Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

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Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

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Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

47
MIN
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About the Episode
Ade Olonoh, the founder of Formstack, Formspring, and Jell, shares his unique perspective on current times as a Black tech founder and investor in America. From the causes of systemic racism to the disparities holding the Black community back, Ade sheds light on these struggles and why they still exist. Join us for a conversation about race, diversity in tech, and why now is the time for tough conversations.
Episode Highlights

Be proactive
Systemic racism will continue to thrive if we don’t take action and make change.

Look around you
Diversity and inclusion can never progress if the faces around the table all look the same.

Have difficult conversations
Now is the time to listen and learn from diverse perspectives.

Meet our Guest

Ade Olonoh can’t remember a time when he didn’t love technology. As an entrepreneur, CEO, and tech founder, Ade is an inspiring leader who has the needed mix of brain, drive, and heart that leads to success. He’s grown companies to 30 million users and raised over 16 million in funding. Yet one hurdle has always stood in his way. “You never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.”

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're doing something a bit different than what you may have heard in previous episodes. 2020 has been a year many of us did not anticipate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the injustice and inequality that we're seeing more clearly here in the U.S. And we want to do our part in sharing voices and perspectives to our community and how we can think about being more proactive and take action to really just improve the world around us. At Formstack, we've come to our own realization that not only do we need to say something, but we also need to do something. And so we started with our own statement that Black Lives Matter. And we affirmed that we want to be a support to the Black community today.

In addition to that, we've hired a diversity talent specialist to help make our organization more welcoming to diverse candidates, as well as helping us bring in a more diverse candidate pool. We're finding ways for our employees to give their time and money to help fight social injustices and inequality. And then, we're starting conversations. And if you hear anything today, I think the most important thing you should hear is about conversations and really education. What we all need to do right now is think about having conversations with people around us about race, racism, et cetera. And so in this episode, we have Ade Olonoh on the show. He is Formstack's founder and he is here to have a conversation with us about a personal story he shared. And it's all about sharing his story on racism and how we can improve diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces. So take a listen.

Today, we have a really cool opportunity to get to talk to somebody who has been really important in the history of our company and the history really in my life. He's going to help us explore a topic today that I think is really top of mind for a lot of us and trying to figure out how do we best approach going forward. And that topic actually covers a lot of things. It's about racism, the challenge of the Black community, and ways that we need to help overcome those challenges. It's about equality. And, you know, who I've got today with us is our founder, Ade Olonoh. Ade has founded really a number of companies, one of them being Formstack and we've gotten the benefit of being able to be a part of this organization and grow together. But more importantly than that, he and I have been friends for 23 years, I think at this point. And I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be together and be able to talk about some of this. And so I want to welcome Ade.

Ade Olonoh: Thanks, Chris. Excited to be here.

Chris Byers: Excellent. Well, maybe just as a quick aside before we get into more serious things. Where was it we met 23 years ago? Do you remember? I think we were both working at the same place. I'm not sure exactly if that's what caused us to meet, but where was that?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I don't know if that was really the first time we met, but the first time I remember is when we were both working in I.T. at Anderson University. Where we were both going to school. Is that what you remember?

Chris Byers: That's what I'm remembering. Who knows exactly where we met along the way. But I know we got to work together in I.T. off and on over a couple of years and then that eventually led to founding a company together and then Ade founded Formstack later on and it kind of worked out well, then he founded yet another company. And so at the time I said, hey, if I can come help be a part of finding the future for Formstack, I can do that. And that turned into just kind of a long term role. But what's really interesting is Ade and I have talked about everything over the course of all these years, and especially in the past 10 years, we've talked about family and business and we've had endless meals together and endless meals with our families. And yet, you know, what's fascinating and sad is one of the conversations we never talked about until three weeks ago was race. And the impact of that on Ade, the impact of that around us in the world. And right now, I think it's a really important time where we need to be having these conversations. And the fact that we haven't been having them has created an unnecessary just kind of layer of just not talking about the right things in our country. And so Ade, you wrote an article and it was titled I Can't Breathe. And you share your personal experiences with racism, prejudice, injustice, and in the opening you mentioned struggling on whether you should write or not. Can you talk a little bit about what made you write it? What helped you decide to finally put that together.

Ade Olonoh: So I wrote that about a week after the news about George Floyd came up. And like I start out in the piece, I really struggled for a number of different reasons. One of which is that I felt like as I was thinking about, and how the whole country was talking about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable talking about my own struggles because they pale compared to those stories. I mean, clearly, I'm still here living and breathing. I haven't had incidents where I've been really attacked by police or anything, you know, to that extent. And so I really struggled with how do I talk about my struggles being Black in America in the context of those stories, which are just much more tragic. So I think that was part of it. But then in general, I struggle with kind of what you alluded to. I think growing up in the 90s here, it was almost like there's kind of an unsaid thing. You know, we shouldn't talk about race. And I've always struggled, you know, as somebody who's trying to succeed professionally. I think a lot of Black people in the workplace kind of struggle with this. If you talk about race, then you're kind of going to be pigeonholed into this point of view where, you know, you're somebody who always brings up this issue and it makes it uncomfortable for others. I have unfortunately swung too far to the other side where I don't talk about it publicly. It's kind of a struggle on what's the right way to approach that? How do I tell the story in a way that people would listen. Like finally just got to the point where I felt like I had to write something. And that article was kind of the outpouring of my background and what was on my mind.

Related: Fornmstack's Stance Against Inequality, Injustice, and Racism

Chris Byers: I do just fully agree. There's some message and I can't tieback exactly when it happened, what it was, but there was some message along the way that was definitely if we don't talk about this, then it's not an issue anymore. And I've kind of thought about the stupidity of that, I guess, in the past couple weeks where, you know,= if you had some sort of maybe disagreement with somebody or if you had an issue that was not helping your relationship with someone kind of succeed. And if you ever said to your friend, you know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to talk about it. The response would be like, that's stupid. Like that is totally not going to be the way you ever actually communicate with somebody. You're just going to bury these thoughts and ideas. And if you never talk about them, then you've, like, lost an opportunity in your relationship. And I think it's just fascinating how this conversation. I mean, between you and I, even about this article was just extremely eye opening for me to say. Oh, actually, it's also OK to have this conversation. And it's OK to say we do have different backgrounds and that does mean something and has impacted the way that we've lived or grown up. You'll get to see a link to this article if you're listening, and we'll post that in the shownotes or otherwise here in a bit. But definitely worth a read to kind of get some more color here. But we'll talk through this a little bit more.

So, you know, in the article, you I mean, first of all, just extremely eye opening, moving, and beautifully moving in a way where I saw so many people who I know care about you, share it with other people. And it was great for them to be able to say, you know what, I now see something I might not have otherwise. But how as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, as a tech founder, how have these experiences shaped your professional journey?

Ade Olonoh: I talk in the piece and I won't rehash the whole thing, but essentially I talk about how eye opening and kind of my journey growing up here in the U.S. is different because I'm Black and how that gets reinforced in all these small ways throughout my career. And just as I'm growing up and yeah, I guess in terms of my professional journey, I mean, I'll say I talk in the piece about how one of the things that I allude to in the piece that's really hard is that, you know that racism exists in the country. It's empirical, but you don't always know the ways it impacts you. There were jobs that I thought I was qualified to get, that I didn't get an interview or didn't get a job offer, and maybe none of them were because of racism or implicit bias. But maybe some of them, more statistically I would have to assume so.

Similar in terms of raising capital, as an entrepreneur, there are times where many, many times that I heard no from investors, which is common for entrepreneurs, whether you're White, Black, Brown, male, or female. But sometimes you kind of walk away from those experiences wondering, like, was it because of the color of my skin or is it just because they didn't like my idea or something didn't really click on the pitch? And so what when you think about your question about how it shaped my professional journey, I don't have any of the stark stories. Nobody ever kind of kicked me out of their offices saying, I'm not going to invest in you or I'm not going to hire you because you're Black. But it's something that was top of mind as I kind of walked through my journey. The end result was I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder. I always felt like, both in terms of output, just in terms of my own psychology as well, to kind of put my head down and ignore the reactions from the outside world and carve my own path. So that's a very nuanced answer. But in terms of how it affected me. I would say it's something you think about all the time, but never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.

Chris Byers: If I think about my own life and how I've never left an interview, left a capital raising opportunity, left a conversation and thought because of the color of my skin, it mattered. It's not even a thought that comes to my mind. And so I can completely understand how that is a weight you carry. You're trying to raise money, and that's already hard enough work. And if there's just one more thing that causes your own doubts or causes you to just wonder. It works against you and it makes it all the more difficult to get done the job you're just trying to get done like everybody else. It is challenging.

Ade Olonoh: One way to think about it, too, is, you know, walking into a VC pitch. And as you walk into a boardroom and all the investors you are pitching to are white men and they tell you no, and you look at their portfolio website and it's predominantly white founders, again, men. And I think the stats are that only about one percent of venture investments are to Black founders. And I forget, I actually forget the number of women that are invested, but it's, again, single digit percentages. You know, you have to think there's a pattern here that the industry has shown. And then similarly, if you're applying to work in a company and you look at their website, and it's predominantly white men, then you have to wonder, like, do I really fit in here? And, you know, despite their best intentions, am starting a few steps behind other entrepreneurs or other candidates, you know, when you see kind of the results of who they're investing in and who they're hiring.

It's not enough to say we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know they're welcome and that you're reaching out to hire those people.

Chris Byers: And I think it's fascinating, you're talking about technology, where we think of ourselves as the most progressive, the most, you know, ahead of the time in terms of whether it's anything from benefits or hiring more diversely or being open to new ideas. And yet, even in technology, you still have those questions. I'm curious, how do you think this does impact technology, what have you noticed that how it applies still to technology, even though we think of ourselves as forward thinking?

Ade Olonoh: It's really interesting to look at because as you said, I'm sure if you pull the people who work in technology and compare them to other industries that we think of as less progressive, that is true, that personally we probably have more progressive mindsets than other industries. But the interesting thing about technology is the systemic racial problems really are compounded when it comes to technology, because usually access to computer science education is something that's afforded to the wealthy people in this country or people with access to great schools and good backgrounds. And even something as maybe even something as specific as the people who are more likely to be good at coding are more likely to have laptops in the home or access to a computer at home.

I don't remember all the details about this, but I remember reading something relatively recently talking about how, kind of before the explosion of the PCs, kind of in the 80s, male female participation in computer science was about equal. But then what happened was that this article is speculating that with the rise of PCs in the home and PCs especially focused around gaming and the types of games that were on the early PCs, what happened is inevitably boys would kind of push out the girls from using the PCs because they were the ones playing the games and the action games. And then, you know, over time, that compounded to mean that there are fewer and fewer women that were in the computing field and then felt comfortable taking computer science classes and stuff like that.

So back to my point being that I think those types of effects compound. If you have fewer Black people able to succeed in school, especially around computer fields, and maybe that's because of access at home or access to great schools that are providing that, then that shows up kind of later with an attack. Similarly, when thinking about entrepreneurship, one of the big problems with venture and investing is that venture capital funds are typically looking for a lot of traction with the companies that they invest in. But in the very early days, it may be that Black entrepreneurs have much less access to kind of those friends and family rounds that they need to kind of get an idea off the ground before they even get the traction that gets the VCs.

It may be that even just kind of the lack of a safety net where they feel like if they tried something risky and failed, that they'd be able to brush themselves off and either get, you know, get a loan from friends and family or get a job to kind of replenish their bank account. And maybe they don't have a safety net that their White counterparts do. So that compounds as well to why, I think we see the problem so much more starkly in tech versus other industries that might be less risky.

Read More: Why We Should Talk About Race

Chris Byers: You know, I think technology is really interesting here, too, because in technology, we're always thinking about solving problems really quickly. We're always thinking, oh, we're five minutes away. We're weeks away. We're a couple years away from solving major problems at speed. And yet what you're talking about is there are so many things that we've got to go so far back or wait a ways into the future to really make serious impact. We need to start an education and finding more fundamental ways to provide education on entrepreneurship or finding, to your point, access to capital or helping people even see there's an ecosystem that maybe they can join or be a part of to help new ideas. I'm curious, you are an investor, you've thought about these things. I'm curious if you've ideated on your own ways to how we could think about having some more long term impact.

Ade Olonoh: Yes. You're right in saying that. I mean, it's a very complicated issue. There are no overnight successes here or silver bullets to kind of solve the problem. So, yeah, I think it spans all of those things you touched on. I think it's, you know, it's education at an early age. It's access. It's even just things like people seeing themselves represented. So, I mean, just even the archetype we have of this successful entrepreneur, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you know, all white men. I'm not going to take anything from their accomplishments. They're incredible entrepreneurs. But some of it, I think is even just socializing more of the successes, people of color and women who are successful and kind of changing the way we have a conversation about what an entrepreneur even is. I think it's a systemic things; I think it's in some ways, it can also be a copout to kind of say, well, it's a pipeline problem or that these issues are too complex. I think sometimes it really just does come down to trying to make a difference by being conscious of your own biases and working on that personally. I think for every investor really working on their network and make sure that they are talking to founders of color or they're talking to female founders just as much as they are talking to White male founders or at least in proportion to the population. Right. And so maybe working a little bit harder to make sure that you're in the right networks, that see that kind of deal flow and be conscious of your own biases and working through that when talking to people, because, yes, the systemic issues are definitely there. But I think we can all grow in the moment in terms of how we approach our business.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And, you know, I think you make a great point. I hope that we all walk away from this conversation hearing there are things to do. Absolutely. Now, I think one of the things, I will say as a White person, I have come to realize is, first of all, just in general how much racism still exists and how much, in a way, I support those things and have supported systems that create this longer term kind of systemic racism. And I don't tend to think about my past a lot. I don't think about where I came from. And yet I don't see, therefore, how many bits of access I guess I've had over time, whether it's capital or otherwise. I can think about, you know, one of the things I've learned in the past three weeks is just how difficult or impossible it was to get a mortgage as a Black person in the 1950s. And, you know, I think about when I was trying to pay off some debt. My wife and I were trying to pay off some debt early in our marriage. And one of the things that allowed us to pay off that final bit of debt was an inheritance I got from my grandparents, who I know got a mortgage in the 1950s, and part of that inheritance was from them selling their house. And so these are things that most days I would never think of as like, oh, that's an advantage I have. And yet have completely played into some of the ways that I've been able to to move forward.

I wonder, as we do think about things that we can do now, you've brought up some of them. I know as a company there's really a couple of messages that I've been trying to just begin to talk about. One is I want to make sure we have a space for conversations. As you and I both know, as we all know, social media is a horrendous place to have a conversation. It's all about headlines and you know my dramatic view on the world. But I think one of the challenges is we're not talking about these things and we're not able to say, hey, can we sit down and have a pure level one to one conversation about your views, my views, how can we learn together and grow together? I'm curious if you've seen some good examples of conversations beginning in the past, in the past month. You know, one of those things that we're talking about is having conversations, and as a company, we're trying to begin to facilitate that so we can have maybe a third party come in and help us just have some better, real conversations together about race, racism, equality, and how we as a people can make sure we are treating the people around us on a pure level and truly as equal and making sure they feel comfortable being around us. The other thing that we're talking about is really diversity at a greater level. So we have had a very broad, very broad diversity kind of plan in the past week. We've talked about it internally, but we've not made a big deal of it, frankly. And in fact, I've also taken a very inbound approach to it. I guess where I said, yes, everyone is welcome here. I hope this feels like a comfortable place. But one of the things I'm realizing that really just recently is that's not enough. We need to be much more proactive at saying both what are the things that we do in our hiring practices and our onboarding, even in our marketing. How do we show up and how do we look to people who might not look as much like us? And how do we make sure that feels less like the case? And so, you know, I think one of my questions is, what do you think some things technology companies can do to improve diversity, inclusion, and really making a better effort here.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I think you're thinking about things the right way. I guess to start I mean, just to underscore the point, I think being proactive about it is the right approach. And I think that's what's encouraging about the conversation that a lot of people are having right now, is that realizing that it's not enough to just not be racist, but you actually have to be anti-racist and especially recognizing that there's systemic racism in this country. You have to be proactive to counteract that. And so, yeah, like you said, it's not just enough to say, oh, yeah, we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know that they're welcome there and that you're reaching out to hiring those people. I think, as you know, the longer you go as a company and the less representation you have in your company, the harder it is. Nobody wants to be, or very few people want to be the only Black person in a company or the only woman to work in a company. Right. And this gets magnified.

So in terms of your question, what can tech companies do about it? I think understanding that, prioritizing it in a way that maybe it hasn't been prioritized before. And I think at this moment, we all have to ask ourselves. Yes, we care about these issues, but how much we care about it. Do we care about it enough to really make it one of the key corporate initiatives and put money and time behind it? And that may mean hiring people within the company to really kind of spearhead these initiatives. To that point, I think one of the most important things, anything within business, you need to measure what's happening within the company and have accountability behind those numbers. I think when I think about it, I'm certainly no expert around H.R. and may not have all the tricks in my tool belt in terms of how to solve the diversity equation within companies. But I know like foundationally, you have to start with understanding well, measuring your pipeline, measure throughout the interview process to better understand that retention around all of the dimensions of race and gender and sexual identity. Understand like where we're falling short and where is there room for improvement. And so just creating that mechanism and that infrastructure to measure and hold accountable is one of the first places to start to make sure that, like, something meaningfully changes, and it's not just a nice sounding initiative, but that there's actually teeth behind it towards making change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think for us, we hired a diversity talent acquisition specialist early this year. And I will say, frankly, we probably wouldn't have done much reporting, maybe in terms of a leadership team or something, but not publicly. Again, out of a naivety that like this is going to work itself out over time. And one of the things we said last week to the team is you're going to start to see a monthly report on this. And I know as an organization, we've always thought transparency is a huge key to creating good, accountable systems and showing reporting, because if I am showing this to you every month, then I better show some progress and show that we're doing a better job of finding the right places to both show up and are we learning how that talent funnel is working out or are we letting people drop out that shouldn't drop out. And so I like that thinking. Anything else that comes to mind you just think companies should be doing to improve diversity, making sure it's more comfortable and engaging place for diverse team members?

Ade Olonoh:I think that, as I said, I think it's important to kind of look at the whole picture. So not just in the hiring process, but what happens to what the company looks like once you hired somebody who's unrepresented within the company. And so looking at retention, I think is important and really focusing on that inclusion part or diversity and inclusion. And so that means that they feel their voices are heard, does it feel like they're safe and comfortable and welcome at the company. But some of that also means do they have the same opportunity for growth within the company as do others. Right. And so I think back to measuring and measuring what retention looks like measuring what, you know, pay, looks like within the company across different diversity dimensions, measuring what kind of promotion looks like. Focusing on that part of the cycle and that part of the funnel is important, too. I mean, just in the same way that we think in our business, and Formstack is a SaaS business, we think about acquisition and retention and churn and kind of all those. And when we think and measure how we're doing as a business and think about the customer, I think you need to do that from an employee perspective as well. Look at the whole lifecycle and the holistic picture of what it means to work at a company.

Related: Taking Action: Behind the Scenes with Our Diversity Talent Acquisition Specialist

Chris Byers: Yeah, that's good. You know, 2020 has been a tough year as I think everybody knows. And, you know, if any of you were to ever be in the room with a Ade and I, one of the things you'd notice is, you know, both CEOs, both founders, we wouldn't necessarily, though, be the loudest person in the room. And in fact, you might not even notice we're there at times. And Ade, you've put yourself out there in a huge way, being extremely vulnerable. What are the things you're doing to kind of just stay mentally healthy figure out like, how do I both respond and frankly grieve at times of what's going on? But then also say, you know what, maybe there's hope in the world. Maybe there's something I can do.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. So just, you know, personally, it's been a tough few weeks. And I would say, I guess to explain that a little bit more, because I think I've had a lot of conversations with Black friends, I think, who are kind of in the same boat. I remember vividly, you know, the Rodney King incidents back when I was as much younger. And there have been a number of incidents, kind of similar to that, that have broad visibility within the public sphere from Rodney King to George Floyd. And I think one of the struggles that I've had is, you know, each time a story like that flares up, like it brings a lot of emotions. There's anger, there's sadness. But in the end, it leaves a lot of hopelessness and thinking that nothing's changed. Right. And we've known about issues, especially surrounding kind of police brutality and criminal justice and how that's affected people of color disproportionately in this country. We've known about it for a while, but if anything, it's probably gotten worse in the last 20 years when you look at the number of Black people in prison and, you know, the militarization of police. Those trends have gone in the wrong direction.

And so I'll say one of the hardest things, to be honest, when I first heard about George Floyd, I was just kind of coming off a few weeks ago the Ahmaud Arbery case just really shook me. And when I heard about George Floyd, I read the headline and just went on to the next story. And I just wasn't in a place emotionally where I wanted to process it. And it took a few days before I was able to watch the video, before I was able to read the details of that. And the great thing that's happening now is there's a lot of conversation about all these problems and injustices. But I think one of the hard things emotionally is to wonder, like, is this really going to change? Is anything going to come out of this or are we just reopening old wounds but not really going to find any healing from that? And so that's a very indirect way to answer your question. I think it's helpful to give context just because I know I'm certainly not speaking for all Black people in the country, but I know for a lot they're going through a similar emotional journey. And that's why it's tough right now. It's hard sometimes. And I think we all need to be mindful that not every person of color really wants to have these conversations at the moment, just depending on where they are in their emotional journey.

But for me, I mean, I've had to do a number of things to kind of help myself stay healthy and sane. Some of it is just kind of fundamental things that I try to do on a regular basis. Exercise, meditate, eat well. Spend time with family. But some of it is just taking breaks from social media, taking breaks from the news, especially when I feel myself get caught up in the anger and emotion that's spurred by those mediums. And then I'd say the last thing is I really try to focus and kind of step back and say, well, how do I want things to change, like, how can I help contribute to that conversation in a positive way and what can I do? So that's practically it for me. I've been spending a lot more time learning and understanding these issues from a policy perspective or a sociological perspective, where my background knowledge, I'm a technologist and entrepreneur, so spending time learning more about these things I think kind of helps me understand the process better.

Chris Byers: If you're listening to this, everybody's going to get a broad set of responses to what's going on right now. And I know for me, I have, I'll say had to, and had to because I just understood something needed to be done in my own mind, in my own life. But I had to spend a great deal of time reading and watching videos and watching documentaries. I will say even I had to watch the video of George Floyd. There was a moment where I was like, you know what? If I really want to actually step forward and be a positive part of the change, I need to see some of the lows and be a part of some of the lows, I guess. And that was I mean, to anybody listening, I'd say if you've really just done surface level headline reading, if you're really just done a surface level attempt here, if you've frankly not had a conversation with somebody of color like around you, those are things you're missing out on. And I don't think you're going to progress in the way that I think we all need to to have the right conversations. And so I appreciate everybody who's taken time to really spend time reading and thinking and trying to understand like what is my perspective and how does it need to change and how do we need to improve to move forward. I know as a company, we have brought in some outside help to help us, first of all, as a leadership team. But then eventually as an organization to see where frankly, even where are we on this subject? Because, again, we're all at different places and we need to kind of begin to move toward the same destination. I know we've used an outside coaching group to help allow our team to call any time they want for coaching, counseling through this. Any particular subject matter, be it books, blogs, podcasts, etc., that you point people to to say, this is a great place to start?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, there's been a lot of good ones that I've come across, especially recently. But I guess rather than rattle down a list, I'd say to your point, I think it's important for people to start somewhere that really kind of touches on both the history of systemic racism in this country and then kind of a full comprehensive overview of where we are today in terms of the criminal justice system. Probably the best thing that I've come across, and there may be others, but the documentary 13th on Netflix, I think does an excellent job of piecing all these things together. I'd say you start there and that at least kind of helps launch a starting point to see where you might want to dig deeper to kind of understand different components better. So personally, I'm reading Just Mercy right now and find it really eye opening on digging into the criminal justice system. But yeah, if anything, start with 13th, it is probably the easiest thing to consume.

Chris Byers: That's good. So, you know, one of the conversations that I've noticed is not kind of being had in this country is what certain things mean. And I guess I'd love your perspective. And I I think we should all note that it's your perspective. And I think you will say it's not everybody's belief exactly. But there are a couple of kind of thoughts, phrases, movements that I think might be valuable for the audience to kind of hear about what's going on here. And the first one is Black Lives Matter. Tell us what that means to you and what you think that means to the people who speak it and are out kind of thinking about it and kind of moving it forward.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, certainly I don't claim to speak for all Black black people or for any particular organization or anything like that, speaking of Black Lives Matter. But yeah, to me, that just means that at its surface that, yes, Black lives matter. And I think that's highlighted because, you know, especially when you look at the history of Black lives in this country. And again, what's happening today, like the incidents, again, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, you know, Elijah McClain and so on, so forth, is that it's easy to feel like Black lives don't matter to the system. So all it is, this is highlighting the fact that, yes, they do and they should in this country. And that's not to say that other other people don't matter. Certainly they all do, but it's that this is one sector of society that has been long ignored. And we need to make sure that there is equality and justice for Black lives, just as there are for White lives in this country.

Chris Byers: Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that's been just eye opening for me in this time is if you look at the Hispanic community in the U.S., it has on the whole, especially at the size that it is and how much it represents to the U.S. today, not been in the U.S. Nearly as long as as kind of the Black community. And yet the Black community is behind the Hispanic community in terms of income, net worth. And as I looked at that, I thought, wow, there is definitely a problem when a community has been with us all, nearly always, is that far behind. There is something that speaks to why we need to speak about Black lives mattering today and why we need to point that out and make it a thing and make it make it the point. And so I thank you for sharing those thoughts.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. And just speak on that real quick. I think the thing that's easy to forget and I mean, I think part of even going back to what we said in terms of during the 90s, the last couple of decades, it's almost been that the conversation has shifted in this country to talk about like we live in a post-racial society and feeling like racism was solved during the civil rights era. And clearly, I think we're saying very clearly that that's not the case. But even given the progress that was made in the civil rights era, it's discounting today, like how much of that history does matter. And like you said, that the injustices that happened in this country really weren't that long ago. When you think about it in the context of how it's affecting people's lives today. And maybe that's like the example you gave in terms of receiving an inheritance that helped you pay down loans. Well, you know, when Black people in this country started with nothing and weren't allowed to accumulate wealth and weren't allowed to have the freedoms to just basic freedoms within this country, and kind of starting so far behind, those things still matter and still make a difference today. That's the reason why the average net worth or the median net worth of Black households today is a tenth of that of White households. That that's still affecting us today. The things that happened, you know, 400 years ago, much less 50 years ago in this country. And Jim Crow and such. So, yeah, it does still matter to them.

