Podcast Transcript – Series TWO, Episode 32
Stephen Ajayi, Yearone May 2021
[00:00:00] Stephen Ajayi: [00:00:00] My mom would always say this thing of I want you to get a job where they have healthcare and air conditioning.
[00:00:05]I ended up taking an elective, computer science course that changed the trajectory of my life,
[00:00:09]you would program something
[00:00:11]all of a sudden you could create whatever you wanted. And that just seemed magical to me
[00:00:14] ultimately, I just talked him into giving me a job, had no plans to like do this previously, but I just like jumped on a plane.
[00:00:22] heard my pitch and she was like, I think there’s something there.
[00:00:26] We’re also seeing candidates who are coming through our process. We’re landing jobs at really great companies.
[00:00:31]70% of our candidates so far have been women or people of color.
[00:00:33]The quality is definitely there. It’s just a matter of tapping into that quality for companies
[00:00:38]you have all these collections of like previous background and experience that could be lending itself to why you might be a really great engineer.
[00:00:45]As a black founder just be yourself, you want people to accept you for who you are.
[00:00:49]And ultimately they use that and start to see people leading teams and then starting the new own startups and then the dynamics of the ecosystem change.
[00:00:55]Dan: [00:00:55] What’s up Unfound Nation. Dan Kihanya here. Thanks so much for [00:01:00] checking out. Episode number 32 of Founders Unfound. That was Stephen Ajayi, Founder and CEO of YearOne, a company that helps individuals coming out of coding schools, land, incredible jobs, but not only get the jobs, but also support them through their early careers within those technology companies, setting them up for long-term success as well.
[00:01:19] Stephen knows the journey of his YearOne community intimately. He moved away from a pre-med track in college to pursue programming all from the chance selection of taking an elective, computer science course. He went on to dive into a coding school and ultimately emerged sales VP in a Silicon Valley startup.
[00:01:35] So he seen the challenges and friction of the hiring process from both sides. And Year One is particularly focused on coders coming from less traditional backgrounds. And to him, those backgrounds are a major strength. Stephen has a great story. You’ll want to listen in.
[00:01:49] Our episode is sponsored by Trajectory – Startup: Ideation to Product Market Fit.
[00:01:53] This is a brand new book by entrepreneur and investor Dave Parker. This hot off the presses publication is THE playbook for [00:02:00] those at the earliest stages of the startup journey. I personally work with a lot of founders and they often tell me what frustrates them the most is: they don’t know what they don’t know.
[00:02:09] Well, Dave breaks it all down. It’s the cheat code answer key for those critical first steps on the road to Startup Ville. It’s a must read for all budding founders out there. To get Dave’s book. Look for a link in the show notes, or simply go to dkparker.com, amazon.com or anywhere you like to buy books.
[00:02:26] Now if you’re a new listener to Founders Unfound, we’ve got something special for black founders out there who are underestimated and under celebrated. There’s another way to get on our podcast. Just leave a review and a five-star rating on Apple podcasts or at podchaser.com. If you do this and identify yourself as a black founder, I will read your review in an upcoming episode.
[00:02:47] So make sure to plug your company URL and all the relevant handles. For this episode, I want to give a shout out and a big thank you to Lonna Hardin who gave us five stars and wrote:
[00:02:57] So happy I found this podcast. I’m [00:03:00] ecstatic about the depth and energy heard on every episode. As an underrepresented founder, it’s refreshing to hear stories of others successfully charting the same path and defying the odds.
[00:03:09] Thanks so much, Lonna. That was great. Lonna is working on a cool voice interactive product that offers interesting social and emotional learning for kids. It’s called Live My Song, and it’s a pretty cool concept. Every day, check in on the kids’ mood, help them choose, or even create a song that matches what an amazing way to use a smart speaker.
[00:03:28] Very cool mission. Indeed. Find out more at melodysong.com and that’s melody song with two S’s in the middle. Wasn’t that great. Now it’s your chance. Head over to Apple or pod chaser and drop us a review today and be sure to like, and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Now on with the episode, stay safe
[00:03:45] and hope you enjoy. Hello, and welcome to Founders [00:04:00] Unfound, spotlighting the best startups you don’t know yet. We bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented and underestimated backgrounds. This is the latest episode in our continuing series on founders of African descent. I’m your host, Dan Kihanya, let’s get on it.
[00:04:15] Today we have Stephen Ajayi, Founder and CEO of YearOne, a company that helps individuals coming out of coding school, land, incredible jobs, and support them through their early careers within technology companies. Welcome to the show, Steve, and we’re super excited to have you on thanks for making the time.
[00:04:31] Thanks for having us. Awesome. So, why don’t we just start quickly with help the listeners understand exactly what year one is all about.
[00:04:39] Stephen Ajayi: [00:04:39] Yeah. So a year one really focuses on these non-traditional candidates coming out of coding boot camps across the country, um, that are basically either finding their first career who are transitioning careers to get into software engineering.
[00:04:51] So helping those candidates basically find really great matches in terms of companies that they might want to work for. But ultimately the bigger thing is just having a community of other people who are going through the exact same [00:05:00] experience through the job search, and then ultimately long-term as they are navigating their first year of software engineering and beyond.
[00:05:06] Dan: [00:05:06] Yeah. And I think that that first year in that whole sort of, uh, matching and onboarding experience is so critical, I think, to people’s success. So I think you’ve really honed in on a particularly interesting challenge as a part of sort of this whole, you know, sort of tech recruiting landscape. Before we get more into the company.
[00:05:23] Let’s uh, let’s hear a little bit more about you. Where did you grow up and where are you from? And let’s hear more about Steven.
[00:05:30] Stephen Ajayi: [00:05:30] So, uh, my parents are both Nigerian immigrant who, , came to the us to go to college and then ultimately got citizenship. So, uh, I was born in DC, which is where they went to college.
[00:05:41] George Washington University. And then when I was seven or so we moved to the West coast, so moved to Portland, Oregon. So I, I grew up here and I had two brothers that I grew up with. One of my brothers is my co-founder actually. So we’re really great friends and really close with both my brothers and my family in general.
[00:05:58] But. That’s really how I [00:06:00] kind of got started. And I never really knew about anything related to like STEM or anything like that. Um, other than like doctors possibly, um, that was the thing for engineering was like a thing or a career path.
