Podcast Transcript – Series TWO, Episode 26
ayinde Alakoye, Ned’l February 2021
[00:00:00] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:00:00] So radio has always just been a means by which I stayed connected and learned about other cultures.
[00:00:05]It’s like being in the womb to listen to audio.
[00:00:08]That’s the moral of the story. I always listened to your mom
[00:00:10]he loved the idea. Three weeks later, I was on a plane to their headquarters and meeting with their CTO.
[00:00:16]It really screws with your mind to know that your name is a limiting factor or your skin color is a limiting factor.
[00:00:23]And black founders, BIP, POC worked twice as hard to deliver twice the value.
[00:00:30]Everybody deserves an opportunity to be on the mic is where the world is going.
[00:00:34]So how do we bring all that together? And the answer was Ned’l.
[00:00:37] Dan: [00:00:37] What’s up Unfound Nation. Dan Kihanya here we are back! Happy 2021. And thanks so much for checking out another episode of Founders Unfound. We’re excited to kick off our second season with Ayinde Alakoye, founder and CEO of Ned’l, a company that lets anyone create their own live call-in talk radio station in seconds and make [00:01:00] money while they broadcast.
[00:01:01] Ayinde grew up in DC in a single-parent household, but he went on to be on television, write speeches for Obama, and spend 20 plus years in the radio media world. All preparing him for the epiphany that would become Ned’l. Our episode is sponsored by Multicultural Mainstream: Re-imagining Humanity and Technology.
[00:01:20] This exciting event is hosted by the Columbia Venture Community, Founders unfound is excited to join this first-ever virtual venture conference on March 5th as a media sponsor. And we’ve arranged with the CVC to offer a special early bird rate for Unfound Nation – that’s you, our listeners. By registering today, you’ll get access to ALL the content, a virtual wine tasting, and breakout sessions with venture capitalists. To sign up, go to bit.ly/CVCMM, or look for a link in the show notes. You don’t want to miss it.
[00:01:52] If you’re a new listener to Founders Unfound, we’ve got something special for the black founders out there who are underestimated and under-celebrated. There’s another [00:02:00] way to get on our podcast. Just leave a review and a five-star rating on Apple podcasts or podchaser.com. If you do this and identify yourself as a black founder, I will read your review in an upcoming episode.
[00:02:12] So make sure to plug your company URL and all the relevant handles. Be sure to drop your review today. For this episode, I want to give a shout out and a big thank you to Joshua Hunt who gave us five stars and wrote:
[00:02:24] SImply amazing. As an entrepreneur, this should be your go-to podcast for insights and inspiration. Dan, the host, focuses on a niche, not too many people of his stature focus on and that’s founders in early-stage startups. Why is this important to listeners with startups or even with businesses? Because you get to hear the guest experiences and how they got where they are, and it’s more authentic, tangible, relatable when you listen to them at this stage. Highly recommended.
[00:02:51] Wow. Thanks so much, Joshua. That was great. Joshua is working on his own startup, Bolt. Joshua and his co-founder are building an employee engagement [00:03:00] platform that empowers HR and organizational leaders to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace.
[00:03:05] A very cool mission. Find out email@example.com. Be sure to check them out now.
[00:03:11] Wasn’t that great. Now’s your chance. Head over to Apple or podchaser and drop us a review. Now on with the episode.
[00:03:18] Stay safe and hope you enjoy.
[00:03:31] Hello, and welcome to Founders Unfound, spotlighting, the best startups you don’t know yet. We bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented and underestimated backgrounds. This is episode number 26 in our continuing series on founders of African descent. I’m your host, Dan Kihanya.
[00:03:49] Let’s get on it.
[00:03:50] Today we have Ayinde Alakoye founder and CEO of Ned’l, as in the haystack, a company that lets anyone create their own live call-in talk [00:04:00] radio station in seconds and make money while they broadcast. Welcome to the show Ayinde, we’re super excited to have you on. Thanks for making the time.
[00:04:07] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:04:07] Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here.
[00:04:10] Dan: [00:04:10] Awesome. So first let’s just start off, help the listeners to understand \ , what is Ned’l? What is it all about?
[00:04:15] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:04:15] What is Ned’l and what’s it all about? I’ll take the second part first and say that what it’s all about is democratizing access to the microphone and to the information itself.
[00:04:24] So the way that we do that is by giving every single person that comes to our platform. The opportunity to create their own live call-in radio station. Just by signing up, you get your own station, you don’t have to pay the FCC for a radio license. You don’t have to bribe anybody, you get your own station for free and you can go live. And that comes with it. A ton of other opportunities and a ton of other inclusions as well.
[00:04:52] Dan: [00:04:52] I love it. And we’ve talked several times before. I mean, I’m a huge fan of radio and the concept of radio and the history of radio. [00:05:00] So I think we’re going to be talking about Ned’l as a point in that timeline at some point, for sure.
[00:05:05]But before we dive more into the company, let’s hear more about you and your background where you’re from, where did you grow up? You have a name that sounds very Nigerian, so I’m assuming there’s a Nigerian connection there, but tell us, tell us where you came from.
[00:05:20]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:05:20] Yeah, I’m originally from Washington DC born and raised in Chocolate City before it, its composition changed.
[00:05:28] Went to school in Pennsylvania at Juniata college. Went back. Studied a little bit or, or worked a little bit on the Hill before I got into radio advertising sales and became a top salesperson for radio and, and then started my entrepreneurial career somewhere in my late twenties, early thirties.
[00:05:46] Dan: [00:05:46] About the right time. But where I got to go back, first of all, that was a lot there. So tell us your career has this common aspect of media and, communication when you were growing up, did you have a sense of like, I [00:06:00] want to be a communicator. I want to be a part of the communications industry. Do you remember thinking about what you wanted to do?
[00:06:07]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:06:07] That’s an incredible question. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been asked that question. That’s a great question. I grew up, as I said, in Washington, DC, which gave me the feeling by the time I was 20 that I been around the world twice because everybody from all over the world, Is there all the diplomats’ kids, all the people who are traveling.