Chris Byers: Thank you for that. The other thing that I think would be great to kind of express what you think is happening right now is there are protests going on all around the U.S. and in fact, if you think they're not happening because they're not hitting the news, it is actually because I think a number of very peaceful protests are going on right now all over the country. And so that's not making the news. But there is a message that is still trying to be kind of delivered at the moment. What do you think that is?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I mean, the protesters are asking for a bunch of different things. But I think, you know, right now the most critical issue, again, goes back to just we want changes in the policing systems in this country. We need changes in the criminal justice system. And I think and again, I don't speak for everybody, there are different perspectives in terms of what people want. But I think we need meaningful change beyond just I think what we saw a few years ago when the start of the Black Lives Matters protests. Largely inaction. But then I think there was a lot of talk and superficial things about like, you know, let's add training or like let's increase training within police forces to help them overcome racial biases. Let's add body cameras and invest in body cameras to help make sure that we're catching things that are happening.

And the reality is, as far as I can tell, most people are saying that didn't do much. And I think one thing real quick. The reason why the word systemic racism is so important, that term systemic racism, is because it highlights the fact that we have a system that in and of itself is disproportionately affecting people of color in this country. The issue is systemic. And so that's everything from, me personally, just really passionate about removing cash bail out of our system. The fact that we have people who can get arrested and though innocent until proven guilty just because they can't afford to pay a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for bail, they're held in the system, which creates all these ripple effects. Like that in itself, it disproportionately affects people of color. And that itself is systemic racism. The war on drugs itself is an example of systemic racism. So I think we need to rethink fundamentally what are the things that we make illegal in this country and what are the punishments behind them? Why did that happen in the first place? And you can kind of look at the history. Understand why, you know, why was crack cocaine, sentencing for crack cocaine 10 times more than sentencing for powdered cocaine, the equivalent amount of powder cocaine? Why was marijuana made illegal in this country to begin with? And the answer to those, unfortunately, were racist things. Right. And so I think protesters are asking for a lot of things, but I think they're asking for meaningful reform to the criminal justice system so that we're not locking up people of color at disproportionate rates. We're not killing Black people at disproportionate rates. These systemic things need to change before we see the results that we want to see.

Chris Byers: So as we take all of this conversation in and as we think about kind of where we go from here, what are the things you hope people... How do we move forward? What is it so that we actually have that positive ripple effect and can look back days, weeks, months, years from now? What do you think the things are that we can do to move forward?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, ultimately, I should start by saying that I'm more optimistic now than I probably ever have been that things will change. And one of the reasons why is because people are having conversations like this that are meaningful. And people do seem to, on a wide scale, trying to understand where and why systemic racism exists in this country. So, I mean, in terms of moving forward, I think just one, that needs to continue. Like you said earlier, I think if you haven't had conversations with people in your life, just ask about these issues and ask with an open mind and an open heart. I think that will do a lot towards just improving your own understanding and towards getting the change because of awareness and understanding needs to proceed change. And so starting there and then to deepening understanding. And then I think, you know, what will come from that is really understanding. You know, like I touched on a couple of things like bail and, you know, the drug laws in this country. But I think that change that needs to happen is political. I think the change that needs to happen is that we need to push our politicians to readdress some of these issues and kind of fix some of these issues. And the way that we do that individually is, you know, by voting, by encouraging others to vote and then, you know, by calling politicians and sending them letters and demanding change. And I think it may take some time, but that's the real answer, is that we need. We need to change the system.

Chris Byers: Well Ade, thank you for joining us today. I hope that everybody who's listening is really thinking about how can I be a part of a positive change? Be a part of raising my own awareness, starting conversations with people, thinking about the ways that I might have supported racism in the past and do today even and how can I break that and become anti-racist? And Ade, just I thank you for many things in life, but in particular today being just a help to us moving forward and opening up your story so that we could learn from it and kind of grow going forward.

Ade Olonoh: Thank you. It's great to chat about this. Great to talk with you, as always. So glad we're having this conversation.

Thanks for joining us today on Ripple Effect, what we heard today was a really powerful story, and it was the powerful story of a Black individual who, first of all, has been really important in my life. But I hope his story has become important in your life to really reframing what we think about in terms of racism and how it still persists today in this country. And I hope it causes you to want to take some action. If I can encourage you to take any action, it is really start a conversation or begin researching. Where can you find people or resources to help you take the next step? And how can we move forward this conversation on race and equality in the U.S.

Well, thanks for joining us today on this special episode of Ripple Effect. You can read Ade's full story at adeolonoh.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

Podcast

Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're doing something a bit different than what you may have heard in previous episodes. 2020 has been a year many of us did not anticipate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the injustice and inequality that we're seeing more clearly here in the U.S. And we want to do our part in sharing voices and perspectives to our community and how we can think about being more proactive and take action to really just improve the world around us. At Formstack, we've come to our own realization that not only do we need to say something, but we also need to do something. And so we started with our own statement that Black Lives Matter. And we affirmed that we want to be a support to the Black community today.

In addition to that, we've hired a diversity talent specialist to help make our organization more welcoming to diverse candidates, as well as helping us bring in a more diverse candidate pool. We're finding ways for our employees to give their time and money to help fight social injustices and inequality. And then, we're starting conversations. And if you hear anything today, I think the most important thing you should hear is about conversations and really education. What we all need to do right now is think about having conversations with people around us about race, racism, et cetera. And so in this episode, we have Ade Olonoh on the show. He is Formstack's founder and he is here to have a conversation with us about a personal story he shared. And it's all about sharing his story on racism and how we can improve diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces. So take a listen.

Today, we have a really cool opportunity to get to talk to somebody who has been really important in the history of our company and the history really in my life. He's going to help us explore a topic today that I think is really top of mind for a lot of us and trying to figure out how do we best approach going forward. And that topic actually covers a lot of things. It's about racism, the challenge of the Black community, and ways that we need to help overcome those challenges. It's about equality. And, you know, who I've got today with us is our founder, Ade Olonoh. Ade has founded really a number of companies, one of them being Formstack and we've gotten the benefit of being able to be a part of this organization and grow together. But more importantly than that, he and I have been friends for 23 years, I think at this point. And I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be together and be able to talk about some of this. And so I want to welcome Ade.

Ade Olonoh: Thanks, Chris. Excited to be here.

Chris Byers: Excellent. Well, maybe just as a quick aside before we get into more serious things. Where was it we met 23 years ago? Do you remember? I think we were both working at the same place. I'm not sure exactly if that's what caused us to meet, but where was that?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I don't know if that was really the first time we met, but the first time I remember is when we were both working in I.T. at Anderson University. Where we were both going to school. Is that what you remember?

Chris Byers: That's what I'm remembering. Who knows exactly where we met along the way. But I know we got to work together in I.T. off and on over a couple of years and then that eventually led to founding a company together and then Ade founded Formstack later on and it kind of worked out well, then he founded yet another company. And so at the time I said, hey, if I can come help be a part of finding the future for Formstack, I can do that. And that turned into just kind of a long term role. But what's really interesting is Ade and I have talked about everything over the course of all these years, and especially in the past 10 years, we've talked about family and business and we've had endless meals together and endless meals with our families. And yet, you know, what's fascinating and sad is one of the conversations we never talked about until three weeks ago was race. And the impact of that on Ade, the impact of that around us in the world. And right now, I think it's a really important time where we need to be having these conversations. And the fact that we haven't been having them has created an unnecessary just kind of layer of just not talking about the right things in our country. And so Ade, you wrote an article and it was titled I Can't Breathe. And you share your personal experiences with racism, prejudice, injustice, and in the opening you mentioned struggling on whether you should write or not. Can you talk a little bit about what made you write it? What helped you decide to finally put that together.

Ade Olonoh: So I wrote that about a week after the news about George Floyd came up. And like I start out in the piece, I really struggled for a number of different reasons. One of which is that I felt like as I was thinking about, and how the whole country was talking about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable talking about my own struggles because they pale compared to those stories. I mean, clearly, I'm still here living and breathing. I haven't had incidents where I've been really attacked by police or anything, you know, to that extent. And so I really struggled with how do I talk about my struggles being Black in America in the context of those stories, which are just much more tragic. So I think that was part of it. But then in general, I struggle with kind of what you alluded to. I think growing up in the 90s here, it was almost like there's kind of an unsaid thing. You know, we shouldn't talk about race. And I've always struggled, you know, as somebody who's trying to succeed professionally. I think a lot of Black people in the workplace kind of struggle with this. If you talk about race, then you're kind of going to be pigeonholed into this point of view where, you know, you're somebody who always brings up this issue and it makes it uncomfortable for others. I have unfortunately swung too far to the other side where I don't talk about it publicly. It's kind of a struggle on what's the right way to approach that? How do I tell the story in a way that people would listen. Like finally just got to the point where I felt like I had to write something. And that article was kind of the outpouring of my background and what was on my mind.

Related: Fornmstack's Stance Against Inequality, Injustice, and Racism

Chris Byers: I do just fully agree. There's some message and I can't tieback exactly when it happened, what it was, but there was some message along the way that was definitely if we don't talk about this, then it's not an issue anymore. And I've kind of thought about the stupidity of that, I guess, in the past couple weeks where, you know,= if you had some sort of maybe disagreement with somebody or if you had an issue that was not helping your relationship with someone kind of succeed. And if you ever said to your friend, you know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to talk about it. The response would be like, that's stupid. Like that is totally not going to be the way you ever actually communicate with somebody. You're just going to bury these thoughts and ideas. And if you never talk about them, then you've, like, lost an opportunity in your relationship. And I think it's just fascinating how this conversation. I mean, between you and I, even about this article was just extremely eye opening for me to say. Oh, actually, it's also OK to have this conversation. And it's OK to say we do have different backgrounds and that does mean something and has impacted the way that we've lived or grown up. You'll get to see a link to this article if you're listening, and we'll post that in the shownotes or otherwise here in a bit. But definitely worth a read to kind of get some more color here. But we'll talk through this a little bit more.

So, you know, in the article, you I mean, first of all, just extremely eye opening, moving, and beautifully moving in a way where I saw so many people who I know care about you, share it with other people. And it was great for them to be able to say, you know what, I now see something I might not have otherwise. But how as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, as a tech founder, how have these experiences shaped your professional journey?

Ade Olonoh: I talk in the piece and I won't rehash the whole thing, but essentially I talk about how eye opening and kind of my journey growing up here in the U.S. is different because I'm Black and how that gets reinforced in all these small ways throughout my career. And just as I'm growing up and yeah, I guess in terms of my professional journey, I mean, I'll say I talk in the piece about how one of the things that I allude to in the piece that's really hard is that, you know that racism exists in the country. It's empirical, but you don't always know the ways it impacts you. There were jobs that I thought I was qualified to get, that I didn't get an interview or didn't get a job offer, and maybe none of them were because of racism or implicit bias. But maybe some of them, more statistically I would have to assume so.

Similar in terms of raising capital, as an entrepreneur, there are times where many, many times that I heard no from investors, which is common for entrepreneurs, whether you're White, Black, Brown, male, or female. But sometimes you kind of walk away from those experiences wondering, like, was it because of the color of my skin or is it just because they didn't like my idea or something didn't really click on the pitch? And so what when you think about your question about how it shaped my professional journey, I don't have any of the stark stories. Nobody ever kind of kicked me out of their offices saying, I'm not going to invest in you or I'm not going to hire you because you're Black. But it's something that was top of mind as I kind of walked through my journey. The end result was I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder. I always felt like, both in terms of output, just in terms of my own psychology as well, to kind of put my head down and ignore the reactions from the outside world and carve my own path. So that's a very nuanced answer. But in terms of how it affected me. I would say it's something you think about all the time, but never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.

Chris Byers: If I think about my own life and how I've never left an interview, left a capital raising opportunity, left a conversation and thought because of the color of my skin, it mattered. It's not even a thought that comes to my mind. And so I can completely understand how that is a weight you carry. You're trying to raise money, and that's already hard enough work. And if there's just one more thing that causes your own doubts or causes you to just wonder. It works against you and it makes it all the more difficult to get done the job you're just trying to get done like everybody else. It is challenging.

Ade Olonoh: One way to think about it, too, is, you know, walking into a VC pitch. And as you walk into a boardroom and all the investors you are pitching to are white men and they tell you no, and you look at their portfolio website and it's predominantly white founders, again, men. And I think the stats are that only about one percent of venture investments are to Black founders. And I forget, I actually forget the number of women that are invested, but it's, again, single digit percentages. You know, you have to think there's a pattern here that the industry has shown. And then similarly, if you're applying to work in a company and you look at their website, and it's predominantly white men, then you have to wonder, like, do I really fit in here? And, you know, despite their best intentions, am starting a few steps behind other entrepreneurs or other candidates, you know, when you see kind of the results of who they're investing in and who they're hiring.

It's not enough to say we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know they're welcome and that you're reaching out to hire those people.

Chris Byers: And I think it's fascinating, you're talking about technology, where we think of ourselves as the most progressive, the most, you know, ahead of the time in terms of whether it's anything from benefits or hiring more diversely or being open to new ideas. And yet, even in technology, you still have those questions. I'm curious, how do you think this does impact technology, what have you noticed that how it applies still to technology, even though we think of ourselves as forward thinking?

Ade Olonoh: It's really interesting to look at because as you said, I'm sure if you pull the people who work in technology and compare them to other industries that we think of as less progressive, that is true, that personally we probably have more progressive mindsets than other industries. But the interesting thing about technology is the systemic racial problems really are compounded when it comes to technology, because usually access to computer science education is something that's afforded to the wealthy people in this country or people with access to great schools and good backgrounds. And even something as maybe even something as specific as the people who are more likely to be good at coding are more likely to have laptops in the home or access to a computer at home.

I don't remember all the details about this, but I remember reading something relatively recently talking about how, kind of before the explosion of the PCs, kind of in the 80s, male female participation in computer science was about equal. But then what happened was that this article is speculating that with the rise of PCs in the home and PCs especially focused around gaming and the types of games that were on the early PCs, what happened is inevitably boys would kind of push out the girls from using the PCs because they were the ones playing the games and the action games. And then, you know, over time, that compounded to mean that there are fewer and fewer women that were in the computing field and then felt comfortable taking computer science classes and stuff like that.

So back to my point being that I think those types of effects compound. If you have fewer Black people able to succeed in school, especially around computer fields, and maybe that's because of access at home or access to great schools that are providing that, then that shows up kind of later with an attack. Similarly, when thinking about entrepreneurship, one of the big problems with venture and investing is that venture capital funds are typically looking for a lot of traction with the companies that they invest in. But in the very early days, it may be that Black entrepreneurs have much less access to kind of those friends and family rounds that they need to kind of get an idea off the ground before they even get the traction that gets the VCs.

It may be that even just kind of the lack of a safety net where they feel like if they tried something risky and failed, that they'd be able to brush themselves off and either get, you know, get a loan from friends and family or get a job to kind of replenish their bank account. And maybe they don't have a safety net that their White counterparts do. So that compounds as well to why, I think we see the problem so much more starkly in tech versus other industries that might be less risky.

Read More: Why We Should Talk About Race

Chris Byers: You know, I think technology is really interesting here, too, because in technology, we're always thinking about solving problems really quickly. We're always thinking, oh, we're five minutes away. We're weeks away. We're a couple years away from solving major problems at speed. And yet what you're talking about is there are so many things that we've got to go so far back or wait a ways into the future to really make serious impact. We need to start an education and finding more fundamental ways to provide education on entrepreneurship or finding, to your point, access to capital or helping people even see there's an ecosystem that maybe they can join or be a part of to help new ideas. I'm curious, you are an investor, you've thought about these things. I'm curious if you've ideated on your own ways to how we could think about having some more long term impact.

Ade Olonoh: Yes. You're right in saying that. I mean, it's a very complicated issue. There are no overnight successes here or silver bullets to kind of solve the problem. So, yeah, I think it spans all of those things you touched on. I think it's, you know, it's education at an early age. It's access. It's even just things like people seeing themselves represented. So, I mean, just even the archetype we have of this successful entrepreneur, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you know, all white men. I'm not going to take anything from their accomplishments. They're incredible entrepreneurs. But some of it, I think is even just socializing more of the successes, people of color and women who are successful and kind of changing the way we have a conversation about what an entrepreneur even is. I think it's a systemic things; I think it's in some ways, it can also be a copout to kind of say, well, it's a pipeline problem or that these issues are too complex. I think sometimes it really just does come down to trying to make a difference by being conscious of your own biases and working on that personally. I think for every investor really working on their network and make sure that they are talking to founders of color or they're talking to female founders just as much as they are talking to White male founders or at least in proportion to the population. Right. And so maybe working a little bit harder to make sure that you're in the right networks, that see that kind of deal flow and be conscious of your own biases and working through that when talking to people, because, yes, the systemic issues are definitely there. But I think we can all grow in the moment in terms of how we approach our business.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And, you know, I think you make a great point. I hope that we all walk away from this conversation hearing there are things to do. Absolutely. Now, I think one of the things, I will say as a White person, I have come to realize is, first of all, just in general how much racism still exists and how much, in a way, I support those things and have supported systems that create this longer term kind of systemic racism. And I don't tend to think about my past a lot. I don't think about where I came from. And yet I don't see, therefore, how many bits of access I guess I've had over time, whether it's capital or otherwise. I can think about, you know, one of the things I've learned in the past three weeks is just how difficult or impossible it was to get a mortgage as a Black person in the 1950s. And, you know, I think about when I was trying to pay off some debt. My wife and I were trying to pay off some debt early in our marriage. And one of the things that allowed us to pay off that final bit of debt was an inheritance I got from my grandparents, who I know got a mortgage in the 1950s, and part of that inheritance was from them selling their house. And so these are things that most days I would never think of as like, oh, that's an advantage I have. And yet have completely played into some of the ways that I've been able to to move forward.

I wonder, as we do think about things that we can do now, you've brought up some of them. I know as a company there's really a couple of messages that I've been trying to just begin to talk about. One is I want to make sure we have a space for conversations. As you and I both know, as we all know, social media is a horrendous place to have a conversation. It's all about headlines and you know my dramatic view on the world. But I think one of the challenges is we're not talking about these things and we're not able to say, hey, can we sit down and have a pure level one to one conversation about your views, my views, how can we learn together and grow together? I'm curious if you've seen some good examples of conversations beginning in the past, in the past month. You know, one of those things that we're talking about is having conversations, and as a company, we're trying to begin to facilitate that so we can have maybe a third party come in and help us just have some better, real conversations together about race, racism, equality, and how we as a people can make sure we are treating the people around us on a pure level and truly as equal and making sure they feel comfortable being around us. The other thing that we're talking about is really diversity at a greater level. So we have had a very broad, very broad diversity kind of plan in the past week. We've talked about it internally, but we've not made a big deal of it, frankly. And in fact, I've also taken a very inbound approach to it. I guess where I said, yes, everyone is welcome here. I hope this feels like a comfortable place. But one of the things I'm realizing that really just recently is that's not enough. We need to be much more proactive at saying both what are the things that we do in our hiring practices and our onboarding, even in our marketing. How do we show up and how do we look to people who might not look as much like us? And how do we make sure that feels less like the case? And so, you know, I think one of my questions is, what do you think some things technology companies can do to improve diversity, inclusion, and really making a better effort here.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I think you're thinking about things the right way. I guess to start I mean, just to underscore the point, I think being proactive about it is the right approach. And I think that's what's encouraging about the conversation that a lot of people are having right now, is that realizing that it's not enough to just not be racist, but you actually have to be anti-racist and especially recognizing that there's systemic racism in this country. You have to be proactive to counteract that. And so, yeah, like you said, it's not just enough to say, oh, yeah, we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know that they're welcome there and that you're reaching out to hiring those people. I think, as you know, the longer you go as a company and the less representation you have in your company, the harder it is. Nobody wants to be, or very few people want to be the only Black person in a company or the only woman to work in a company. Right. And this gets magnified.

So in terms of your question, what can tech companies do about it? I think understanding that, prioritizing it in a way that maybe it hasn't been prioritized before. And I think at this moment, we all have to ask ourselves. Yes, we care about these issues, but how much we care about it. Do we care about it enough to really make it one of the key corporate initiatives and put money and time behind it? And that may mean hiring people within the company to really kind of spearhead these initiatives. To that point, I think one of the most important things, anything within business, you need to measure what's happening within the company and have accountability behind those numbers. I think when I think about it, I'm certainly no expert around H.R. and may not have all the tricks in my tool belt in terms of how to solve the diversity equation within companies. But I know like foundationally, you have to start with understanding well, measuring your pipeline, measure throughout the interview process to better understand that retention around all of the dimensions of race and gender and sexual identity. Understand like where we're falling short and where is there room for improvement. And so just creating that mechanism and that infrastructure to measure and hold accountable is one of the first places to start to make sure that, like, something meaningfully changes, and it's not just a nice sounding initiative, but that there's actually teeth behind it towards making change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think for us, we hired a diversity talent acquisition specialist early this year. And I will say, frankly, we probably wouldn't have done much reporting, maybe in terms of a leadership team or something, but not publicly. Again, out of a naivety that like this is going to work itself out over time. And one of the things we said last week to the team is you're going to start to see a monthly report on this. And I know as an organization, we've always thought transparency is a huge key to creating good, accountable systems and showing reporting, because if I am showing this to you every month, then I better show some progress and show that we're doing a better job of finding the right places to both show up and are we learning how that talent funnel is working out or are we letting people drop out that shouldn't drop out. And so I like that thinking. Anything else that comes to mind you just think companies should be doing to improve diversity, making sure it's more comfortable and engaging place for diverse team members?

Ade Olonoh:I think that, as I said, I think it's important to kind of look at the whole picture. So not just in the hiring process, but what happens to what the company looks like once you hired somebody who's unrepresented within the company. And so looking at retention, I think is important and really focusing on that inclusion part or diversity and inclusion. And so that means that they feel their voices are heard, does it feel like they're safe and comfortable and welcome at the company. But some of that also means do they have the same opportunity for growth within the company as do others. Right. And so I think back to measuring and measuring what retention looks like measuring what, you know, pay, looks like within the company across different diversity dimensions, measuring what kind of promotion looks like. Focusing on that part of the cycle and that part of the funnel is important, too. I mean, just in the same way that we think in our business, and Formstack is a SaaS business, we think about acquisition and retention and churn and kind of all those. And when we think and measure how we're doing as a business and think about the customer, I think you need to do that from an employee perspective as well. Look at the whole lifecycle and the holistic picture of what it means to work at a company.

Related: Taking Action: Behind the Scenes with Our Diversity Talent Acquisition Specialist

Chris Byers: Yeah, that's good. You know, 2020 has been a tough year as I think everybody knows. And, you know, if any of you were to ever be in the room with a Ade and I, one of the things you'd notice is, you know, both CEOs, both founders, we wouldn't necessarily, though, be the loudest person in the room. And in fact, you might not even notice we're there at times. And Ade, you've put yourself out there in a huge way, being extremely vulnerable. What are the things you're doing to kind of just stay mentally healthy figure out like, how do I both respond and frankly grieve at times of what's going on? But then also say, you know what, maybe there's hope in the world. Maybe there's something I can do.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. So just, you know, personally, it's been a tough few weeks. And I would say, I guess to explain that a little bit more, because I think I've had a lot of conversations with Black friends, I think, who are kind of in the same boat. I remember vividly, you know, the Rodney King incidents back when I was as much younger. And there have been a number of incidents, kind of similar to that, that have broad visibility within the public sphere from Rodney King to George Floyd. And I think one of the struggles that I've had is, you know, each time a story like that flares up, like it brings a lot of emotions. There's anger, there's sadness. But in the end, it leaves a lot of hopelessness and thinking that nothing's changed. Right. And we've known about issues, especially surrounding kind of police brutality and criminal justice and how that's affected people of color disproportionately in this country. We've known about it for a while, but if anything, it's probably gotten worse in the last 20 years when you look at the number of Black people in prison and, you know, the militarization of police. Those trends have gone in the wrong direction.

And so I'll say one of the hardest things, to be honest, when I first heard about George Floyd, I was just kind of coming off a few weeks ago the Ahmaud Arbery case just really shook me. And when I heard about George Floyd, I read the headline and just went on to the next story. And I just wasn't in a place emotionally where I wanted to process it. And it took a few days before I was able to watch the video, before I was able to read the details of that. And the great thing that's happening now is there's a lot of conversation about all these problems and injustices. But I think one of the hard things emotionally is to wonder, like, is this really going to change? Is anything going to come out of this or are we just reopening old wounds but not really going to find any healing from that? And so that's a very indirect way to answer your question. I think it's helpful to give context just because I know I'm certainly not speaking for all Black people in the country, but I know for a lot they're going through a similar emotional journey. And that's why it's tough right now. It's hard sometimes. And I think we all need to be mindful that not every person of color really wants to have these conversations at the moment, just depending on where they are in their emotional journey.

But for me, I mean, I've had to do a number of things to kind of help myself stay healthy and sane. Some of it is just kind of fundamental things that I try to do on a regular basis. Exercise, meditate, eat well. Spend time with family. But some of it is just taking breaks from social media, taking breaks from the news, especially when I feel myself get caught up in the anger and emotion that's spurred by those mediums. And then I'd say the last thing is I really try to focus and kind of step back and say, well, how do I want things to change, like, how can I help contribute to that conversation in a positive way and what can I do? So that's practically it for me. I've been spending a lot more time learning and understanding these issues from a policy perspective or a sociological perspective, where my background knowledge, I'm a technologist and entrepreneur, so spending time learning more about these things I think kind of helps me understand the process better.

Chris Byers: If you're listening to this, everybody's going to get a broad set of responses to what's going on right now. And I know for me, I have, I'll say had to, and had to because I just understood something needed to be done in my own mind, in my own life. But I had to spend a great deal of time reading and watching videos and watching documentaries. I will say even I had to watch the video of George Floyd. There was a moment where I was like, you know what? If I really want to actually step forward and be a positive part of the change, I need to see some of the lows and be a part of some of the lows, I guess. And that was I mean, to anybody listening, I'd say if you've really just done surface level headline reading, if you're really just done a surface level attempt here, if you've frankly not had a conversation with somebody of color like around you, those are things you're missing out on. And I don't think you're going to progress in the way that I think we all need to to have the right conversations. And so I appreciate everybody who's taken time to really spend time reading and thinking and trying to understand like what is my perspective and how does it need to change and how do we need to improve to move forward. I know as a company, we have brought in some outside help to help us, first of all, as a leadership team. But then eventually as an organization to see where frankly, even where are we on this subject? Because, again, we're all at different places and we need to kind of begin to move toward the same destination. I know we've used an outside coaching group to help allow our team to call any time they want for coaching, counseling through this. Any particular subject matter, be it books, blogs, podcasts, etc., that you point people to to say, this is a great place to start?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, there's been a lot of good ones that I've come across, especially recently. But I guess rather than rattle down a list, I'd say to your point, I think it's important for people to start somewhere that really kind of touches on both the history of systemic racism in this country and then kind of a full comprehensive overview of where we are today in terms of the criminal justice system. Probably the best thing that I've come across, and there may be others, but the documentary 13th on Netflix, I think does an excellent job of piecing all these things together. I'd say you start there and that at least kind of helps launch a starting point to see where you might want to dig deeper to kind of understand different components better. So personally, I'm reading Just Mercy right now and find it really eye opening on digging into the criminal justice system. But yeah, if anything, start with 13th, it is probably the easiest thing to consume.

