversupply. For instance, there are hundreds of roles right now that companies are hoping will be filled by diverse companies. Because there are not many companies doing what we are doing, which is specializing in diverse hiring in the technology space, we are trying to use our platform to supply that. Our technology has to grow fairly quickly, and in part that is a resource constraint. It’s not unsolvable, but what we’re facing now. There are so many roles to recruit for using our technology and our own internal staffing solution, but I wish we had more sources. We need more people, and more scalable technology. The second biggest problem is the user side. We have over 7,000 users in our network, and lots of them have come from word-of-mouth. We need to be able to scale much faster on that side, as well. Any time you’re building a network of people, it’s always part art and part science. We’re not spending millions on Facebook marketing to attract users, so it’s been so much more organic.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far as an entrepreneur?
Chuka Ikokwu: I would say, if we could do it again, I would focus a little bit earlier on monetization. The reason why that is the case, is it helps to not be depending on venture capital funding in order to grow. It’s important to freshen up your business model early in the lifecycle and build towards monetization. You don’t have to charge from day one, but you’ve got to make sure the situation is shut up and take my money from customers. The number two lesson, is how important user experience is. We didn’t have that at first, because we started developing it quite quickly, and we really didn’t emphasize the UX as much as we could have. We discovered that UX is a big blocker to scaling your user base, and if you don’t have an easy, dummy-proof experience, that can affect how fast your product can grow and how much word-of-mouth you receive. I wish we’d had that from day one.
Finally, what’s next for you?
Chuka Ikokwu: Right now, we are doing a crowdfunding campaign on WeFunder. We’re very focused on becoming profitable this month, September, and we are looking to close our seed round very shortly therafter, of $1.25 million.