[00:06:11] Dan: [00:06:11] That’s interesting. So did your parents meet in DC or they had met in Nigeria and then came together.
[00:06:17] Stephen Ajayi: [00:06:17] They met in Nigeria and then came together.
[00:06:19]Dan: [00:06:19] That’s great. So do you remember moving from DC to Portland or you don’t? All you remember is Portland.
[00:06:25] Stephen Ajayi: [00:06:25] I remember a little bit. I mean, I remember like the snow storms, serious snow storms on the East coast, like stuff like that, uh, cherry blossom in the spring, but I think a lot of my formative memories are in Portland primarily.
[00:06:37]Dan: [00:06:37] And so when you were growing up, did you have thoughts of what entrepreneurship was or what, like, what was the, what was your path in your mind? Or maybe your parents’ mind because we’ve interviewed others who had. Immigrant parents. And they had a very sort of pre scripted journey for their kids. How did you think about what you were going to do when you started to think about that as a kid, whenever that started to [00:07:00] happen, how did you think about what, what do I want to do? What should I do?
[00:07:03]Stephen Ajayi: [00:07:03] It’s a really great question. I mean, think about this a lot recently, my parents are definitely immigrant parents in that they want you to do well and take advantage of the opportunity because like they came to the U S to give you the opportunity to do something with your life. Right.
[00:07:15] So you can’t really ever pay that back. And so there’s definitely like accountability there for like, you’ve had this opportunity to be in the U S. Take advantage of that and do something with that. But it was interesting was my parents never really prescribed the, what that looked like. My mom would always say this thing of like, you know, I want you to get a job where they have healthcare and air conditioning.
[00:07:36] That’s a pretty, you know, there’s a lot of jobs you could do that. That would do that for you. So. Other than just being established and sort of like taking advantage of the opportunity to be in the U S I don’t know that, like, my parents really ever pushed me any one direction. I think that they, especially where, like, with me, I was just a generally curious kid.
[00:07:53] I mean, I was like mowing lawns in the summer and if I can make money and like, just cause that’s something to do, I had like a [00:08:00] t-shirt start-up for a summer where I just like made this brand and like started selling teachers to my friends. And my parents had sort of let me do those things. You’re curious, and you’re applying yourself in certain ways.
[00:08:10] Like, just do that. And so they just let me sort of like figure that out, but there wasn’t any sort of like, this is what you need to do to be successful to us other than just like, do something with the
[00:08:20] Dan: [00:08:20] opportunity. Very enlightened, very enlightened indeed. So tell me about the t-shirt experience. You know, I think kids can be industrious this way, but the cutting lawns makes sense, but really a t-shirt thing.
[00:08:34] That’s a little bit of like the next level. What made you want to do that? W was it more of a creative outlet or was it more of a business hustle or what made you want to do that?
[00:08:43] Stephen Ajayi: [00:08:43] I dunno, I just, I got into t-shirts a lot. So there was these, uh, Quicksilver and like Hurley that were like prominent around my school.
[00:08:52] So I grew up, uh, in Happy Valley in Clackamas. So a pretty homogenous group of people, um, in terms of like demographics, but there was definitely [00:09:00] like this kind of skater culture that you were kind of seeing in schools and like with people dressing up and like how they were dressing, um, there was definitely like a state or a culture and.
[00:09:08] I started to find that fascinating, like the designs and the patterns and stuff like that. So like for the summer I just started doing my own designs and then ultimately was like, well, maybe I can print these. So printed those designs. And then ultimately was like, well, I think I could sell these to other people that aren’t just me.
[00:09:22] So I just had like a group of shirts. I got printed by a screen printer and just started trying to sell them to my friends and made more money than I spent to make them. So. I never liked continued. I just dabbled with that during college a little bit, but never really like pushed it any further than just like the idea that you could sort of think something through, apply something to it and it’s quite time and energy to it.
[00:09:44] And then ultimately see some output on the other end of like money or experience or something on the other end. So it was like a formative experience for me that way. Um, I’m just like testing the waters entrepreneurially, even though I didn’t really realize that at the time.
[00:09:56] Dan: [00:09:56] But I’m sure it’s helped to infuse a little bit of that in the DNA.
[00:10:00] [00:09:59] That’s a common story we see with a lot of our founders is even if it’s not a specific kind of explicit entrepreneurial endeavor, there’s things that they do where you can connect the dots. If you look back and say, yeah, that was the thing that really kind of created that spark or that little bit of insight or knowledge or excitement.
[00:10:18] Exactly. So, growing up in Portland. , and you said in Happy Valley, which is interesting. When you were thinking about college, what was on your mind in terms of pursuing majors? I think you mentioned pre-med yeah. Something must have been in you about maybe potentially being a, being a physician, but like, how did you think about college?
[00:10:38] Stephen Ajayi: [00:10:38] It’s interesting. I honestly, I want to stay close to home. So Portland State was like the place to go for me, but I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I think ultimately what I decided on as a major is what like most people do when they don’t know what to major in, which is like, well, general business, the right way to go, like everybody’s business in some form or fashion.
[00:10:57] So like I’ll major in that. So I started my [00:11:00] college career doing that and then, uh, was doing like, sort of like odd things on the side of like, I was selling jewelry, selling perfume and fragrance through a Sephora for awhile there. And like, just like learning how to sell as well as like going to college.
[00:11:15] And then ultimately, as I was sort of like printing on my doctor, actually. So like a family doctor that I’d been with for a long time, I was talking to him during one that summers and he was just like, you know, you’re smart. Like, why don’t you just. Go to medical school. Like any of that’s something that you should consider.
[00:11:30] And that’s where I was like, well, okay. I’m kind of thinking about my options. Maybe that’s something that I can apply myself to, that I could be really driven about going to be a long period of time to like, get to that goal. All those things that are excited to me about that. So I started sort of like dabbling.
[00:11:44] But the idea of like doing pre-med. And so that’s where I decided to focus on. And interestingly enough, I ended up taking an elective, computer science course that changed the trajectory of my life, which was, I took that class. I felt really good about it. And it went really well. And I just kept [00:12:00] writing code during my free time.