[00:06:24] And so, every time a story was being told to me about a different place or about different people, I just imagined being there. And I was just so enthralled by it. So. So radio as a kid for me was very much that, I mean, I’m 48, so I grew up in a time when you would listen to the radio and be waiting with your hand on the record, on your fingers, on the record button.
[00:06:51] So you can record it and make a mixtape or, or what have you, and, and cut up the commercials if you could. It was the record and pause button. [00:07:00] And so, yeah radio was this entry into this world beyond the little apartment that I grew up in. And beyond that, I’m sure some of your listeners may have heard me tell this story before, but it’s a true story, which is that we moved around a lot as a kid.
[00:07:13]My mom you know, I lost my father when I was very young. And as a result, my mom worked multiple jobs so that she could keep us in decent public schools and. So we moved around the a lot and whenever I listened to the radio, I knew that my friends from the previous school were listening to that same radio station.
[00:07:33] So I felt connected to them. So radio and communications has always just been a means by which I stayed connected and learned about other cultures. And I wanted to bring that to the world when I realized that I had the opportunity to do that as an entrepreneur.
[00:07:47]Dan: [00:07:47] That’s cool. That’s a great way to describe radio as sort of this, a window into places.
[00:07:54]I still love when my kids were little, we actually would go back into audible on long [00:08:00] trips and we’d find like these radio shows from the 1950s, you know, Cowboys or whatever it was, you know, Ronald Reagan or whoever. And my kids would be riveted, you know? And so there’s this ability to use audio, to convey stories, to bring information it’s powerful, powerful stuff. So…
[00:08:19] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:08:19] well, you just said audio, you just said audio and I know radio is a bad word and that’s because radio is. Like people think of radio and they think of the physical device, right. They think of the physical and it, especially like the old-timey device. Right. Right. As opposed to my understanding of radio is, is this because I’ve worked inside radio stations, it’s all those, people who programmed the radio station, who bring the talent to the radio station who, who make it buzz? Because they’re making it something that is saleable because they have a product that they need to sell to advertisers. And if it’s not good, they can’t sell to advertisers.
[00:08:58] If it’s not effective [00:09:00] if it’s not reaching people, they can’t sell. So these are like the best of the best. Creatives in the world and these are the people who maybe didn’t have a face for TV but they had a face for radio. So that’s an old radio joke by the way.
[00:09:13] So, I don’t think of radio as a physical device and that’s why I still use the word with some pride.
[00:09:19]Dan: [00:09:19] I mean, one of the questions I guess I would have is you know, You mentioned that you lost your dad when you were young, is there ways you think that that was impactful to how it kind of affected your trajectory of where you want it to go or you just think, you know, that was a part of my story and I had already sort of figured out where I wanted to be.
[00:09:37]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:09:37] You know, that’s not natural. Right. So, you know, parents are supposed to watch their kids grow up. And I think when, and I just heard AOC talking about trauma recently, because she just came out publicly and said that she was a survivor of, sexual abuse.
[00:09:52] And I think when you have any kind of trauma as a kid and you have an imagination which most kids do like for [00:10:00] me? What, what happened was I, came up with all these imaginary ideas of saving the world. Right. And really, that’s just basically trying to probably a psychologist would say, you’re trying to save yourself, but you know, you’re trying to save other people is how you imagine it.
[00:10:15]And so that always gave me this idea that whatever I did was going to have a mass effect of trying to improve experiences, right. Your life experience, my life experience, all of us collectively.
[00:10:29]Dan: [00:10:29] That makes total sense that’s a great perception and insight. Wow. you’ve either done a lot of work or you just have a tremendous amount of introspection. So, I’m a little bit older than you, but you know, we’re kind of the same generation.
[00:10:41] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:10:41] I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Are you, are you,
[00:10:43] Dan: [00:10:43] I am, yes. I just had a birthday.
[00:10:45] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:10:45] Nah, you look great. I thought I thought I had you by a few years. That’s funny.
[00:10:50]Dan: [00:10:50] No, I’m old, I’m an old guy. I’m blessed with a young face, I guess. But so my parents were really deliberate about making sure this didn’t happen to me, but growing up as a [00:11:00] young African-American and the time you did, did you see ceilings?
[00:11:03] Did you see limits? Did you say this is something I can’t do because I’m black or because of where I come from? I mean, obviously, you could achieve so much. And so I’m curious, was it, despite having those reservations or are you just didn’t have those limitations put on yourself in, in the era that we grew up in
[00:11:20] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:11:20] You grew up in Washington, Seattle, Washington
[00:11:23] Dan: [00:11:23] No, I grew up in Boston.
[00:11:24] And if you ever see The Departed, the opening sequences, that was my growing up seventies and the busing era. And, I’ve told stories about, you know, having my bus stoned, so yeah, I, it was all very visceral to me, but more, like I said, my parents were very deliberate about sort of like , these are artificial constructs of restraint. You are, you’re that self determinant. About where you’re going to go now, whether they were just, you know, being Pollyannish about it or just try to make sure that I aimed high. I don’t know, but I’m just curious when you were growing up in DC, did you see limitations or did you see just kind of it’s my [00:12:00] choice and however hard I want to go at it.
[00:12:02]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:12:02] My parents, we’re of similar mind to yours. So, so my and I love to ask you about, your name too, but my name is traditionally from Nigeria. You got that correct. I like to say that it’s an American name because how is Rebecca any more American than Ayinde? Because. It’s not native American, right. That’s right.
[00:12:24] Dan: [00:12:24] That is right.
[00:12:25]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:12:25] So I like this, I’ve started to recently start to say that it is an American name, but beyond that, my parents were one of the first to start to change their names back. Away from their enslaved names and into, you know, a name that was more characteristic of our bloodlines.
