Podcast Transcript – Series FOUR, Episode 58
KOFI GYEKYE, LANE MAy 2023
[00:00:00] Kofi Gyekye: This is what’s going on. These are the daily struggles. This is how neighborhoods are structured, this is how schools are put into place. You know, it’s quite eye-opening in that regard, you know? So I will say by virtue of just how you look in America, you’re actually not just in America, the western world, were placed into very specific categories.
[00:00:22] You know, and more often than not, I often used to forget, oh, you’re so well-spoken, you know, you accident. And it’s almost like I’m getting this hallway [00:00:30] pass, you know, because of that versus, and so actually, no, that’s not the point. I’m here because I’m capable. I’m here because we are skilled. I’m here because I have the same, if not a better education than you.
[00:00:42] I’m meant to be in this room.
[00:00:44] Dan: What’s up on Foundation? Dan Kihanya here. Thanks so much for checking out another episode of Founders Unfound. That was Kofi Gyekye, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Lane, the world’s largest and most innovative workplace experience platform connecting 300 [00:01:00] plus properties across 22 cities and eight countries.
[00:01:03] We’re trying something a little different with this episode. Kofi, along with his co-founder, Clinton actually built and sold Lane, so they’re not really still unfound, but he was so interesting in the journey, so compelling. I couldn’t resist sitting down with him as a guest. Kofi grew up in Italy with African parents.
[00:01:19] He was good at school and realized that he loved the dual pursuit of creativity and analysis, the perfect foundation for his journey as a product visionary. A serendipitous meeting at a [00:01:30] university party. Resulted in CO’s partnership with his co-founder Clinton, across three separate ventures. It was when Kofi was considering an RFP for a marketing campaign for office buildings that he decided to do something he had never done before in his career.
[00:01:44] See what it’s like to work at an office. So he spent the day exploring and observing at a big skyscraper office, and then the epiphany hit him. Why can’t the office environment be as convenient and seamless as it is at home? And so Lane was born in the whirlwind that [00:02:00] followed the company did. Techstars grew from 10 to 200 people, landed clients all over the world, and then in late 2021, sold for 200 million to Unicorn PropTech company VTS.
[00:02:11] Kofi has a great story you’ll wanna listen in.
[00:02:14] Our episode is sponsored by AfriBlocks, the global Pan-African freelance marketplace and collaboration platform, a great resource for devs, designers, and virtual assistants. Check out the link in the show notes. Before we continue, please make sure to like and subscribe to Founders Unfound.
[00:02:29] [00:02:30] We’re available anywhere you get your podcasts, even YouTube. And of course you can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn @foundersunfound. And if you like what you hear, Drop us a review on Apple or at podchaser.com now on with the episode.
[00:02:45] Stay safe and hope you enjoy.[00:03:00]
[00:03:01] 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 our latest episode in the continuing series of founders of African descent. I’m your host, Dan Kihanya. Let’s get on it.
[00:03:19] Today we have Kofi Chachi, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Lane, the world’s largest and most innovative workplace experience platform, connecting 300 plus properties [00:03:30] across 22 cities and eight countries. Welcome to the show Co. We’re super excited to have you on. Thanks for making the time.
[00:03:36] Kofi Gyekye: Thanks for having me on today. It’s a real pleasure.
[00:03:38] Dan: Terrific. So I gave a quick introduction. I talked about the fact that Lane is an innovative workplace experience platform. Can you just tell us in a minute or two, what exactly is that? What are you trying to solve with that platform?
[00:03:51] Kofi Gyekye: Yeah, most certainly. The workplace, you know, it is one of the largest assets on the planet, but it’s been quite neglected. Uh, meaning quite archaic means to communicate with people in the buildings, [00:04:00] in terms of your elevator might be down, but you find out when you’re in front of it, you know, you’ve got the signs of a slippery floor, but you’re like on the floor as you’re slipping, going through it. Typically things like key cards.
[00:04:10] You know, people have five, six key cards to get into the lift, to get into the building, to get to the garage. And you know, we thought there must be something we could do to improve the workplace experience. And you know, we spend a third of our waking lives, you know, working and we’d love for that experience to be something that’s peaceful and has ease and you know, so forth.
[00:04:28] And that’s something that we know [00:04:30] is through technology. More in the home front. You know, you’ve got your nest, you can open your door remotely, you can, you know, turn on your car in the winter, but you can’t necessarily get into a building and have East. So with Elaine, we decided to create the first, have a workplace experience.
[00:04:42] So how do you get in and out of the building? How do you invite people to come, you know, in, in and out of the office? How do you interact with the space when you’re in there? Whether it’s complaining or giving good feedback and you know, it’s a little mini economy. How do we actually have everybody interact?
[00:04:55] Dan: I love that, and I love the fact that you talk about, you know, a third of our lives are [00:05:00] spent in the workplace and we have such different expectations, or at least accommodations, if you will, in our personal lives. Why can’t we have that in our professional settings too? But we’re gonna dive more into Lane in a little bit.
[00:05:13] But before we get there, I’d love to hit more about your background. Where does Kofi come from? Where is your family from? Do you have brothers and sisters? What was it like growing up?
[00:05:23] Kofi Gyekye: Yeah, for sure. Born to African parents. My father is Ghanaian and my mother is Kenyan, east African, and I was raised in [00:05:30] Italy, so I’m from Rome.
[00:05:31] That’s where I was raised English school, hence the accent in Italy. I ended up, you know, doing my law degree, jumping over to Canada to a political science degree, and now I reside in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been scaling businesses since the age of 21, so Lane is my third venture actually. And hopefully we have many more to go.