[00:12:02] I’m supposed to be like learning all this pre-med stuff. And I ultimately was like, well, maybe it’s just go to a coding boot camp. I could either spend four years switch majors, be a computer science major. And again, I didn’t really know what that meant, honestly, like what that was, you were seeing like Facebook and all these other apps sort of like pop up if someone had to build them, but you didn’t really know like how that process worked.
[00:12:20] It was still like a mystery to me. And ultimately was just like, there’s this coding bootcamp thing that I’m hearing about in Portland. I’ve seen a couple of people who have had success doing that or not working. Maybe that’s something I want to go do. So I ultimately decided to go to a coding boot camp.
[00:12:33] Dan: [00:12:33] Wow. Yeah. So first of all, why did you take the computer class? Was it, was it required or did you just say, this is interesting. Let me just check it out.
[00:12:41]Stephen Ajayi: [00:12:41] It was just like one of those elective things of like me being curious about like what else was around and just decided to major in that, or just like take a time to take some time to do that.
[00:12:51] Um, so it was just an elective course that was offered at Portland State that I was like, look at the schedule. And it’s like, that’s something that looks interesting. Don’t know what it is, but I’ll check it out.
[00:12:59]Dan: [00:12:59] [00:13:00] What was the thing that captured you? Cause obviously this was, like you said, it was a seminal thing in your life and the trajectory of your career.
[00:13:07] And you know, I, I would always tell my kids, you can do anything you want that doesn’t involve a screen and what they choose that I’m going to help them double down on that. Cause it’s obviously some natural, like they want to do that. So let me help them to do more of that. So something must’ve sparked about coding for you, can you articulate kind of what that was?
[00:13:28]Stephen Ajayi: [00:13:28] Yeah. I mean, I think it’s something that I also have been thinking about recently. Yeah. I just never really realized all the dots connecting at the time, but you know, when I was like younger, I’d watch my dad, my dad is a minister and my mom’s a teacher. So an interesting combination there. And I would watch my dad on like sometimes in his free time, just like mess around with computers.
[00:13:47]And I never know what he’s really doing with them.. He knows all that. I knew he was like good with them. Right. So it’s just a thing he did as a hobby in his spare time. And I think when I took the class, a theme that really resonated with me and like struck me was [00:14:00] that you could just build something and that thing would work no matter how big or small that thing was.
[00:14:05] So like you would program something and it would do what you told us to actually do. So if that was the right thing, it would work. If it wasn’t the wrong thing, it would still work the way you programmed it, something would happen. And I just kind of felt like magical to me in some sort of way. And there was definitely some sort of like enchantment of like, This idea of just building things really small or really large, that you could just do anything that you wanted with that.
[00:14:26] Um, and I think that just really stuck with me in some way that I couldn’t really realize there, but it was just sort of that more creative endeavor of this idea of like, I liked creating and I liked sort of, maybe that’s why I was doing those biz decide business ventures, which is like creating things.
[00:14:42] And like all of a sudden you could create whatever you wanted. And that just seemed magical to me in some way.
[00:14:47] Dan: [00:14:47] Yeah. That makes sense. And I’m connecting those dots of sort of the creativity plus. Outcome. Right. So it’s like the input is my creative side. The output has meaning or value. So that’s good [00:15:00] combination.
[00:15:00] So you go through coding, boot camp, and, well, what happens between coding bootcamp and Year One? What’s was your career like before the startup world?
[00:15:09] Stephen Ajayi: [00:15:09] Yeah. So I was always interested in startups. Once I learned that was like a tech sort of startup scene in Portland. I didn’t even know this. I just sort of like stumbled upon this, mostly wanting to solve problems.
[00:15:19] So once I learned there was this creative outlet of writing code, I just wanted to be around other programmers, found out that there was like meetups and things like that going around Portland. And it was sounding like the early stages, but there was meetups. You could go and meet other developers who were like way more experienced than you.
[00:15:32] They were like tech companies that were like, Kind of hire developers. All this stuff is like super magical to me at the time. And I really just graduated from coding bootcamp, got my first internship and job working writing code and ultimately ended up drawing from a lot of my previous background, which was kind of surprising to me as well and sales to ultimately end up as the VP of Sales at a startup in the Bay area.
[00:15:54] And so that was sort of an alignment of like software skills and tech skills. And then like the [00:16:00] sales experience you’ve had previously. And putting those two things together. And so did that in the Bay area for a little bit, and kind of got to see the much larger ecosystem of the network, like the network in San Francisco and like what that whole thing was and like how big things could get and also how serious people were about tech in that way.
[00:16:18] And all the while I was still thinking about like my own coding boot camp experience, people who are all these really talented engineers who had done previous things that I thought were still really valuable, who were trying to just like navigate the job space and like try to get companies to look at them and give them a shot.
[00:16:33] And so. All of those things, like just stuck with me. And then on my brother’s side, I was just trying to talk to my brother who was an architect in Portland. I was trying to talk him into like going to a coding boot camp himself and getting into technology. Cause I was like, you could take the design skills, apply them somewhere else. I just think that would be a really interesting thing for you. So he finally decided to go to a coding bootcamp. So when he graduated, I was at that point doubling down on like, [00:17:00] trying to figure out how to solve this problem by like writing my own code and like doing an accelerator program. It’s like a pre accelerator called PIE or the Portland Incubator Experiment here in Portland that was housed inside of Puppet.
[00:17:11] And when I was doing that, Sam graduated, applied with what we had worked on in PIE, to Techstars and got accepted. And then that’s when Sam and I were like, let’s work on this together. We’ve had this shared experience of like being coding bootcamp, graduates ourselves. And like, let’s see if we can help other people sort of navigate this space more successfully than they currently are.
[00:17:31]Dan: [00:17:31] That’s a great arc. And we’re going to hear more about the Year One story in a moment, but we’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back with Steven Ajayi from Year One.
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[00:18:52] Dan: [00:18:52] So we’re back with Stephen Ajayi from Year One. So Stephen, before we dive more into the company and the, in the [00:19:00] startup, I want to go back a little bit and talk, how does somebody end up becoming VP of Sales out of a coding bootcamp trajectory? Cause that’s not normal, even in the startup world. Maybe tell us that story quickly about how did you end up becoming VP of Sales.