[00:12:44] So they changed their names and my sister and I were both named in naming ceremonies when we were born. So in the very traditional way. So I’m very proud of that. I’m very, very blessed that I came into the world. Through Afro-centric parents whose view of where the world was [00:13:00] a worldview.
[00:13:00] And so, this limiting view of, black people or African descendants wasn’t their view. I grew up knowing that the pharaohs were African knowing that Egypt was an Africa and knowing that Hannibal was African and knowing sort of so much of our rich history. So when you asked if I saw limitations, I didn’t see limitations because, in spite of what they try to inculpate me with, I knew that it was false.
[00:13:30] And so I grew up in a very suburban white Maryland neighborhood. And often got kicked out of class because I challenged the teachers about what the books were saying because it was just blatant lies. And I would get kicked out of class. Almost on a weekly basis. So yeah, I didn’t, see it, but I felt it.
[00:13:49] Dan: [00:13:49] So let’s switch gears and let’s go back to your career. So you come out of college and it’s important. You end up in the radio world and I think you run the business side. So [00:14:00] how did that come about? And. You know, how did that connect the dots to, clear channel and I heart radio and sort of the, probably in Wikipedia next to the picture of the first radio app. But tell us a little bit about that story and that arc.
[00:14:13] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:14:13] Yeah so I came out of college with a degree in political science or actually it was public administration and marketing and it was supposed to be, and I wanted it to be political science and advertising, but I think I had a slightly better GPA but made it the other.
[00:14:29] So and I had no idea. Like nobody said to me that there was a job that you could get in political science, in advertising. So stick your finger on that page for a second or stick your thumb on that page for a second. And then I’ll tell you how I got into radio. And then it circles back to political science and advertising, which I didn’t know was a career at the time.
[00:14:50] So I. Get a job with an alum of Juni out of college on Capitol Hill working for basically it was a, it was an association. There are basically like a [00:15:00] quasi lobbyists, right? For, for rural, of course, it was the word that I have the hardest time saying rural America.
[00:15:06]And so I worked there. For just long enough for me to as a 21-year-old start to think. Man, these people could solve problems. Not speaking about the people in my organization, but speaking about like Congress and all the people that we worked with, it felt like they could solve problems, but it was more about preserving their 100K a year jobs.
[00:15:27] And, I found that. Jarring and immediately start to look at opportunities to either start my own business or leave politics, make a bank of money, and then come back to politics is what I had in mind at 21. And so I got into sales became A really good salesperson for an insurance company in Maryland hit my budget every month for 11 months straight without failing.
[00:15:55] In some really crazy racist [00:16:00] environment. And eventually just left on top. And my mom says to go down to the unemployment office. Cause I used to do canvassing during college to kind of make ends meet. And I used to do it at the unemployment office and I’m like, mom, I’m making, I was supposed to make $37,000 this year.
[00:16:17] There’s no job. Then I’m going to get at the unemployment office. That’s $37,000. I think I’m like this big shot. Right? And so like, so I, but I listened to my mom, listened to my mom. And by the way, I’m not bucking anybody’s making $37,000. It is an accomplishment. But I thought I was like making $4 million a year.
[00:16:38] Like, you know, that kind of thing.
[00:16:39] Dan: [00:16:39] So it’s all relative.
[00:16:40] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:16:40] It’s all relative. And so I went down there and listened to my mom. That’s the less, that’s the moral of the story. I always listened to your mom and sure enough, they had this job listing for a classical music station. I go down there. I’m like, like what?
[00:16:54] First of all, I’m like, there’s no money in radio. Like I was convinced like, how [00:17:00] is there any money in radio? I don’t, first of all, I didn’t know that they had jobs. I didn’t think that there was any income that you could make there. So I walked into the building. There’s mahogany everywhere.
[00:17:12] Brass everywhere. Now, this is 1997. That meant that there was like a lot of money there. I’m looking across at the interviewer, my, my manager, Jim, and he’s got this shirt on. This white cotton shirt that you can see the material in it, because it was like, I’d never seen a shirt up close that was so nice that you could see the Egyptian cotton or the cotton in his shirt.
[00:17:36] And I was like, what is going on? Am I I’m in a different place? And sure enough, the first year I made 80, grand at this point, I’m like 24, 25 years old. In Washington, DC. African-American that was crazy. And then I got into the hundred thousand dollars club the following year, selling radio advertising completely by accident.
[00:17:56] And I happened to be working for the best radio station in the country, like [00:18:00] literally the top-grossing radio station in the country. So it was WTOP in Washington, DC. There’s still a top-grossing radio station and it was just. Really God, kind of directing and blessing me.
[00:18:10] Dan: [00:18:10] That’s amazing. I mean, I hear several things in the story. Like, you know, this idea of quickly realizing that, you know, sort of constructed paths that are structured by others, especially others whom you don’t align with either, you know, with passions and, priorities is like, do I really want to do this? And then I hear also this, you know, God’s Providence, serendipity, whatever it is, mama all is knowing, right.
[00:18:35] That sort of points you in a direction that you like. If you had gone back an hour before you said, that’s not why I’m doing that. And then you end up and it puts you on this trajectory. And I think that the combination of those things are common factors. I think for a lot of entrepreneurs is like, They don’t want the status quo and then something, someone, some events, some catalyst shows up that they didn’t expect that they weren’t shooting for and boom they’re off and [00:19:00] running.
[00:19:00] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:19:00] Yeah. It’s like, you gotta just keep opening the doors. If your arm gets tired, opening the doors, you switch arms. And you’ve just got to keep opening the doors because it’s the saying you miss a hundred percent of the shots that you don’t take, right.
[00:19:13] Dan: [00:19:13] Absolutely. We’ll, take a short break and we’ll be right back with Ayinde Alakoye from Ned’l right after this.