[00:05:49] Dan: Third Venture. That’s awesome. We’re gonna wind it back though. I wanna hear about growing up in Italy in an English school with African parents. [00:06:00] Because you know, some of our audience doesn’t have a context for that. What was it like growing up in Italy as someone of your descent?
[00:06:07] Kofi Gyekye: It’s quite fantastic, actually, to be quite honest. Italy, I like to say is New York from 2000 years ago, specifically Rome, but severely multicultural at the time. You know, it was a lot of East Africans, a lot of West Africans, so, you know, hence both my parents. So there was a big community of that. You see that with all our football players. It’s quick one, the Vals and so forth.
[00:06:25] But it was quite interesting growing up to Italy is this history. You know, you’re surrounded by it every single day. So you [00:06:30] truly understand the scale of, you know, of an empire in also the demise of one. And so I’d say then with myself that really shaped how I approach the world and things that we think through, because more often than not the past informs our future. And I’d like to think that with our technology most of the time and how I got into product was really inspired by that.
[00:06:49] Dan: I love that. And until are surrounded by that, people don’t necessarily understand the context of being immersed in that history. I grew up on the East coast in Boston. You’re in New York, [00:07:00] you know there’s buildings.
[00:07:01] I mean, heck, the piping in New York is older than some buildings out here where I live in Seattle. And so being around that in Europe I’m sure has a strong influence on you. I’m curious, when you were growing up, did you have a sense of what you wanted to do, what you wanted to be? Did you have things that you were good at or things that you pursued when you were younger thinking, Hey, maybe I could do this for the rest of my life? Any of that?
[00:07:27] Kofi Gyekye: Not necessarily for the rest of my life, but I was quite [00:07:30] fidgety when it came to things. I was opening computers, you know, I had every console possible trying to rewire the lights in the house. I was always a little bit gadgety and techy in that way, but also loved, loved English literature.
[00:07:42] So read a lot of plays, did a lot of acting in that. So that’s my passion. And I think what was quite interesting is I find with creating a product, both of those things merged. I get to imagine and invent and create, but the exact same time, make something a bit more tangible in my hands. You know, whether it’s coding [00:08:00] or creating physical products.
[00:08:01] But you know, a lot of it is inspired through that lens of literature and poetry.
[00:08:06] Dan: I love that. That’s a great synthesis. You’re right, there’s a creative side, there’s an analytical technical side, and it’s really the alchemy of those things coming together that makes true great product innovation. You know, so I hear a lot from some of the folks on our show, my own parents, you know, when you have African immigrant parents, [00:08:30] you know, there’s sometimes that you can be anything you want as long as it’s a, a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer. Did your parents have encouragements around some of the things that you took joy in? Did they have sort of this path for you? How did that dynamic work in your family?
[00:08:46] Kofi Gyekye: Uh, I think I was quite fortunate, pretty large family. Um, but you know, I think for myself, my mother was quite open, so she allowed us to truly explore. There was no definitive direction that she had in [00:09:00] place. My father, on the other hand, I would say, you know, it was more about the education film. He didn’t mind what we were doing as long as Australian narrow. And so my quite liberal parents, actually quite fortunate for that. My father was in the un. My mother was in hospitality, so we got to explore a fair bit versus, I didn’t necessarily have that conversation.
[00:09:16] No, but it was all about education. You know, get your grades right, don’t get in trouble. When I did get in trouble, I got certain Ethiopia for a year, so I lived in a, I lived in Ethiopia, I lived in S for one year and she was quite the experienced, but it was great.
[00:09:29] Dan: Wow. You must have [00:09:30] really done something to be sent away for a whole year. Yeah. You know, as kids, we test our limits. Yeah, we do. For sure. When you were thinking about coming out of secondary education and into university, did you have a thought about what you wanted to do, where you wanted to explore? Did you have a sense of that or were you still sort of in the, I’m not sure, and I’m just gonna do these things that I’m good at and I like.
[00:09:56] Kofi Gyekye: Right. Yeah. So I, I, you know, I did a levels, and actually I did a lot of A levels [00:10:00] six of them. You’re typically supposed to do three. So I did three sciences and I did the arts history, English lit, English language, and then I had chemistry, biology, and physics.
[00:10:09] Dan: What possessed you to do that?
[00:10:10] Kofi Gyekye: Honestly, I was quite privileged. I went to a grade school, it’s called the New School. It was quite an alternative school in, um, you know, one-to-one education. I think there’s seven people in my class. I’d say, actually, to be quite honest, that is probably what formulated a lot of my, those teachers really did guide us in the right way.
[00:10:27] Quite fortunate to have that sort of attention, you know, for, for very [00:10:30] many years. So, coming out of it, I knew I wanted to do something around. You know, law was something that was quite interesting to me. I love the systematic analytical sort of approach to solving problems whilst at the same time interacting with human beings.
[00:10:43] So hence why I ended up in that law, political science type direction. I actually thought I might, you know, get into public policy or something of that nature.
[00:10:51] Dan: Interesting. And is that how it played out?
[00:10:54] Kofi Gyekye: No. No, it did not. Yeah. That’s not how it played out at all. Did both of ’em ended up [00:11:00] realizing. You know, it’s not necessarily for me.
[00:11:02] And I actually fell into entrepreneurship to be quite honest, and, and into tech. I met my co-founder Clinton at the time, and when university, uh, we see there were parties and we ended up in this particular party where we, uh, let’s just say, you know, we were not supposed to be throwing a party. And we did, and the authorities sort of pulled up.
