Black Excellence: Tope Awotona Built An App Worth At $3 Billion

by Duke Magazine

Tope Awotona is a Nigerian-born entrepreneur who came from a family of seasoned business enthusiasts. His maternal grandmother was into textile trading while his mother was the co-owner of a pharmacy later became a manager at Nigeria’s Central Bank. His father, on the other hand, started as a microbiologist at Unilever, but later left to become a serial entrepreneur.

At age 12, Awotona witnessed the murder of his father in a carjacking incident. Following the ill-fated incident, he migrated to the US, settling in Atlanta with his family. It was also during that period that his mother passed away.

Despite childhood tragedies, Awotona was a brilliant student who completed high school at the age of 15. He got admitted to the University of Georgia to study management information systems. After college, he worked at IBM and also EMC, an electronic manufacturing company that was bought by Dell in 2015.

At 18, Awotona’s ingenuity led him to create his first tech invention when he was working at a pharmacy while studying for his degree. He noticed how the change in the cash registers at the pharmacy didn’t add up correctly. He designed and patented a new feature for cash registers so that they could use optical character recognition to determine which bills and coins are being used and dispensed.

His brilliant idea was then pitched to a leading cash register, NCR. The firm expressed interest and requested him to come to Ohio, where it is headquartered to directly sell the idea to executives. However, Awotona turned down NCR’s offer to buy the patent.

The inspiration behind his first creation (dating website) was after he read a New York Times article about how the founder of Plenty of Fish made $10 million a year working 10 hours a week. He also created a similar website known as “Single To Taken,” but it was a flop.

Resilient with determination, he founded ProjectorSpot where he sold projectors and later founded YardSteals, a platform for home and yard equipment, but the projects couldn’t see the light of the day.

After unsuccessfully launching various businesses, he came up with a new business startup called Calendly, a cloud scheduling app in 2013. The idea came as a result of his frustration trying to schedule meetings.

“I decided that I was going to look for scheduling products that existed on the market that I could sign up for,” he told TechCrunch, “but the problem I was facing at the time was I was trying to arrange a meeting with, you know, 10 or 20 people. I was just looking for an easy way for us to easily share our availability and, you know, easily find a time that works for everybody.”

The startup partly started in Ukraine, during the civil unrest in the Eastern European nation. He self-funded the company from his savings. After running out of cash, he sought venture capital funding to keep his business running.

According to Fortune, Calendly has been valued at $3 billion by some of the investors interested in acquiring Awotona’s creation. This is in spite of the fact that Awotona was able to raise just $550,000 in 2013 for Calendly. In January, Calendly announced that it has closed a $350 million investment led by Boston-based OpenView Venture Partners and included participation from Iconiq Capital.

“It is such an exciting time to be a part of Calendly as we continue to grow and evolve as a culture and a company. We are thankful and proud to share that we have raised $350M and cannot wait to see what lies ahead,” Calendly announced on its Instagram page.

The app is designed to make the process of finding meeting times easy. Currently, about 10 million people use the platform monthly since it was created, making it one of the most popular American unicorn start-ups.

The popularity of the app has been attributed to the rising number of people working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Calendly is used by the majority of Fortune 500 companies as well as nearly all companies in the SaaS 1000 (companies that host applications and make them available via the Internet).

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