[00:19:20] Hey Unfound Nation. I’m so excited to tell you about a great event coming up on March 5th and 6th. It’s called Multicultural Mainstream: Re-imagining Humanity and Technology. It’s hosted by the Columbia Venture Community and it’s their first ever virtual venture conference. The two-day conference focuses on three main themes: World of Venture, Micro-economy and Global Community. Friend of the podcast venture capitalist William Crowder will be keynoting. Founders Unfound is proud to participate as a media sponsor, and we’ve arranged with the CVC to offer a special early-bird rate for Unfound Nation. Registered today, and you’ll get access to ALL the content, a virtual wine [00:20:00] tasting, and breakout sessions with venture capitalists. To sign up, look for a link in this episode’s show notes or go to bit.ly/CVCMM. That’s B I T dot L Y forward-slash Charlie, Victor, Charlie, Mike, Mike. Don’t hesitate – you don’t want to miss it.
[00:20:19] So we’re back with Ayinde. So let’s hear more about Clear Channel and I heart radio app and you know, I entered mobile when it was still in its nascency and, and so people always forget just how novel things are or how innovative things are. Right. So take us back to that time. Take us back to how that all came together because that’s a pretty amazing achievement to put a feather in your cap on.
[00:20:43]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:20:43] Thank you. I’ll tell you both how I finally put the feather in my cap. Cause I didn’t do it for many years. And I’ll try to tell you about the experience from the perspective of somebody in 2003 because that’s a very different perspective [00:21:00] as you alluded to than today.
[00:21:01] Like we take apps for granted. We take I-phones for granted in 2003. We were just like on the end of the Motorola two-way pager phase, right? In 2003, there was no app store. There was no iPhone. And the word startup was not bandied around. Like, I don’t know what I was doing. I think we, called ourselves starting a business, .
[00:21:26] We used to always say starting a business. And so I started a business. With, one of my boys here in Los Angeles. And he’s a really great guy and he’s a successful actor and does a lot of other things very successfully. And I chose him because he was somebody that I trusted, not at all like startup person.
[00:21:47] And so, you know, we had our own growing pains, but what the idea was was that I was in LA only a few years at that time. I’m 20 years in LA. Now it was only three years in LA. Then I moved in 2000 and [00:22:00] I loved Snoop dog. I just didn’t love Snoop dog, 24 hours a day on a loop. The same song. Which is what was happening in 2000, between 2000 and 2003.
[00:22:14] So what people might not know in your audience is that there was a telecommunications act of 1996 which was by the way, signed by bill Clinton. And that act changed everything for the thing that you so know and love called radio. It enabled monopolies. Short story, it enabled monopolies and it meant that.
[00:22:37] If you were driving across the country, you wouldn’t actually know what town you’re in anymore, because all the radio stations sound the exact same because they’re owned by just a few companies. And so I firsthand experienced that. Our company got bought out by, clear channel and I saw clear channel eating the world of radio.
[00:22:53] And I wanted to change that. I knew that the ability existed for you to be really listened to radio from across the country. [00:23:00] And I, knew the technology existed. I just knew that it wasn’t being used. In fact, when I started to, ask people about, you know, is this possible?
[00:23:08] They said, yes, you could listen to the radio on your cell phone, but why would you want to write? That was literally a quote from really, really smart people. Like that’s what they would say. Why would anybody want to listen to music on their phones? We walked into Oprah Winfrey’s top investor.
[00:23:27] And that’s what they said to, me. Why would anybody want to listen to music on your phone? So we started this company called thumb radio thumb radio was to bring every radio station on the planet to your cell phone site, basically. So I could listen to go-go music from DC, again on my cell phone while I was here in Los Angeles and we ended up making every single mistake that you can make as a startup.
[00:23:49] And then finally in 2007, I approached clear channel again, basically like saying like, all right, fine, I’ll go to the dark side that we can like get this thing going, [00:24:00] because we were having really a challenge getting radio stations to buy on, to be a part of our network. So we went to clear channel and they agreed to partner with us and we signed all the paperwork.
[00:24:12] It’s a really kind of cool story, how we met clear channel, but we signed all the paperwork and, and even with clear channel being we were the first company to ever stream clear town, radio stations on a mobile phone, even with clear channel partnered with us. We still had to go to singular and like singular, which is now AT&T we still have to go to the singular and sprint and Verizon and get on deck because there was no app store.
[00:24:38] We had to go through so many things and ultimately they didn’t want to be treated like a dumb pipe. They didn’t know, Steve Jobs was coming and was going to change all of that. And what we brought to clear channel was eventually used about two years later, it became iHeart radio.
[00:24:53] So that’s a long story, but that’s, that’s the story. And that’s what I am sticking to.
[00:24:58] Dan: [00:24:58] And people don’t [00:25:00] remember, especially if you weren’t in the business, what it meant to go on deck. Cause I had a company that had to deal with that and you’ve got to write, essentially, you’ve got to write software.
[00:25:09] And it wasn’t just iOS or Android. You had to do things right. Brew, brew, and J to IME. And I mean, you had, you had to write it, you had to spend the money to develop it. And then you had to go to the carrier and say, please put me on your deck.
[00:25:24] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:25:24] And what I didn’t realize at the time, because I was just new in my business, not a startup, just a business. I didn’t know I was supposed to come with a bag. Like, I didn’t know that that was really how things were done and that we would get to a point in every meeting. They’d be like, this is amazing. This is awesome. And then they’d look at me and I’d look at them. And then they look at me and I look at them.
[00:25:47] And I didn’t realize that was the point that I was supposed to tell them where the Brown paper bag was, where they could find it.
[00:25:55]Dan: [00:25:55] Yeah, I mean, as much as people, you know look at Steve [00:26:00] jobs as polarizing either they love him or worship him or, You know, vilify him, but that was a tremendously democratizing step, right. To break that walled garden. So you mentioned the clear channel in this story. We love stories here. How did, you connect up with Clear Channel?
[00:26:16] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:26:16] So imagine I’m now on a high horse because I was this really top salesperson in radio and now I’ve been out of the cushy two assistant job place for now.