[00:11:21] The next morning we sat down and we’re like, wait a minute. We both have degrees, we’re both capable. I don’t think we should be doing this. And he had done a computer science degree and we’re like, let’s [00:11:30] try start an agency maybe. And honestly, there was also no jobs at the time. You know, this is 2009, 10. You know, the economy was quite tough at the time, especially young individuals. So we, and technology, I’d like to say Web 2.0 was still fairly new. You know, five, uh, things like TikTok and Twitter, Instagram didn’t even exist really at that time. And so we dove headfirst into it.
[00:11:51] Dan: Do you remember a moment where you were thinking, yeah, that path is definitely behind me. I’m burning the bridge, I’m moving [00:12:00] forward. Or was it more gradual where you took advantage of these opportunities, where you hooked up with Clinton and just said, let’s try this, or was this sort of this moment like, I love this and this is what I’m gonna do.
[00:12:12] Kofi Gyekye: No, there’s a hundred percent a moment.
[00:12:13] Somebody posted on Facebook actually, that they were looking for social media experts at the time, and I cheekily responded to the message through Facebook and I was like, why would we send you our resume? We’ll just do it on social. And you know, the individual found it quite comical. They, you know, told us to meet them on a Friday, [00:12:30] and at this time we’re living in Canada.
[00:12:32] It ended up being the Hudsons Bay, which is can’s largest retailer. And so our first client actually was a Fortune 500 company at about a half a million dollar contract. And the adrenaline from that, we didn’t look back.
[00:12:44] Dan: Amazing. That is, I dunno if it’s serendipity or you know, good fortune meets, you know, sort of ambition and chutzpah. That’s a great story.
[00:12:54] Kofi Gyekye: All the magic, all of it combined. Yeah. And it was actually, it happened this span of a week actually. [00:13:00] So the party was on a Friday. The authorities were talking us on a Monday, and we cheaply responded to that message on the Tuesday and we landed the client the following Monday. Oh my gosh. And that’s what started it all.
[00:13:11] Dan: That is crazy. That’s gonna make a good chapter in your memoir for sure. So you take off doing this agency and is there a time where, a sort of season where you said, okay, this is good, but what’s next?
[00:13:26] Kofi Gyekye: A hundred percent. With the agency world, you know, you eat what you kill.
[00:13:29] [00:13:30] Service-based work, it’s quite exciting because you’re working with numerous types of technologies, varying clients with it’s. Automotive or retail or, you know, governments, uh, we were doing, you know, that was quite exciting. But, you know, poor, bad mentors. You know, we had some, you know, some bad, bad mentors at the time.
[00:13:45] You’re young, you’re excited. People clinging on to the success of, you know, two young guys that have scaled a company to 40 people. Pretty vast. Money’s coming in and out the bag. You know, you’re buying a G wagon and all the rest of the, [00:14:00] and you know, it’s just not sustainable. And so Clint and I sat down and we realized we’re not being fulfilled anymore and decided to start our next venture.
[00:14:07] So we actually packaged it. Sold that company off to Publicis, one of the large agencies, and decided to start a company called Useful, where we only worked on useful things to get that kind of fulfillment. That was our next venture. And so that was a good three or four year run where we weren’t quite, you know, similar vein but quite wholesome and you know, really allowed us to.
[00:14:27] Graduate into that next level.
[00:14:29] Dan: What’s a highlight [00:14:30] from the Useful journey?
[00:14:31] Kofi Gyekye: You could still make money doing good things for people. So we worked with like sick kids. We were able to help them raise, you know, amazing funds with new technologies. We did that a lot for a lot of charities and not-for-profits.
[00:14:42] We would work with Coca-Cola on their free water projects in places like Mexico and so forth versus anything. Also, you know, it was quite fulfilling. And for the first time, our technology is interacting with individuals versus through an agency or, you know, through a retail lens or something of that nature as direct consumer at the time.
[00:14:59] Dan: Interesting. [00:15:00] I love that name too. Useful and appropriate theme before we dive more into lane. So that journey of the agency and useful, what are the things that you took with you, experiences, networks, skillsets? What are the things you took with you when you were launching a venture scale company that as a product?
[00:15:20] Kofi Gyekye: Sure. I think one was, many people don’t really speak about this, but you know, understanding I’d build a great team. That was one of them. People around you, you know, your success is only based on them, to be quite honest. You know, [00:15:30] they’re coming with you on your wacky journey and they’re rallying behind you and supporting you and, and trying to get this idea that, you know, Clinton and I have.
[00:15:37] So team was quite important. How to structure it, how to allow yourself to take criticism, to listen, to collaborate, you know, and so forth. Cuz you know, often than not, you’re hiring people who have a specific skill. In order to contribute to the mission that you have going forward. So I say that was a really large one.
[00:15:54] I think also understanding, I guess it’s adjacent to team, but you know, even with founders or with, [00:16:00] you know, the venture where it’s coming from, it’s quite easy to get money. It’s about getting the right fans and the right people who will support you and like help you through that journey. That was also quite important.
[00:16:09] And then the other taking from that was physical and mental health. It’s a lot of work to start something from zero and scale it up, and I think in our younger years you feel quite invincible. And we had started, you know, that work. But you know, making sure you’re eating right, making sure you’re healthy, making sure you’re mentally taking the time and the breaks that you need in order to come back and do it all over again.
[00:16:29] Dan: Those are [00:16:30] great benefits to have learned before the big startup journey. Many people learn that during it. Sometimes it can be a crisis on any of those fronts, whether it’s the culture and the employees or your own. Limited capacity. We’re all finite. Whether that’s spiritual, psychological, physical, and knowing how to get the the best out of it and not the most.