[00:19:16] Stephen Ajayi: [00:19:16] I just don’t think of skills as like a linear thing. I think that, you know, as you’re picking up and acquiring skills, you never know where you might want to apply those. And like they might be applicable in different sectors as well. Right. So I think companies don’t typically think about this in terms of their hiring process, but like, let’s say that you were in customer service and now you decided to go to coding bootcamp and they have these tech skills.
[00:19:34] There might be a direct pathway for why you would be a really great technical support engineer on a team, right. More so than someone who just like came out of the four year university without that. Retail sort of experience. So for me, the way that that sort of worked was I graduated from this coding bootcamp and the story is kind of crazy.
[00:19:51] I was actually at Microsoft Build in Seattle and I met a founder who was working on this startup in the Bay Area. And we were talking [00:20:00] about like a sales process and the fact that like I had worked on sales before and all this stuff. And so. Ultimately, I just talked him into giving me a job, had no plans to like do this previously, but I just like jumped on a plane.
[00:20:13] I want to say like a little bit more than a month later. And was in San Francisco working for a startup. I think that that was just a lot of the jewelry experience, the sales experience from like getting people to look at the popular cologne. I was just trying to get my sales in at Sephora. Those sorts of things like that hustle was like intrinsic.
[00:20:31] And I think it just kind of played out there of like, this is an opportunity. You say you have a need. I might be able to fill that need, like, let’s actually just like, see if this might work. And then just being open to the opportunity of advancing and moving on an opportunity. Um, if it’s the right fit.
[00:20:45] Dan: [00:20:45] That’s a cool story. And I’ve definitely hearing in my own impression, the reason why you’re doing the company you’re doing, because you have all this insight around the nuances of how people connect around companies and roles and, and [00:21:00] jobs, and, you know, right, . Now it’s a disconnect around how people match in the fact that you had all of this.
[00:21:08] Experience that may or may not show up on a resume or LinkedIn. Right. But in conversations, you know, you were quickly able to establish credibility with that person, obviously enough to say, Hey, I can come help you with this. Right. And so, as a great story, and the serendipity of it is pretty interesting as well.
[00:21:28] So let’s talk about Year One. So you were throwing around some terms, Puppet and PIE. And for those people who are not in the Portland stratosphere, tell us a little bit about what those things are and how you got involved in those and how Year One kind of emerged from there.
[00:21:42]Stephen Ajayi: [00:21:42] Start with PIE. PIE is at the point incubator experiment, basically, uh, RIck Terozi, uh, a really great person here in the Portland ecosystem and tech ecosystem and startup scene in general.
[00:21:53] He, along with like collaborations from some other organizations with like, let’s give people the opportunity to like work on an idea, a [00:22:00] startup we’re not going to do like the traditional sort of like accelerator program where you get funding or anything like that. But we’ll give you space. Give me mentorship, give me resources in terms of like people’s time.
[00:22:09] And like you can work on an idea. And so I applied to this program interview with Brett and then ultimately got accepted into this program. And when I applied on was idea that I want to figure out how to help junior level developers, particularly people who are coming out of coding bootcamp, who are earlier in their careers, possibly connect with each other in sort of like a Stack Overflow fashion without all of the vitriol of like being a junior and not knowing the answer. And so that’s what I applied with and I was building code and doing that. And then Puppet is a technology company that is based here in Portland. That’s really monumental to the scene here. And they had a workspace in their office that they had dedicated to the people got accepted into PIE to work on their ideas in their office.
[00:22:53] So that’s kind of like where I truly focus on This is user there’s a problem. How do I sort of start solving for [00:23:00] this? And then building solutions that might, might be the right thing here that I can at least test these assumptions and see if I can validate them to ultimately see if there’s a problem here I could fix.
[00:23:09] And so that was like my experience with PIE and Puppet, as I sort of started working on this, ultimately ended up at what Year One is today.
[00:23:16] Dan: [00:23:16] Did Puppet, do they do more than space? Were you exposed to programming or their culture, or did they help in any other way?
[00:23:24] Stephen Ajayi: [00:23:24] Yeah. I had the really great fortune of being able to connect with our engineering team, HR team and others within their company about like this idea and like how there might be some sort of synergies around it.
[00:23:35] Um, so that was early sort of like market validation that. We were onto something wasn’t exactly sure. And so you kind of test the assumption. You don’t know exactly how your on to it like what that means, but it was just kind of showed that we were onto something. So yeah, they definitely lent a lot of time and energy to like supporting, uh, the early versions of what turned out to be your one as a team.
[00:23:57] Dan: [00:23:57] Did the idea evolve? Like how did it, how did [00:24:00] it start if it did and what was that evolution of what it’s ultimately become?
[00:24:05] Stephen Ajayi: [00:24:05] Yeah, so basically writing code late at night, early in the morning, trying to kind of get the stack overflow thing working. And it was, it started to like, get a little bit of traction there.
[00:24:16] And I decided to pitch Techstars on this idea. So pitch Techstars applied for that program. And in my interview process with Lisa Mitchell, who was the managing director of Techstars, Kansas city, now heads up more of the Techstars ecosystem, but Lisa heard my pitch and she was like, I think there’s something there.
[00:24:35] Like something interesting here. I don’t know if this is exactly the right solution yet. I think that you’re onto something, let’s accept you into a program and then we will figure this out. But there’s something here about the connections of this under an estimated talent pool. And these companies are trying to hire more people.
[00:24:52] Non-traditional candidates into their pipelines and how we solve for that. I think that there’s something there. So that’s ultimately how we got into Techstars [00:25:00] and then continue iterating on that idea at like a much higher velocity by talking to CTO, who’s talking to founding teams about how they were going about this process and how we could support them.
[00:25:09] And that’s ultimately how we ended up at a solution of like, Helping them that these candidates on one end of the coding boot camps that are across the U S and then also helping companies provide that ongoing support for those candidates to make sure that they’re successful, we’ll say actually get hired.
[00:25:23] Dan: [00:25:23] Well. So why don’t we unpack that a little bit? Why don’t we talk about what exactly is YearOne? How does it work? What are the pieces to it? What’s the value to both sides of the equation?
[00:25:32] Stephen Ajayi: [00:25:32] Yeah. So to your point, we’re a two-sided marketplace. So on one side, we have these coding bootcamp graduates who are coming out of coding bootcamp.