[00:26:28] I left radio in 2002. So now in 2006, when this happened 2006, 2007, it had been four years and I still had a couple of custom suits. Right. But like really like hand to mouth at this point. And trying to get this, company, thumb radio off the ground, but we made a connection with an attorney who knew that there was a black-tie event at the Santa Monica airport, it’s a tiny airport, mostly for private planes that [00:27:00] is in Santa Monica, not too far from LAX, but that’s where all the, like the private stuff, happens and they have these hangers and they’ll have these like black tie events, or they used to have these black tie events there and set up these tents.
[00:27:12] And so me in startup mode, full hustle mode, I snuck in the back of one of those tents. So I could meet, the head of Clear Channel at the time. Randy Mays. At the time clear channel was, was owned by a family and Randy Mays was the head of it. And I snuck in, I put on my best black suit that custom suit I was telling you about.
[00:27:36] Snuck in. and Went right up to him because I didn’t know how long it was going to be before security dragged me away.
[00:27:46]Taking all these radio stations that were at the time on, a thousand different websites, putting them onto one website is how I described it to him. Like all that sounds like really weird now because it was so different, but putting them all on [00:28:00] one website, novel idea, right. And then streaming them on a mobile phone.
[00:28:05] He loved the idea. Three weeks later, I was on a plane to their headquarters and meeting with their CTO.
[00:28:11] Dan: [00:28:11] That’s a great story. And again, very entrepreneurial that hustle, not a lot of people would, I mean, especially in an airport, you know, we’re talking just after nine 11 ish. Right? So this is not like a time when everything was open and you could just throw stroll.
[00:28:25] Right. I be so bold as to, you know, it can be like, Hey, we got a terrorist coming into to attack clear channel here. So
[00:28:33]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:28:33] I remember there was valet parking and I was like my worst fear that day wasn’t security. My worst fear was that I would have to pay for valet parking. So I like found a way to like put my car on the side and then kind of, and he’s going to sneak anyway. It was crazy.
[00:28:50] Dan: [00:28:50] I love that. That’s a great story. And again, a lot, a lot of startups have similar folklore. It becomes right. So tell us about Ned’l. So how did, how [00:29:00] did the idea for needle come about?
[00:29:01] See, there’s a progression in your exposure and your thinking. You obviously pretty innovative and creative around how you are viewing the industry, but how did, how did the concept and the origin for needle come about?
[00:29:15] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:29:15] So beginning with Thumb Radio, which became iHeart, the idea of radio being this pervasive thing that still needs to be democratized and still has this huge community and social impact that stayed with me.
[00:29:29] So the next company became Hitch Radio to make radio social. Where I could hit your ride with you on a live radio station, meaning that you were on the station and you were listening to it. And when you change your radio station, it would change for me to remotely. So we created this idea of, you know, being able to listen in real-time with all of your friends as you go from one radio station to the next.
[00:29:53] All through the world using, by the way, a search bar that allowed you to search for any song or artist that’s playing [00:30:00] at any moment. And so this sounds pretty cool. Hey, you’re like why I want to use that right now. We, you still own the technology, so maybe we’ll bring some of it back. But the idea is that the first company.
[00:30:12] I did everything wrong. The second company or I should say I learned a lot, the second company, we tried to do everything differently. There weren’t that many playbooks and they weren’t that easy to get to as they are today, we tried to do everything differently. We tried to reinvent startups before they were really invented.
[00:30:30] And then, and then the third company, we were like, okay, how do we learn from all that stuff? How do we not do everything differently? How do we just actually do everything by the book and see if that way works? And so the first thing was what was the best thing that came out of pitch radio? What was the search?
[00:30:46] What is the issue right now? Well, the issue right now is really that people don’t feel comfortable speaking on social media, which is what we thought happened, because this is now when we’re looking at starting a Ned’l, this was after the election of [00:31:00] 2016.
[00:31:01] Whatever happened in 2016 and this was the beginning of 2017. And we were like, so the biggest, the biggest thing from hit radio was search the thing that people want. It, the most that people think that people were asking to do the most started their own radio station. And the biggest problem that we have, according to Barack Obama in his, farewell address was the fragmentation of media was the biggest was the one of the four biggest threats to American democracy. So how do we bring all that together? And the answer was Ned’l. The answer was give everybody their own live radio station, allow them to search every radio station on the planet and be surfaced in that search index, along with those radio stations.
[00:31:39] So that by indexing Dan’s voice in real-time with some NPR. Stationed in Pennsylvania at the same time, then people would have a choice between listening to the NPR or Fox station and listening to Dan. And that gives Dan parody, right? Like the words that you’re saying in real-time, [00:32:00] give you parody with other people who were saying those words in real-time so that you can be discovered as well.
[00:32:04] So that’s how we started Ned’l. And it’s obviously since evolved.
[00:32:08] Dan: [00:32:08] I love that. And you know, I think the brilliance of this is you basically take two things that are hard, which is. Sort of curation and personalization and the long tail of, you know, everybody wanting to have a voice and bring those things and fuse them together.
[00:32:26]You usually business models choose one or the other, right? Like either, we have this curated world and. Maybe some small little proletariats hop up there, but not really in, it ends up becoming a pay to play or they’re like, we’re the long tail we’re democratic, you know, we, we just let the crowds decide, and then it’s just sort of like helter-skelter.
[00:32:48]I think it’s really fascinating that you’ve sort of taken this, crystallization, it’s almost as if you started from scratch, even though you didn’t right. It’s like, like if we were going to take. Audio and radio broadcast and [00:33:00] rethink it without the baggage of distribution channels and, and networks and all the things that, you know, sort of evolved over the last 80 to a hundred years.
[00:33:09] And how would I do it? And voila, there’s Ned’l.
[00:33:12] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:33:12] Yeah. So, as you mentioned, you know, it’s really evolved. So now we’ve removed the kind of long-tail radio stations. Like we removed 120,000 radio stations and all the podcasts that we had on the platform and by the way, Literally, the only negative reviews that we have on the app store are except for one that was talking about accessibility, all of them are upset that we removed radio.