[00:16:51] Well great. We’re gonna hop in next to Lane, but before we do so we’re gonna take a short break and we’ll be right back with Kofi Gyekye from [00:17:00] Lane.
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[00:17:40] Dan: So we’re back with Kofi from Lane. So Kofi, tell us about where Lane came from. I mean, uh, you were working on these great worlds, uh, first the agency side of things where you’re touching brands and into this impact oriented world where you’re helping folks accelerate and scale [00:18:00] how to have that impact. Where does Lane come up from all that?
[00:18:04] Kofi Gyekye: So quite interestingly, a former client had put out a R F P for a marketing approach, um, to the skyscraper. I think I got the, on a Friday, Clinton was actually a retreat trying to, you know, back to the mental health piece. The RFPs is asking for quite traditional, you know, posters and images and so forth, and I’ve never actually worked in an office.
[00:18:25] Obviously we’ve been entrepreneurs, quite interesting spaces and so forth. [00:18:30] So it comes across to my desk, I believe, on a Monday. I decide, let me go spend some time in these skyscrapers and try and truly understand the problem. And so I’m sitting in the lobbies. Everyone looks super moy. Everyone’s complaining things aren’t really working.
[00:18:42] I’m looking at the food in the food court and I’m like, this isn’t really good for any mental work because, you know, you just don’t need be eating cheeseburgers before you’re supposed to be, you know, doing some serious, like serious work. And so I’m also watching the movie, uh, with Joaquin Phoenix and if you recall that film, but it’s just a beautiful story around [00:19:00] technology and.
[00:19:01] How he falls in love with it. And there’s a scene where he’s going up and down the lift and he’s really sad before he starts attracting the technology. And it, you know, it was quite interesting because that’s how I felt everybody looked at the space. So as I do, I sat down and I decided to tackle it from a technology standpoint.
[00:19:18] So I looked into buildings, I was trying to understand what the objectives would be for the real estate landlords, for the employers and the employees that go to spaces every day. Mapped it all out really quickly. Sent it over to [00:19:30] Clint. He mapped out the type piece and. It clicked. We sort of realized there’s this massive problem and we decided to tackle it over the summer.
[00:19:38] So we built the beta in three months, I believe, over our summer. Uh, suffice to say we didn’t have a summer that year, but we built that out and launched our first building that September. And another quite important thing actually, The inspiration around her was that I thought was quite interesting was the technology was agnostic.
[00:19:57] You know, we have iPhones and so forth. These are quite expensive [00:20:00] devices. So how do you use technology in a passive way? How do you allow everybody to interact, right? Whether it’s through web, mobile, text, sms, how do you get them to do that and to interact with this physical space that they’re in? That’s where the journey began.
[00:20:13] Dan: Brilliant. Aha moment. But walk me through though, I mean, you have a R F P for more of like a campaign, I guess, right? And you say, I need to do some research cuz I haven’t lived in the customer’s shoes, so to speak, and you have this aha. And [00:20:30] what was the moment? I mean, was it really just sort of like, Hey Clint, do you think we could do this?
[00:20:35] And he sketched it out and you were like, okay, let’s go for it. Did you protest it with that client? Did you talk to others?
[00:20:43] Kofi Gyekye: Funny enough, actually, that client, you know, we didn’t want to go back into service work, so we actually threw away the rfp. We didn’t respond to that. So no, we did not work on that with that client on it.
[00:20:56] But we had been quite interested in getting into the product, you know, [00:21:00] fully SaaS. Something we are excited about and Clint and I often, you know, believe in two things. So mine is a human condition and trying to improve that through technology. Something I, you know, I try and focus on and his is really about the environmental crisis that we are in and there was a quite an opportunity we found to merge those two Thingss, gauge our product space and actually change our whole category, which is what we did with Lane.
[00:21:21] And so once we started getting to the workplace, understanding the B2B. B2c, uh, structure that exists in that, it just [00:21:30] started becoming more and more exciting. I think. I may not say there was one specific moment where it, where it clicked, but for sure we both knew there was something there that we wanted to explore a bit more.
[00:21:40] I mean, we just dove both feet in. That’s, yeah, that’s the reality behind it. So I wanna say there’s one specific ah-ha moment, but we both sat down and said, you know what? I think we can have impact here and something that could be global scale. And it was also just the natural progression. You know, we had started with service work, we’ve gone into this financial sort of space, and it was about time for us to get into [00:22:00] real sa and and product that way.
[00:22:01] Dan: So when you were thinking about your first prospects for this, Did you think about companies building owners, real estate companies? Like how did you think about who do we go after to try and buy this?
[00:22:13] Kofi Gyekye: Yeah, so initially we were going straight to the landlord. We were, you know, the Brookfields of the world, the Oxfords of the world, Tishman, sps.
[00:22:20] That was our first initial approach, and we did that for about a year. And, but, you know, it’s, it’s a quite complicated world. Everything’s priced per square foot. So you, you need to understand that. [00:22:30] You need to understand where you fit in the life cycle of commercial real estate. You know, there’s a process of finding the lease.
[00:22:36] There is the occupancy phase of that lease there is moving through the lease into multiple properties and so forth. And then we quickly realized that, you know, there’s also these large employers that are in there that also don’t have technology. So once the landlords, you’ve got into the building and you’re at your door when you walk into Deloitte, what happens in there?
[00:22:54] And our technology could actually work in there as well. So we actually. Created that part of the product line. And [00:23:00] then once we were in that phase, we realized the retailers might need that too. So now I can order lunch to my desk, I can invite a guest over, I can have the guest check in seamlessly into the building, all the security protocols that are necessary.