Chris Byers: That's good. So, you know, one of the conversations that I've noticed is not kind of being had in this country is what certain things mean. And I guess I'd love your perspective. And I I think we should all note that it's your perspective. And I think you will say it's not everybody's belief exactly. But there are a couple of kind of thoughts, phrases, movements that I think might be valuable for the audience to kind of hear about what's going on here. And the first one is Black Lives Matter. Tell us what that means to you and what you think that means to the people who speak it and are out kind of thinking about it and kind of moving it forward.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, certainly I don't claim to speak for all Black black people or for any particular organization or anything like that, speaking of Black Lives Matter. But yeah, to me, that just means that at its surface that, yes, Black lives matter. And I think that's highlighted because, you know, especially when you look at the history of Black lives in this country. And again, what's happening today, like the incidents, again, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, you know, Elijah McClain and so on, so forth, is that it's easy to feel like Black lives don't matter to the system. So all it is, this is highlighting the fact that, yes, they do and they should in this country. And that's not to say that other other people don't matter. Certainly they all do, but it's that this is one sector of society that has been long ignored. And we need to make sure that there is equality and justice for Black lives, just as there are for White lives in this country.

Chris Byers: Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that's been just eye opening for me in this time is if you look at the Hispanic community in the U.S., it has on the whole, especially at the size that it is and how much it represents to the U.S. today, not been in the U.S. Nearly as long as as kind of the Black community. And yet the Black community is behind the Hispanic community in terms of income, net worth. And as I looked at that, I thought, wow, there is definitely a problem when a community has been with us all, nearly always, is that far behind. There is something that speaks to why we need to speak about Black lives mattering today and why we need to point that out and make it a thing and make it make it the point. And so I thank you for sharing those thoughts.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. And just speak on that real quick. I think the thing that's easy to forget and I mean, I think part of even going back to what we said in terms of during the 90s, the last couple of decades, it's almost been that the conversation has shifted in this country to talk about like we live in a post-racial society and feeling like racism was solved during the civil rights era. And clearly, I think we're saying very clearly that that's not the case. But even given the progress that was made in the civil rights era, it's discounting today, like how much of that history does matter. And like you said, that the injustices that happened in this country really weren't that long ago. When you think about it in the context of how it's affecting people's lives today. And maybe that's like the example you gave in terms of receiving an inheritance that helped you pay down loans. Well, you know, when Black people in this country started with nothing and weren't allowed to accumulate wealth and weren't allowed to have the freedoms to just basic freedoms within this country, and kind of starting so far behind, those things still matter and still make a difference today. That's the reason why the average net worth or the median net worth of Black households today is a tenth of that of White households. That that's still affecting us today. The things that happened, you know, 400 years ago, much less 50 years ago in this country. And Jim Crow and such. So, yeah, it does still matter to them.

Chris Byers: Thank you for that. The other thing that I think would be great to kind of express what you think is happening right now is there are protests going on all around the U.S. and in fact, if you think they're not happening because they're not hitting the news, it is actually because I think a number of very peaceful protests are going on right now all over the country. And so that's not making the news. But there is a message that is still trying to be kind of delivered at the moment. What do you think that is?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I mean, the protesters are asking for a bunch of different things. But I think, you know, right now the most critical issue, again, goes back to just we want changes in the policing systems in this country. We need changes in the criminal justice system. And I think and again, I don't speak for everybody, there are different perspectives in terms of what people want. But I think we need meaningful change beyond just I think what we saw a few years ago when the start of the Black Lives Matters protests. Largely inaction. But then I think there was a lot of talk and superficial things about like, you know, let's add training or like let's increase training within police forces to help them overcome racial biases. Let's add body cameras and invest in body cameras to help make sure that we're catching things that are happening.

And the reality is, as far as I can tell, most people are saying that didn't do much. And I think one thing real quick. The reason why the word systemic racism is so important, that term systemic racism, is because it highlights the fact that we have a system that in and of itself is disproportionately affecting people of color in this country. The issue is systemic. And so that's everything from, me personally, just really passionate about removing cash bail out of our system. The fact that we have people who can get arrested and though innocent until proven guilty just because they can't afford to pay a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for bail, they're held in the system, which creates all these ripple effects. Like that in itself, it disproportionately affects people of color. And that itself is systemic racism. The war on drugs itself is an example of systemic racism. So I think we need to rethink fundamentally what are the things that we make illegal in this country and what are the punishments behind them? Why did that happen in the first place? And you can kind of look at the history. Understand why, you know, why was crack cocaine, sentencing for crack cocaine 10 times more than sentencing for powdered cocaine, the equivalent amount of powder cocaine? Why was marijuana made illegal in this country to begin with? And the answer to those, unfortunately, were racist things. Right. And so I think protesters are asking for a lot of things, but I think they're asking for meaningful reform to the criminal justice system so that we're not locking up people of color at disproportionate rates. We're not killing Black people at disproportionate rates. These systemic things need to change before we see the results that we want to see.

Chris Byers: So as we take all of this conversation in and as we think about kind of where we go from here, what are the things you hope people... How do we move forward? What is it so that we actually have that positive ripple effect and can look back days, weeks, months, years from now? What do you think the things are that we can do to move forward?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, ultimately, I should start by saying that I'm more optimistic now than I probably ever have been that things will change. And one of the reasons why is because people are having conversations like this that are meaningful. And people do seem to, on a wide scale, trying to understand where and why systemic racism exists in this country. So, I mean, in terms of moving forward, I think just one, that needs to continue. Like you said earlier, I think if you haven't had conversations with people in your life, just ask about these issues and ask with an open mind and an open heart. I think that will do a lot towards just improving your own understanding and towards getting the change because of awareness and understanding needs to proceed change. And so starting there and then to deepening understanding. And then I think, you know, what will come from that is really understanding. You know, like I touched on a couple of things like bail and, you know, the drug laws in this country. But I think that change that needs to happen is political. I think the change that needs to happen is that we need to push our politicians to readdress some of these issues and kind of fix some of these issues. And the way that we do that individually is, you know, by voting, by encouraging others to vote and then, you know, by calling politicians and sending them letters and demanding change. And I think it may take some time, but that's the real answer, is that we need. We need to change the system.

Chris Byers: Well Ade, thank you for joining us today. I hope that everybody who's listening is really thinking about how can I be a part of a positive change? Be a part of raising my own awareness, starting conversations with people, thinking about the ways that I might have supported racism in the past and do today even and how can I break that and become anti-racist? And Ade, just I thank you for many things in life, but in particular today being just a help to us moving forward and opening up your story so that we could learn from it and kind of grow going forward.

Ade Olonoh: Thank you. It's great to chat about this. Great to talk with you, as always. So glad we're having this conversation.

Thanks for joining us today on Ripple Effect, what we heard today was a really powerful story, and it was the powerful story of a Black individual who, first of all, has been really important in my life. But I hope his story has become important in your life to really reframing what we think about in terms of racism and how it still persists today in this country. And I hope it causes you to want to take some action. If I can encourage you to take any action, it is really start a conversation or begin researching. Where can you find people or resources to help you take the next step? And how can we move forward this conversation on race and equality in the U.S.

Well, thanks for joining us today on this special episode of Ripple Effect. You can read Ade's full story at adeolonoh.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

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Ade Olonoh: Perspectives on Systemic Racism with Formstack Founder Ade

Ade Olonoh shares his perspective as a Black tech founder in America, from the causes of systemic racism to the disparities holding the Black community back.
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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're doing something a bit different than what you may have heard in previous episodes. 2020 has been a year many of us did not anticipate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the injustice and inequality that we're seeing more clearly here in the U.S. And we want to do our part in sharing voices and perspectives to our community and how we can think about being more proactive and take action to really just improve the world around us. At Formstack, we've come to our own realization that not only do we need to say something, but we also need to do something. And so we started with our own statement that Black Lives Matter. And we affirmed that we want to be a support to the Black community today.

In addition to that, we've hired a diversity talent specialist to help make our organization more welcoming to diverse candidates, as well as helping us bring in a more diverse candidate pool. We're finding ways for our employees to give their time and money to help fight social injustices and inequality. And then, we're starting conversations. And if you hear anything today, I think the most important thing you should hear is about conversations and really education. What we all need to do right now is think about having conversations with people around us about race, racism, et cetera. And so in this episode, we have Ade Olonoh on the show. He is Formstack's founder and he is here to have a conversation with us about a personal story he shared. And it's all about sharing his story on racism and how we can improve diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces. So take a listen.

Today, we have a really cool opportunity to get to talk to somebody who has been really important in the history of our company and the history really in my life. He's going to help us explore a topic today that I think is really top of mind for a lot of us and trying to figure out how do we best approach going forward. And that topic actually covers a lot of things. It's about racism, the challenge of the Black community, and ways that we need to help overcome those challenges. It's about equality. And, you know, who I've got today with us is our founder, Ade Olonoh. Ade has founded really a number of companies, one of them being Formstack and we've gotten the benefit of being able to be a part of this organization and grow together. But more importantly than that, he and I have been friends for 23 years, I think at this point. And I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be together and be able to talk about some of this. And so I want to welcome Ade.

Ade Olonoh: Thanks, Chris. Excited to be here.

Chris Byers: Excellent. Well, maybe just as a quick aside before we get into more serious things. Where was it we met 23 years ago? Do you remember? I think we were both working at the same place. I'm not sure exactly if that's what caused us to meet, but where was that?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I don't know if that was really the first time we met, but the first time I remember is when we were both working in I.T. at Anderson University. Where we were both going to school. Is that what you remember?

Chris Byers: That's what I'm remembering. Who knows exactly where we met along the way. But I know we got to work together in I.T. off and on over a couple of years and then that eventually led to founding a company together and then Ade founded Formstack later on and it kind of worked out well, then he founded yet another company. And so at the time I said, hey, if I can come help be a part of finding the future for Formstack, I can do that. And that turned into just kind of a long term role. But what's really interesting is Ade and I have talked about everything over the course of all these years, and especially in the past 10 years, we've talked about family and business and we've had endless meals together and endless meals with our families. And yet, you know, what's fascinating and sad is one of the conversations we never talked about until three weeks ago was race. And the impact of that on Ade, the impact of that around us in the world. And right now, I think it's a really important time where we need to be having these conversations. And the fact that we haven't been having them has created an unnecessary just kind of layer of just not talking about the right things in our country. And so Ade, you wrote an article and it was titled I Can't Breathe. And you share your personal experiences with racism, prejudice, injustice, and in the opening you mentioned struggling on whether you should write or not. Can you talk a little bit about what made you write it? What helped you decide to finally put that together.

Ade Olonoh: So I wrote that about a week after the news about George Floyd came up. And like I start out in the piece, I really struggled for a number of different reasons. One of which is that I felt like as I was thinking about, and how the whole country was talking about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable talking about my own struggles because they pale compared to those stories. I mean, clearly, I'm still here living and breathing. I haven't had incidents where I've been really attacked by police or anything, you know, to that extent. And so I really struggled with how do I talk about my struggles being Black in America in the context of those stories, which are just much more tragic. So I think that was part of it. But then in general, I struggle with kind of what you alluded to. I think growing up in the 90s here, it was almost like there's kind of an unsaid thing. You know, we shouldn't talk about race. And I've always struggled, you know, as somebody who's trying to succeed professionally. I think a lot of Black people in the workplace kind of struggle with this. If you talk about race, then you're kind of going to be pigeonholed into this point of view where, you know, you're somebody who always brings up this issue and it makes it uncomfortable for others. I have unfortunately swung too far to the other side where I don't talk about it publicly. It's kind of a struggle on what's the right way to approach that? How do I tell the story in a way that people would listen. Like finally just got to the point where I felt like I had to write something. And that article was kind of the outpouring of my background and what was on my mind.

Related: Fornmstack's Stance Against Inequality, Injustice, and Racism

Chris Byers: I do just fully agree. There's some message and I can't tieback exactly when it happened, what it was, but there was some message along the way that was definitely if we don't talk about this, then it's not an issue anymore. And I've kind of thought about the stupidity of that, I guess, in the past couple weeks where, you know,= if you had some sort of maybe disagreement with somebody or if you had an issue that was not helping your relationship with someone kind of succeed. And if you ever said to your friend, you know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to talk about it. The response would be like, that's stupid. Like that is totally not going to be the way you ever actually communicate with somebody. You're just going to bury these thoughts and ideas. And if you never talk about them, then you've, like, lost an opportunity in your relationship. And I think it's just fascinating how this conversation. I mean, between you and I, even about this article was just extremely eye opening for me to say. Oh, actually, it's also OK to have this conversation. And it's OK to say we do have different backgrounds and that does mean something and has impacted the way that we've lived or grown up. You'll get to see a link to this article if you're listening, and we'll post that in the shownotes or otherwise here in a bit. But definitely worth a read to kind of get some more color here. But we'll talk through this a little bit more.

So, you know, in the article, you I mean, first of all, just extremely eye opening, moving, and beautifully moving in a way where I saw so many people who I know care about you, share it with other people. And it was great for them to be able to say, you know what, I now see something I might not have otherwise. But how as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, as a tech founder, how have these experiences shaped your professional journey?

Ade Olonoh: I talk in the piece and I won't rehash the whole thing, but essentially I talk about how eye opening and kind of my journey growing up here in the U.S. is different because I'm Black and how that gets reinforced in all these small ways throughout my career. And just as I'm growing up and yeah, I guess in terms of my professional journey, I mean, I'll say I talk in the piece about how one of the things that I allude to in the piece that's really hard is that, you know that racism exists in the country. It's empirical, but you don't always know the ways it impacts you. There were jobs that I thought I was qualified to get, that I didn't get an interview or didn't get a job offer, and maybe none of them were because of racism or implicit bias. But maybe some of them, more statistically I would have to assume so.

Similar in terms of raising capital, as an entrepreneur, there are times where many, many times that I heard no from investors, which is common for entrepreneurs, whether you're White, Black, Brown, male, or female. But sometimes you kind of walk away from those experiences wondering, like, was it because of the color of my skin or is it just because they didn't like my idea or something didn't really click on the pitch? And so what when you think about your question about how it shaped my professional journey, I don't have any of the stark stories. Nobody ever kind of kicked me out of their offices saying, I'm not going to invest in you or I'm not going to hire you because you're Black. But it's something that was top of mind as I kind of walked through my journey. The end result was I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder. I always felt like, both in terms of output, just in terms of my own psychology as well, to kind of put my head down and ignore the reactions from the outside world and carve my own path. So that's a very nuanced answer. But in terms of how it affected me. I would say it's something you think about all the time, but never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.

Chris Byers: If I think about my own life and how I've never left an interview, left a capital raising opportunity, left a conversation and thought because of the color of my skin, it mattered. It's not even a thought that comes to my mind. And so I can completely understand how that is a weight you carry. You're trying to raise money, and that's already hard enough work. And if there's just one more thing that causes your own doubts or causes you to just wonder. It works against you and it makes it all the more difficult to get done the job you're just trying to get done like everybody else. It is challenging.

Ade Olonoh: One way to think about it, too, is, you know, walking into a VC pitch. And as you walk into a boardroom and all the investors you are pitching to are white men and they tell you no, and you look at their portfolio website and it's predominantly white founders, again, men. And I think the stats are that only about one percent of venture investments are to Black founders. And I forget, I actually forget the number of women that are invested, but it's, again, single digit percentages. You know, you have to think there's a pattern here that the industry has shown. And then similarly, if you're applying to work in a company and you look at their website, and it's predominantly white men, then you have to wonder, like, do I really fit in here? And, you know, despite their best intentions, am starting a few steps behind other entrepreneurs or other candidates, you know, when you see kind of the results of who they're investing in and who they're hiring.

It's not enough to say we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know they're welcome and that you're reaching out to hire those people.

Chris Byers: And I think it's fascinating, you're talking about technology, where we think of ourselves as the most progressive, the most, you know, ahead of the time in terms of whether it's anything from benefits or hiring more diversely or being open to new ideas. And yet, even in technology, you still have those questions. I'm curious, how do you think this does impact technology, what have you noticed that how it applies still to technology, even though we think of ourselves as forward thinking?

Ade Olonoh: It's really interesting to look at because as you said, I'm sure if you pull the people who work in technology and compare them to other industries that we think of as less progressive, that is true, that personally we probably have more progressive mindsets than other industries. But the interesting thing about technology is the systemic racial problems really are compounded when it comes to technology, because usually access to computer science education is something that's afforded to the wealthy people in this country or people with access to great schools and good backgrounds. And even something as maybe even something as specific as the people who are more likely to be good at coding are more likely to have laptops in the home or access to a computer at home.

I don't remember all the details about this, but I remember reading something relatively recently talking about how, kind of before the explosion of the PCs, kind of in the 80s, male female participation in computer science was about equal. But then what happened was that this article is speculating that with the rise of PCs in the home and PCs especially focused around gaming and the types of games that were on the early PCs, what happened is inevitably boys would kind of push out the girls from using the PCs because they were the ones playing the games and the action games. And then, you know, over time, that compounded to mean that there are fewer and fewer women that were in the computing field and then felt comfortable taking computer science classes and stuff like that.

So back to my point being that I think those types of effects compound. If you have fewer Black people able to succeed in school, especially around computer fields, and maybe that's because of access at home or access to great schools that are providing that, then that shows up kind of later with an attack. Similarly, when thinking about entrepreneurship, one of the big problems with venture and investing is that venture capital funds are typically looking for a lot of traction with the companies that they invest in. But in the very early days, it may be that Black entrepreneurs have much less access to kind of those friends and family rounds that they need to kind of get an idea off the ground before they even get the traction that gets the VCs.

It may be that even just kind of the lack of a safety net where they feel like if they tried something risky and failed, that they'd be able to brush themselves off and either get, you know, get a loan from friends and family or get a job to kind of replenish their bank account. And maybe they don't have a safety net that their White counterparts do. So that compounds as well to why, I think we see the problem so much more starkly in tech versus other industries that might be less risky.

Read More: Why We Should Talk About Race

Chris Byers: You know, I think technology is really interesting here, too, because in technology, we're always thinking about solving problems really quickly. We're always thinking, oh, we're five minutes away. We're weeks away. We're a couple years away from solving major problems at speed. And yet what you're talking about is there are so many things that we've got to go so far back or wait a ways into the future to really make serious impact. We need to start an education and finding more fundamental ways to provide education on entrepreneurship or finding, to your point, access to capital or helping people even see there's an ecosystem that maybe they can join or be a part of to help new ideas. I'm curious, you are an investor, you've thought about these things. I'm curious if you've ideated on your own ways to how we could think about having some more long term impact.

Ade Olonoh: Yes. You're right in saying that. I mean, it's a very complicated issue. There are no overnight successes here or silver bullets to kind of solve the problem. So, yeah, I think it spans all of those things you touched on. I think it's, you know, it's education at an early age. It's access. It's even just things like people seeing themselves represented. So, I mean, just even the archetype we have of this successful entrepreneur, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you know, all white men. I'm not going to take anything from their accomplishments. They're incredible entrepreneurs. But some of it, I think is even just socializing more of the successes, people of color and women who are successful and kind of changing the way we have a conversation about what an entrepreneur even is. I think it's a systemic things; I think it's in some ways, it can also be a copout to kind of say, well, it's a pipeline problem or that these issues are too complex. I think sometimes it really just does come down to trying to make a difference by being conscious of your own biases and working on that personally. I think for every investor really working on their network and make sure that they are talking to founders of color or they're talking to female founders just as much as they are talking to White male founders or at least in proportion to the population. Right. And so maybe working a little bit harder to make sure that you're in the right networks, that see that kind of deal flow and be conscious of your own biases and working through that when talking to people, because, yes, the systemic issues are definitely there. But I think we can all grow in the moment in terms of how we approach our business.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And, you know, I think you make a great point. I hope that we all walk away from this conversation hearing there are things to do. Absolutely. Now, I think one of the things, I will say as a White person, I have come to realize is, first of all, just in general how much racism still exists and how much, in a way, I support those things and have supported systems that create this longer term kind of systemic racism. And I don't tend to think about my past a lot. I don't think about where I came from. And yet I don't see, therefore, how many bits of access I guess I've had over time, whether it's capital or otherwise. I can think about, you know, one of the things I've learned in the past three weeks is just how difficult or impossible it was to get a mortgage as a Black person in the 1950s. And, you know, I think about when I was trying to pay off some debt. My wife and I were trying to pay off some debt early in our marriage. And one of the things that allowed us to pay off that final bit of debt was an inheritance I got from my grandparents, who I know got a mortgage in the 1950s, and part of that inheritance was from them selling their house. And so these are things that most days I would never think of as like, oh, that's an advantage I have. And yet have completely played into some of the ways that I've been able to to move forward.

I wonder, as we do think about things that we can do now, you've brought up some of them. I know as a company there's really a couple of messages that I've been trying to just begin to talk about. One is I want to make sure we have a space for conversations. As you and I both know, as we all know, social media is a horrendous place to have a conversation. It's all about headlines and you know my dramatic view on the world. But I think one of the challenges is we're not talking about these things and we're not able to say, hey, can we sit down and have a pure level one to one conversation about your views, my views, how can we learn together and grow together? I'm curious if you've seen some good examples of conversations beginning in the past, in the past month. You know, one of those things that we're talking about is having conversations, and as a company, we're trying to begin to facilitate that so we can have maybe a third party come in and help us just have some better, real conversations together about race, racism, equality, and how we as a people can make sure we are treating the people around us on a pure level and truly as equal and making sure they feel comfortable being around us. The other thing that we're talking about is really diversity at a greater level. So we have had a very broad, very broad diversity kind of plan in the past week. We've talked about it internally, but we've not made a big deal of it, frankly. And in fact, I've also taken a very inbound approach to it. I guess where I said, yes, everyone is welcome here. I hope this feels like a comfortable place. But one of the things I'm realizing that really just recently is that's not enough. We need to be much more proactive at saying both what are the things that we do in our hiring practices and our onboarding, even in our marketing. How do we show up and how do we look to people who might not look as much like us? And how do we make sure that feels less like the case? And so, you know, I think one of my questions is, what do you think some things technology companies can do to improve diversity, inclusion, and really making a better effort here.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I think you're thinking about things the right way. I guess to start I mean, just to underscore the point, I think being proactive about it is the right approach. And I think that's what's encouraging about the conversation that a lot of people are having right now, is that realizing that it's not enough to just not be racist, but you actually have to be anti-racist and especially recognizing that there's systemic racism in this country. You have to be proactive to counteract that. And so, yeah, like you said, it's not just enough to say, oh, yeah, we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know that they're welcome there and that you're reaching out to hiring those people. I think, as you know, the longer you go as a company and the less representation you have in your company, the harder it is. Nobody wants to be, or very few people want to be the only Black person in a company or the only woman to work in a company. Right. And this gets magnified.

So in terms of your question, what can tech companies do about it? I think understanding that, prioritizing it in a way that maybe it hasn't been prioritized before. And I think at this moment, we all have to ask ourselves. Yes, we care about these issues, but how much we care about it. Do we care about it enough to really make it one of the key corporate initiatives and put money and time behind it? And that may mean hiring people within the company to really kind of spearhead these initiatives. To that point, I think one of the most important things, anything within business, you need to measure what's happening within the company and have accountability behind those numbers. I think when I think about it, I'm certainly no expert around H.R. and may not have all the tricks in my tool belt in terms of how to solve the diversity equation within companies. But I know like foundationally, you have to start with understanding well, measuring your pipeline, measure throughout the interview process to better understand that retention around all of the dimensions of race and gender and sexual identity. Understand like where we're falling short and where is there room for improvement. And so just creating that mechanism and that infrastructure to measure and hold accountable is one of the first places to start to make sure that, like, something meaningfully changes, and it's not just a nice sounding initiative, but that there's actually teeth behind it towards making change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think for us, we hired a diversity talent acquisition specialist early this year. And I will say, frankly, we probably wouldn't have done much reporting, maybe in terms of a leadership team or something, but not publicly. Again, out of a naivety that like this is going to work itself out over time. And one of the things we said last week to the team is you're going to start to see a monthly report on this. And I know as an organization, we've always thought transparency is a huge key to creating good, accountable systems and showing reporting, because if I am showing this to you every month, then I better show some progress and show that we're doing a better job of finding the right places to both show up and are we learning how that talent funnel is working out or are we letting people drop out that shouldn't drop out. And so I like that thinking. Anything else that comes to mind you just think companies should be doing to improve diversity, making sure it's more comfortable and engaging place for diverse team members?

Ade Olonoh:I think that, as I said, I think it's important to kind of look at the whole picture. So not just in the hiring process, but what happens to what the company looks like once you hired somebody who's unrepresented within the company. And so looking at retention, I think is important and really focusing on that inclusion part or diversity and inclusion. And so that means that they feel their voices are heard, does it feel like they're safe and comfortable and welcome at the company. But some of that also means do they have the same opportunity for growth within the company as do others. Right. And so I think back to measuring and measuring what retention looks like measuring what, you know, pay, looks like within the company across different diversity dimensions, measuring what kind of promotion looks like. Focusing on that part of the cycle and that part of the funnel is important, too. I mean, just in the same way that we think in our business, and Formstack is a SaaS business, we think about acquisition and retention and churn and kind of all those. And when we think and measure how we're doing as a business and think about the customer, I think you need to do that from an employee perspective as well. Look at the whole lifecycle and the holistic picture of what it means to work at a company.

Related: Taking Action: Behind the Scenes with Our Diversity Talent Acquisition Specialist

Chris Byers: Yeah, that's good. You know, 2020 has been a tough year as I think everybody knows. And, you know, if any of you were to ever be in the room with a Ade and I, one of the things you'd notice is, you know, both CEOs, both founders, we wouldn't necessarily, though, be the loudest person in the room. And in fact, you might not even notice we're there at times. And Ade, you've put yourself out there in a huge way, being extremely vulnerable. What are the things you're doing to kind of just stay mentally healthy figure out like, how do I both respond and frankly grieve at times of what's going on? But then also say, you know what, maybe there's hope in the world. Maybe there's something I can do.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. So just, you know, personally, it's been a tough few weeks. And I would say, I guess to explain that a little bit more, because I think I've had a lot of conversations with Black friends, I think, who are kind of in the same boat. I remember vividly, you know, the Rodney King incidents back when I was as much younger. And there have been a number of incidents, kind of similar to that, that have broad visibility within the public sphere from Rodney King to George Floyd. And I think one of the struggles that I've had is, you know, each time a story like that flares up, like it brings a lot of emotions. There's anger, there's sadness. But in the end, it leaves a lot of hopelessness and thinking that nothing's changed. Right. And we've known about issues, especially surrounding kind of police brutality and criminal justice and how that's affected people of color disproportionately in this country. We've known about it for a while, but if anything, it's probably gotten worse in the last 20 years when you look at the number of Black people in prison and, you know, the militarization of police. Those trends have gone in the wrong direction.