[00:33:35] So like, you know, you can’t please everybody, but we needed to grow. And that model wasn’t a great growth strategy unless you have $30 million to advertise it. So now we’re just a thousand percent on the long tail, making it really easy for Dan and all your friends. To go live with your own live radio station and a live call-in radio station.
[00:33:57] And it’s like, how do we make you [00:34:00] have the biggest voice possible from day one on our platform? How do we give you as much money as possible? And how do we make it as easy as possible for you to, start your own station?
[00:34:09]Dan: [00:34:09] That’s great. And for people who I haven’t experienced the app, maybe tell us a little bit of highlights about the features and how the, how the process works to set up your own radio station.
[00:34:19] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:34:19] Cool. I’ll take you through it as if you had just signed up with Ned’l and what happens is without you knowing it, as soon as you sign up, we give you your own custom URL, which is a share link, which is a very special share link and your case. I’m sorry. I, I can’t remember your, your handle, but let’s say it’s Daniel right now.
[00:34:37] Actually let’s give him your handle, but it’s needle.com forward slash…
[00:34:40] I think it’s dkihanya
[00:34:42] OKay. So you didn’t want Daniel? You could have had daniel.
[00:34:45] Dan: [00:34:45] This is the thing I have not missed yet. I get dkihanya on everything. As soon as it comes out. If I don’t use it, even if I never use it, I don’t ever want that to get to be in somebody else’s hands. So as much as it’s not that easy to remember, [00:35:00] it’s my brand. So I stick with it.
[00:35:02] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:35:02] Well, you have dkihanya and somebody in the audience right now is scrambling to go get nedl.com forward slash Daniel as they should. And dkihanya is now your, your share link. Anybody you share that with.
[00:35:14] So literally you just come into the app, you sign up. Now you have the share link. Anybody who share it with people can listen to you without downloading the app. It’s called a live listen link. So it doesn’t matter if we have one person using Ned’l or we have a million people or a billion people on Ned’l, you can be heard Dan anywhere in the world, when you tap the mic and people can listen without downloading the app, they can also put their number in to opt into SMS alerts.
[00:35:44] Whenever you go live. Even without having the app. So we’ve really just kind of giving you this mic. And we’ve said, here’s this link and go start talking and create an audience because people will subscribe. And then when, when you go live, their phones will [00:36:00] light up. All right. So that’s when you first walk in, when you first step in the needle, when you go live, when you tap the mic, the first thing that you’ll notice is that your words are being transcribed as you’re speaking.
[00:36:12] What that does is several things. Number one, it makes it accessible, obviously to people who are either deaf or hard of hearing. It also allows you to know if you’re enunciating. And if people can understand what you’re saying, it gives you and people will come later to your live broadcast, a record of what you said so that they don’t have to get caught up.
[00:36:33] They can join you at any time and they can read to catch up. But the reason why we created it is because we wanted to make sure that your words are indexed and searchable so that when we have the scale of thousands of streams at once, and you’re talking about startups, somebody can search startup, find your live stream and instantly join you because you’re what they wanted to find.
[00:36:55] And what they’re interested in hearing about. So here’s the last piece. The [00:37:00] last piece is while you’re alive, you can check your phone lines and people will be calling in while that’s happening and you can have up to 16 guests live with you where you can hear their voices and have a conversation with them while you have unlimited people in the audience commenting in real-time and unlimited people online, listening as well. So, while all of this is happening, people can tip you. Hey, so there’s three ways to make money on our platform. People can tip you hay and every hay that you receive equals $1 people can comment. And the more people you have. On your live in-app experience your live show, the more it costs to comment.
[00:37:41] So we do basically surge pricing so that you don’t as a broadcaster, have to ever ask for money or, Hey, we just do it before you automatically. And then the third way is that we’re going to be allowing for private rooms soon that you can charge a cover. So ticketed events. Allow you [00:38:00] to earn Hey because people will pay to get in to listen to the nuggets that you have to share, Dan. So there’s three ways to make hay on our platform, comments, ticketed events, and tips. So that’s it. That’s Ned’l.
[00:38:13] Dan: [00:38:13] That’s right. So cool. And you know, again, I think this is the future and I’m already thinking in my mind, very much like YouTube and tick-tock have created these stars.
[00:38:22] Like Ned’l’s going to be this star-making machine people, you know, it’s going to be some 15 year old who just has this brilliant thinking and is you know, unfiltered and not afraid and is on there. And it’s talking whatever their truth is. And they’re gonna have this audience out of nowhere. So, and the opportunity for somebody like that I think is powerful. My dad is from Kenya. That’s where my name comes from. And so, you know, I, I subscribed to the oral tradition and storytelling is as old as the world is. Right. Yeah. And so that’s what it is. Right. And video some somehow. I actually think it does a disservice [00:39:00] because it removes your imagination somewhat.
[00:39:02] Right. Where whereas audio is, you know, like part of the, the sad part about zoom is even though I don’t love doing phone calls cause I’m introverted. , I can imagine what they look like on the other side. It’s fun to imagine.
[00:39:15] Are they old? Are they short? Are they tall? Do they have a beard or they have long hair? And, so I think this idea that you’ve got this audio, the idea that audio is insufficient to video, I think is, misstated in my mind.
[00:39:30] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:39:30] Well, first of all, the first thing that you learn is radio is theater of the mind. And if you think about audio and I’ve said this before and other places, if you think about it, it’s the second sense that you get as a child when you’re in the womb. Right? So you’re hearing, or you’re having a radio experience because you can hear your momma’s voice.
[00:39:51] You just can’t see anything and that’s in your imagination is developing. Right? So that’s, so it’s very innate to us. It’s like being in the womb to listen [00:40:00] to audio.
[00:40:01]Dan: [00:40:01] I hadn’t thought about that. That’s a great insight. I mean, one of the things I always try to ask people is like, give me an insight that nobody knows.