[00:25:40] I think, as you can imagine, like when you’re getting into technology and you’re deciding to invest all your time to like three to nine months to learn how to write code, the biggest things you’re concerned about are one getting a job and then two staying in that job. Or like at least progressing along, um, in the engineering pathways so that you can actually like stickiness in the industry essentially is what you’re looking for.
[00:25:59] Right. [00:26:00] So that’s. Kind of like what their objectives are. And so for year one, what we’re providing for those candidates is a community of people who are going through that exact same experience at the same time, who are both in the interviewing side of things and like being able to have a community there and also providing mentorship on like how to go through technical interviews, all that sort of like material there to make sure that those processes are more efficient and more successful.
[00:26:24] And then also, once they do get a job, We are providing ongoing support for those candidates to make sure that everything from like pull requests and like how you do that to like, engaging on your team and being successful as you sort of like navigate, not just producing code for the team and contributing, but then yeah.
[00:26:39] Ultimately leading teams, like how you go through that progression. So there’s like a lot there. Right. But that’s kind of what we think about for the candidate side of things.
[00:26:48] Dan: [00:26:48] That makes a lot of sense. And, you know, it’s interesting because you know, they talk about bootcamps as, you know, sort of this egalitarian, you know, equalizer level playing field, but as you’ve [00:27:00] rightly pointed out who you are as a person, your collection of prior experiences, you know, you’re not just a cog in the wheel, right.
[00:27:07] This isn’t an assembly line where you just have to hammer in your nail and 90 times an hour or whatever, right? This is something where you have to bring yourself and bringing yourself to a job means sometimes a simulating, but it also means sometimes doubling down and celebrating what your differences are.
[00:27:25] So. Helping somebody navigate that is so powerful because it, it really can make the difference. So it makes a lot of sense. So let’s talk about the employer side. Like , how does Year One facilitate things for them and what’s the value add that they see.
[00:27:38]Stephen Ajayi: [00:27:38] So the company side is different, but there are some similarities basically for coding, for companies who are looking at the coding boot camp pipeline, I think one big sort of thing.
[00:27:48] That’s been an issue for companies and why they don’t typically hire sometimes in the pipeline is because of quality. Right? So they’re like, I don’t know. What I’m gonna get from this pipeline, but I do know what I’m gonna get from Stanford. I do know what I’m going to get from like UC [00:28:00] Berkeley. I kind of know, like the known networks.
[00:28:02] I totally know what I’m getting from them. And so if you’re telling me that you want to get me candidates from these non-traditional backgrounds coming through coding bootcamp, I don’t necessarily want I’m sure. Just with the bell curve dynamics, like if I looked at enough candidates, I could find someone who would be successful in my team, whether or not that’s going to be efficient for my team to do.
[00:28:20] The thing that’s up in the air. So what we do as your one is we actually provide a vetting process that candidates can sort of go through after they get out of coding bootcamp. And that allows them to, , get credentialed essentially that they actually have met our technical standard, soft skills, hard skills, , to then go into a specific pool of partner company opportunities that they otherwise would not have access to.
[00:28:43] So that’s one side is just making that. That matchmaking a little bit more efficient for companies looking for natural engineers. And then secondarily, you know, that support is a big deal for companies. Because even if you hire someone from a coding bootcamp, what you then need to figure out is like how much time and energy does my engineering [00:29:00] team spend mentoring this person to get them up to par for our team.
[00:29:04] And so that’s an unknown quantity that companies are really concerned about. And so by providing external mentorship where people are able to sort of get. A good understanding of the fundamentals or the knowledge of like how you sort of navigate your first year. Uh, we think we are driving down that cost of mentorship across the ecosystem.
[00:29:21] So in real terms, we’ve seen this be successful for like YCombinator backed startups we’ve seen to be successful for well backed startups that are well-known. And then we’re also seeing candidates who are coming through our process. We’re landing jobs at really great companies like. Google and Microsoft Leap and like those sorts of companies.
[00:29:37] So the quality is definitely there. It’s just a matter of tapping into that quality for companies and at least seeing how they might change their hiring process in some ways to actually find those really great candidates. Are there other ones?
[00:29:49] Dan: [00:29:49] And so tell us about the business model. How does the business model work?
[00:29:53] Stephen Ajayi: [00:29:53] The way that we work is we charge employers. So for companies who partner with us were like help us find engineers that might be [00:30:00] promising that could join our team. We are basically helping them find a essentially engineer number one type candidates who could be successful in those entry-level roles rather than having to do.
[00:30:11] Do internships or apprenticeships to sort of like figure out who those candidates might be. We charge companies basically $25,000-75,000 on an annual contract to get our pipeline interview as many candidates as they would like. And then ultimately extend offers and hire candidates on to their team. And then we do a year of ongoing support for each candidate that is hired through Year One.
[00:30:32] Dan: [00:30:32] And so how do you, how do you measure success? Like, do you have KPIs? what’s kind of your North star as a business?
[00:30:37] Stephen Ajayi: [00:30:37] It’s a great question for us. The way that we think about this as like one, how do we sort of get people who are talented, who are coming from this non-traditional pathway?
[00:30:46] How do we get more people getting the jobs that they’re actually qualified for? Something, that’s kind of been a thing in the industry is like this sort of catch all apprenticeship or internship model of like, essentially we don’t know what to do with you as a candidate. Like, we don’t know what you’re going to do or produce for [00:31:00] our team.
[00:31:00] So because of that, let’s get you into an internship or apprenticeship program. You’ll learn our team you’ll work on our team. And then ultimately, if we think that this is. Works out. We’ll get you into an engineer. Number one role where you can like actually start progressing in real time to like the typical sort of pathway of engineering.
[00:31:16] But what we found is that there’s a lot of candidates who actually are at that level as they’ve graduated from coding bootcamp, because as you kind of pointed out earlier, you have all these collections of like previous background and experience that could be lending itself to why you might be a really great engineer.
[00:31:31] Even though you’ve only had three to nine months, uh, software engineering, technical training to move forward with. Right. So that’s kind of the measure that we’re looking at. The second one is a salary range. So the national average for coding bootcamp grads is about $70,000 a year for your first job.