And so I'll say one of the hardest things, to be honest, when I first heard about George Floyd, I was just kind of coming off a few weeks ago the Ahmaud Arbery case just really shook me. And when I heard about George Floyd, I read the headline and just went on to the next story. And I just wasn't in a place emotionally where I wanted to process it. And it took a few days before I was able to watch the video, before I was able to read the details of that. And the great thing that's happening now is there's a lot of conversation about all these problems and injustices. But I think one of the hard things emotionally is to wonder, like, is this really going to change? Is anything going to come out of this or are we just reopening old wounds but not really going to find any healing from that? And so that's a very indirect way to answer your question. I think it's helpful to give context just because I know I'm certainly not speaking for all Black people in the country, but I know for a lot they're going through a similar emotional journey. And that's why it's tough right now. It's hard sometimes. And I think we all need to be mindful that not every person of color really wants to have these conversations at the moment, just depending on where they are in their emotional journey.

But for me, I mean, I've had to do a number of things to kind of help myself stay healthy and sane. Some of it is just kind of fundamental things that I try to do on a regular basis. Exercise, meditate, eat well. Spend time with family. But some of it is just taking breaks from social media, taking breaks from the news, especially when I feel myself get caught up in the anger and emotion that's spurred by those mediums. And then I'd say the last thing is I really try to focus and kind of step back and say, well, how do I want things to change, like, how can I help contribute to that conversation in a positive way and what can I do? So that's practically it for me. I've been spending a lot more time learning and understanding these issues from a policy perspective or a sociological perspective, where my background knowledge, I'm a technologist and entrepreneur, so spending time learning more about these things I think kind of helps me understand the process better.

Chris Byers: If you're listening to this, everybody's going to get a broad set of responses to what's going on right now. And I know for me, I have, I'll say had to, and had to because I just understood something needed to be done in my own mind, in my own life. But I had to spend a great deal of time reading and watching videos and watching documentaries. I will say even I had to watch the video of George Floyd. There was a moment where I was like, you know what? If I really want to actually step forward and be a positive part of the change, I need to see some of the lows and be a part of some of the lows, I guess. And that was I mean, to anybody listening, I'd say if you've really just done surface level headline reading, if you're really just done a surface level attempt here, if you've frankly not had a conversation with somebody of color like around you, those are things you're missing out on. And I don't think you're going to progress in the way that I think we all need to to have the right conversations. And so I appreciate everybody who's taken time to really spend time reading and thinking and trying to understand like what is my perspective and how does it need to change and how do we need to improve to move forward. I know as a company, we have brought in some outside help to help us, first of all, as a leadership team. But then eventually as an organization to see where frankly, even where are we on this subject? Because, again, we're all at different places and we need to kind of begin to move toward the same destination. I know we've used an outside coaching group to help allow our team to call any time they want for coaching, counseling through this. Any particular subject matter, be it books, blogs, podcasts, etc., that you point people to to say, this is a great place to start?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, there's been a lot of good ones that I've come across, especially recently. But I guess rather than rattle down a list, I'd say to your point, I think it's important for people to start somewhere that really kind of touches on both the history of systemic racism in this country and then kind of a full comprehensive overview of where we are today in terms of the criminal justice system. Probably the best thing that I've come across, and there may be others, but the documentary 13th on Netflix, I think does an excellent job of piecing all these things together. I'd say you start there and that at least kind of helps launch a starting point to see where you might want to dig deeper to kind of understand different components better. So personally, I'm reading Just Mercy right now and find it really eye opening on digging into the criminal justice system. But yeah, if anything, start with 13th, it is probably the easiest thing to consume.

Chris Byers: That's good. So, you know, one of the conversations that I've noticed is not kind of being had in this country is what certain things mean. And I guess I'd love your perspective. And I I think we should all note that it's your perspective. And I think you will say it's not everybody's belief exactly. But there are a couple of kind of thoughts, phrases, movements that I think might be valuable for the audience to kind of hear about what's going on here. And the first one is Black Lives Matter. Tell us what that means to you and what you think that means to the people who speak it and are out kind of thinking about it and kind of moving it forward.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, certainly I don't claim to speak for all Black black people or for any particular organization or anything like that, speaking of Black Lives Matter. But yeah, to me, that just means that at its surface that, yes, Black lives matter. And I think that's highlighted because, you know, especially when you look at the history of Black lives in this country. And again, what's happening today, like the incidents, again, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, you know, Elijah McClain and so on, so forth, is that it's easy to feel like Black lives don't matter to the system. So all it is, this is highlighting the fact that, yes, they do and they should in this country. And that's not to say that other other people don't matter. Certainly they all do, but it's that this is one sector of society that has been long ignored. And we need to make sure that there is equality and justice for Black lives, just as there are for White lives in this country.

Chris Byers: Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that's been just eye opening for me in this time is if you look at the Hispanic community in the U.S., it has on the whole, especially at the size that it is and how much it represents to the U.S. today, not been in the U.S. Nearly as long as as kind of the Black community. And yet the Black community is behind the Hispanic community in terms of income, net worth. And as I looked at that, I thought, wow, there is definitely a problem when a community has been with us all, nearly always, is that far behind. There is something that speaks to why we need to speak about Black lives mattering today and why we need to point that out and make it a thing and make it make it the point. And so I thank you for sharing those thoughts.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. And just speak on that real quick. I think the thing that's easy to forget and I mean, I think part of even going back to what we said in terms of during the 90s, the last couple of decades, it's almost been that the conversation has shifted in this country to talk about like we live in a post-racial society and feeling like racism was solved during the civil rights era. And clearly, I think we're saying very clearly that that's not the case. But even given the progress that was made in the civil rights era, it's discounting today, like how much of that history does matter. And like you said, that the injustices that happened in this country really weren't that long ago. When you think about it in the context of how it's affecting people's lives today. And maybe that's like the example you gave in terms of receiving an inheritance that helped you pay down loans. Well, you know, when Black people in this country started with nothing and weren't allowed to accumulate wealth and weren't allowed to have the freedoms to just basic freedoms within this country, and kind of starting so far behind, those things still matter and still make a difference today. That's the reason why the average net worth or the median net worth of Black households today is a tenth of that of White households. That that's still affecting us today. The things that happened, you know, 400 years ago, much less 50 years ago in this country. And Jim Crow and such. So, yeah, it does still matter to them.

Chris Byers: Thank you for that. The other thing that I think would be great to kind of express what you think is happening right now is there are protests going on all around the U.S. and in fact, if you think they're not happening because they're not hitting the news, it is actually because I think a number of very peaceful protests are going on right now all over the country. And so that's not making the news. But there is a message that is still trying to be kind of delivered at the moment. What do you think that is?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I mean, the protesters are asking for a bunch of different things. But I think, you know, right now the most critical issue, again, goes back to just we want changes in the policing systems in this country. We need changes in the criminal justice system. And I think and again, I don't speak for everybody, there are different perspectives in terms of what people want. But I think we need meaningful change beyond just I think what we saw a few years ago when the start of the Black Lives Matters protests. Largely inaction. But then I think there was a lot of talk and superficial things about like, you know, let's add training or like let's increase training within police forces to help them overcome racial biases. Let's add body cameras and invest in body cameras to help make sure that we're catching things that are happening.

And the reality is, as far as I can tell, most people are saying that didn't do much. And I think one thing real quick. The reason why the word systemic racism is so important, that term systemic racism, is because it highlights the fact that we have a system that in and of itself is disproportionately affecting people of color in this country. The issue is systemic. And so that's everything from, me personally, just really passionate about removing cash bail out of our system. The fact that we have people who can get arrested and though innocent until proven guilty just because they can't afford to pay a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for bail, they're held in the system, which creates all these ripple effects. Like that in itself, it disproportionately affects people of color. And that itself is systemic racism. The war on drugs itself is an example of systemic racism. So I think we need to rethink fundamentally what are the things that we make illegal in this country and what are the punishments behind them? Why did that happen in the first place? And you can kind of look at the history. Understand why, you know, why was crack cocaine, sentencing for crack cocaine 10 times more than sentencing for powdered cocaine, the equivalent amount of powder cocaine? Why was marijuana made illegal in this country to begin with? And the answer to those, unfortunately, were racist things. Right. And so I think protesters are asking for a lot of things, but I think they're asking for meaningful reform to the criminal justice system so that we're not locking up people of color at disproportionate rates. We're not killing Black people at disproportionate rates. These systemic things need to change before we see the results that we want to see.

Chris Byers: So as we take all of this conversation in and as we think about kind of where we go from here, what are the things you hope people... How do we move forward? What is it so that we actually have that positive ripple effect and can look back days, weeks, months, years from now? What do you think the things are that we can do to move forward?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, ultimately, I should start by saying that I'm more optimistic now than I probably ever have been that things will change. And one of the reasons why is because people are having conversations like this that are meaningful. And people do seem to, on a wide scale, trying to understand where and why systemic racism exists in this country. So, I mean, in terms of moving forward, I think just one, that needs to continue. Like you said earlier, I think if you haven't had conversations with people in your life, just ask about these issues and ask with an open mind and an open heart. I think that will do a lot towards just improving your own understanding and towards getting the change because of awareness and understanding needs to proceed change. And so starting there and then to deepening understanding. And then I think, you know, what will come from that is really understanding. You know, like I touched on a couple of things like bail and, you know, the drug laws in this country. But I think that change that needs to happen is political. I think the change that needs to happen is that we need to push our politicians to readdress some of these issues and kind of fix some of these issues. And the way that we do that individually is, you know, by voting, by encouraging others to vote and then, you know, by calling politicians and sending them letters and demanding change. And I think it may take some time, but that's the real answer, is that we need. We need to change the system.

Chris Byers: Well Ade, thank you for joining us today. I hope that everybody who's listening is really thinking about how can I be a part of a positive change? Be a part of raising my own awareness, starting conversations with people, thinking about the ways that I might have supported racism in the past and do today even and how can I break that and become anti-racist? And Ade, just I thank you for many things in life, but in particular today being just a help to us moving forward and opening up your story so that we could learn from it and kind of grow going forward.

Ade Olonoh: Thank you. It's great to chat about this. Great to talk with you, as always. So glad we're having this conversation.

Thanks for joining us today on Ripple Effect, what we heard today was a really powerful story, and it was the powerful story of a Black individual who, first of all, has been really important in my life. But I hope his story has become important in your life to really reframing what we think about in terms of racism and how it still persists today in this country. And I hope it causes you to want to take some action. If I can encourage you to take any action, it is really start a conversation or begin researching. Where can you find people or resources to help you take the next step? And how can we move forward this conversation on race and equality in the U.S.

Well, thanks for joining us today on this special episode of Ripple Effect. You can read Ade's full story at adeolonoh.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're doing something a bit different than what you may have heard in previous episodes. 2020 has been a year many of us did not anticipate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the injustice and inequality that we're seeing more clearly here in the U.S. And we want to do our part in sharing voices and perspectives to our community and how we can think about being more proactive and take action to really just improve the world around us. At Formstack, we've come to our own realization that not only do we need to say something, but we also need to do something. And so we started with our own statement that Black Lives Matter. And we affirmed that we want to be a support to the Black community today.

In addition to that, we've hired a diversity talent specialist to help make our organization more welcoming to diverse candidates, as well as helping us bring in a more diverse candidate pool. We're finding ways for our employees to give their time and money to help fight social injustices and inequality. And then, we're starting conversations. And if you hear anything today, I think the most important thing you should hear is about conversations and really education. What we all need to do right now is think about having conversations with people around us about race, racism, et cetera. And so in this episode, we have Ade Olonoh on the show. He is Formstack's founder and he is here to have a conversation with us about a personal story he shared. And it's all about sharing his story on racism and how we can improve diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces. So take a listen.

Today, we have a really cool opportunity to get to talk to somebody who has been really important in the history of our company and the history really in my life. He's going to help us explore a topic today that I think is really top of mind for a lot of us and trying to figure out how do we best approach going forward. And that topic actually covers a lot of things. It's about racism, the challenge of the Black community, and ways that we need to help overcome those challenges. It's about equality. And, you know, who I've got today with us is our founder, Ade Olonoh. Ade has founded really a number of companies, one of them being Formstack and we've gotten the benefit of being able to be a part of this organization and grow together. But more importantly than that, he and I have been friends for 23 years, I think at this point. And I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be together and be able to talk about some of this. And so I want to welcome Ade.

Ade Olonoh: Thanks, Chris. Excited to be here.

Chris Byers: Excellent. Well, maybe just as a quick aside before we get into more serious things. Where was it we met 23 years ago? Do you remember? I think we were both working at the same place. I'm not sure exactly if that's what caused us to meet, but where was that?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I don't know if that was really the first time we met, but the first time I remember is when we were both working in I.T. at Anderson University. Where we were both going to school. Is that what you remember?

Chris Byers: That's what I'm remembering. Who knows exactly where we met along the way. But I know we got to work together in I.T. off and on over a couple of years and then that eventually led to founding a company together and then Ade founded Formstack later on and it kind of worked out well, then he founded yet another company. And so at the time I said, hey, if I can come help be a part of finding the future for Formstack, I can do that. And that turned into just kind of a long term role. But what's really interesting is Ade and I have talked about everything over the course of all these years, and especially in the past 10 years, we've talked about family and business and we've had endless meals together and endless meals with our families. And yet, you know, what's fascinating and sad is one of the conversations we never talked about until three weeks ago was race. And the impact of that on Ade, the impact of that around us in the world. And right now, I think it's a really important time where we need to be having these conversations. And the fact that we haven't been having them has created an unnecessary just kind of layer of just not talking about the right things in our country. And so Ade, you wrote an article and it was titled I Can't Breathe. And you share your personal experiences with racism, prejudice, injustice, and in the opening you mentioned struggling on whether you should write or not. Can you talk a little bit about what made you write it? What helped you decide to finally put that together.

Ade Olonoh: So I wrote that about a week after the news about George Floyd came up. And like I start out in the piece, I really struggled for a number of different reasons. One of which is that I felt like as I was thinking about, and how the whole country was talking about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable talking about my own struggles because they pale compared to those stories. I mean, clearly, I'm still here living and breathing. I haven't had incidents where I've been really attacked by police or anything, you know, to that extent. And so I really struggled with how do I talk about my struggles being Black in America in the context of those stories, which are just much more tragic. So I think that was part of it. But then in general, I struggle with kind of what you alluded to. I think growing up in the 90s here, it was almost like there's kind of an unsaid thing. You know, we shouldn't talk about race. And I've always struggled, you know, as somebody who's trying to succeed professionally. I think a lot of Black people in the workplace kind of struggle with this. If you talk about race, then you're kind of going to be pigeonholed into this point of view where, you know, you're somebody who always brings up this issue and it makes it uncomfortable for others. I have unfortunately swung too far to the other side where I don't talk about it publicly. It's kind of a struggle on what's the right way to approach that? How do I tell the story in a way that people would listen. Like finally just got to the point where I felt like I had to write something. And that article was kind of the outpouring of my background and what was on my mind.

Related: Fornmstack's Stance Against Inequality, Injustice, and Racism

Chris Byers: I do just fully agree. There's some message and I can't tieback exactly when it happened, what it was, but there was some message along the way that was definitely if we don't talk about this, then it's not an issue anymore. And I've kind of thought about the stupidity of that, I guess, in the past couple weeks where, you know,= if you had some sort of maybe disagreement with somebody or if you had an issue that was not helping your relationship with someone kind of succeed. And if you ever said to your friend, you know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to talk about it. The response would be like, that's stupid. Like that is totally not going to be the way you ever actually communicate with somebody. You're just going to bury these thoughts and ideas. And if you never talk about them, then you've, like, lost an opportunity in your relationship. And I think it's just fascinating how this conversation. I mean, between you and I, even about this article was just extremely eye opening for me to say. Oh, actually, it's also OK to have this conversation. And it's OK to say we do have different backgrounds and that does mean something and has impacted the way that we've lived or grown up. You'll get to see a link to this article if you're listening, and we'll post that in the shownotes or otherwise here in a bit. But definitely worth a read to kind of get some more color here. But we'll talk through this a little bit more.

So, you know, in the article, you I mean, first of all, just extremely eye opening, moving, and beautifully moving in a way where I saw so many people who I know care about you, share it with other people. And it was great for them to be able to say, you know what, I now see something I might not have otherwise. But how as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, as a tech founder, how have these experiences shaped your professional journey?

Ade Olonoh: I talk in the piece and I won't rehash the whole thing, but essentially I talk about how eye opening and kind of my journey growing up here in the U.S. is different because I'm Black and how that gets reinforced in all these small ways throughout my career. And just as I'm growing up and yeah, I guess in terms of my professional journey, I mean, I'll say I talk in the piece about how one of the things that I allude to in the piece that's really hard is that, you know that racism exists in the country. It's empirical, but you don't always know the ways it impacts you. There were jobs that I thought I was qualified to get, that I didn't get an interview or didn't get a job offer, and maybe none of them were because of racism or implicit bias. But maybe some of them, more statistically I would have to assume so.

Similar in terms of raising capital, as an entrepreneur, there are times where many, many times that I heard no from investors, which is common for entrepreneurs, whether you're White, Black, Brown, male, or female. But sometimes you kind of walk away from those experiences wondering, like, was it because of the color of my skin or is it just because they didn't like my idea or something didn't really click on the pitch? And so what when you think about your question about how it shaped my professional journey, I don't have any of the stark stories. Nobody ever kind of kicked me out of their offices saying, I'm not going to invest in you or I'm not going to hire you because you're Black. But it's something that was top of mind as I kind of walked through my journey. The end result was I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder. I always felt like, both in terms of output, just in terms of my own psychology as well, to kind of put my head down and ignore the reactions from the outside world and carve my own path. So that's a very nuanced answer. But in terms of how it affected me. I would say it's something you think about all the time, but never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.

Chris Byers: If I think about my own life and how I've never left an interview, left a capital raising opportunity, left a conversation and thought because of the color of my skin, it mattered. It's not even a thought that comes to my mind. And so I can completely understand how that is a weight you carry. You're trying to raise money, and that's already hard enough work. And if there's just one more thing that causes your own doubts or causes you to just wonder. It works against you and it makes it all the more difficult to get done the job you're just trying to get done like everybody else. It is challenging.

Ade Olonoh: One way to think about it, too, is, you know, walking into a VC pitch. And as you walk into a boardroom and all the investors you are pitching to are white men and they tell you no, and you look at their portfolio website and it's predominantly white founders, again, men. And I think the stats are that only about one percent of venture investments are to Black founders. And I forget, I actually forget the number of women that are invested, but it's, again, single digit percentages. You know, you have to think there's a pattern here that the industry has shown. And then similarly, if you're applying to work in a company and you look at their website, and it's predominantly white men, then you have to wonder, like, do I really fit in here? And, you know, despite their best intentions, am starting a few steps behind other entrepreneurs or other candidates, you know, when you see kind of the results of who they're investing in and who they're hiring.

It's not enough to say we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know they're welcome and that you're reaching out to hire those people.

Chris Byers: And I think it's fascinating, you're talking about technology, where we think of ourselves as the most progressive, the most, you know, ahead of the time in terms of whether it's anything from benefits or hiring more diversely or being open to new ideas. And yet, even in technology, you still have those questions. I'm curious, how do you think this does impact technology, what have you noticed that how it applies still to technology, even though we think of ourselves as forward thinking?

Ade Olonoh: It's really interesting to look at because as you said, I'm sure if you pull the people who work in technology and compare them to other industries that we think of as less progressive, that is true, that personally we probably have more progressive mindsets than other industries. But the interesting thing about technology is the systemic racial problems really are compounded when it comes to technology, because usually access to computer science education is something that's afforded to the wealthy people in this country or people with access to great schools and good backgrounds. And even something as maybe even something as specific as the people who are more likely to be good at coding are more likely to have laptops in the home or access to a computer at home.

I don't remember all the details about this, but I remember reading something relatively recently talking about how, kind of before the explosion of the PCs, kind of in the 80s, male female participation in computer science was about equal. But then what happened was that this article is speculating that with the rise of PCs in the home and PCs especially focused around gaming and the types of games that were on the early PCs, what happened is inevitably boys would kind of push out the girls from using the PCs because they were the ones playing the games and the action games. And then, you know, over time, that compounded to mean that there are fewer and fewer women that were in the computing field and then felt comfortable taking computer science classes and stuff like that.

So back to my point being that I think those types of effects compound. If you have fewer Black people able to succeed in school, especially around computer fields, and maybe that's because of access at home or access to great schools that are providing that, then that shows up kind of later with an attack. Similarly, when thinking about entrepreneurship, one of the big problems with venture and investing is that venture capital funds are typically looking for a lot of traction with the companies that they invest in. But in the very early days, it may be that Black entrepreneurs have much less access to kind of those friends and family rounds that they need to kind of get an idea off the ground before they even get the traction that gets the VCs.

It may be that even just kind of the lack of a safety net where they feel like if they tried something risky and failed, that they'd be able to brush themselves off and either get, you know, get a loan from friends and family or get a job to kind of replenish their bank account. And maybe they don't have a safety net that their White counterparts do. So that compounds as well to why, I think we see the problem so much more starkly in tech versus other industries that might be less risky.

Read More: Why We Should Talk About Race

Chris Byers: You know, I think technology is really interesting here, too, because in technology, we're always thinking about solving problems really quickly. We're always thinking, oh, we're five minutes away. We're weeks away. We're a couple years away from solving major problems at speed. And yet what you're talking about is there are so many things that we've got to go so far back or wait a ways into the future to really make serious impact. We need to start an education and finding more fundamental ways to provide education on entrepreneurship or finding, to your point, access to capital or helping people even see there's an ecosystem that maybe they can join or be a part of to help new ideas. I'm curious, you are an investor, you've thought about these things. I'm curious if you've ideated on your own ways to how we could think about having some more long term impact.

Ade Olonoh: Yes. You're right in saying that. I mean, it's a very complicated issue. There are no overnight successes here or silver bullets to kind of solve the problem. So, yeah, I think it spans all of those things you touched on. I think it's, you know, it's education at an early age. It's access. It's even just things like people seeing themselves represented. So, I mean, just even the archetype we have of this successful entrepreneur, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you know, all white men. I'm not going to take anything from their accomplishments. They're incredible entrepreneurs. But some of it, I think is even just socializing more of the successes, people of color and women who are successful and kind of changing the way we have a conversation about what an entrepreneur even is. I think it's a systemic things; I think it's in some ways, it can also be a copout to kind of say, well, it's a pipeline problem or that these issues are too complex. I think sometimes it really just does come down to trying to make a difference by being conscious of your own biases and working on that personally. I think for every investor really working on their network and make sure that they are talking to founders of color or they're talking to female founders just as much as they are talking to White male founders or at least in proportion to the population. Right. And so maybe working a little bit harder to make sure that you're in the right networks, that see that kind of deal flow and be conscious of your own biases and working through that when talking to people, because, yes, the systemic issues are definitely there. But I think we can all grow in the moment in terms of how we approach our business.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And, you know, I think you make a great point. I hope that we all walk away from this conversation hearing there are things to do. Absolutely. Now, I think one of the things, I will say as a White person, I have come to realize is, first of all, just in general how much racism still exists and how much, in a way, I support those things and have supported systems that create this longer term kind of systemic racism. And I don't tend to think about my past a lot. I don't think about where I came from. And yet I don't see, therefore, how many bits of access I guess I've had over time, whether it's capital or otherwise. I can think about, you know, one of the things I've learned in the past three weeks is just how difficult or impossible it was to get a mortgage as a Black person in the 1950s. And, you know, I think about when I was trying to pay off some debt. My wife and I were trying to pay off some debt early in our marriage. And one of the things that allowed us to pay off that final bit of debt was an inheritance I got from my grandparents, who I know got a mortgage in the 1950s, and part of that inheritance was from them selling their house. And so these are things that most days I would never think of as like, oh, that's an advantage I have. And yet have completely played into some of the ways that I've been able to to move forward.

I wonder, as we do think about things that we can do now, you've brought up some of them. I know as a company there's really a couple of messages that I've been trying to just begin to talk about. One is I want to make sure we have a space for conversations. As you and I both know, as we all know, social media is a horrendous place to have a conversation. It's all about headlines and you know my dramatic view on the world. But I think one of the challenges is we're not talking about these things and we're not able to say, hey, can we sit down and have a pure level one to one conversation about your views, my views, how can we learn together and grow together? I'm curious if you've seen some good examples of conversations beginning in the past, in the past month. You know, one of those things that we're talking about is having conversations, and as a company, we're trying to begin to facilitate that so we can have maybe a third party come in and help us just have some better, real conversations together about race, racism, equality, and how we as a people can make sure we are treating the people around us on a pure level and truly as equal and making sure they feel comfortable being around us. The other thing that we're talking about is really diversity at a greater level. So we have had a very broad, very broad diversity kind of plan in the past week. We've talked about it internally, but we've not made a big deal of it, frankly. And in fact, I've also taken a very inbound approach to it. I guess where I said, yes, everyone is welcome here. I hope this feels like a comfortable place. But one of the things I'm realizing that really just recently is that's not enough. We need to be much more proactive at saying both what are the things that we do in our hiring practices and our onboarding, even in our marketing. How do we show up and how do we look to people who might not look as much like us? And how do we make sure that feels less like the case? And so, you know, I think one of my questions is, what do you think some things technology companies can do to improve diversity, inclusion, and really making a better effort here.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I think you're thinking about things the right way. I guess to start I mean, just to underscore the point, I think being proactive about it is the right approach. And I think that's what's encouraging about the conversation that a lot of people are having right now, is that realizing that it's not enough to just not be racist, but you actually have to be anti-racist and especially recognizing that there's systemic racism in this country. You have to be proactive to counteract that. And so, yeah, like you said, it's not just enough to say, oh, yeah, we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know that they're welcome there and that you're reaching out to hiring those people. I think, as you know, the longer you go as a company and the less representation you have in your company, the harder it is. Nobody wants to be, or very few people want to be the only Black person in a company or the only woman to work in a company. Right. And this gets magnified.