[00:40:07] If that’s influencing your startup or approach you take to the market and that’s gotta be a sound bite right there. So where does this go? Like, what’s your vision of the future for Ned’l? Like where do you envision it going? How do you define success for it?
[00:40:22] I mean, obviously there’s a startup trajectory of, of, of building enterprise value, but in terms of, you know, impacting the world and the marketplace,
[00:40:31]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:40:31] That’s an interesting question. And there’s, there’s one thing that I wanted to share with you is that and I’ll give you a little nugget. It’s not an insight, but I’ll give you I’ll break news for you right here.
[00:40:40] Today is the 2nd of February. We are slated to release Android on Ned’l for needle this week. So we’re slated to do it imminently. So that’s really exciting. Where does this go? Well, you’re asking a guy who has been around with this company since [00:41:00] 2017. I think that’s a really important to say because we, we are, most of us are aware of another company.
[00:41:06] That’s a very clubby vibe that just got a $1 billion valuation and that’s fantastic because it raises all ships. People are not looking at me like I’m crazy. They’re actually like I’m getting all these inbounds of people that I tried to like talk to a long time ago now they’re like, Hey Ayinde, how’s it going?
[00:41:27] That’s fine. Cause we, we can use all the help we can get. And so I really think that this is. You know, what’s interesting about our paradigms. So, the other company is called clubhouse and I want to spend a lot of time there, but their ideas to be very insular. I mean, the name is clubhouse, right?
[00:41:44] And when you get an invitation, you feel all excited. What we’re doing is trying to include people. And then from an Afrocentric perspective, Like, we’ve never been about clubs. It’s always been about here’s Africa. Come on, guys. We’re better or worse. [00:42:00] You’re like, Hey, come on. We’ve got plenty of land here.
[00:42:02] Come on. So we’re really taking that approach to include people with Android to allow people to listen online. Even if you don’t have the app, that open approach in that inclusive approach, it everyone’s welcome. Everybody deserves an opportunity to be on the mic is where the world is going.
[00:42:20] And, and what we’re excited about is that by the way, people are saying, Oh my gosh, what do people say? Weird things. Well, guess what? We’re we, we transcribe in real-time. We know exactly what people will say in real-time before they’re finished with the sentence. So we have moderation, ostensively. We have moderation built into our technology from the beginning.
[00:42:44]And so we, we don’t fear having free speech problems and we don’t fear having issues of moderation, but long-term, we think that this is the new radio.
[00:42:53] Dan: [00:42:53] I love it. I’m going to say, I knew you when. Well, we’re going to take another short break and we’ll be back with Ayinde Alakoye [00:43:00] from Ned’l.
[00:43:00] Hey Unfound Nation. I’m so excited to tell you about a great event coming up on March 5th and 6th. It’s called Multicultural Mainstream: Re-imagining Humanity and Technology. It’s hosted by the Columbia Venture Community and it’s their first ever virtual venture conference. The two-day conference focuses on three main themes: World of Venture, Micro-economy and Global Community. Friend of the podcast venture capitalist William Crowder will be keynoting. Founders Unfound is proud to participate as a media sponsor, and we’ve arranged with the CVC to offer a special early-bird rate for Unfound Nation. Registered today, and you’ll get access to ALL the content, a virtual wine tasting, and breakout sessions with venture capitalists. To sign up, look for a link in this episode’s show notes or go to bit.ly/CVCMM. That’s B I T dot L Y forward slash Charlie, Victor, Charlie, Mike, Mike. Don’t hesitate – you don’t want to miss it.
[00:43:57] So [00:44:00] we’re back. So Ayinde, tell us a little bit about your fundraising journey. You know, we always explore sort of what that journey is and the context of being a black founder. And so to the GRI that you want to share, any of that, that’s always instructive for both investors who are listening and for aspiring entrepreneurs, what’s the journey been like?
[00:44:19] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:44:19] I don’t think that our journey has been different than other founders. And I know that sounds controversial, but you, you got to figure that it’s been a difficult environment for everyone right now. And I think that most founders, you know, struggle with funding we’ve we count ourselves very, very fortunate that we’ve been able to raise so far, 1.6 million.
[00:44:41],we were led by the candy crush fund for our seed round. So sweet capital put in $1 million to lead our seed round. We’re also invested in by backstage capital. Which is making headlines recently as well. Our first money in was will Smith’s [00:45:00] attorney we’re now raising a new round, I should say, and people should reach out to me if they want to participate before it closes.
[00:45:07] I don’t know when this gets released, but there may still be time to get in. And so that’s, that’s really exciting cause it’s really formulating rather quickly since clubhouse has a billion-dollar valuation. It’s been, obviously, it’s been difficult as an African-American founder. You have your own set of challenges.
[00:45:24] And I think that’s what I’m trying to say. Every founder, it’s going to be challenging and we all have our own set of challenges, but I truly believe that God only gives us what we can handle. And I truly believe when you weigh it all. They’re all equally challenging, even though it really screws with your mind to know that your name is a limiting factor or your skin color is a limiting factor. In one area, only the area where, when people invest in you or people want to use your product, typically as an [00:46:00] African-American founder, the idea is that they’re doing some charity. Like there is somehow giving back or writing some wrong and they are, but the idea is like, look at, look at Ned’l on its merit, because I doubt that we would only be at $1.6 million.
[00:46:19] If we had a different skin color you know, you can say what you want, but the evidence is there, like less than 1%, even after George Floyd’s murder, even after everything that we’ve been through, the numbers are not moving for African-Americans and it’s sad. And so hopefully when people listen to this, they, heard the product.
[00:46:39] Hopefully when people want to, to join needle, they’re not doing it as a favor to me or to you or to anybody who’s involved in the company, but they’re actually doing it because they know that this is the best place that they could possibly get their voice out. And black founders, BIP, POC worked twice as hard to deliver twice the [00:47:00] value.