[00:23:12] And then we have all these third party actors in the building. So people who clean the window, its people who service a garage. So you might get to work and you need to get your tires filled up and done. You know, there’s a lot of these amenities that actually exist in these buildings, these gyms, you know, these like private clubs.
[00:23:26] And so before you knew it, we had this massive, massive product [00:23:30] that was really b2, b2c.
[00:23:32] Dan: That’s incredible. And did you need to have complimentary hardware or systems in place for you to be deployed or is that part of everything that Lane would bring to the table? Great question.
[00:23:43] Kofi Gyekye: A little bit of both actually.
[00:23:44] So, you know, the technology space and commercial also was just so archaic. You know, we talk about systems that we installed 20, 20 years ago or something that I’ve just not been necessarily. Improved on, you know, updated or any of that. So with Lane, what’s quite interesting is we built this, you know, the [00:24:00] software piece and portion that we have, but we also built an integrated layer where we’d integrate with these other technologies.
[00:24:05] So instead of us going head to head and trying to actually get them to like, you know, not use some of these tech, we actually decided to integrate and we actually built an API layer and we became the API of the building. So systems had to integrate with Lane in order for them to start operating the space, even if they had been there before we actually became the face planting software.
[00:24:23] So a good example is you have a maintenance system that already existed and instead of us going in and changing the entire workflow, we [00:24:30] actually integrated into that into the lane system and allowed them to start tying into us as we continue to grow and scale. So what actually happened is the little guy became the big guy and they had to like tie into us.
[00:24:41] Dan: That’s brilliant and that integration layer. And since you, you’re sort of the face of these systems to the customer, the landlord or the companies, you’re almost like a retailer, like a brand comes in, they’re selling through you, right? Like their success is [00:25:00] gonna rely on their ability to integrate. So that’s a brilliant approach.
[00:25:03] Kofi Gyekye: And another thing we did is we also white labeled our product. So you know, it would be never, you wanna say it’s Brookfield, they would call it My Brookfield. And that was their product was customer facing for them. So not only did it look like an amazing perk, so it looked like the building was putting this on.
[00:25:20] It felt individual. We also built an amazing. We, we call it our, our builder, but it’s an interface builder that allowed you to actually create your mobile interfaces or web [00:25:30] interfaces into any look and feel that the property had. So they were so quite unique in that way. So if you had a, building, an example in la parking is a huge thing that might actually be the forefront of the outro product.
[00:25:40] Whereas in New York City that’s not the case. It’s probably about translate and like, how’d you get in and out of the building fast, right? So our product was quite malleable that way.
[00:25:48] Dan: That’s really, really smart. Tell me about you and Clint. So you, you worked together for so long. You probably can complete each other’s sentences as you were entering the lane experience and as it started to grow [00:26:00] as a company and as a business.
[00:26:02] You obviously wear different hats. But what about the other things? A lot of times we talk to co-founders, right? There’s, there’s somebody who’s doing sales or representing the company, being the evangelist, maybe visionary. Maybe there’s somebody who’s more operational or technical, but there’s all these other things that you have to do when you run a company.
[00:26:22] How did you divide things amongst the two of you when you’re thinking about how do we run and grow this business?
[00:26:29] Kofi Gyekye: Yeah, well, [00:26:30] certainly. So first things first, we were founders together, so we understood that. And as founders, we were on the same team. We actually even went to founder therapy. Really had a long journey with, yeah, how do we communicate better?
[00:26:41] How do we improve? So we, you know, that was part of our learning actually from all the other companies we were in and, and that sort of self work and.
[00:26:47] Dan: I have never heard that. Thank you for sharing that. That’s cool.
[00:26:50] Kofi Gyekye: Yeah. That self-work and coworker is quite important. The other thing was, you know, Clinton, uh, was CEO.
[00:26:56] There’s no question around that. We didn’t confuse our team members or [00:27:00] anything of that, which often happens in, in companies where Cruz’s a founder to listen to and so, right. So the Clinton, we had that. He was CEO/CTO, so on the technology front and then on the running of the business, those were his two roles and I was on the product front.
[00:27:13] And I was also running all of the marketing fund. So we had a very clear divide in that. What we also did was early on in the company, we equipped ourselves with the right team members at this, you know, semi exec level. So we’re talking about great operations, head lead, great HR person. We had a CFO in play, [00:27:30] so we really had structured that right and allowed everyone to really focus on their lane.
[00:27:34] Dan: That’s a good side note. How did you pick the name?
[00:27:36] Kofi Gyekye: Actually, one of our other co-founders, RIA, did, you know, it was one of these funny things where we had built so many other products for people, uh, that we needed something that was four letters that was quick, that was available. You know, we’re very practical about it actually.
[00:27:51] And we sat down, had a round table, and. We wanted people, I guess, to join our lane and come on this mission with us and rear blurted out. She said, lane, and we all [00:28:00] just looked at each other and said, yeah, let’s do it.
[00:28:01] Dan: Pretty amazing that it was available or you were able to get it so well, cool. So obviously great story. You grew it very quickly, especially even for a tech trajectory and then an acquisition happens. How did that come to happen?
[00:28:16] Kofi Gyekye: So what happened actually is we, we had the product, it was in play. We ended up going and joining Techstars. Actually, they had a prop tech accelerator. So we’re in the first PropTech accelerator ever on the planet.
[00:28:26] During that, we raised our first fund of a million and we raised a [00:28:30] million dollars. 2019, I believe, and 10 months after that we had scaled pretty fast and did a 10 million raise two weeks before Covid. I think we signed the paperwork on a Friday and the world shut down a week later, something of that nature.