So in terms of your question, what can tech companies do about it? I think understanding that, prioritizing it in a way that maybe it hasn't been prioritized before. And I think at this moment, we all have to ask ourselves. Yes, we care about these issues, but how much we care about it. Do we care about it enough to really make it one of the key corporate initiatives and put money and time behind it? And that may mean hiring people within the company to really kind of spearhead these initiatives. To that point, I think one of the most important things, anything within business, you need to measure what's happening within the company and have accountability behind those numbers. I think when I think about it, I'm certainly no expert around H.R. and may not have all the tricks in my tool belt in terms of how to solve the diversity equation within companies. But I know like foundationally, you have to start with understanding well, measuring your pipeline, measure throughout the interview process to better understand that retention around all of the dimensions of race and gender and sexual identity. Understand like where we're falling short and where is there room for improvement. And so just creating that mechanism and that infrastructure to measure and hold accountable is one of the first places to start to make sure that, like, something meaningfully changes, and it's not just a nice sounding initiative, but that there's actually teeth behind it towards making change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think for us, we hired a diversity talent acquisition specialist early this year. And I will say, frankly, we probably wouldn't have done much reporting, maybe in terms of a leadership team or something, but not publicly. Again, out of a naivety that like this is going to work itself out over time. And one of the things we said last week to the team is you're going to start to see a monthly report on this. And I know as an organization, we've always thought transparency is a huge key to creating good, accountable systems and showing reporting, because if I am showing this to you every month, then I better show some progress and show that we're doing a better job of finding the right places to both show up and are we learning how that talent funnel is working out or are we letting people drop out that shouldn't drop out. And so I like that thinking. Anything else that comes to mind you just think companies should be doing to improve diversity, making sure it's more comfortable and engaging place for diverse team members?

Ade Olonoh:I think that, as I said, I think it's important to kind of look at the whole picture. So not just in the hiring process, but what happens to what the company looks like once you hired somebody who's unrepresented within the company. And so looking at retention, I think is important and really focusing on that inclusion part or diversity and inclusion. And so that means that they feel their voices are heard, does it feel like they're safe and comfortable and welcome at the company. But some of that also means do they have the same opportunity for growth within the company as do others. Right. And so I think back to measuring and measuring what retention looks like measuring what, you know, pay, looks like within the company across different diversity dimensions, measuring what kind of promotion looks like. Focusing on that part of the cycle and that part of the funnel is important, too. I mean, just in the same way that we think in our business, and Formstack is a SaaS business, we think about acquisition and retention and churn and kind of all those. And when we think and measure how we're doing as a business and think about the customer, I think you need to do that from an employee perspective as well. Look at the whole lifecycle and the holistic picture of what it means to work at a company.

Related: Taking Action: Behind the Scenes with Our Diversity Talent Acquisition Specialist

Chris Byers: Yeah, that's good. You know, 2020 has been a tough year as I think everybody knows. And, you know, if any of you were to ever be in the room with a Ade and I, one of the things you'd notice is, you know, both CEOs, both founders, we wouldn't necessarily, though, be the loudest person in the room. And in fact, you might not even notice we're there at times. And Ade, you've put yourself out there in a huge way, being extremely vulnerable. What are the things you're doing to kind of just stay mentally healthy figure out like, how do I both respond and frankly grieve at times of what's going on? But then also say, you know what, maybe there's hope in the world. Maybe there's something I can do.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. So just, you know, personally, it's been a tough few weeks. And I would say, I guess to explain that a little bit more, because I think I've had a lot of conversations with Black friends, I think, who are kind of in the same boat. I remember vividly, you know, the Rodney King incidents back when I was as much younger. And there have been a number of incidents, kind of similar to that, that have broad visibility within the public sphere from Rodney King to George Floyd. And I think one of the struggles that I've had is, you know, each time a story like that flares up, like it brings a lot of emotions. There's anger, there's sadness. But in the end, it leaves a lot of hopelessness and thinking that nothing's changed. Right. And we've known about issues, especially surrounding kind of police brutality and criminal justice and how that's affected people of color disproportionately in this country. We've known about it for a while, but if anything, it's probably gotten worse in the last 20 years when you look at the number of Black people in prison and, you know, the militarization of police. Those trends have gone in the wrong direction.

And so I'll say one of the hardest things, to be honest, when I first heard about George Floyd, I was just kind of coming off a few weeks ago the Ahmaud Arbery case just really shook me. And when I heard about George Floyd, I read the headline and just went on to the next story. And I just wasn't in a place emotionally where I wanted to process it. And it took a few days before I was able to watch the video, before I was able to read the details of that. And the great thing that's happening now is there's a lot of conversation about all these problems and injustices. But I think one of the hard things emotionally is to wonder, like, is this really going to change? Is anything going to come out of this or are we just reopening old wounds but not really going to find any healing from that? And so that's a very indirect way to answer your question. I think it's helpful to give context just because I know I'm certainly not speaking for all Black people in the country, but I know for a lot they're going through a similar emotional journey. And that's why it's tough right now. It's hard sometimes. And I think we all need to be mindful that not every person of color really wants to have these conversations at the moment, just depending on where they are in their emotional journey.

But for me, I mean, I've had to do a number of things to kind of help myself stay healthy and sane. Some of it is just kind of fundamental things that I try to do on a regular basis. Exercise, meditate, eat well. Spend time with family. But some of it is just taking breaks from social media, taking breaks from the news, especially when I feel myself get caught up in the anger and emotion that's spurred by those mediums. And then I'd say the last thing is I really try to focus and kind of step back and say, well, how do I want things to change, like, how can I help contribute to that conversation in a positive way and what can I do? So that's practically it for me. I've been spending a lot more time learning and understanding these issues from a policy perspective or a sociological perspective, where my background knowledge, I'm a technologist and entrepreneur, so spending time learning more about these things I think kind of helps me understand the process better.

Chris Byers: If you're listening to this, everybody's going to get a broad set of responses to what's going on right now. And I know for me, I have, I'll say had to, and had to because I just understood something needed to be done in my own mind, in my own life. But I had to spend a great deal of time reading and watching videos and watching documentaries. I will say even I had to watch the video of George Floyd. There was a moment where I was like, you know what? If I really want to actually step forward and be a positive part of the change, I need to see some of the lows and be a part of some of the lows, I guess. And that was I mean, to anybody listening, I'd say if you've really just done surface level headline reading, if you're really just done a surface level attempt here, if you've frankly not had a conversation with somebody of color like around you, those are things you're missing out on. And I don't think you're going to progress in the way that I think we all need to to have the right conversations. And so I appreciate everybody who's taken time to really spend time reading and thinking and trying to understand like what is my perspective and how does it need to change and how do we need to improve to move forward. I know as a company, we have brought in some outside help to help us, first of all, as a leadership team. But then eventually as an organization to see where frankly, even where are we on this subject? Because, again, we're all at different places and we need to kind of begin to move toward the same destination. I know we've used an outside coaching group to help allow our team to call any time they want for coaching, counseling through this. Any particular subject matter, be it books, blogs, podcasts, etc., that you point people to to say, this is a great place to start?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, there's been a lot of good ones that I've come across, especially recently. But I guess rather than rattle down a list, I'd say to your point, I think it's important for people to start somewhere that really kind of touches on both the history of systemic racism in this country and then kind of a full comprehensive overview of where we are today in terms of the criminal justice system. Probably the best thing that I've come across, and there may be others, but the documentary 13th on Netflix, I think does an excellent job of piecing all these things together. I'd say you start there and that at least kind of helps launch a starting point to see where you might want to dig deeper to kind of understand different components better. So personally, I'm reading Just Mercy right now and find it really eye opening on digging into the criminal justice system. But yeah, if anything, start with 13th, it is probably the easiest thing to consume.

Chris Byers: That's good. So, you know, one of the conversations that I've noticed is not kind of being had in this country is what certain things mean. And I guess I'd love your perspective. And I I think we should all note that it's your perspective. And I think you will say it's not everybody's belief exactly. But there are a couple of kind of thoughts, phrases, movements that I think might be valuable for the audience to kind of hear about what's going on here. And the first one is Black Lives Matter. Tell us what that means to you and what you think that means to the people who speak it and are out kind of thinking about it and kind of moving it forward.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, certainly I don't claim to speak for all Black black people or for any particular organization or anything like that, speaking of Black Lives Matter. But yeah, to me, that just means that at its surface that, yes, Black lives matter. And I think that's highlighted because, you know, especially when you look at the history of Black lives in this country. And again, what's happening today, like the incidents, again, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, you know, Elijah McClain and so on, so forth, is that it's easy to feel like Black lives don't matter to the system. So all it is, this is highlighting the fact that, yes, they do and they should in this country. And that's not to say that other other people don't matter. Certainly they all do, but it's that this is one sector of society that has been long ignored. And we need to make sure that there is equality and justice for Black lives, just as there are for White lives in this country.

Chris Byers: Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that's been just eye opening for me in this time is if you look at the Hispanic community in the U.S., it has on the whole, especially at the size that it is and how much it represents to the U.S. today, not been in the U.S. Nearly as long as as kind of the Black community. And yet the Black community is behind the Hispanic community in terms of income, net worth. And as I looked at that, I thought, wow, there is definitely a problem when a community has been with us all, nearly always, is that far behind. There is something that speaks to why we need to speak about Black lives mattering today and why we need to point that out and make it a thing and make it make it the point. And so I thank you for sharing those thoughts.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. And just speak on that real quick. I think the thing that's easy to forget and I mean, I think part of even going back to what we said in terms of during the 90s, the last couple of decades, it's almost been that the conversation has shifted in this country to talk about like we live in a post-racial society and feeling like racism was solved during the civil rights era. And clearly, I think we're saying very clearly that that's not the case. But even given the progress that was made in the civil rights era, it's discounting today, like how much of that history does matter. And like you said, that the injustices that happened in this country really weren't that long ago. When you think about it in the context of how it's affecting people's lives today. And maybe that's like the example you gave in terms of receiving an inheritance that helped you pay down loans. Well, you know, when Black people in this country started with nothing and weren't allowed to accumulate wealth and weren't allowed to have the freedoms to just basic freedoms within this country, and kind of starting so far behind, those things still matter and still make a difference today. That's the reason why the average net worth or the median net worth of Black households today is a tenth of that of White households. That that's still affecting us today. The things that happened, you know, 400 years ago, much less 50 years ago in this country. And Jim Crow and such. So, yeah, it does still matter to them.

Chris Byers: Thank you for that. The other thing that I think would be great to kind of express what you think is happening right now is there are protests going on all around the U.S. and in fact, if you think they're not happening because they're not hitting the news, it is actually because I think a number of very peaceful protests are going on right now all over the country. And so that's not making the news. But there is a message that is still trying to be kind of delivered at the moment. What do you think that is?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I mean, the protesters are asking for a bunch of different things. But I think, you know, right now the most critical issue, again, goes back to just we want changes in the policing systems in this country. We need changes in the criminal justice system. And I think and again, I don't speak for everybody, there are different perspectives in terms of what people want. But I think we need meaningful change beyond just I think what we saw a few years ago when the start of the Black Lives Matters protests. Largely inaction. But then I think there was a lot of talk and superficial things about like, you know, let's add training or like let's increase training within police forces to help them overcome racial biases. Let's add body cameras and invest in body cameras to help make sure that we're catching things that are happening.

And the reality is, as far as I can tell, most people are saying that didn't do much. And I think one thing real quick. The reason why the word systemic racism is so important, that term systemic racism, is because it highlights the fact that we have a system that in and of itself is disproportionately affecting people of color in this country. The issue is systemic. And so that's everything from, me personally, just really passionate about removing cash bail out of our system. The fact that we have people who can get arrested and though innocent until proven guilty just because they can't afford to pay a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for bail, they're held in the system, which creates all these ripple effects. Like that in itself, it disproportionately affects people of color. And that itself is systemic racism. The war on drugs itself is an example of systemic racism. So I think we need to rethink fundamentally what are the things that we make illegal in this country and what are the punishments behind them? Why did that happen in the first place? And you can kind of look at the history. Understand why, you know, why was crack cocaine, sentencing for crack cocaine 10 times more than sentencing for powdered cocaine, the equivalent amount of powder cocaine? Why was marijuana made illegal in this country to begin with? And the answer to those, unfortunately, were racist things. Right. And so I think protesters are asking for a lot of things, but I think they're asking for meaningful reform to the criminal justice system so that we're not locking up people of color at disproportionate rates. We're not killing Black people at disproportionate rates. These systemic things need to change before we see the results that we want to see.

Chris Byers: So as we take all of this conversation in and as we think about kind of where we go from here, what are the things you hope people... How do we move forward? What is it so that we actually have that positive ripple effect and can look back days, weeks, months, years from now? What do you think the things are that we can do to move forward?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, ultimately, I should start by saying that I'm more optimistic now than I probably ever have been that things will change. And one of the reasons why is because people are having conversations like this that are meaningful. And people do seem to, on a wide scale, trying to understand where and why systemic racism exists in this country. So, I mean, in terms of moving forward, I think just one, that needs to continue. Like you said earlier, I think if you haven't had conversations with people in your life, just ask about these issues and ask with an open mind and an open heart. I think that will do a lot towards just improving your own understanding and towards getting the change because of awareness and understanding needs to proceed change. And so starting there and then to deepening understanding. And then I think, you know, what will come from that is really understanding. You know, like I touched on a couple of things like bail and, you know, the drug laws in this country. But I think that change that needs to happen is political. I think the change that needs to happen is that we need to push our politicians to readdress some of these issues and kind of fix some of these issues. And the way that we do that individually is, you know, by voting, by encouraging others to vote and then, you know, by calling politicians and sending them letters and demanding change. And I think it may take some time, but that's the real answer, is that we need. We need to change the system.

Chris Byers: Well Ade, thank you for joining us today. I hope that everybody who's listening is really thinking about how can I be a part of a positive change? Be a part of raising my own awareness, starting conversations with people, thinking about the ways that I might have supported racism in the past and do today even and how can I break that and become anti-racist? And Ade, just I thank you for many things in life, but in particular today being just a help to us moving forward and opening up your story so that we could learn from it and kind of grow going forward.

Ade Olonoh: Thank you. It's great to chat about this. Great to talk with you, as always. So glad we're having this conversation.

Thanks for joining us today on Ripple Effect, what we heard today was a really powerful story, and it was the powerful story of a Black individual who, first of all, has been really important in my life. But I hope his story has become important in your life to really reframing what we think about in terms of racism and how it still persists today in this country. And I hope it causes you to want to take some action. If I can encourage you to take any action, it is really start a conversation or begin researching. Where can you find people or resources to help you take the next step? And how can we move forward this conversation on race and equality in the U.S.

Well, thanks for joining us today on this special episode of Ripple Effect. You can read Ade's full story at adeolonoh.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

Collecting payments with online forms is easy, but first, you have to choose the right payment gateway. Browse the providers in our gateway credit card processing comparison chart to find the best option for your business. Then sign up for Formstack Forms, customize your payment forms, and start collecting profits in minutes.

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FEATURES
Authorize.Net
Bambora
Chargify
First Data
PayPal
PayPal Pro
PayPal Payflow
Stripe
WePay
ProPay
Monthly Fees
$25
$25
$149+
Contact First Data
$0
$25
$0-$25
$0
$0
$4
Transaction Fees
$2.9% + 30¢
$2.9% + 30¢
N/A
Contact First Data
$2.9% + 30¢
$2.9% + 30¢
10¢
$2.9% + 30¢
$2.9% + 30¢
$2.6% + 30¢
Countries
5
8
Based on payment gateway
50+
203
3
4
25
USA
USA
Currencies
11
2
23
140
25
23
25
135+
1
1
Card Types
6
13
Based on payment gateway
5
9
9
5
6
4
4
Limits
None
None
Based on payment gateway
None
$10,000
None
None
None
None
$500 per transaction
Form Payments
Recurring Billing
Mobile Payments
PSD2 Compliant

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're doing something a bit different than what you may have heard in previous episodes. 2020 has been a year many of us did not anticipate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the injustice and inequality that we're seeing more clearly here in the U.S. And we want to do our part in sharing voices and perspectives to our community and how we can think about being more proactive and take action to really just improve the world around us. At Formstack, we've come to our own realization that not only do we need to say something, but we also need to do something. And so we started with our own statement that Black Lives Matter. And we affirmed that we want to be a support to the Black community today.

In addition to that, we've hired a diversity talent specialist to help make our organization more welcoming to diverse candidates, as well as helping us bring in a more diverse candidate pool. We're finding ways for our employees to give their time and money to help fight social injustices and inequality. And then, we're starting conversations. And if you hear anything today, I think the most important thing you should hear is about conversations and really education. What we all need to do right now is think about having conversations with people around us about race, racism, et cetera. And so in this episode, we have Ade Olonoh on the show. He is Formstack's founder and he is here to have a conversation with us about a personal story he shared. And it's all about sharing his story on racism and how we can improve diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces. So take a listen.

Today, we have a really cool opportunity to get to talk to somebody who has been really important in the history of our company and the history really in my life. He's going to help us explore a topic today that I think is really top of mind for a lot of us and trying to figure out how do we best approach going forward. And that topic actually covers a lot of things. It's about racism, the challenge of the Black community, and ways that we need to help overcome those challenges. It's about equality. And, you know, who I've got today with us is our founder, Ade Olonoh. Ade has founded really a number of companies, one of them being Formstack and we've gotten the benefit of being able to be a part of this organization and grow together. But more importantly than that, he and I have been friends for 23 years, I think at this point. And I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be together and be able to talk about some of this. And so I want to welcome Ade.

Ade Olonoh: Thanks, Chris. Excited to be here.

Chris Byers: Excellent. Well, maybe just as a quick aside before we get into more serious things. Where was it we met 23 years ago? Do you remember? I think we were both working at the same place. I'm not sure exactly if that's what caused us to meet, but where was that?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I don't know if that was really the first time we met, but the first time I remember is when we were both working in I.T. at Anderson University. Where we were both going to school. Is that what you remember?

Chris Byers: That's what I'm remembering. Who knows exactly where we met along the way. But I know we got to work together in I.T. off and on over a couple of years and then that eventually led to founding a company together and then Ade founded Formstack later on and it kind of worked out well, then he founded yet another company. And so at the time I said, hey, if I can come help be a part of finding the future for Formstack, I can do that. And that turned into just kind of a long term role. But what's really interesting is Ade and I have talked about everything over the course of all these years, and especially in the past 10 years, we've talked about family and business and we've had endless meals together and endless meals with our families. And yet, you know, what's fascinating and sad is one of the conversations we never talked about until three weeks ago was race. And the impact of that on Ade, the impact of that around us in the world. And right now, I think it's a really important time where we need to be having these conversations. And the fact that we haven't been having them has created an unnecessary just kind of layer of just not talking about the right things in our country. And so Ade, you wrote an article and it was titled I Can't Breathe. And you share your personal experiences with racism, prejudice, injustice, and in the opening you mentioned struggling on whether you should write or not. Can you talk a little bit about what made you write it? What helped you decide to finally put that together.

Ade Olonoh: So I wrote that about a week after the news about George Floyd came up. And like I start out in the piece, I really struggled for a number of different reasons. One of which is that I felt like as I was thinking about, and how the whole country was talking about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable talking about my own struggles because they pale compared to those stories. I mean, clearly, I'm still here living and breathing. I haven't had incidents where I've been really attacked by police or anything, you know, to that extent. And so I really struggled with how do I talk about my struggles being Black in America in the context of those stories, which are just much more tragic. So I think that was part of it. But then in general, I struggle with kind of what you alluded to. I think growing up in the 90s here, it was almost like there's kind of an unsaid thing. You know, we shouldn't talk about race. And I've always struggled, you know, as somebody who's trying to succeed professionally. I think a lot of Black people in the workplace kind of struggle with this. If you talk about race, then you're kind of going to be pigeonholed into this point of view where, you know, you're somebody who always brings up this issue and it makes it uncomfortable for others. I have unfortunately swung too far to the other side where I don't talk about it publicly. It's kind of a struggle on what's the right way to approach that? How do I tell the story in a way that people would listen. Like finally just got to the point where I felt like I had to write something. And that article was kind of the outpouring of my background and what was on my mind.

Related: Fornmstack's Stance Against Inequality, Injustice, and Racism

Chris Byers: I do just fully agree. There's some message and I can't tieback exactly when it happened, what it was, but there was some message along the way that was definitely if we don't talk about this, then it's not an issue anymore. And I've kind of thought about the stupidity of that, I guess, in the past couple weeks where, you know,= if you had some sort of maybe disagreement with somebody or if you had an issue that was not helping your relationship with someone kind of succeed. And if you ever said to your friend, you know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to talk about it. The response would be like, that's stupid. Like that is totally not going to be the way you ever actually communicate with somebody. You're just going to bury these thoughts and ideas. And if you never talk about them, then you've, like, lost an opportunity in your relationship. And I think it's just fascinating how this conversation. I mean, between you and I, even about this article was just extremely eye opening for me to say. Oh, actually, it's also OK to have this conversation. And it's OK to say we do have different backgrounds and that does mean something and has impacted the way that we've lived or grown up. You'll get to see a link to this article if you're listening, and we'll post that in the shownotes or otherwise here in a bit. But definitely worth a read to kind of get some more color here. But we'll talk through this a little bit more.

So, you know, in the article, you I mean, first of all, just extremely eye opening, moving, and beautifully moving in a way where I saw so many people who I know care about you, share it with other people. And it was great for them to be able to say, you know what, I now see something I might not have otherwise. But how as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, as a tech founder, how have these experiences shaped your professional journey?

Ade Olonoh: I talk in the piece and I won't rehash the whole thing, but essentially I talk about how eye opening and kind of my journey growing up here in the U.S. is different because I'm Black and how that gets reinforced in all these small ways throughout my career. And just as I'm growing up and yeah, I guess in terms of my professional journey, I mean, I'll say I talk in the piece about how one of the things that I allude to in the piece that's really hard is that, you know that racism exists in the country. It's empirical, but you don't always know the ways it impacts you. There were jobs that I thought I was qualified to get, that I didn't get an interview or didn't get a job offer, and maybe none of them were because of racism or implicit bias. But maybe some of them, more statistically I would have to assume so.

Similar in terms of raising capital, as an entrepreneur, there are times where many, many times that I heard no from investors, which is common for entrepreneurs, whether you're White, Black, Brown, male, or female. But sometimes you kind of walk away from those experiences wondering, like, was it because of the color of my skin or is it just because they didn't like my idea or something didn't really click on the pitch? And so what when you think about your question about how it shaped my professional journey, I don't have any of the stark stories. Nobody ever kind of kicked me out of their offices saying, I'm not going to invest in you or I'm not going to hire you because you're Black. But it's something that was top of mind as I kind of walked through my journey. The end result was I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder. I always felt like, both in terms of output, just in terms of my own psychology as well, to kind of put my head down and ignore the reactions from the outside world and carve my own path. So that's a very nuanced answer. But in terms of how it affected me. I would say it's something you think about all the time, but never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.

Chris Byers: If I think about my own life and how I've never left an interview, left a capital raising opportunity, left a conversation and thought because of the color of my skin, it mattered. It's not even a thought that comes to my mind. And so I can completely understand how that is a weight you carry. You're trying to raise money, and that's already hard enough work. And if there's just one more thing that causes your own doubts or causes you to just wonder. It works against you and it makes it all the more difficult to get done the job you're just trying to get done like everybody else. It is challenging.

Ade Olonoh: One way to think about it, too, is, you know, walking into a VC pitch. And as you walk into a boardroom and all the investors you are pitching to are white men and they tell you no, and you look at their portfolio website and it's predominantly white founders, again, men. And I think the stats are that only about one percent of venture investments are to Black founders. And I forget, I actually forget the number of women that are invested, but it's, again, single digit percentages. You know, you have to think there's a pattern here that the industry has shown. And then similarly, if you're applying to work in a company and you look at their website, and it's predominantly white men, then you have to wonder, like, do I really fit in here? And, you know, despite their best intentions, am starting a few steps behind other entrepreneurs or other candidates, you know, when you see kind of the results of who they're investing in and who they're hiring.

It's not enough to say we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know they're welcome and that you're reaching out to hire those people.

Chris Byers: And I think it's fascinating, you're talking about technology, where we think of ourselves as the most progressive, the most, you know, ahead of the time in terms of whether it's anything from benefits or hiring more diversely or being open to new ideas. And yet, even in technology, you still have those questions. I'm curious, how do you think this does impact technology, what have you noticed that how it applies still to technology, even though we think of ourselves as forward thinking?

Ade Olonoh: It's really interesting to look at because as you said, I'm sure if you pull the people who work in technology and compare them to other industries that we think of as less progressive, that is true, that personally we probably have more progressive mindsets than other industries. But the interesting thing about technology is the systemic racial problems really are compounded when it comes to technology, because usually access to computer science education is something that's afforded to the wealthy people in this country or people with access to great schools and good backgrounds. And even something as maybe even something as specific as the people who are more likely to be good at coding are more likely to have laptops in the home or access to a computer at home.

I don't remember all the details about this, but I remember reading something relatively recently talking about how, kind of before the explosion of the PCs, kind of in the 80s, male female participation in computer science was about equal. But then what happened was that this article is speculating that with the rise of PCs in the home and PCs especially focused around gaming and the types of games that were on the early PCs, what happened is inevitably boys would kind of push out the girls from using the PCs because they were the ones playing the games and the action games. And then, you know, over time, that compounded to mean that there are fewer and fewer women that were in the computing field and then felt comfortable taking computer science classes and stuff like that.

So back to my point being that I think those types of effects compound. If you have fewer Black people able to succeed in school, especially around computer fields, and maybe that's because of access at home or access to great schools that are providing that, then that shows up kind of later with an attack. Similarly, when thinking about entrepreneurship, one of the big problems with venture and investing is that venture capital funds are typically looking for a lot of traction with the companies that they invest in. But in the very early days, it may be that Black entrepreneurs have much less access to kind of those friends and family rounds that they need to kind of get an idea off the ground before they even get the traction that gets the VCs.

It may be that even just kind of the lack of a safety net where they feel like if they tried something risky and failed, that they'd be able to brush themselves off and either get, you know, get a loan from friends and family or get a job to kind of replenish their bank account. And maybe they don't have a safety net that their White counterparts do. So that compounds as well to why, I think we see the problem so much more starkly in tech versus other industries that might be less risky.

Read More: Why We Should Talk About Race

Chris Byers: You know, I think technology is really interesting here, too, because in technology, we're always thinking about solving problems really quickly. We're always thinking, oh, we're five minutes away. We're weeks away. We're a couple years away from solving major problems at speed. And yet what you're talking about is there are so many things that we've got to go so far back or wait a ways into the future to really make serious impact. We need to start an education and finding more fundamental ways to provide education on entrepreneurship or finding, to your point, access to capital or helping people even see there's an ecosystem that maybe they can join or be a part of to help new ideas. I'm curious, you are an investor, you've thought about these things. I'm curious if you've ideated on your own ways to how we could think about having some more long term impact.