[00:47:00] So if you go BIP, POC platform, you’re probably getting stuff that you’ve never seen before or never gotten before. So that’s the only thing that I would say, you know, it’s, it’s just moving away from the stigma is that somehow our products aren’t worthy.
[00:47:14]Dan: [00:47:14] Thanks for sharing that. Yeah this product is definitely and your experience. I mean, it’s almost as if, your name was Joe Smith, right? I mean, you are perfectly suited in a moment in time in your career and a moment in time in the marketplace to do what Ned’l’s doing, so…
[00:47:31]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:47:31] thank you for saying that it’s really crazy, right? Everything is turned upside down and now things are starting to make sense.
[00:47:39]Dan: [00:47:39] So are you reminded that you are a black founder often? Or do you feel like that’s not something that is kind of putting your face regularly or maybe you choose to sort of not acknowledge that? And just, I’m just curious, how do you, how do you view that?
[00:47:56] Like, you know, one of the things that we’re trying to do with [00:48:00] founders unfound is normalized. The presence. Of people of color and black founders, right. To the degree that we can remove the adjectives. Right? Like we’re just founders. Right. But as you point out where we’re probably not there yet as a whole, so, but on an individual basis, how do you think about that?
[00:48:18] Is it something that you feel like you’re reminded of often?
[00:48:22] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:48:22] Well, the struggle is that to delve into it, or they think about it too much, you instantly become a victim instantly. So the struggle is to be able to personally acknowledge that this is a reality, but stay out of victimhood and put one foot in front of the other and keep going no matter what.
[00:48:40] So that’s kind of the struggle. The reality is. That I have tons of white friends and I don’t like the word white. I prefer a European American and I don’t like the word black. I prefer African-American or African descent because that’s where we’re from. As soon as we release ourselves from these false, there’s no human being on the [00:49:00] planet.
[00:49:00] Who’s white. As long as I say black, I always buy into that construct. So that’s my philosophy about that. It’s neither here nor there to answer your question though. But I wanted to say that I have tons of European American friends, close friends, of course, right? Like this is how I was raised.
[00:49:16] Right. So, but in most cases, not my closest friends, of course, but in most cases, when I’m with casual European American friends, after about three or four meetings with them, or. 30 minutes or three drinks for two drinks, they will say, Oh, and you’re black, or, Oh, but you’re black or make some kind of cutesy joke about your skin color or the skin color construct that they have.
[00:49:44]So that tells me in formal situations. It’s always on their mind. So how is it possible that I don’t walk into a meeting professionally and it’s not on their mind too. It’s not. So I know that there’s a predisposition to [00:50:00] fund things that are beauty or CPG in that kind of thing. And that there’s less of a propensity to fund things that are social media and media ownership.
[00:50:10] I know that going in. And so that just makes me have to be sharper. That’s all.
[00:50:15]Dan: [00:50:15] You have a very healthy perspective on it. So I appreciate that. And thank you for sharing that. So w we’re coming up on time. I, could talk to you for a lot longer, but so a couple more questions.
[00:50:25] One is we usually like to end with. If you could go back in time to, you know, maybe before hitch, like your pre entrepreneurial self, the place where you were not an entrepreneur with all the lessons learned, if this version of you could go back and talk to that version of you and say, you know, make sure you definitely do X or make sure you definitely don’t do Y or what kind of advice would you give yourself?
[00:50:52] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:50:52] Let me think for a second. That’s a really, really good question because. If 48 year old would go back to 28 year [00:51:00] old and say, here’s what you need to do. And here’s what you don’t need to do. I would, I would say that the number one thing would be to cultivate relationships, to be transparent. I’ve learned recently to be more transparent.
[00:51:16] And I, and I just ask investors, have you invested in an African-American before? African-American man? Right. Have you. And then, how many investments and then what do you do to safeguard the market? Because once you put your million dollars and you know, you better have some follow on because it’s harder for us to raise and other people, not because we’re less than, but because.
[00:51:38] It is. So I think 20, 20, you know, hindsight 2020 was, was just amazing for me \ as an African-American who was kind of taught to kind of speak the King’s language and they will address you and treat you in a certain way, which isn’t true. So I think, just being really upfront and knowing that there’s, [00:52:00] no way for you to fit in.
[00:52:02] You’re just who you are. And so, and just, just being. Like upfront and having that in front, as opposed to pretending that they can’t actually see that you may be a threat to their way of thinking
[00:52:15]Dan: [00:52:15] Very wise. So how can our audience be helpful for Ned’l? And there are ways we can be helpful for you and your journey. And that’s one of the things we’d like to do. Say we’re a startup community. We want to help each other. What calls to action do you have for us?
[00:52:29] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:52:29] Thank you so much. So if you are a person who wants to have your voice out. Please download the app immediately and go live. And the more money you make on our platform, the more, bigger your audience is who get an alert when you go live the better we are. So if you are successful, we are successful and that’s how we built our company.
[00:52:52]Dan: [00:52:52] Do you want to give us URLs or handles.
[00:52:55]Ayinde Alakoye: [00:52:55] Thank you so much. First of all, Dan, I’m going to give you so much props because this was [00:53:00] such a great interview and I’ve always enjoyed speaking to you. You are insight king. Like I always get something amazing or share something different than I haven’t shared before. So thank you. You can reach us @nedlapp N E D L A P P on Twitter and Instagram and DMS are open. So God bless you all looking forward to hearing you soon.
[00:53:23] Dan: [00:53:23] Thanks so much, my friend, this was great.
[00:53:25] Ayinde Alakoye: [00:53:25] Thank you.
[00:53:26]Dan: [00:53:26] We’d like to thank our guest Ayinde Alakoye, and our sponsor, the Columbia Venture Community.
[00:53:31] Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply go to foundersunfound.com/listento, that’s. Listen, T-O. And follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @foundersunfound.
[00:53:44] This podcast was produced by me, Dan Kihanya.
[00:53:47] Our music was arranged by Michael Kihanya.
[00:53:50] I am Dan Kihanya, and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.
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