[00:28:45] Dan: I had one of those moments in my first company too…
[00:28:48] Kofi Gyekye: But lucky for us because of the nature of the product, how do people get in and out of their workplaces safely? So tapping on your phone, uh, communicating on mass scale, [00:29:00] allowing people to understand who’s coming in and out getting the analytics and the data.
[00:29:03] So Lane actually did quite well in the pandemic. We’re one of those businesses actually that arrived because of that situation. We were scaling. I moved to New York actually to scale our America business. Ended up scaling London. We launched Australia, we launched, uh, the states. We, you know, the Middle East, we just, we were scaling, scaling, scaling.
[00:29:19] Grew the team from 10 to 200. And so people in that time period, Which is quite defeat. We were just about to raise our 40 million round for a series [00:29:30] B and got a call from the the Genset vts and they had really saw the leasing portion of commercial real estate, that initial first part of it. And they understood that the occupancy phase is just as important.
[00:29:44] You’re signing a lease. People actually started demanding that there should be technology for their employees when they come into work. Something that they can use that’s easy for them to book. And you know, I’d be grateful actually, on a side note. WeWork, you know, really changed how people approached work and really, you know, you had [00:30:00] them leasing from commercial real estate, individuals charging, and then suddenly the square footage was 10 times the cost.
[00:30:06] Cuz there’s some good furniture, some good technology, and a better workplace culture. And so that really was a big driving force for a lot of these real estate and employers to really start to rethink how they wanted to interact with their spaces. So when BTS gave us a call, we sat with ’em and it was one of these, it was just very clear.
[00:30:27] They had the first half and we had the second half. And together we could, you know, [00:30:30] really. Change the category, uh, forever.
[00:30:33] Dan: Wow. So at this point, did you parallel track because, you know, acquisitions discussions happen, they don’t always go through. Did you also continue to think about raising or had you gotten to a place with term sheets?
[00:30:46] Kofi Gyekye: We were still raising. We, yeah. Yeah. Nothing until it’s signed. We were going for it. The acquisition happened very fast. Happened actually five weeks. Wow. But Clinton, yeah, five weeks is pretty quick. But again, also because as I [00:31:00] mentioned earlier, this, you know, being our third business together, we had everything in order when it came to our operations, when it came to our structure of the team, when it came to.
[00:31:11] Finances, books, legal, so it’s quite clean cut. It was quite easy to do, and that’s something I, you know, I like to emphasize for many, many entrepreneurs. You know, make sure you’re crossing your Ts and dotting your I and keep that stuff very clean.
[00:31:22] Dan: Absolutely. So was there a moment where you said, this is it. This is what’s gonna happen. [00:31:30] Either a signal from VTS or from your own conviction around like, yeah, this is where this thing that we’ve built is gonna land and hopefully thrive and be successful.
[00:31:42] Kofi Gyekye: Yeah, well certainly Clinton and I are actually walking in Manhattan through FarEye and we were walking up toward Central, like just through the city and literally every skyscraper was running Lane and we could only imagine what could happen if we had partnered with B T s.
[00:31:57] And at that time we said, most [00:32:00] certainly, let’s do this. Let’s actually have something quite impactful. We’re quite good at finding, understanding the opportunity at hand. We knew where the world was. We understood some of the macro things that were going on, and especially in the venture world, and I’m using a lot of the results of that today.
[00:32:14] Unfortunately, for certain entities, we, at that time, you know, Immense was quite opportunistic, but also they were the right partner and it made sense for us to scale. And I’m happy to say today that you know, millions and millions of people are using, you know, the software we built. [00:32:30]
[00:32:30] Dan: Yeah. It’s amazing to think about, you know, it’s, it’s gonna become just the way people go to work, right? It’s not like, oh, this building has lane, that building doesn’t have lane. It’s you’re setting the bar for what people expect for their work experience. So that’s pretty amazing.
[00:32:48] Kofi Gyekye: For sure. And for, and the two of us as well. You know, we also have gotten to a point every day, you know, 80 to 90 hours a week living, breathing.
[00:32:57] You know, lane. And so that [00:33:00] opportunity also afforded us, you know, the potential to have a sort of lifestyle that might be better. You know, think about family thinking about mental health. Think about, like I mentioned, we scaled from, you know, 10 to 200 people in 24 months. It was a fair bit. So that also gave us the opportunity to get a little bit of time for us.
[00:33:16] And I think for myself specifically as well, I think it’s quite important to see. You know, people like us, uh, people of color actually get to m and as you know, I truly believe that we should have exits in order to [00:33:30] continue to grow and build and contribute in that format. You know, often we, as people of color tend to think, and, you know, it’s a big grand statement, but it’s, you know, let’s make it a legacy.
[00:33:39] Let’s keep forever. It’s like, that’s not really the point. Let’s m and a. Let’s keep going. Let’s do more, let’s get another one out the way, you know, there’s, I’ve got five, six more of these in me, for sure. So let’s keep going and, and let’s show that it’s possible.
[00:33:52] Dan: I love that. I love that. You’re right. Take some value off the table, set yourself up your family. Create that [00:34:00] generational wealth, and then like go at it again. Take everything you’ve learned. Take everything that you know now, and how do you do something bigger, faster next time? Well, we’re gonna take another short break and we’ll be right back with Kofi Chachi Farm Lane.
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[00:34:53] Dan: So we’re back with Kofi from Lane. So Kofi, towards the end of our last segment, we were actually talking a little bit about [00:35:00] purpose. And you know, one of the things you mentioned was sort of feeling a sense of pride around being a person of color, founder of African descent, going through an m and a signaling that to the world, to other potential founders, but also to the rest of the world, that this is not only possible, but it should be more and more frequent.