Ade Olonoh: Yes. You're right in saying that. I mean, it's a very complicated issue. There are no overnight successes here or silver bullets to kind of solve the problem. So, yeah, I think it spans all of those things you touched on. I think it's, you know, it's education at an early age. It's access. It's even just things like people seeing themselves represented. So, I mean, just even the archetype we have of this successful entrepreneur, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you know, all white men. I'm not going to take anything from their accomplishments. They're incredible entrepreneurs. But some of it, I think is even just socializing more of the successes, people of color and women who are successful and kind of changing the way we have a conversation about what an entrepreneur even is. I think it's a systemic things; I think it's in some ways, it can also be a copout to kind of say, well, it's a pipeline problem or that these issues are too complex. I think sometimes it really just does come down to trying to make a difference by being conscious of your own biases and working on that personally. I think for every investor really working on their network and make sure that they are talking to founders of color or they're talking to female founders just as much as they are talking to White male founders or at least in proportion to the population. Right. And so maybe working a little bit harder to make sure that you're in the right networks, that see that kind of deal flow and be conscious of your own biases and working through that when talking to people, because, yes, the systemic issues are definitely there. But I think we can all grow in the moment in terms of how we approach our business.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And, you know, I think you make a great point. I hope that we all walk away from this conversation hearing there are things to do. Absolutely. Now, I think one of the things, I will say as a White person, I have come to realize is, first of all, just in general how much racism still exists and how much, in a way, I support those things and have supported systems that create this longer term kind of systemic racism. And I don't tend to think about my past a lot. I don't think about where I came from. And yet I don't see, therefore, how many bits of access I guess I've had over time, whether it's capital or otherwise. I can think about, you know, one of the things I've learned in the past three weeks is just how difficult or impossible it was to get a mortgage as a Black person in the 1950s. And, you know, I think about when I was trying to pay off some debt. My wife and I were trying to pay off some debt early in our marriage. And one of the things that allowed us to pay off that final bit of debt was an inheritance I got from my grandparents, who I know got a mortgage in the 1950s, and part of that inheritance was from them selling their house. And so these are things that most days I would never think of as like, oh, that's an advantage I have. And yet have completely played into some of the ways that I've been able to to move forward.

I wonder, as we do think about things that we can do now, you've brought up some of them. I know as a company there's really a couple of messages that I've been trying to just begin to talk about. One is I want to make sure we have a space for conversations. As you and I both know, as we all know, social media is a horrendous place to have a conversation. It's all about headlines and you know my dramatic view on the world. But I think one of the challenges is we're not talking about these things and we're not able to say, hey, can we sit down and have a pure level one to one conversation about your views, my views, how can we learn together and grow together? I'm curious if you've seen some good examples of conversations beginning in the past, in the past month. You know, one of those things that we're talking about is having conversations, and as a company, we're trying to begin to facilitate that so we can have maybe a third party come in and help us just have some better, real conversations together about race, racism, equality, and how we as a people can make sure we are treating the people around us on a pure level and truly as equal and making sure they feel comfortable being around us. The other thing that we're talking about is really diversity at a greater level. So we have had a very broad, very broad diversity kind of plan in the past week. We've talked about it internally, but we've not made a big deal of it, frankly. And in fact, I've also taken a very inbound approach to it. I guess where I said, yes, everyone is welcome here. I hope this feels like a comfortable place. But one of the things I'm realizing that really just recently is that's not enough. We need to be much more proactive at saying both what are the things that we do in our hiring practices and our onboarding, even in our marketing. How do we show up and how do we look to people who might not look as much like us? And how do we make sure that feels less like the case? And so, you know, I think one of my questions is, what do you think some things technology companies can do to improve diversity, inclusion, and really making a better effort here.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I think you're thinking about things the right way. I guess to start I mean, just to underscore the point, I think being proactive about it is the right approach. And I think that's what's encouraging about the conversation that a lot of people are having right now, is that realizing that it's not enough to just not be racist, but you actually have to be anti-racist and especially recognizing that there's systemic racism in this country. You have to be proactive to counteract that. And so, yeah, like you said, it's not just enough to say, oh, yeah, we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know that they're welcome there and that you're reaching out to hiring those people. I think, as you know, the longer you go as a company and the less representation you have in your company, the harder it is. Nobody wants to be, or very few people want to be the only Black person in a company or the only woman to work in a company. Right. And this gets magnified.

So in terms of your question, what can tech companies do about it? I think understanding that, prioritizing it in a way that maybe it hasn't been prioritized before. And I think at this moment, we all have to ask ourselves. Yes, we care about these issues, but how much we care about it. Do we care about it enough to really make it one of the key corporate initiatives and put money and time behind it? And that may mean hiring people within the company to really kind of spearhead these initiatives. To that point, I think one of the most important things, anything within business, you need to measure what's happening within the company and have accountability behind those numbers. I think when I think about it, I'm certainly no expert around H.R. and may not have all the tricks in my tool belt in terms of how to solve the diversity equation within companies. But I know like foundationally, you have to start with understanding well, measuring your pipeline, measure throughout the interview process to better understand that retention around all of the dimensions of race and gender and sexual identity. Understand like where we're falling short and where is there room for improvement. And so just creating that mechanism and that infrastructure to measure and hold accountable is one of the first places to start to make sure that, like, something meaningfully changes, and it's not just a nice sounding initiative, but that there's actually teeth behind it towards making change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think for us, we hired a diversity talent acquisition specialist early this year. And I will say, frankly, we probably wouldn't have done much reporting, maybe in terms of a leadership team or something, but not publicly. Again, out of a naivety that like this is going to work itself out over time. And one of the things we said last week to the team is you're going to start to see a monthly report on this. And I know as an organization, we've always thought transparency is a huge key to creating good, accountable systems and showing reporting, because if I am showing this to you every month, then I better show some progress and show that we're doing a better job of finding the right places to both show up and are we learning how that talent funnel is working out or are we letting people drop out that shouldn't drop out. And so I like that thinking. Anything else that comes to mind you just think companies should be doing to improve diversity, making sure it's more comfortable and engaging place for diverse team members?

Ade Olonoh:I think that, as I said, I think it's important to kind of look at the whole picture. So not just in the hiring process, but what happens to what the company looks like once you hired somebody who's unrepresented within the company. And so looking at retention, I think is important and really focusing on that inclusion part or diversity and inclusion. And so that means that they feel their voices are heard, does it feel like they're safe and comfortable and welcome at the company. But some of that also means do they have the same opportunity for growth within the company as do others. Right. And so I think back to measuring and measuring what retention looks like measuring what, you know, pay, looks like within the company across different diversity dimensions, measuring what kind of promotion looks like. Focusing on that part of the cycle and that part of the funnel is important, too. I mean, just in the same way that we think in our business, and Formstack is a SaaS business, we think about acquisition and retention and churn and kind of all those. And when we think and measure how we're doing as a business and think about the customer, I think you need to do that from an employee perspective as well. Look at the whole lifecycle and the holistic picture of what it means to work at a company.

Related: Taking Action: Behind the Scenes with Our Diversity Talent Acquisition Specialist

Chris Byers: Yeah, that's good. You know, 2020 has been a tough year as I think everybody knows. And, you know, if any of you were to ever be in the room with a Ade and I, one of the things you'd notice is, you know, both CEOs, both founders, we wouldn't necessarily, though, be the loudest person in the room. And in fact, you might not even notice we're there at times. And Ade, you've put yourself out there in a huge way, being extremely vulnerable. What are the things you're doing to kind of just stay mentally healthy figure out like, how do I both respond and frankly grieve at times of what's going on? But then also say, you know what, maybe there's hope in the world. Maybe there's something I can do.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. So just, you know, personally, it's been a tough few weeks. And I would say, I guess to explain that a little bit more, because I think I've had a lot of conversations with Black friends, I think, who are kind of in the same boat. I remember vividly, you know, the Rodney King incidents back when I was as much younger. And there have been a number of incidents, kind of similar to that, that have broad visibility within the public sphere from Rodney King to George Floyd. And I think one of the struggles that I've had is, you know, each time a story like that flares up, like it brings a lot of emotions. There's anger, there's sadness. But in the end, it leaves a lot of hopelessness and thinking that nothing's changed. Right. And we've known about issues, especially surrounding kind of police brutality and criminal justice and how that's affected people of color disproportionately in this country. We've known about it for a while, but if anything, it's probably gotten worse in the last 20 years when you look at the number of Black people in prison and, you know, the militarization of police. Those trends have gone in the wrong direction.

And so I'll say one of the hardest things, to be honest, when I first heard about George Floyd, I was just kind of coming off a few weeks ago the Ahmaud Arbery case just really shook me. And when I heard about George Floyd, I read the headline and just went on to the next story. And I just wasn't in a place emotionally where I wanted to process it. And it took a few days before I was able to watch the video, before I was able to read the details of that. And the great thing that's happening now is there's a lot of conversation about all these problems and injustices. But I think one of the hard things emotionally is to wonder, like, is this really going to change? Is anything going to come out of this or are we just reopening old wounds but not really going to find any healing from that? And so that's a very indirect way to answer your question. I think it's helpful to give context just because I know I'm certainly not speaking for all Black people in the country, but I know for a lot they're going through a similar emotional journey. And that's why it's tough right now. It's hard sometimes. And I think we all need to be mindful that not every person of color really wants to have these conversations at the moment, just depending on where they are in their emotional journey.

But for me, I mean, I've had to do a number of things to kind of help myself stay healthy and sane. Some of it is just kind of fundamental things that I try to do on a regular basis. Exercise, meditate, eat well. Spend time with family. But some of it is just taking breaks from social media, taking breaks from the news, especially when I feel myself get caught up in the anger and emotion that's spurred by those mediums. And then I'd say the last thing is I really try to focus and kind of step back and say, well, how do I want things to change, like, how can I help contribute to that conversation in a positive way and what can I do? So that's practically it for me. I've been spending a lot more time learning and understanding these issues from a policy perspective or a sociological perspective, where my background knowledge, I'm a technologist and entrepreneur, so spending time learning more about these things I think kind of helps me understand the process better.

Chris Byers: If you're listening to this, everybody's going to get a broad set of responses to what's going on right now. And I know for me, I have, I'll say had to, and had to because I just understood something needed to be done in my own mind, in my own life. But I had to spend a great deal of time reading and watching videos and watching documentaries. I will say even I had to watch the video of George Floyd. There was a moment where I was like, you know what? If I really want to actually step forward and be a positive part of the change, I need to see some of the lows and be a part of some of the lows, I guess. And that was I mean, to anybody listening, I'd say if you've really just done surface level headline reading, if you're really just done a surface level attempt here, if you've frankly not had a conversation with somebody of color like around you, those are things you're missing out on. And I don't think you're going to progress in the way that I think we all need to to have the right conversations. And so I appreciate everybody who's taken time to really spend time reading and thinking and trying to understand like what is my perspective and how does it need to change and how do we need to improve to move forward. I know as a company, we have brought in some outside help to help us, first of all, as a leadership team. But then eventually as an organization to see where frankly, even where are we on this subject? Because, again, we're all at different places and we need to kind of begin to move toward the same destination. I know we've used an outside coaching group to help allow our team to call any time they want for coaching, counseling through this. Any particular subject matter, be it books, blogs, podcasts, etc., that you point people to to say, this is a great place to start?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, there's been a lot of good ones that I've come across, especially recently. But I guess rather than rattle down a list, I'd say to your point, I think it's important for people to start somewhere that really kind of touches on both the history of systemic racism in this country and then kind of a full comprehensive overview of where we are today in terms of the criminal justice system. Probably the best thing that I've come across, and there may be others, but the documentary 13th on Netflix, I think does an excellent job of piecing all these things together. I'd say you start there and that at least kind of helps launch a starting point to see where you might want to dig deeper to kind of understand different components better. So personally, I'm reading Just Mercy right now and find it really eye opening on digging into the criminal justice system. But yeah, if anything, start with 13th, it is probably the easiest thing to consume.

Chris Byers: That's good. So, you know, one of the conversations that I've noticed is not kind of being had in this country is what certain things mean. And I guess I'd love your perspective. And I I think we should all note that it's your perspective. And I think you will say it's not everybody's belief exactly. But there are a couple of kind of thoughts, phrases, movements that I think might be valuable for the audience to kind of hear about what's going on here. And the first one is Black Lives Matter. Tell us what that means to you and what you think that means to the people who speak it and are out kind of thinking about it and kind of moving it forward.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, certainly I don't claim to speak for all Black black people or for any particular organization or anything like that, speaking of Black Lives Matter. But yeah, to me, that just means that at its surface that, yes, Black lives matter. And I think that's highlighted because, you know, especially when you look at the history of Black lives in this country. And again, what's happening today, like the incidents, again, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, you know, Elijah McClain and so on, so forth, is that it's easy to feel like Black lives don't matter to the system. So all it is, this is highlighting the fact that, yes, they do and they should in this country. And that's not to say that other other people don't matter. Certainly they all do, but it's that this is one sector of society that has been long ignored. And we need to make sure that there is equality and justice for Black lives, just as there are for White lives in this country.

Chris Byers: Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that's been just eye opening for me in this time is if you look at the Hispanic community in the U.S., it has on the whole, especially at the size that it is and how much it represents to the U.S. today, not been in the U.S. Nearly as long as as kind of the Black community. And yet the Black community is behind the Hispanic community in terms of income, net worth. And as I looked at that, I thought, wow, there is definitely a problem when a community has been with us all, nearly always, is that far behind. There is something that speaks to why we need to speak about Black lives mattering today and why we need to point that out and make it a thing and make it make it the point. And so I thank you for sharing those thoughts.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. And just speak on that real quick. I think the thing that's easy to forget and I mean, I think part of even going back to what we said in terms of during the 90s, the last couple of decades, it's almost been that the conversation has shifted in this country to talk about like we live in a post-racial society and feeling like racism was solved during the civil rights era. And clearly, I think we're saying very clearly that that's not the case. But even given the progress that was made in the civil rights era, it's discounting today, like how much of that history does matter. And like you said, that the injustices that happened in this country really weren't that long ago. When you think about it in the context of how it's affecting people's lives today. And maybe that's like the example you gave in terms of receiving an inheritance that helped you pay down loans. Well, you know, when Black people in this country started with nothing and weren't allowed to accumulate wealth and weren't allowed to have the freedoms to just basic freedoms within this country, and kind of starting so far behind, those things still matter and still make a difference today. That's the reason why the average net worth or the median net worth of Black households today is a tenth of that of White households. That that's still affecting us today. The things that happened, you know, 400 years ago, much less 50 years ago in this country. And Jim Crow and such. So, yeah, it does still matter to them.

Chris Byers: Thank you for that. The other thing that I think would be great to kind of express what you think is happening right now is there are protests going on all around the U.S. and in fact, if you think they're not happening because they're not hitting the news, it is actually because I think a number of very peaceful protests are going on right now all over the country. And so that's not making the news. But there is a message that is still trying to be kind of delivered at the moment. What do you think that is?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I mean, the protesters are asking for a bunch of different things. But I think, you know, right now the most critical issue, again, goes back to just we want changes in the policing systems in this country. We need changes in the criminal justice system. And I think and again, I don't speak for everybody, there are different perspectives in terms of what people want. But I think we need meaningful change beyond just I think what we saw a few years ago when the start of the Black Lives Matters protests. Largely inaction. But then I think there was a lot of talk and superficial things about like, you know, let's add training or like let's increase training within police forces to help them overcome racial biases. Let's add body cameras and invest in body cameras to help make sure that we're catching things that are happening.

And the reality is, as far as I can tell, most people are saying that didn't do much. And I think one thing real quick. The reason why the word systemic racism is so important, that term systemic racism, is because it highlights the fact that we have a system that in and of itself is disproportionately affecting people of color in this country. The issue is systemic. And so that's everything from, me personally, just really passionate about removing cash bail out of our system. The fact that we have people who can get arrested and though innocent until proven guilty just because they can't afford to pay a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for bail, they're held in the system, which creates all these ripple effects. Like that in itself, it disproportionately affects people of color. And that itself is systemic racism. The war on drugs itself is an example of systemic racism. So I think we need to rethink fundamentally what are the things that we make illegal in this country and what are the punishments behind them? Why did that happen in the first place? And you can kind of look at the history. Understand why, you know, why was crack cocaine, sentencing for crack cocaine 10 times more than sentencing for powdered cocaine, the equivalent amount of powder cocaine? Why was marijuana made illegal in this country to begin with? And the answer to those, unfortunately, were racist things. Right. And so I think protesters are asking for a lot of things, but I think they're asking for meaningful reform to the criminal justice system so that we're not locking up people of color at disproportionate rates. We're not killing Black people at disproportionate rates. These systemic things need to change before we see the results that we want to see.

Chris Byers: So as we take all of this conversation in and as we think about kind of where we go from here, what are the things you hope people... How do we move forward? What is it so that we actually have that positive ripple effect and can look back days, weeks, months, years from now? What do you think the things are that we can do to move forward?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, ultimately, I should start by saying that I'm more optimistic now than I probably ever have been that things will change. And one of the reasons why is because people are having conversations like this that are meaningful. And people do seem to, on a wide scale, trying to understand where and why systemic racism exists in this country. So, I mean, in terms of moving forward, I think just one, that needs to continue. Like you said earlier, I think if you haven't had conversations with people in your life, just ask about these issues and ask with an open mind and an open heart. I think that will do a lot towards just improving your own understanding and towards getting the change because of awareness and understanding needs to proceed change. And so starting there and then to deepening understanding. And then I think, you know, what will come from that is really understanding. You know, like I touched on a couple of things like bail and, you know, the drug laws in this country. But I think that change that needs to happen is political. I think the change that needs to happen is that we need to push our politicians to readdress some of these issues and kind of fix some of these issues. And the way that we do that individually is, you know, by voting, by encouraging others to vote and then, you know, by calling politicians and sending them letters and demanding change. And I think it may take some time, but that's the real answer, is that we need. We need to change the system.

Chris Byers: Well Ade, thank you for joining us today. I hope that everybody who's listening is really thinking about how can I be a part of a positive change? Be a part of raising my own awareness, starting conversations with people, thinking about the ways that I might have supported racism in the past and do today even and how can I break that and become anti-racist? And Ade, just I thank you for many things in life, but in particular today being just a help to us moving forward and opening up your story so that we could learn from it and kind of grow going forward.

Ade Olonoh: Thank you. It's great to chat about this. Great to talk with you, as always. So glad we're having this conversation.

Thanks for joining us today on Ripple Effect, what we heard today was a really powerful story, and it was the powerful story of a Black individual who, first of all, has been really important in my life. But I hope his story has become important in your life to really reframing what we think about in terms of racism and how it still persists today in this country. And I hope it causes you to want to take some action. If I can encourage you to take any action, it is really start a conversation or begin researching. Where can you find people or resources to help you take the next step? And how can we move forward this conversation on race and equality in the U.S.

Well, thanks for joining us today on this special episode of Ripple Effect. You can read Ade's full story at adeolonoh.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're doing something a bit different than what you may have heard in previous episodes. 2020 has been a year many of us did not anticipate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the injustice and inequality that we're seeing more clearly here in the U.S. And we want to do our part in sharing voices and perspectives to our community and how we can think about being more proactive and take action to really just improve the world around us. At Formstack, we've come to our own realization that not only do we need to say something, but we also need to do something. And so we started with our own statement that Black Lives Matter. And we affirmed that we want to be a support to the Black community today.

In addition to that, we've hired a diversity talent specialist to help make our organization more welcoming to diverse candidates, as well as helping us bring in a more diverse candidate pool. We're finding ways for our employees to give their time and money to help fight social injustices and inequality. And then, we're starting conversations. And if you hear anything today, I think the most important thing you should hear is about conversations and really education. What we all need to do right now is think about having conversations with people around us about race, racism, et cetera. And so in this episode, we have Ade Olonoh on the show. He is Formstack's founder and he is here to have a conversation with us about a personal story he shared. And it's all about sharing his story on racism and how we can improve diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces. So take a listen.

Today, we have a really cool opportunity to get to talk to somebody who has been really important in the history of our company and the history really in my life. He's going to help us explore a topic today that I think is really top of mind for a lot of us and trying to figure out how do we best approach going forward. And that topic actually covers a lot of things. It's about racism, the challenge of the Black community, and ways that we need to help overcome those challenges. It's about equality. And, you know, who I've got today with us is our founder, Ade Olonoh. Ade has founded really a number of companies, one of them being Formstack and we've gotten the benefit of being able to be a part of this organization and grow together. But more importantly than that, he and I have been friends for 23 years, I think at this point. And I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be together and be able to talk about some of this. And so I want to welcome Ade.

Ade Olonoh: Thanks, Chris. Excited to be here.

Chris Byers: Excellent. Well, maybe just as a quick aside before we get into more serious things. Where was it we met 23 years ago? Do you remember? I think we were both working at the same place. I'm not sure exactly if that's what caused us to meet, but where was that?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I don't know if that was really the first time we met, but the first time I remember is when we were both working in I.T. at Anderson University. Where we were both going to school. Is that what you remember?

Chris Byers: That's what I'm remembering. Who knows exactly where we met along the way. But I know we got to work together in I.T. off and on over a couple of years and then that eventually led to founding a company together and then Ade founded Formstack later on and it kind of worked out well, then he founded yet another company. And so at the time I said, hey, if I can come help be a part of finding the future for Formstack, I can do that. And that turned into just kind of a long term role. But what's really interesting is Ade and I have talked about everything over the course of all these years, and especially in the past 10 years, we've talked about family and business and we've had endless meals together and endless meals with our families. And yet, you know, what's fascinating and sad is one of the conversations we never talked about until three weeks ago was race. And the impact of that on Ade, the impact of that around us in the world. And right now, I think it's a really important time where we need to be having these conversations. And the fact that we haven't been having them has created an unnecessary just kind of layer of just not talking about the right things in our country. And so Ade, you wrote an article and it was titled I Can't Breathe. And you share your personal experiences with racism, prejudice, injustice, and in the opening you mentioned struggling on whether you should write or not. Can you talk a little bit about what made you write it? What helped you decide to finally put that together.

Ade Olonoh: So I wrote that about a week after the news about George Floyd came up. And like I start out in the piece, I really struggled for a number of different reasons. One of which is that I felt like as I was thinking about, and how the whole country was talking about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable talking about my own struggles because they pale compared to those stories. I mean, clearly, I'm still here living and breathing. I haven't had incidents where I've been really attacked by police or anything, you know, to that extent. And so I really struggled with how do I talk about my struggles being Black in America in the context of those stories, which are just much more tragic. So I think that was part of it. But then in general, I struggle with kind of what you alluded to. I think growing up in the 90s here, it was almost like there's kind of an unsaid thing. You know, we shouldn't talk about race. And I've always struggled, you know, as somebody who's trying to succeed professionally. I think a lot of Black people in the workplace kind of struggle with this. If you talk about race, then you're kind of going to be pigeonholed into this point of view where, you know, you're somebody who always brings up this issue and it makes it uncomfortable for others. I have unfortunately swung too far to the other side where I don't talk about it publicly. It's kind of a struggle on what's the right way to approach that? How do I tell the story in a way that people would listen. Like finally just got to the point where I felt like I had to write something. And that article was kind of the outpouring of my background and what was on my mind.

Related: Fornmstack's Stance Against Inequality, Injustice, and Racism

Chris Byers: I do just fully agree. There's some message and I can't tieback exactly when it happened, what it was, but there was some message along the way that was definitely if we don't talk about this, then it's not an issue anymore. And I've kind of thought about the stupidity of that, I guess, in the past couple weeks where, you know,= if you had some sort of maybe disagreement with somebody or if you had an issue that was not helping your relationship with someone kind of succeed. And if you ever said to your friend, you know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to talk about it. The response would be like, that's stupid. Like that is totally not going to be the way you ever actually communicate with somebody. You're just going to bury these thoughts and ideas. And if you never talk about them, then you've, like, lost an opportunity in your relationship. And I think it's just fascinating how this conversation. I mean, between you and I, even about this article was just extremely eye opening for me to say. Oh, actually, it's also OK to have this conversation. And it's OK to say we do have different backgrounds and that does mean something and has impacted the way that we've lived or grown up. You'll get to see a link to this article if you're listening, and we'll post that in the shownotes or otherwise here in a bit. But definitely worth a read to kind of get some more color here. But we'll talk through this a little bit more.

So, you know, in the article, you I mean, first of all, just extremely eye opening, moving, and beautifully moving in a way where I saw so many people who I know care about you, share it with other people. And it was great for them to be able to say, you know what, I now see something I might not have otherwise. But how as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, as a tech founder, how have these experiences shaped your professional journey?

Ade Olonoh: I talk in the piece and I won't rehash the whole thing, but essentially I talk about how eye opening and kind of my journey growing up here in the U.S. is different because I'm Black and how that gets reinforced in all these small ways throughout my career. And just as I'm growing up and yeah, I guess in terms of my professional journey, I mean, I'll say I talk in the piece about how one of the things that I allude to in the piece that's really hard is that, you know that racism exists in the country. It's empirical, but you don't always know the ways it impacts you. There were jobs that I thought I was qualified to get, that I didn't get an interview or didn't get a job offer, and maybe none of them were because of racism or implicit bias. But maybe some of them, more statistically I would have to assume so.

Similar in terms of raising capital, as an entrepreneur, there are times where many, many times that I heard no from investors, which is common for entrepreneurs, whether you're White, Black, Brown, male, or female. But sometimes you kind of walk away from those experiences wondering, like, was it because of the color of my skin or is it just because they didn't like my idea or something didn't really click on the pitch? And so what when you think about your question about how it shaped my professional journey, I don't have any of the stark stories. Nobody ever kind of kicked me out of their offices saying, I'm not going to invest in you or I'm not going to hire you because you're Black. But it's something that was top of mind as I kind of walked through my journey. The end result was I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder. I always felt like, both in terms of output, just in terms of my own psychology as well, to kind of put my head down and ignore the reactions from the outside world and carve my own path. So that's a very nuanced answer. But in terms of how it affected me. I would say it's something you think about all the time, but never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.

Chris Byers: If I think about my own life and how I've never left an interview, left a capital raising opportunity, left a conversation and thought because of the color of my skin, it mattered. It's not even a thought that comes to my mind. And so I can completely understand how that is a weight you carry. You're trying to raise money, and that's already hard enough work. And if there's just one more thing that causes your own doubts or causes you to just wonder. It works against you and it makes it all the more difficult to get done the job you're just trying to get done like everybody else. It is challenging.

Ade Olonoh: One way to think about it, too, is, you know, walking into a VC pitch. And as you walk into a boardroom and all the investors you are pitching to are white men and they tell you no, and you look at their portfolio website and it's predominantly white founders, again, men. And I think the stats are that only about one percent of venture investments are to Black founders. And I forget, I actually forget the number of women that are invested, but it's, again, single digit percentages. You know, you have to think there's a pattern here that the industry has shown. And then similarly, if you're applying to work in a company and you look at their website, and it's predominantly white men, then you have to wonder, like, do I really fit in here? And, you know, despite their best intentions, am starting a few steps behind other entrepreneurs or other candidates, you know, when you see kind of the results of who they're investing in and who they're hiring.