[00:31:46] Some are a little bit less than a little bit higher, and then you have that whole internship apprenticeship model thing of like now, maybe you’re starting at $15 an hour to like the ceiling there. So we are seeing our candidates, land jobs, and an average of like $105,000 a year. [00:32:00] For their starting jobs.
[00:32:00] So they’re getting into like that actual, real engineering place, which is really great. And I think lastly, as we’re following those engineers over that year, We’re now starting to see enough data of our first and early candidates that we placed at these startups that never hired code school grads before, you know, from YC startups, to others who are now having those engineers, not just succeed on their teams was starting to like work toward the leading teams in that short timeframe.
[00:32:28] So all those kinds of proof points that this talent pipeline is out there, there is quality. It’s just a matter of both find those candidates and then supporting those candidates, um, to be successful once they do get hired.
[00:32:39] Dan: [00:32:39] Man I a, a sentence. And I, you know, I think ultimately the world of employment and recruiting, you know, there are, there are things that are just, you know, what’s the right word, you know, that they’re basically these are the metrics, right?
[00:32:52] That’s ultimately what the outcomes you’re looking for are. So, tying to those make sense. And at the end of the day, can people find jobs matched to [00:33:00] jobs? Can employers find candidates who with a little bit of investment become outstanding long-term investments as employees. One of the things I’m curious about is let’s say you define success.
[00:33:14] However you want to define it. It’s five years from now, or however long it takes to become quote unquote successful. What is the ultimate goal for Year One? What would it look like for you to say? Yeah, we really nailed it.
[00:33:26] Stephen Ajayi: [00:33:26] It’s a question, I think about a lot, so, well, one, so we are definitely on the VC sort of track of funding.
[00:33:33] Like that’s the way that we’re operating in the business. And so we see ourselves as going after a large market and trying to win that space. Um, so I think that there’s that, but I think the biggest thing that’s more interesting to me is impacting as many people as we possibly can. Right. So if you’re able to sort of figure out this, this model of like you’re talented, As an engineer from an official background, you should be getting into this type of role and we’ll connect you to those jobs.
[00:33:57] That’s in itself. An interesting thing. But I think [00:34:00] the bigger thing that we’re seeing is like that network and the community of people who are aligned because they have like a shared experience in this one way is really, really valuable. And so. We’re ultimately, I guess, in some ways, turning into like both an employee resource group that ha is like agnostic to companies and then also turning into like an alumni group for all the coding boot camps to connect with each other.
[00:34:23] Um, and those connections are powerful. So I think there’s a lot of network effects that happen from that that become really valuable. You know, I think there’s like the answer of like, well, we want to be, we want that VC metrics of like growing and scaling the company and ultimately exiting.
[00:34:35] I think that that’s obviously something that we’ve signed up for, but I think that the more interesting is seeing those network of flex sort of play out and then ultimately impacting as many people as possible. So that. People don’t feel no matter if you’re coming out of coding bootcamp or some other pipeline, you actually do feel like you have the support and the resources to be successful on the engineering team.
[00:34:54] And ultimately they use that and start to see people leading teams and then starting the new own startups and then the dynamics of the [00:35:00] ecosystem change. And a bigger thing for us is like, as we’re sort of doing this vetting process that we’re seeing these candidates sort of like land, both really great jobs within year one, then just supporting them in these other jobs.
[00:35:11] They’re interested in what we’re seeing is that that quality is there. We’re excited to see how that kind of plays out over the next few years of people then leading teams and then starting their own startups. And then specifically with people like 70% of our candidates so far have been women or people of color.
[00:35:26] So that has like a lot of impact where, what that can mean for the ecosystem. We continue to nurture and grow those careers where ultimately, maybe it’s not such a rare thing to be a black founder who has a successful startup.
[00:35:37]Dan: [00:35:37] What a great vision. I love that. So we’re going to take another short break and we’ll be right back with Steven Ajayi from Year One.
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[00:36:55] Dan: [00:36:55] So we’re back with Steven. So Steven , I’ve waited a long, long part of this interview to start [00:37:00] talking about the dynamic of having a co-founder who’s your brother. So tell us a little bit about that. And at one point in the interview, you were talking about how you had to convince him of some things, like, how did the experience of coming together and deciding definitively, Hey, we’re going to go co-found something. How did that come together?
[00:37:17] Stephen Ajayi: [00:37:17] I guess as context like Sam and I have been best friends forever. So I talked to him like every day, regardless of if we’re going to work together or not. And so we just have that sort of relationship. And so I think as we were sort of navigating the tech ecosystem myself, he was just kind of watching and like, Seeing how things were going.
[00:37:32] And ultimately, I think once he graduated from coding bootcamp himself, and we got into Techstars, it was kind of like, if we’re going to do this thing of like working together, which you had talked about before. Right? So as we were growing up, it’s like, well, maybe like start a company together at some point.
[00:37:46] And we were like, well, how does that going to work? Is that an architecture firms, how we start, cause you’re an architect. How does that work? But it just really aligned in this way of like, as both having a shared experience and our us both being in the same place and life and stuff lining up. But it just made [00:38:00] sense that like, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right now.
[00:38:02] So working with Sam has been great. I just he’s my best friend. And I just get to see him every day and work on something with him every day. So like, you know, I think there’s still some of those things of like, it’s still your brother, right? You can have like super Frank conversations, which I think is also helpful as a founding team. You can have a really Frank conversation about where things are and like where things are going.
[00:38:19] But I guess as brothers you’ve seen worse, you know, that you’re going to survive the situation essentially where I think it was like a friend or something there’s like limits to how much you show up to yourselves, to each other in some ways, but not the same thing with family all the time.
[00:38:33] Dan: [00:38:33] That’s really interesting. Yeah. Sometimes people look at it the opposite way, like, because you know each other, so, well, maybe there’s this, you know, external or separate dynamic that could influence anything, but you make a great point of when you you’ve been through it, right. With, with somebody really ultimately that creates trust.
[00:38:50] And, you know, they say one of the biggest reasons startups fail is: co-founders just fall out and trust is a big thing. So that makes a lot of sense. I think we’re going to have to do [00:39:00] a, you know, around two and have Sam on the show for sure. But it’s interesting to me, because an architect is almost in the realm of a doctor and it’s like, it’s very intentional career and very linear and.