[00:35:21] Did you feel any sense of, I don’t know if responsibility’s the right word or burden’s the right word or just, A [00:35:30] lot of times founders feel like I am representing something, even though that’s not who my business is about. It’s not what my business is about. I’m proud of who I am, but that shouldn’t be the label that I have to wear all the time.
[00:35:43] Did you ever feel any kind of pressure around that or, or maybe you leaned into it. Tell me how you thought about that.
[00:35:51] Kofi Gyekye: Yeah, most certainly a hundred percent. There’s pressure around that. Very rarely in tech, I mean for the viewers, you know, my hair is curly, I am clearly very [00:36:00] African, and you know, getting into those rooms, you’re always the only one in that room with that look and, and approach and.
[00:36:06] That can be quite shocking for people in the room, especially as a founder. More often than not. They may not say it, but you most certainly feel it. And you know, specifically with Elaine, I’d say the world was also going through it. We’re in the pandemic. We had moments like George Floyd, we had killings having every day I had just moved to America.
[00:36:21] So I was learning what it was to be black in America was, you know, something I was learning myself. While all this stuff was happening, you know, our staff was looking to me [00:36:30] at times to, you know, really speak up for them. And you know, it’s quite challenging because I’m also learning whether to speak black in America.
[00:36:36] I do not wanna make assumptions or something that I didn’t know, but I realized it’s about the African diaspora. We all struggle through, through these moments, whether, you know, if you look at two generations back, our families, we were mostly either. Colonies or coming from backgrounds in slavery or something of that nature.
[00:36:53] And so this is all brand new. You know, my mother doesn’t know what m and a is like, you know, she didn’t understand venture and she’s just, you know, [00:37:00] great bright, brilliant woman, successful about the tech world. It’s just new and it’s a lot of terminology and stuff that just we don’t know. And it’s not something that we have in our communities more often than we don’t speak about it too much.
[00:37:10] And often what happens is while you’re feeling that pressure, you end up just not wanting to communicate it. So during that moment, we were an open book, Clinton and I. Shared with our staff. I used to hold, um, meetings weekly where they could just call me and ask me any questions. It might be ventures they wanted to pursue in the future.
[00:37:27] Right. And now we were open to do that and have those conversations. We didn’t [00:37:30] believe people had to be with us and stuck with us forever. It’s like, no, how do you, you know, you’re here to help us on this journey. How do we help you? You know, you might have an idea in that way. And especially when it came with people from the Afghan diaspora and that, you know, that was something I felt that was quite important.
[00:37:42] Dan: I love that and sometimes tough to navigate that. And you talked about coming to America, learning about being black in America. What’s some of the biggest differences? You’ve lived in several places now around the world and you’re now in New York. What’s a big difference to be black in America?
[00:37:57] Kofi Gyekye: I. I mean, I know how to be black in many places [00:38:00] actually. So in Italy, you know, I always say mainland Europe, we’re just not seen, right? We don’t necessarily have that. We’re not seen at all.
[00:38:09] It is, you know, quite xenophobic. That’s just a reality behind it. So that could be Italy, that France, you know, if you look at mainland Europe, that’s just a reality versus uss people back in and descent and you know, you go to England, they have a bit of a community. But again, it’s not at the scale of.
[00:38:24] What you have in American and so forth. And I lived in Canada, I would say, you know, they’re quite [00:38:30] passive in their racist infrastructure. Right. It’s very interesting. They have a good PR base that they put, you know, it’s generally, Toronto is only like truly multicultural part of that nation that and probably Montreal.
[00:38:41] And so coming to America, you know, I find it quite layer, you know, African-American culture is real. Something that we should respect and. Take a look at it. You don’t necessarily learn a lot of that history in Europe. I often say, you know, it’s like Martin Luther, gay Malcolm X, and it just kind of stops there.
[00:38:59] Right. Does it [00:39:00] continue on in a way to be like, well, these are the structures, this is what’s going on. These are the daily struggles, this is how neighborhoods are structured, this is how schools are put into place. You know, it’s quite eye opening in that regard. Yeah. So I will say by virtue just how you look in America, you’re actually not just in America, the western world replacing into very specific categories, you know?
[00:39:22] And more often than not, they often used to get, oh, you’re so well-spoken, you know, you exit and it’s almost like I’m getting this hallway pass, [00:39:30] you know, because of that, versus it’s actually, no, that’s not the point. I’m here because I’m capable. I’m here because. New skills. I’m here because I have the same, if not about education than you.
[00:39:41] I’m meant to be in this room.
[00:39:42] Dan: Meant to be in the room. I love that. So obviously great success with Elaine and hopefully there’s some financial freedom that comes with that as well. But there’s also, I. Freedom to explore ways that you want to help the world. And I know that you have also done quite a bit that [00:40:00] focuses more on impact maybe than building profits.
[00:40:03] As you sit where you are today, how do you think about what’s next? And you did talk about wanting to do more, more startup activity, but you’re in a different place. You have a different set of influence and capabilities now. How do you think about, what’s the ways that you wanna show up in the world?
[00:40:21] Kofi Gyekye: Great question. So firstly, you know, we actually started a foundation, Kochi Foundation, that is focused on, well, [00:40:30] there’s two main things. One is, you know, it’s technology and. Entrepreneurship around the arts, put it that way. So they’re broad, but we focus on that. I am heavily focused on women of color, LGBTQ as well.