It's not enough to say we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know they're welcome and that you're reaching out to hire those people.

Chris Byers: And I think it's fascinating, you're talking about technology, where we think of ourselves as the most progressive, the most, you know, ahead of the time in terms of whether it's anything from benefits or hiring more diversely or being open to new ideas. And yet, even in technology, you still have those questions. I'm curious, how do you think this does impact technology, what have you noticed that how it applies still to technology, even though we think of ourselves as forward thinking?

Ade Olonoh: It's really interesting to look at because as you said, I'm sure if you pull the people who work in technology and compare them to other industries that we think of as less progressive, that is true, that personally we probably have more progressive mindsets than other industries. But the interesting thing about technology is the systemic racial problems really are compounded when it comes to technology, because usually access to computer science education is something that's afforded to the wealthy people in this country or people with access to great schools and good backgrounds. And even something as maybe even something as specific as the people who are more likely to be good at coding are more likely to have laptops in the home or access to a computer at home.

I don't remember all the details about this, but I remember reading something relatively recently talking about how, kind of before the explosion of the PCs, kind of in the 80s, male female participation in computer science was about equal. But then what happened was that this article is speculating that with the rise of PCs in the home and PCs especially focused around gaming and the types of games that were on the early PCs, what happened is inevitably boys would kind of push out the girls from using the PCs because they were the ones playing the games and the action games. And then, you know, over time, that compounded to mean that there are fewer and fewer women that were in the computing field and then felt comfortable taking computer science classes and stuff like that.

So back to my point being that I think those types of effects compound. If you have fewer Black people able to succeed in school, especially around computer fields, and maybe that's because of access at home or access to great schools that are providing that, then that shows up kind of later with an attack. Similarly, when thinking about entrepreneurship, one of the big problems with venture and investing is that venture capital funds are typically looking for a lot of traction with the companies that they invest in. But in the very early days, it may be that Black entrepreneurs have much less access to kind of those friends and family rounds that they need to kind of get an idea off the ground before they even get the traction that gets the VCs.

It may be that even just kind of the lack of a safety net where they feel like if they tried something risky and failed, that they'd be able to brush themselves off and either get, you know, get a loan from friends and family or get a job to kind of replenish their bank account. And maybe they don't have a safety net that their White counterparts do. So that compounds as well to why, I think we see the problem so much more starkly in tech versus other industries that might be less risky.

Read More: Why We Should Talk About Race

Chris Byers: You know, I think technology is really interesting here, too, because in technology, we're always thinking about solving problems really quickly. We're always thinking, oh, we're five minutes away. We're weeks away. We're a couple years away from solving major problems at speed. And yet what you're talking about is there are so many things that we've got to go so far back or wait a ways into the future to really make serious impact. We need to start an education and finding more fundamental ways to provide education on entrepreneurship or finding, to your point, access to capital or helping people even see there's an ecosystem that maybe they can join or be a part of to help new ideas. I'm curious, you are an investor, you've thought about these things. I'm curious if you've ideated on your own ways to how we could think about having some more long term impact.

Ade Olonoh: Yes. You're right in saying that. I mean, it's a very complicated issue. There are no overnight successes here or silver bullets to kind of solve the problem. So, yeah, I think it spans all of those things you touched on. I think it's, you know, it's education at an early age. It's access. It's even just things like people seeing themselves represented. So, I mean, just even the archetype we have of this successful entrepreneur, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you know, all white men. I'm not going to take anything from their accomplishments. They're incredible entrepreneurs. But some of it, I think is even just socializing more of the successes, people of color and women who are successful and kind of changing the way we have a conversation about what an entrepreneur even is. I think it's a systemic things; I think it's in some ways, it can also be a copout to kind of say, well, it's a pipeline problem or that these issues are too complex. I think sometimes it really just does come down to trying to make a difference by being conscious of your own biases and working on that personally. I think for every investor really working on their network and make sure that they are talking to founders of color or they're talking to female founders just as much as they are talking to White male founders or at least in proportion to the population. Right. And so maybe working a little bit harder to make sure that you're in the right networks, that see that kind of deal flow and be conscious of your own biases and working through that when talking to people, because, yes, the systemic issues are definitely there. But I think we can all grow in the moment in terms of how we approach our business.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And, you know, I think you make a great point. I hope that we all walk away from this conversation hearing there are things to do. Absolutely. Now, I think one of the things, I will say as a White person, I have come to realize is, first of all, just in general how much racism still exists and how much, in a way, I support those things and have supported systems that create this longer term kind of systemic racism. And I don't tend to think about my past a lot. I don't think about where I came from. And yet I don't see, therefore, how many bits of access I guess I've had over time, whether it's capital or otherwise. I can think about, you know, one of the things I've learned in the past three weeks is just how difficult or impossible it was to get a mortgage as a Black person in the 1950s. And, you know, I think about when I was trying to pay off some debt. My wife and I were trying to pay off some debt early in our marriage. And one of the things that allowed us to pay off that final bit of debt was an inheritance I got from my grandparents, who I know got a mortgage in the 1950s, and part of that inheritance was from them selling their house. And so these are things that most days I would never think of as like, oh, that's an advantage I have. And yet have completely played into some of the ways that I've been able to to move forward.

I wonder, as we do think about things that we can do now, you've brought up some of them. I know as a company there's really a couple of messages that I've been trying to just begin to talk about. One is I want to make sure we have a space for conversations. As you and I both know, as we all know, social media is a horrendous place to have a conversation. It's all about headlines and you know my dramatic view on the world. But I think one of the challenges is we're not talking about these things and we're not able to say, hey, can we sit down and have a pure level one to one conversation about your views, my views, how can we learn together and grow together? I'm curious if you've seen some good examples of conversations beginning in the past, in the past month. You know, one of those things that we're talking about is having conversations, and as a company, we're trying to begin to facilitate that so we can have maybe a third party come in and help us just have some better, real conversations together about race, racism, equality, and how we as a people can make sure we are treating the people around us on a pure level and truly as equal and making sure they feel comfortable being around us. The other thing that we're talking about is really diversity at a greater level. So we have had a very broad, very broad diversity kind of plan in the past week. We've talked about it internally, but we've not made a big deal of it, frankly. And in fact, I've also taken a very inbound approach to it. I guess where I said, yes, everyone is welcome here. I hope this feels like a comfortable place. But one of the things I'm realizing that really just recently is that's not enough. We need to be much more proactive at saying both what are the things that we do in our hiring practices and our onboarding, even in our marketing. How do we show up and how do we look to people who might not look as much like us? And how do we make sure that feels less like the case? And so, you know, I think one of my questions is, what do you think some things technology companies can do to improve diversity, inclusion, and really making a better effort here.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I think you're thinking about things the right way. I guess to start I mean, just to underscore the point, I think being proactive about it is the right approach. And I think that's what's encouraging about the conversation that a lot of people are having right now, is that realizing that it's not enough to just not be racist, but you actually have to be anti-racist and especially recognizing that there's systemic racism in this country. You have to be proactive to counteract that. And so, yeah, like you said, it's not just enough to say, oh, yeah, we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know that they're welcome there and that you're reaching out to hiring those people. I think, as you know, the longer you go as a company and the less representation you have in your company, the harder it is. Nobody wants to be, or very few people want to be the only Black person in a company or the only woman to work in a company. Right. And this gets magnified.

So in terms of your question, what can tech companies do about it? I think understanding that, prioritizing it in a way that maybe it hasn't been prioritized before. And I think at this moment, we all have to ask ourselves. Yes, we care about these issues, but how much we care about it. Do we care about it enough to really make it one of the key corporate initiatives and put money and time behind it? And that may mean hiring people within the company to really kind of spearhead these initiatives. To that point, I think one of the most important things, anything within business, you need to measure what's happening within the company and have accountability behind those numbers. I think when I think about it, I'm certainly no expert around H.R. and may not have all the tricks in my tool belt in terms of how to solve the diversity equation within companies. But I know like foundationally, you have to start with understanding well, measuring your pipeline, measure throughout the interview process to better understand that retention around all of the dimensions of race and gender and sexual identity. Understand like where we're falling short and where is there room for improvement. And so just creating that mechanism and that infrastructure to measure and hold accountable is one of the first places to start to make sure that, like, something meaningfully changes, and it's not just a nice sounding initiative, but that there's actually teeth behind it towards making change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think for us, we hired a diversity talent acquisition specialist early this year. And I will say, frankly, we probably wouldn't have done much reporting, maybe in terms of a leadership team or something, but not publicly. Again, out of a naivety that like this is going to work itself out over time. And one of the things we said last week to the team is you're going to start to see a monthly report on this. And I know as an organization, we've always thought transparency is a huge key to creating good, accountable systems and showing reporting, because if I am showing this to you every month, then I better show some progress and show that we're doing a better job of finding the right places to both show up and are we learning how that talent funnel is working out or are we letting people drop out that shouldn't drop out. And so I like that thinking. Anything else that comes to mind you just think companies should be doing to improve diversity, making sure it's more comfortable and engaging place for diverse team members?

Ade Olonoh:I think that, as I said, I think it's important to kind of look at the whole picture. So not just in the hiring process, but what happens to what the company looks like once you hired somebody who's unrepresented within the company. And so looking at retention, I think is important and really focusing on that inclusion part or diversity and inclusion. And so that means that they feel their voices are heard, does it feel like they're safe and comfortable and welcome at the company. But some of that also means do they have the same opportunity for growth within the company as do others. Right. And so I think back to measuring and measuring what retention looks like measuring what, you know, pay, looks like within the company across different diversity dimensions, measuring what kind of promotion looks like. Focusing on that part of the cycle and that part of the funnel is important, too. I mean, just in the same way that we think in our business, and Formstack is a SaaS business, we think about acquisition and retention and churn and kind of all those. And when we think and measure how we're doing as a business and think about the customer, I think you need to do that from an employee perspective as well. Look at the whole lifecycle and the holistic picture of what it means to work at a company.

Related: Taking Action: Behind the Scenes with Our Diversity Talent Acquisition Specialist

Chris Byers: Yeah, that's good. You know, 2020 has been a tough year as I think everybody knows. And, you know, if any of you were to ever be in the room with a Ade and I, one of the things you'd notice is, you know, both CEOs, both founders, we wouldn't necessarily, though, be the loudest person in the room. And in fact, you might not even notice we're there at times. And Ade, you've put yourself out there in a huge way, being extremely vulnerable. What are the things you're doing to kind of just stay mentally healthy figure out like, how do I both respond and frankly grieve at times of what's going on? But then also say, you know what, maybe there's hope in the world. Maybe there's something I can do.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. So just, you know, personally, it's been a tough few weeks. And I would say, I guess to explain that a little bit more, because I think I've had a lot of conversations with Black friends, I think, who are kind of in the same boat. I remember vividly, you know, the Rodney King incidents back when I was as much younger. And there have been a number of incidents, kind of similar to that, that have broad visibility within the public sphere from Rodney King to George Floyd. And I think one of the struggles that I've had is, you know, each time a story like that flares up, like it brings a lot of emotions. There's anger, there's sadness. But in the end, it leaves a lot of hopelessness and thinking that nothing's changed. Right. And we've known about issues, especially surrounding kind of police brutality and criminal justice and how that's affected people of color disproportionately in this country. We've known about it for a while, but if anything, it's probably gotten worse in the last 20 years when you look at the number of Black people in prison and, you know, the militarization of police. Those trends have gone in the wrong direction.

And so I'll say one of the hardest things, to be honest, when I first heard about George Floyd, I was just kind of coming off a few weeks ago the Ahmaud Arbery case just really shook me. And when I heard about George Floyd, I read the headline and just went on to the next story. And I just wasn't in a place emotionally where I wanted to process it. And it took a few days before I was able to watch the video, before I was able to read the details of that. And the great thing that's happening now is there's a lot of conversation about all these problems and injustices. But I think one of the hard things emotionally is to wonder, like, is this really going to change? Is anything going to come out of this or are we just reopening old wounds but not really going to find any healing from that? And so that's a very indirect way to answer your question. I think it's helpful to give context just because I know I'm certainly not speaking for all Black people in the country, but I know for a lot they're going through a similar emotional journey. And that's why it's tough right now. It's hard sometimes. And I think we all need to be mindful that not every person of color really wants to have these conversations at the moment, just depending on where they are in their emotional journey.

But for me, I mean, I've had to do a number of things to kind of help myself stay healthy and sane. Some of it is just kind of fundamental things that I try to do on a regular basis. Exercise, meditate, eat well. Spend time with family. But some of it is just taking breaks from social media, taking breaks from the news, especially when I feel myself get caught up in the anger and emotion that's spurred by those mediums. And then I'd say the last thing is I really try to focus and kind of step back and say, well, how do I want things to change, like, how can I help contribute to that conversation in a positive way and what can I do? So that's practically it for me. I've been spending a lot more time learning and understanding these issues from a policy perspective or a sociological perspective, where my background knowledge, I'm a technologist and entrepreneur, so spending time learning more about these things I think kind of helps me understand the process better.

Chris Byers: If you're listening to this, everybody's going to get a broad set of responses to what's going on right now. And I know for me, I have, I'll say had to, and had to because I just understood something needed to be done in my own mind, in my own life. But I had to spend a great deal of time reading and watching videos and watching documentaries. I will say even I had to watch the video of George Floyd. There was a moment where I was like, you know what? If I really want to actually step forward and be a positive part of the change, I need to see some of the lows and be a part of some of the lows, I guess. And that was I mean, to anybody listening, I'd say if you've really just done surface level headline reading, if you're really just done a surface level attempt here, if you've frankly not had a conversation with somebody of color like around you, those are things you're missing out on. And I don't think you're going to progress in the way that I think we all need to to have the right conversations. And so I appreciate everybody who's taken time to really spend time reading and thinking and trying to understand like what is my perspective and how does it need to change and how do we need to improve to move forward. I know as a company, we have brought in some outside help to help us, first of all, as a leadership team. But then eventually as an organization to see where frankly, even where are we on this subject? Because, again, we're all at different places and we need to kind of begin to move toward the same destination. I know we've used an outside coaching group to help allow our team to call any time they want for coaching, counseling through this. Any particular subject matter, be it books, blogs, podcasts, etc., that you point people to to say, this is a great place to start?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, there's been a lot of good ones that I've come across, especially recently. But I guess rather than rattle down a list, I'd say to your point, I think it's important for people to start somewhere that really kind of touches on both the history of systemic racism in this country and then kind of a full comprehensive overview of where we are today in terms of the criminal justice system. Probably the best thing that I've come across, and there may be others, but the documentary 13th on Netflix, I think does an excellent job of piecing all these things together. I'd say you start there and that at least kind of helps launch a starting point to see where you might want to dig deeper to kind of understand different components better. So personally, I'm reading Just Mercy right now and find it really eye opening on digging into the criminal justice system. But yeah, if anything, start with 13th, it is probably the easiest thing to consume.

Chris Byers: That's good. So, you know, one of the conversations that I've noticed is not kind of being had in this country is what certain things mean. And I guess I'd love your perspective. And I I think we should all note that it's your perspective. And I think you will say it's not everybody's belief exactly. But there are a couple of kind of thoughts, phrases, movements that I think might be valuable for the audience to kind of hear about what's going on here. And the first one is Black Lives Matter. Tell us what that means to you and what you think that means to the people who speak it and are out kind of thinking about it and kind of moving it forward.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, certainly I don't claim to speak for all Black black people or for any particular organization or anything like that, speaking of Black Lives Matter. But yeah, to me, that just means that at its surface that, yes, Black lives matter. And I think that's highlighted because, you know, especially when you look at the history of Black lives in this country. And again, what's happening today, like the incidents, again, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, you know, Elijah McClain and so on, so forth, is that it's easy to feel like Black lives don't matter to the system. So all it is, this is highlighting the fact that, yes, they do and they should in this country. And that's not to say that other other people don't matter. Certainly they all do, but it's that this is one sector of society that has been long ignored. And we need to make sure that there is equality and justice for Black lives, just as there are for White lives in this country.

Chris Byers: Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that's been just eye opening for me in this time is if you look at the Hispanic community in the U.S., it has on the whole, especially at the size that it is and how much it represents to the U.S. today, not been in the U.S. Nearly as long as as kind of the Black community. And yet the Black community is behind the Hispanic community in terms of income, net worth. And as I looked at that, I thought, wow, there is definitely a problem when a community has been with us all, nearly always, is that far behind. There is something that speaks to why we need to speak about Black lives mattering today and why we need to point that out and make it a thing and make it make it the point. And so I thank you for sharing those thoughts.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. And just speak on that real quick. I think the thing that's easy to forget and I mean, I think part of even going back to what we said in terms of during the 90s, the last couple of decades, it's almost been that the conversation has shifted in this country to talk about like we live in a post-racial society and feeling like racism was solved during the civil rights era. And clearly, I think we're saying very clearly that that's not the case. But even given the progress that was made in the civil rights era, it's discounting today, like how much of that history does matter. And like you said, that the injustices that happened in this country really weren't that long ago. When you think about it in the context of how it's affecting people's lives today. And maybe that's like the example you gave in terms of receiving an inheritance that helped you pay down loans. Well, you know, when Black people in this country started with nothing and weren't allowed to accumulate wealth and weren't allowed to have the freedoms to just basic freedoms within this country, and kind of starting so far behind, those things still matter and still make a difference today. That's the reason why the average net worth or the median net worth of Black households today is a tenth of that of White households. That that's still affecting us today. The things that happened, you know, 400 years ago, much less 50 years ago in this country. And Jim Crow and such. So, yeah, it does still matter to them.

Chris Byers: Thank you for that. The other thing that I think would be great to kind of express what you think is happening right now is there are protests going on all around the U.S. and in fact, if you think they're not happening because they're not hitting the news, it is actually because I think a number of very peaceful protests are going on right now all over the country. And so that's not making the news. But there is a message that is still trying to be kind of delivered at the moment. What do you think that is?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I mean, the protesters are asking for a bunch of different things. But I think, you know, right now the most critical issue, again, goes back to just we want changes in the policing systems in this country. We need changes in the criminal justice system. And I think and again, I don't speak for everybody, there are different perspectives in terms of what people want. But I think we need meaningful change beyond just I think what we saw a few years ago when the start of the Black Lives Matters protests. Largely inaction. But then I think there was a lot of talk and superficial things about like, you know, let's add training or like let's increase training within police forces to help them overcome racial biases. Let's add body cameras and invest in body cameras to help make sure that we're catching things that are happening.

And the reality is, as far as I can tell, most people are saying that didn't do much. And I think one thing real quick. The reason why the word systemic racism is so important, that term systemic racism, is because it highlights the fact that we have a system that in and of itself is disproportionately affecting people of color in this country. The issue is systemic. And so that's everything from, me personally, just really passionate about removing cash bail out of our system. The fact that we have people who can get arrested and though innocent until proven guilty just because they can't afford to pay a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for bail, they're held in the system, which creates all these ripple effects. Like that in itself, it disproportionately affects people of color. And that itself is systemic racism. The war on drugs itself is an example of systemic racism. So I think we need to rethink fundamentally what are the things that we make illegal in this country and what are the punishments behind them? Why did that happen in the first place? And you can kind of look at the history. Understand why, you know, why was crack cocaine, sentencing for crack cocaine 10 times more than sentencing for powdered cocaine, the equivalent amount of powder cocaine? Why was marijuana made illegal in this country to begin with? And the answer to those, unfortunately, were racist things. Right. And so I think protesters are asking for a lot of things, but I think they're asking for meaningful reform to the criminal justice system so that we're not locking up people of color at disproportionate rates. We're not killing Black people at disproportionate rates. These systemic things need to change before we see the results that we want to see.

Chris Byers: So as we take all of this conversation in and as we think about kind of where we go from here, what are the things you hope people... How do we move forward? What is it so that we actually have that positive ripple effect and can look back days, weeks, months, years from now? What do you think the things are that we can do to move forward?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, ultimately, I should start by saying that I'm more optimistic now than I probably ever have been that things will change. And one of the reasons why is because people are having conversations like this that are meaningful. And people do seem to, on a wide scale, trying to understand where and why systemic racism exists in this country. So, I mean, in terms of moving forward, I think just one, that needs to continue. Like you said earlier, I think if you haven't had conversations with people in your life, just ask about these issues and ask with an open mind and an open heart. I think that will do a lot towards just improving your own understanding and towards getting the change because of awareness and understanding needs to proceed change. And so starting there and then to deepening understanding. And then I think, you know, what will come from that is really understanding. You know, like I touched on a couple of things like bail and, you know, the drug laws in this country. But I think that change that needs to happen is political. I think the change that needs to happen is that we need to push our politicians to readdress some of these issues and kind of fix some of these issues. And the way that we do that individually is, you know, by voting, by encouraging others to vote and then, you know, by calling politicians and sending them letters and demanding change. And I think it may take some time, but that's the real answer, is that we need. We need to change the system.

Chris Byers: Well Ade, thank you for joining us today. I hope that everybody who's listening is really thinking about how can I be a part of a positive change? Be a part of raising my own awareness, starting conversations with people, thinking about the ways that I might have supported racism in the past and do today even and how can I break that and become anti-racist? And Ade, just I thank you for many things in life, but in particular today being just a help to us moving forward and opening up your story so that we could learn from it and kind of grow going forward.

Ade Olonoh: Thank you. It's great to chat about this. Great to talk with you, as always. So glad we're having this conversation.

Thanks for joining us today on Ripple Effect, what we heard today was a really powerful story, and it was the powerful story of a Black individual who, first of all, has been really important in my life. But I hope his story has become important in your life to really reframing what we think about in terms of racism and how it still persists today in this country. And I hope it causes you to want to take some action. If I can encourage you to take any action, it is really start a conversation or begin researching. Where can you find people or resources to help you take the next step? And how can we move forward this conversation on race and equality in the U.S.

Well, thanks for joining us today on this special episode of Ripple Effect. You can read Ade's full story at adeolonoh.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're doing something a bit different than what you may have heard in previous episodes. 2020 has been a year many of us did not anticipate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the injustice and inequality that we're seeing more clearly here in the U.S. And we want to do our part in sharing voices and perspectives to our community and how we can think about being more proactive and take action to really just improve the world around us. At Formstack, we've come to our own realization that not only do we need to say something, but we also need to do something. And so we started with our own statement that Black Lives Matter. And we affirmed that we want to be a support to the Black community today.

In addition to that, we've hired a diversity talent specialist to help make our organization more welcoming to diverse candidates, as well as helping us bring in a more diverse candidate pool. We're finding ways for our employees to give their time and money to help fight social injustices and inequality. And then, we're starting conversations. And if you hear anything today, I think the most important thing you should hear is about conversations and really education. What we all need to do right now is think about having conversations with people around us about race, racism, et cetera. And so in this episode, we have Ade Olonoh on the show. He is Formstack's founder and he is here to have a conversation with us about a personal story he shared. And it's all about sharing his story on racism and how we can improve diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces. So take a listen.

Today, we have a really cool opportunity to get to talk to somebody who has been really important in the history of our company and the history really in my life. He's going to help us explore a topic today that I think is really top of mind for a lot of us and trying to figure out how do we best approach going forward. And that topic actually covers a lot of things. It's about racism, the challenge of the Black community, and ways that we need to help overcome those challenges. It's about equality. And, you know, who I've got today with us is our founder, Ade Olonoh. Ade has founded really a number of companies, one of them being Formstack and we've gotten the benefit of being able to be a part of this organization and grow together. But more importantly than that, he and I have been friends for 23 years, I think at this point. And I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be together and be able to talk about some of this. And so I want to welcome Ade.

Ade Olonoh: Thanks, Chris. Excited to be here.

Chris Byers: Excellent. Well, maybe just as a quick aside before we get into more serious things. Where was it we met 23 years ago? Do you remember? I think we were both working at the same place. I'm not sure exactly if that's what caused us to meet, but where was that?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I don't know if that was really the first time we met, but the first time I remember is when we were both working in I.T. at Anderson University. Where we were both going to school. Is that what you remember?

Chris Byers: That's what I'm remembering. Who knows exactly where we met along the way. But I know we got to work together in I.T. off and on over a couple of years and then that eventually led to founding a company together and then Ade founded Formstack later on and it kind of worked out well, then he founded yet another company. And so at the time I said, hey, if I can come help be a part of finding the future for Formstack, I can do that. And that turned into just kind of a long term role. But what's really interesting is Ade and I have talked about everything over the course of all these years, and especially in the past 10 years, we've talked about family and business and we've had endless meals together and endless meals with our families. And yet, you know, what's fascinating and sad is one of the conversations we never talked about until three weeks ago was race. And the impact of that on Ade, the impact of that around us in the world. And right now, I think it's a really important time where we need to be having these conversations. And the fact that we haven't been having them has created an unnecessary just kind of layer of just not talking about the right things in our country. And so Ade, you wrote an article and it was titled I Can't Breathe. And you share your personal experiences with racism, prejudice, injustice, and in the opening you mentioned struggling on whether you should write or not. Can you talk a little bit about what made you write it? What helped you decide to finally put that together.

Ade Olonoh: So I wrote that about a week after the news about George Floyd came up. And like I start out in the piece, I really struggled for a number of different reasons. One of which is that I felt like as I was thinking about, and how the whole country was talking about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable talking about my own struggles because they pale compared to those stories. I mean, clearly, I'm still here living and breathing. I haven't had incidents where I've been really attacked by police or anything, you know, to that extent. And so I really struggled with how do I talk about my struggles being Black in America in the context of those stories, which are just much more tragic. So I think that was part of it. But then in general, I struggle with kind of what you alluded to. I think growing up in the 90s here, it was almost like there's kind of an unsaid thing. You know, we shouldn't talk about race. And I've always struggled, you know, as somebody who's trying to succeed professionally. I think a lot of Black people in the workplace kind of struggle with this. If you talk about race, then you're kind of going to be pigeonholed into this point of view where, you know, you're somebody who always brings up this issue and it makes it uncomfortable for others. I have unfortunately swung too far to the other side where I don't talk about it publicly. It's kind of a struggle on what's the right way to approach that? How do I tell the story in a way that people would listen. Like finally just got to the point where I felt like I had to write something. And that article was kind of the outpouring of my background and what was on my mind.