[00:39:11] You know, you sort of do all this work. And I remember when I was in school, I was an engineer and we worked hard, but we’d be coming back late at night from a party and the architecture, the students that are in there, in there in the students doing their stuff. So it’s a commitment to do it, you know, I think it’s amazing that he gave himself the freedom and maybe with your encouragement to explore how to, how to bring that experience to another part of the business world.
[00:39:36] So that’s, that’s really cool. Let’s talk a little bit about, uh, fundraising. So where’s the company today. I’m going to think you, you you’ve gone through Techstars. And how do you view your fundraising so far?
[00:39:48] Stephen Ajayi: [00:39:48] So we kind of have the fortunate experience of, you know, once we really decided to like found the company we incorporated during Techstars.
[00:39:57] So like we got accepted into Techstars and we. [00:40:00] Try to incorporate as quickly as we could before program started like a couple of weeks later. It’s interesting. I, I think that our perspective on VC and like fundraising is probably different than the norm specifically because resources solve a lot of problems.
[00:40:12] They also create a lot of problems or how you sort of like, think about the problem. And I think earlier on in my entrepreneurial journey, I always thought that like, man, if you just get funding, like funding would solve this problem because like reach more people, we could do all these things like scale so much faster and that.
[00:40:27] That’s true to some degree, but I think that the core premise of like what you’re doing, you kind of have to figure that out. Uh, we were fortunate in the fact that we got to kind of figure that out in the best startup ecosystem there is to like, figure that out. So essentially we just realized that we could just run really lean and basically just figured out the core assumptions and then start scaling as we need to.
[00:40:48] So. Uh, we raise initial money from Techstars. Uh, we’re now backed by Zeal Capital out in DC and then, uh, some angel investors as well, some really great angel investors. And then also by Black Founders [00:41:00] Matter and the Point C Fund as well. So some local investments from the Portland ecosystem there as well represented on our cap table.
[00:41:07] But. As you’re sort of thinking about that we are now a team of four working on this problem and then thinking about how we continue to grow. But a lot of our growth has actually been kind of tied to the point I was making earlier tied to this idea that if we figure out the core assumptions and we figured out how we sort of approach the problem.
[00:41:25] A lot of those things aren’t solved with money. And so we’re not like spending tons of money on ads and like customer acquisition costs like that. I think that we’re really trying to figure out like how to build a, uh, a business that has some of the core things there that you can sort of hide with capital and like spending money on things to sort of get there without actually having done the actual work to find out.
[00:41:45] Like, if you have really proved out the assumption that you. You want it to prove out or got the data you needed to get back to understand like whether or not the market’s responding to what you’re trying to put out there. So that’s how we think about it.
[00:41:56] Dan: [00:41:56] I mean, it’s a very intelligent approach for sure. What I find thing [00:42:00] is, uh, you know, there’s a book called Blind Spot by Ross Baird, and he talks about all these opportunities for potentially investible founders who lie outside of the normal pattern matching. And you kind of fit the bill. You’re like a poster person for it, right? I mean, you don’t have a traditional education from, you know, some fancy school you’re in Portland, which is, a good tech hub, but it’s not Silicon Valley or New York.
[00:42:25] And the third part is you’re sort of going after a while tech hiring is, it seems like an insatiable need, uh, across the ecosystem. The idea of people who come from underestimated backgrounds, Being successful in filling those roles and having fulfilling careers. So I’m wondering, how have you talked to sort of like quote unquote traditional VCs or other investors for whom you might be in their blind spot?
[00:42:53] Stephen Ajayi: [00:42:53] Yeah, I think instead of going through meetings and sort of like talking to people, it’s an interesting thing. Cause I think that some people are just gonna get what you’re working on and [00:43:00] like why that’s a really big opportunity, way more people I’m gonna put it that way. Like way more people will say, ah, maybe that’s something and they’ll give you the answer of like, well you’re early, let’s talk later.
[00:43:10] So they don’t want to say no. And they don’t want to say yes. So it’s a sort of like, let’s kick the can down the road. I think that. What we really tried to be sort of like intentional about is like let’s find partners that can sort of like help us, not just with capital, but in terms of strategy was probably the more important thing of like how we sort of continue to get the metrics and like build something that’s going to be super large and let’s find those, those sorts of like investors.
[00:43:35] And so I think that those meetings have actually been super helpful for us to sort of like, get a good sense of both from the traditional sort of VC side of things and getting into partner with like, Nasir over at Zeal Capital Partners, which is a traditional VC. And then also, you know, the and Portland Seed Fund and Black Founders Matter, like getting those sorts of institutional VCs involved in our round.
[00:43:53] But also making sure that we have a clear understanding of here are the things that were kind of validate. And then [00:44:00] at that point, maybe those more institutional investors in terms of a traditional Silicon Valley thing, maybe that’s of interest. And then at that point, once we sort of proved some of these things out, but that’s the way that we’ve been approaching that.
[00:44:11] Dan: [00:44:11] That’s great. That’s very healthy and mature. You’re a better man than I, because I know when I was doing my first company, every, every no felt like, Oh boy, I’m going to show them. But you’re right. I mean, I think it’s a matter of degrees , of risk appetite and degrees of get it. Like, do they get it right?
[00:44:29] Can they see the future that you are envisioning? Right. And some people, you know, if everybody could see it, then everybody would be doing it. Everybody would be backing it. And so the reason you exist is there’s an opportunity to solve something in a way that, that others haven’t. So let me ask you this.
[00:44:44] Portland is a interesting ecosystem. Maybe tell us a little bit about what is the tech scene for those who aren’t in Portland or don’t know it. What is the tech scene like? There, is it healthy? And then. I kind have a part B to that would be what’s it like to be a black founder in that [00:45:00] ecosystem?
[00:45:00] Stephen Ajayi: [00:45:00] Great questions.
[00:45:01] I think Portland as an ecosystem has really started to take off the last several years. So you have a lot of people starting companies here. Cost of living is a little bit better than Seattle and, definitely San Francisco in New York. So there’s that. And you also then have a founder ecosystem that stark.