[00:40:43] That’s something that’s quite important in order to allow those groups also have representation in the space, in the spaces. You know, how many. Black female tech co-founders do we know at scale? You know, it’s not, I mean this, it’s just not as much. So foundation is focused not only on giving, you know, [00:41:00] smaller checks, but also advice.
[00:41:02] So, you know, I’m happy to listen. I’m happy to help founders that are going through it. You know, help them restructure some of their accountable, help them understand what’s necessary if they do want to get to an exit or. You know how to think about their client pool, how to look at it from a product lens, and how to productize some of the things they do have, if, if that’s a struggle they’re having.
[00:41:21] So, coming up, you know, you, I guess that answers that portion. I have the foundation, but I think showing up in the world it, it’s more so I’m giving back at every [00:41:30] phase, but my focus for the next decade is going to be the African diaspora. So that is my focus specifically. I’d love to do more work on the continent and yeah, that’s where I’d like to play.
[00:41:40] We’ve done what we had to do on this side of things. It’s time to go and and help the continent grow and it’s quite exciting, young population, the use technology in a very different way. It’s very, very exciting. So I cannot wait to kind of go and explore a lot more than that.
[00:41:55] Dan: That’s awesome. And you’re so right. There is so much opportunity there and [00:42:00] it’s exciting to see folks like yourself. The Pays Act founders. I mean, there’s generation who’s ready to enable the next generation and, and to lean in. And not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you’re not talking about wanting to beat the MET Gala or you know, hanging out with fill in the blank, Elon Musk or whoever.
[00:42:18] Maybe you wanna do those things, but they didn’t come into mind right away, which is great. So, You know, I think there’s this balance, like you said, of responsibility and also just joyful willingness to want to [00:42:30] engage in that way. So one of the things we also like to do is the old retrospective and let people ponder about things that they either wish they knew or had been directed.
[00:42:41] So I always ask if this Kofi could go back to. Let’s even say before your agency and say to that Kofi, the one that’s coming out of the party, maybe Clinton’s not at that party, and it didn’t all happen quite then, but you knew you were gonna be an entrepreneur. You knew that. You obviously knew the journey that Kofi was [00:43:00] gonna take.
[00:43:00] What advice would you give him? What would you tell him to do, not do, lean in on, shy, away from? What kind of advice would you give him?
[00:43:08] Kofi Gyekye: I’d say the, the same amount of effort that was put into the entrepreneurship. A lot of the times we don’t talk about what you lose. And you know, you lose love, you lose friendship, you lose.
[00:43:18] And that takes just as much work and effort. And so for that coffee, I would say, you know, focus just as much on that as you were with your work or find a balance quite early on. That’s something I definitely did not do. Uh, so I [00:43:30] find myself on the other side sort of almost alone in many ways. And I think that’s, you know, a lot of founders do not want to speak about that, but that, that is the truth.
[00:43:38] That is something that we all kind of struggle with cuz you spend so much time focused on whatever baby it is you’re creating, whatever. You know, you’re trying to like, uh, share with the world. I’d say it’s really about that mental and physical health. Uh, you know, I’ll say it definitely took a big toll.
[00:43:50] It took a toll and I think a lot of people don’t like to speak a lot, speak on that. And that’s why when you, you know, have these acquisitions, people take a break for like two, three years cuz you’re trying to recoup and [00:44:00] just keep a, you know, get back to the world. And that’s something I think is quite important.
[00:44:03] I’ll tell that Kofi to put just as much effort in on that side.
[00:44:07] Dan: Yeah, great advice. And we have several founders who’ve come through to say the same thing and. Yeah, you feel invincible. Uh, early on you do realize those limits, and I appreciate you sharing about the loneliness and isolation. It can be a tough journey from that perspective.
[00:44:23] That’s part of the sacrifice that we make as entrepreneurs is that relationships, [00:44:30] hobbies, and even sometimes family, you know, there’s hard choices. And startups are insatiable. You know, I always tell founders, your to-do list, it’ll never be done. So you might as well get eight hours of sleep instead of four cause you’re not gonna get it done anyway.
[00:44:46] Most certainly. Well, this has been an awesome conversation, Kofi. I really enjoyed it. Before we go, I always ask our guests, we wanna leave a call to action for Unfound Nation, or is there anything we can do for [00:45:00] you to be helpful to you in where you’re pursuing things today?
[00:45:04] Kofi Gyekye: Yeah, most certainly. Please, if anybody needs any advice, send them my way and can have my LinkedIn, you know, if you find that they’re young entrepreneurs who need somebody to speak to, I am here and I’m happy to listen and help where I can. So, What I’d ask for you is please send it my way.
[00:45:20] Dan: Ah, most generous. I love that. Giving back, paying forward. Do you wanna share any contact info or social handles for people to follow?
[00:45:28] Kofi Gyekye: I think my LinkedIn’s actually the best, you know, just [00:45:30] Kofi Jeti. Yeah, you could find me. I respond quite, you know, daily. So please, please go from there.
[00:45:35] Dan: Well, thank you so much Kofi. This has been a great conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it and it was something new for us. Because usually we take on founders who are much earlier in their journey, but you brought so much wisdom and perspective because of how far you’ve made it, and so thank you.
[00:45:50] Thank you for having me today. It’s been great.
[00:45:52] We’d like to thank our guest Kofi and our sponsor AfriBlocks.
[00:45:56] This podcast was edited by me, Dan Kihanya, with audio editing and [00:46:00] production by We Edit Podcasts.
[00:46:02] 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, or LinkedIn @foundersunfound, and make sure to tell your friends about us. We so appreciate every new listener.
[00:46:18] Thanks so much for tuning in.
[00:46:20] I am Dan Kihanya, and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.[00:46:30]