[00:45:18] Starting to come together. I think in some ways it’s an incomplete network. So it’s hard to, you know, I think that if you think about like San Francisco and like the Bay area, I think San Francisco is like a complete network because it has, I don’t know, 60 years of stuff happening in the ecosystem to like mature to a degree where the capital’s there, the talent pools there, the discipline around what a founding team and like.
[00:45:41] Founding a company kind of looks like, even though I think that there’s a lot of pattern matching there. Like there’s like a thing around that, right. Where I think that being in a newer tech hub, it’s just someone that stuff is not always complete, but I think that the founding teams and like the actual ecosystem in Portland is strong and continue to like grow pretty aggressively, which is really [00:46:00] cool.
[00:46:00] I think you’d get a lot of really interesting companies who are like doing outposts here essentially, because. If you’re thinking about like a really strong talent pool of people that you could hire. And you’re also thinking about cost of living. Portland’s not that far away from Seattle or San Francisco, but the cost of living is definitely better than either of those places.
[00:46:18] So like, it’s going to be a little bit more efficient for your, your really large company to like put an office in Portland and hire engineers and designers and all that stuff. So as an example, like New Relic and like Airbnb and like companies like that, have they have, uh, offices in Portland that are.
[00:46:33] Hiring people and actively growing the scene. And so I think those things have also helped to accelerate the pace of entrepreneurship in the ecosystem, as you’re getting more talent and more people were just like, maybe the Bay area is not the most sustainable place to live. Long-term I need for Alice, where do I go?
[00:46:49] Do you want to stay on the West coast? Seattle Portland are kind of like the places that you might think about. So all those things have sort of helped.
[00:46:55] Dan: [00:46:55] And being a black founder there?
[00:46:57]Stephen Ajayi: [00:46:57] I guess I’m used to it. I mean, I, like, I grew up in [00:47:00] happy Valley, so Oregon is, pretty homogenous.
[00:47:01] And so is like the suburbs of Clackamas, I guess, if you wanna put it that way. So I’ve been accustomed to being like, sometimes most of the time I’m one of the only black people in the room. Um, so I’m kind of used to that. So for me, it’s not that big of a difference. I’m not sure if it’s a big difference for Sam, but I think that what ends up being important, it’s sort of finding those communities of other people who can kind of relate to your experience and be able to connect with them.
[00:47:25]Techstars has been really great for us for that. Um, it’s like connecting to other black founders who are across the country who are working on really cool things and other non-traditional founders who are. Just in the network that we can sort of reach out to and talk to about like the actual experience of being a founder who is black, but as far as like my day to day, I’m used to it.
[00:47:41] So it’s just, it’s not, it’s not a change of pace for me in some ways.
[00:47:45] Dan: [00:47:45] That makes sense. We all aspire for that. Not to be a label or a designation that we have to be reminded of all the time. Right. So last question is we always ask people. So if you could go back in time [00:48:00] to your pre startup days, like your own startup, like you’re being a founder and give that Steven advice about what to do, what not to do, what to look out for.
[00:48:09] What advice would you give him?
[00:48:11] Stephen Ajayi: [00:48:11] I guess I give myself three pieces of advice. One would be like, just give yourself the time to sort of like learn and just be curious without like a timeline on that. Like there, I think there’s times to like double down and like go as fast as possible. But sometimes, like, I think there’s a lot of things just to kind of learn whether that’s just in college or.
[00:48:29] Out of high school or just like, while you’re working, whatever it is, that’s like, those are monumental experiences that you can’t really realize at the time. So just being present in those moments of like what you’re learning and what you’re trying to do right now versus like where you’re trying to go long term.
[00:48:42] So I would give myself the advice to be present in those things. A second daily, I would say that, as a black founder, , just be yourself, you want people to accept you for who you are. , I think that that’s, it’s entirely other conversation possibly of like what that means, but I think it’s easier to come into those rooms and be [00:49:00] yourself because you have value, have credibility, you have those things, even if the room doesn’t see it. You have all those things.
[00:49:06] So like you have to believe that. Um, and so I feel like that’s something that would definitely took me maybe a little longer than I would’ve liked to like, learn that. And then lastly, , Startups are startups, right? Like it’s hard work. There’s a lot that goes into that. There’s like table stakes for like what the grind kind of needs to look like.
[00:49:21] If you’re trying to build a really large. Scalable business. Like that is what it is, but have fun, right? Like you’re building something that you hopefully want to build and wants to be an existence and want to like love, even if you can’t always in the moment all the time. And not everybody gets that opportunity, especially if you’re a founder of color or coming from a non-traditional background in general.
[00:49:40] Now not everyone gets that opportunity. So like making the most of the time that you get to like work on this stuff. Cause like it’s not something that you can take for granted all the time.
[00:49:49]Dan: [00:49:49] That’s great. I love that. That’s good advice. And that’s sometimes we get the same stuff that people say, but I think those are all different.
[00:49:55] So that’s great. So as we wrap up here, how can our audience be helpful for [00:50:00] Year One?
[00:50:00]Stephen Ajayi: [00:50:00] If you know any teams that are looking to hire candidates who are hiring engineers we definitely would love to talk to them. So, uh, our website is joinyearone.io and then if you know, anyone who is planning a coding bootcamp, who either self-taught, or went through bootcamp, who is looking for a job, um, we’d love for them to join the community.
[00:50:19] Um, so I’m also joined you’re one that I owe for that.
[00:50:22] Dan: [00:50:22] Nice. And is that the social handle too?
[00:50:24]Stephen Ajayi: [00:50:24] I think our social handles are like YearOneCareers actually. We’ll see if we can buy the other ones, but we’ll go. We’ll solve that problem later.
[00:50:32]Dan: [00:50:32] Well, this has been so much fun. Thank you so much for taking the time, Stephen.
[00:50:35] I really appreciate it.
[00:50:38] Stephen Ajayi: [00:50:38] Thanks for having me.
[00:50:39]Dan: [00:50:39] We’d like to thank our guests, Stephen Ajayi and our sponsor Dave Parker and his new book Trajectory Startup.
[00:50:45] This podcast was produced by yours truly, Dan Kihanya.
[00:50:47] Our music was arranged by Michael Kihanya. 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, [00:51:00] Instagram or LinkedIn @foundersunfound. Thanks so much for tuning in.
[00:51:04] I am Dan Kihanya
[00:51:05] and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.