Related: Fornmstack's Stance Against Inequality, Injustice, and Racism

Chris Byers: I do just fully agree. There's some message and I can't tieback exactly when it happened, what it was, but there was some message along the way that was definitely if we don't talk about this, then it's not an issue anymore. And I've kind of thought about the stupidity of that, I guess, in the past couple weeks where, you know,= if you had some sort of maybe disagreement with somebody or if you had an issue that was not helping your relationship with someone kind of succeed. And if you ever said to your friend, you know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to talk about it. The response would be like, that's stupid. Like that is totally not going to be the way you ever actually communicate with somebody. You're just going to bury these thoughts and ideas. And if you never talk about them, then you've, like, lost an opportunity in your relationship. And I think it's just fascinating how this conversation. I mean, between you and I, even about this article was just extremely eye opening for me to say. Oh, actually, it's also OK to have this conversation. And it's OK to say we do have different backgrounds and that does mean something and has impacted the way that we've lived or grown up. You'll get to see a link to this article if you're listening, and we'll post that in the shownotes or otherwise here in a bit. But definitely worth a read to kind of get some more color here. But we'll talk through this a little bit more.

So, you know, in the article, you I mean, first of all, just extremely eye opening, moving, and beautifully moving in a way where I saw so many people who I know care about you, share it with other people. And it was great for them to be able to say, you know what, I now see something I might not have otherwise. But how as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, as a tech founder, how have these experiences shaped your professional journey?

Ade Olonoh: I talk in the piece and I won't rehash the whole thing, but essentially I talk about how eye opening and kind of my journey growing up here in the U.S. is different because I'm Black and how that gets reinforced in all these small ways throughout my career. And just as I'm growing up and yeah, I guess in terms of my professional journey, I mean, I'll say I talk in the piece about how one of the things that I allude to in the piece that's really hard is that, you know that racism exists in the country. It's empirical, but you don't always know the ways it impacts you. There were jobs that I thought I was qualified to get, that I didn't get an interview or didn't get a job offer, and maybe none of them were because of racism or implicit bias. But maybe some of them, more statistically I would have to assume so.

Similar in terms of raising capital, as an entrepreneur, there are times where many, many times that I heard no from investors, which is common for entrepreneurs, whether you're White, Black, Brown, male, or female. But sometimes you kind of walk away from those experiences wondering, like, was it because of the color of my skin or is it just because they didn't like my idea or something didn't really click on the pitch? And so what when you think about your question about how it shaped my professional journey, I don't have any of the stark stories. Nobody ever kind of kicked me out of their offices saying, I'm not going to invest in you or I'm not going to hire you because you're Black. But it's something that was top of mind as I kind of walked through my journey. The end result was I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder. I always felt like, both in terms of output, just in terms of my own psychology as well, to kind of put my head down and ignore the reactions from the outside world and carve my own path. So that's a very nuanced answer. But in terms of how it affected me. I would say it's something you think about all the time, but never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.

Chris Byers: If I think about my own life and how I've never left an interview, left a capital raising opportunity, left a conversation and thought because of the color of my skin, it mattered. It's not even a thought that comes to my mind. And so I can completely understand how that is a weight you carry. You're trying to raise money, and that's already hard enough work. And if there's just one more thing that causes your own doubts or causes you to just wonder. It works against you and it makes it all the more difficult to get done the job you're just trying to get done like everybody else. It is challenging.

Ade Olonoh: One way to think about it, too, is, you know, walking into a VC pitch. And as you walk into a boardroom and all the investors you are pitching to are white men and they tell you no, and you look at their portfolio website and it's predominantly white founders, again, men. And I think the stats are that only about one percent of venture investments are to Black founders. And I forget, I actually forget the number of women that are invested, but it's, again, single digit percentages. You know, you have to think there's a pattern here that the industry has shown. And then similarly, if you're applying to work in a company and you look at their website, and it's predominantly white men, then you have to wonder, like, do I really fit in here? And, you know, despite their best intentions, am starting a few steps behind other entrepreneurs or other candidates, you know, when you see kind of the results of who they're investing in and who they're hiring.

It's not enough to say we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know they're welcome and that you're reaching out to hire those people.

Chris Byers: And I think it's fascinating, you're talking about technology, where we think of ourselves as the most progressive, the most, you know, ahead of the time in terms of whether it's anything from benefits or hiring more diversely or being open to new ideas. And yet, even in technology, you still have those questions. I'm curious, how do you think this does impact technology, what have you noticed that how it applies still to technology, even though we think of ourselves as forward thinking?

Ade Olonoh: It's really interesting to look at because as you said, I'm sure if you pull the people who work in technology and compare them to other industries that we think of as less progressive, that is true, that personally we probably have more progressive mindsets than other industries. But the interesting thing about technology is the systemic racial problems really are compounded when it comes to technology, because usually access to computer science education is something that's afforded to the wealthy people in this country or people with access to great schools and good backgrounds. And even something as maybe even something as specific as the people who are more likely to be good at coding are more likely to have laptops in the home or access to a computer at home.

I don't remember all the details about this, but I remember reading something relatively recently talking about how, kind of before the explosion of the PCs, kind of in the 80s, male female participation in computer science was about equal. But then what happened was that this article is speculating that with the rise of PCs in the home and PCs especially focused around gaming and the types of games that were on the early PCs, what happened is inevitably boys would kind of push out the girls from using the PCs because they were the ones playing the games and the action games. And then, you know, over time, that compounded to mean that there are fewer and fewer women that were in the computing field and then felt comfortable taking computer science classes and stuff like that.

So back to my point being that I think those types of effects compound. If you have fewer Black people able to succeed in school, especially around computer fields, and maybe that's because of access at home or access to great schools that are providing that, then that shows up kind of later with an attack. Similarly, when thinking about entrepreneurship, one of the big problems with venture and investing is that venture capital funds are typically looking for a lot of traction with the companies that they invest in. But in the very early days, it may be that Black entrepreneurs have much less access to kind of those friends and family rounds that they need to kind of get an idea off the ground before they even get the traction that gets the VCs.

It may be that even just kind of the lack of a safety net where they feel like if they tried something risky and failed, that they'd be able to brush themselves off and either get, you know, get a loan from friends and family or get a job to kind of replenish their bank account. And maybe they don't have a safety net that their White counterparts do. So that compounds as well to why, I think we see the problem so much more starkly in tech versus other industries that might be less risky.

Read More: Why We Should Talk About Race

Chris Byers: You know, I think technology is really interesting here, too, because in technology, we're always thinking about solving problems really quickly. We're always thinking, oh, we're five minutes away. We're weeks away. We're a couple years away from solving major problems at speed. And yet what you're talking about is there are so many things that we've got to go so far back or wait a ways into the future to really make serious impact. We need to start an education and finding more fundamental ways to provide education on entrepreneurship or finding, to your point, access to capital or helping people even see there's an ecosystem that maybe they can join or be a part of to help new ideas. I'm curious, you are an investor, you've thought about these things. I'm curious if you've ideated on your own ways to how we could think about having some more long term impact.

Ade Olonoh: Yes. You're right in saying that. I mean, it's a very complicated issue. There are no overnight successes here or silver bullets to kind of solve the problem. So, yeah, I think it spans all of those things you touched on. I think it's, you know, it's education at an early age. It's access. It's even just things like people seeing themselves represented. So, I mean, just even the archetype we have of this successful entrepreneur, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you know, all white men. I'm not going to take anything from their accomplishments. They're incredible entrepreneurs. But some of it, I think is even just socializing more of the successes, people of color and women who are successful and kind of changing the way we have a conversation about what an entrepreneur even is. I think it's a systemic things; I think it's in some ways, it can also be a copout to kind of say, well, it's a pipeline problem or that these issues are too complex. I think sometimes it really just does come down to trying to make a difference by being conscious of your own biases and working on that personally. I think for every investor really working on their network and make sure that they are talking to founders of color or they're talking to female founders just as much as they are talking to White male founders or at least in proportion to the population. Right. And so maybe working a little bit harder to make sure that you're in the right networks, that see that kind of deal flow and be conscious of your own biases and working through that when talking to people, because, yes, the systemic issues are definitely there. But I think we can all grow in the moment in terms of how we approach our business.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And, you know, I think you make a great point. I hope that we all walk away from this conversation hearing there are things to do. Absolutely. Now, I think one of the things, I will say as a White person, I have come to realize is, first of all, just in general how much racism still exists and how much, in a way, I support those things and have supported systems that create this longer term kind of systemic racism. And I don't tend to think about my past a lot. I don't think about where I came from. And yet I don't see, therefore, how many bits of access I guess I've had over time, whether it's capital or otherwise. I can think about, you know, one of the things I've learned in the past three weeks is just how difficult or impossible it was to get a mortgage as a Black person in the 1950s. And, you know, I think about when I was trying to pay off some debt. My wife and I were trying to pay off some debt early in our marriage. And one of the things that allowed us to pay off that final bit of debt was an inheritance I got from my grandparents, who I know got a mortgage in the 1950s, and part of that inheritance was from them selling their house. And so these are things that most days I would never think of as like, oh, that's an advantage I have. And yet have completely played into some of the ways that I've been able to to move forward.

I wonder, as we do think about things that we can do now, you've brought up some of them. I know as a company there's really a couple of messages that I've been trying to just begin to talk about. One is I want to make sure we have a space for conversations. As you and I both know, as we all know, social media is a horrendous place to have a conversation. It's all about headlines and you know my dramatic view on the world. But I think one of the challenges is we're not talking about these things and we're not able to say, hey, can we sit down and have a pure level one to one conversation about your views, my views, how can we learn together and grow together? I'm curious if you've seen some good examples of conversations beginning in the past, in the past month. You know, one of those things that we're talking about is having conversations, and as a company, we're trying to begin to facilitate that so we can have maybe a third party come in and help us just have some better, real conversations together about race, racism, equality, and how we as a people can make sure we are treating the people around us on a pure level and truly as equal and making sure they feel comfortable being around us. The other thing that we're talking about is really diversity at a greater level. So we have had a very broad, very broad diversity kind of plan in the past week. We've talked about it internally, but we've not made a big deal of it, frankly. And in fact, I've also taken a very inbound approach to it. I guess where I said, yes, everyone is welcome here. I hope this feels like a comfortable place. But one of the things I'm realizing that really just recently is that's not enough. We need to be much more proactive at saying both what are the things that we do in our hiring practices and our onboarding, even in our marketing. How do we show up and how do we look to people who might not look as much like us? And how do we make sure that feels less like the case? And so, you know, I think one of my questions is, what do you think some things technology companies can do to improve diversity, inclusion, and really making a better effort here.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I think you're thinking about things the right way. I guess to start I mean, just to underscore the point, I think being proactive about it is the right approach. And I think that's what's encouraging about the conversation that a lot of people are having right now, is that realizing that it's not enough to just not be racist, but you actually have to be anti-racist and especially recognizing that there's systemic racism in this country. You have to be proactive to counteract that. And so, yeah, like you said, it's not just enough to say, oh, yeah, we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know that they're welcome there and that you're reaching out to hiring those people. I think, as you know, the longer you go as a company and the less representation you have in your company, the harder it is. Nobody wants to be, or very few people want to be the only Black person in a company or the only woman to work in a company. Right. And this gets magnified.

So in terms of your question, what can tech companies do about it? I think understanding that, prioritizing it in a way that maybe it hasn't been prioritized before. And I think at this moment, we all have to ask ourselves. Yes, we care about these issues, but how much we care about it. Do we care about it enough to really make it one of the key corporate initiatives and put money and time behind it? And that may mean hiring people within the company to really kind of spearhead these initiatives. To that point, I think one of the most important things, anything within business, you need to measure what's happening within the company and have accountability behind those numbers. I think when I think about it, I'm certainly no expert around H.R. and may not have all the tricks in my tool belt in terms of how to solve the diversity equation within companies. But I know like foundationally, you have to start with understanding well, measuring your pipeline, measure throughout the interview process to better understand that retention around all of the dimensions of race and gender and sexual identity. Understand like where we're falling short and where is there room for improvement. And so just creating that mechanism and that infrastructure to measure and hold accountable is one of the first places to start to make sure that, like, something meaningfully changes, and it's not just a nice sounding initiative, but that there's actually teeth behind it towards making change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think for us, we hired a diversity talent acquisition specialist early this year. And I will say, frankly, we probably wouldn't have done much reporting, maybe in terms of a leadership team or something, but not publicly. Again, out of a naivety that like this is going to work itself out over time. And one of the things we said last week to the team is you're going to start to see a monthly report on this. And I know as an organization, we've always thought transparency is a huge key to creating good, accountable systems and showing reporting, because if I am showing this to you every month, then I better show some progress and show that we're doing a better job of finding the right places to both show up and are we learning how that talent funnel is working out or are we letting people drop out that shouldn't drop out. And so I like that thinking. Anything else that comes to mind you just think companies should be doing to improve diversity, making sure it's more comfortable and engaging place for diverse team members?

Ade Olonoh:I think that, as I said, I think it's important to kind of look at the whole picture. So not just in the hiring process, but what happens to what the company looks like once you hired somebody who's unrepresented within the company. And so looking at retention, I think is important and really focusing on that inclusion part or diversity and inclusion. And so that means that they feel their voices are heard, does it feel like they're safe and comfortable and welcome at the company. But some of that also means do they have the same opportunity for growth within the company as do others. Right. And so I think back to measuring and measuring what retention looks like measuring what, you know, pay, looks like within the company across different diversity dimensions, measuring what kind of promotion looks like. Focusing on that part of the cycle and that part of the funnel is important, too. I mean, just in the same way that we think in our business, and Formstack is a SaaS business, we think about acquisition and retention and churn and kind of all those. And when we think and measure how we're doing as a business and think about the customer, I think you need to do that from an employee perspective as well. Look at the whole lifecycle and the holistic picture of what it means to work at a company.

Related: Taking Action: Behind the Scenes with Our Diversity Talent Acquisition Specialist

Chris Byers: Yeah, that's good. You know, 2020 has been a tough year as I think everybody knows. And, you know, if any of you were to ever be in the room with a Ade and I, one of the things you'd notice is, you know, both CEOs, both founders, we wouldn't necessarily, though, be the loudest person in the room. And in fact, you might not even notice we're there at times. And Ade, you've put yourself out there in a huge way, being extremely vulnerable. What are the things you're doing to kind of just stay mentally healthy figure out like, how do I both respond and frankly grieve at times of what's going on? But then also say, you know what, maybe there's hope in the world. Maybe there's something I can do.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. So just, you know, personally, it's been a tough few weeks. And I would say, I guess to explain that a little bit more, because I think I've had a lot of conversations with Black friends, I think, who are kind of in the same boat. I remember vividly, you know, the Rodney King incidents back when I was as much younger. And there have been a number of incidents, kind of similar to that, that have broad visibility within the public sphere from Rodney King to George Floyd. And I think one of the struggles that I've had is, you know, each time a story like that flares up, like it brings a lot of emotions. There's anger, there's sadness. But in the end, it leaves a lot of hopelessness and thinking that nothing's changed. Right. And we've known about issues, especially surrounding kind of police brutality and criminal justice and how that's affected people of color disproportionately in this country. We've known about it for a while, but if anything, it's probably gotten worse in the last 20 years when you look at the number of Black people in prison and, you know, the militarization of police. Those trends have gone in the wrong direction.

And so I'll say one of the hardest things, to be honest, when I first heard about George Floyd, I was just kind of coming off a few weeks ago the Ahmaud Arbery case just really shook me. And when I heard about George Floyd, I read the headline and just went on to the next story. And I just wasn't in a place emotionally where I wanted to process it. And it took a few days before I was able to watch the video, before I was able to read the details of that. And the great thing that's happening now is there's a lot of conversation about all these problems and injustices. But I think one of the hard things emotionally is to wonder, like, is this really going to change? Is anything going to come out of this or are we just reopening old wounds but not really going to find any healing from that? And so that's a very indirect way to answer your question. I think it's helpful to give context just because I know I'm certainly not speaking for all Black people in the country, but I know for a lot they're going through a similar emotional journey. And that's why it's tough right now. It's hard sometimes. And I think we all need to be mindful that not every person of color really wants to have these conversations at the moment, just depending on where they are in their emotional journey.

But for me, I mean, I've had to do a number of things to kind of help myself stay healthy and sane. Some of it is just kind of fundamental things that I try to do on a regular basis. Exercise, meditate, eat well. Spend time with family. But some of it is just taking breaks from social media, taking breaks from the news, especially when I feel myself get caught up in the anger and emotion that's spurred by those mediums. And then I'd say the last thing is I really try to focus and kind of step back and say, well, how do I want things to change, like, how can I help contribute to that conversation in a positive way and what can I do? So that's practically it for me. I've been spending a lot more time learning and understanding these issues from a policy perspective or a sociological perspective, where my background knowledge, I'm a technologist and entrepreneur, so spending time learning more about these things I think kind of helps me understand the process better.

Chris Byers: If you're listening to this, everybody's going to get a broad set of responses to what's going on right now. And I know for me, I have, I'll say had to, and had to because I just understood something needed to be done in my own mind, in my own life. But I had to spend a great deal of time reading and watching videos and watching documentaries. I will say even I had to watch the video of George Floyd. There was a moment where I was like, you know what? If I really want to actually step forward and be a positive part of the change, I need to see some of the lows and be a part of some of the lows, I guess. And that was I mean, to anybody listening, I'd say if you've really just done surface level headline reading, if you're really just done a surface level attempt here, if you've frankly not had a conversation with somebody of color like around you, those are things you're missing out on. And I don't think you're going to progress in the way that I think we all need to to have the right conversations. And so I appreciate everybody who's taken time to really spend time reading and thinking and trying to understand like what is my perspective and how does it need to change and how do we need to improve to move forward. I know as a company, we have brought in some outside help to help us, first of all, as a leadership team. But then eventually as an organization to see where frankly, even where are we on this subject? Because, again, we're all at different places and we need to kind of begin to move toward the same destination. I know we've used an outside coaching group to help allow our team to call any time they want for coaching, counseling through this. Any particular subject matter, be it books, blogs, podcasts, etc., that you point people to to say, this is a great place to start?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, there's been a lot of good ones that I've come across, especially recently. But I guess rather than rattle down a list, I'd say to your point, I think it's important for people to start somewhere that really kind of touches on both the history of systemic racism in this country and then kind of a full comprehensive overview of where we are today in terms of the criminal justice system. Probably the best thing that I've come across, and there may be others, but the documentary 13th on Netflix, I think does an excellent job of piecing all these things together. I'd say you start there and that at least kind of helps launch a starting point to see where you might want to dig deeper to kind of understand different components better. So personally, I'm reading Just Mercy right now and find it really eye opening on digging into the criminal justice system. But yeah, if anything, start with 13th, it is probably the easiest thing to consume.

Chris Byers: That's good. So, you know, one of the conversations that I've noticed is not kind of being had in this country is what certain things mean. And I guess I'd love your perspective. And I I think we should all note that it's your perspective. And I think you will say it's not everybody's belief exactly. But there are a couple of kind of thoughts, phrases, movements that I think might be valuable for the audience to kind of hear about what's going on here. And the first one is Black Lives Matter. Tell us what that means to you and what you think that means to the people who speak it and are out kind of thinking about it and kind of moving it forward.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, certainly I don't claim to speak for all Black black people or for any particular organization or anything like that, speaking of Black Lives Matter. But yeah, to me, that just means that at its surface that, yes, Black lives matter. And I think that's highlighted because, you know, especially when you look at the history of Black lives in this country. And again, what's happening today, like the incidents, again, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, you know, Elijah McClain and so on, so forth, is that it's easy to feel like Black lives don't matter to the system. So all it is, this is highlighting the fact that, yes, they do and they should in this country. And that's not to say that other other people don't matter. Certainly they all do, but it's that this is one sector of society that has been long ignored. And we need to make sure that there is equality and justice for Black lives, just as there are for White lives in this country.

Chris Byers: Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that's been just eye opening for me in this time is if you look at the Hispanic community in the U.S., it has on the whole, especially at the size that it is and how much it represents to the U.S. today, not been in the U.S. Nearly as long as as kind of the Black community. And yet the Black community is behind the Hispanic community in terms of income, net worth. And as I looked at that, I thought, wow, there is definitely a problem when a community has been with us all, nearly always, is that far behind. There is something that speaks to why we need to speak about Black lives mattering today and why we need to point that out and make it a thing and make it make it the point. And so I thank you for sharing those thoughts.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. And just speak on that real quick. I think the thing that's easy to forget and I mean, I think part of even going back to what we said in terms of during the 90s, the last couple of decades, it's almost been that the conversation has shifted in this country to talk about like we live in a post-racial society and feeling like racism was solved during the civil rights era. And clearly, I think we're saying very clearly that that's not the case. But even given the progress that was made in the civil rights era, it's discounting today, like how much of that history does matter. And like you said, that the injustices that happened in this country really weren't that long ago. When you think about it in the context of how it's affecting people's lives today. And maybe that's like the example you gave in terms of receiving an inheritance that helped you pay down loans. Well, you know, when Black people in this country started with nothing and weren't allowed to accumulate wealth and weren't allowed to have the freedoms to just basic freedoms within this country, and kind of starting so far behind, those things still matter and still make a difference today. That's the reason why the average net worth or the median net worth of Black households today is a tenth of that of White households. That that's still affecting us today. The things that happened, you know, 400 years ago, much less 50 years ago in this country. And Jim Crow and such. So, yeah, it does still matter to them.

Chris Byers: Thank you for that. The other thing that I think would be great to kind of express what you think is happening right now is there are protests going on all around the U.S. and in fact, if you think they're not happening because they're not hitting the news, it is actually because I think a number of very peaceful protests are going on right now all over the country. And so that's not making the news. But there is a message that is still trying to be kind of delivered at the moment. What do you think that is?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I mean, the protesters are asking for a bunch of different things. But I think, you know, right now the most critical issue, again, goes back to just we want changes in the policing systems in this country. We need changes in the criminal justice system. And I think and again, I don't speak for everybody, there are different perspectives in terms of what people want. But I think we need meaningful change beyond just I think what we saw a few years ago when the start of the Black Lives Matters protests. Largely inaction. But then I think there was a lot of talk and superficial things about like, you know, let's add training or like let's increase training within police forces to help them overcome racial biases. Let's add body cameras and invest in body cameras to help make sure that we're catching things that are happening.

And the reality is, as far as I can tell, most people are saying that didn't do much. And I think one thing real quick. The reason why the word systemic racism is so important, that term systemic racism, is because it highlights the fact that we have a system that in and of itself is disproportionately affecting people of color in this country. The issue is systemic. And so that's everything from, me personally, just really passionate about removing cash bail out of our system. The fact that we have people who can get arrested and though innocent until proven guilty just because they can't afford to pay a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for bail, they're held in the system, which creates all these ripple effects. Like that in itself, it disproportionately affects people of color. And that itself is systemic racism. The war on drugs itself is an example of systemic racism. So I think we need to rethink fundamentally what are the things that we make illegal in this country and what are the punishments behind them? Why did that happen in the first place? And you can kind of look at the history. Understand why, you know, why was crack cocaine, sentencing for crack cocaine 10 times more than sentencing for powdered cocaine, the equivalent amount of powder cocaine? Why was marijuana made illegal in this country to begin with? And the answer to those, unfortunately, were racist things. Right. And so I think protesters are asking for a lot of things, but I think they're asking for meaningful reform to the criminal justice system so that we're not locking up people of color at disproportionate rates. We're not killing Black people at disproportionate rates. These systemic things need to change before we see the results that we want to see.

Chris Byers: So as we take all of this conversation in and as we think about kind of where we go from here, what are the things you hope people... How do we move forward? What is it so that we actually have that positive ripple effect and can look back days, weeks, months, years from now? What do you think the things are that we can do to move forward?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, ultimately, I should start by saying that I'm more optimistic now than I probably ever have been that things will change. And one of the reasons why is because people are having conversations like this that are meaningful. And people do seem to, on a wide scale, trying to understand where and why systemic racism exists in this country. So, I mean, in terms of moving forward, I think just one, that needs to continue. Like you said earlier, I think if you haven't had conversations with people in your life, just ask about these issues and ask with an open mind and an open heart. I think that will do a lot towards just improving your own understanding and towards getting the change because of awareness and understanding needs to proceed change. And so starting there and then to deepening understanding. And then I think, you know, what will come from that is really understanding. You know, like I touched on a couple of things like bail and, you know, the drug laws in this country. But I think that change that needs to happen is political. I think the change that needs to happen is that we need to push our politicians to readdress some of these issues and kind of fix some of these issues. And the way that we do that individually is, you know, by voting, by encouraging others to vote and then, you know, by calling politicians and sending them letters and demanding change. And I think it may take some time, but that's the real answer, is that we need. We need to change the system.

Chris Byers: Well Ade, thank you for joining us today. I hope that everybody who's listening is really thinking about how can I be a part of a positive change? Be a part of raising my own awareness, starting conversations with people, thinking about the ways that I might have supported racism in the past and do today even and how can I break that and become anti-racist? And Ade, just I thank you for many things in life, but in particular today being just a help to us moving forward and opening up your story so that we could learn from it and kind of grow going forward.

Ade Olonoh: Thank you. It's great to chat about this. Great to talk with you, as always. So glad we're having this conversation.

Thanks for joining us today on Ripple Effect, what we heard today was a really powerful story, and it was the powerful story of a Black individual who, first of all, has been really important in my life. But I hope his story has become important in your life to really reframing what we think about in terms of racism and how it still persists today in this country. And I hope it causes you to want to take some action. If I can encourage you to take any action, it is really start a conversation or begin researching. Where can you find people or resources to help you take the next step? And how can we move forward this conversation on race and equality in the U.S.

Well, thanks for joining us today on this special episode of Ripple Effect. You can read Ade's full story at adeolonoh.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're doing something a bit different than what you may have heard in previous episodes. 2020 has been a year many of us did not anticipate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the injustice and inequality that we're seeing more clearly here in the U.S. And we want to do our part in sharing voices and perspectives to our community and how we can think about being more proactive and take action to really just improve the world around us. At Formstack, we've come to our own realization that not only do we need to say something, but we also need to do something. And so we started with our own statement that Black Lives Matter. And we affirmed that we want to be a support to the Black community today.

In addition to that, we've hired a diversity talent specialist to help make our organization more welcoming to diverse candidates, as well as helping us bring in a more diverse candidate pool. We're finding ways for our employees to give their time and money to help fight social injustices and inequality. And then, we're starting conversations. And if you hear anything today, I think the most important thing you should hear is about conversations and really education. What we all need to do right now is think about having conversations with people around us about race, racism, et cetera. And so in this episode, we have Ade Olonoh on the show. He is Formstack's founder and he is here to have a conversation with us about a personal story he shared. And it's all about sharing his story on racism and how we can improve diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces. So take a listen.

Today, we have a really cool opportunity to get to talk to somebody who has been really important in the history of our company and the history really in my life. He's going to help us explore a topic today that I think is really top of mind for a lot of us and trying to figure out how do we best approach going forward. And that topic actually covers a lot of things. It's about racism, the challenge of the Black community, and ways that we need to help overcome those challenges. It's about equality. And, you know, who I've got today with us is our founder, Ade Olonoh. Ade has founded really a number of companies, one of them being Formstack and we've gotten the benefit of being able to be a part of this organization and grow together. But more importantly than that, he and I have been friends for 23 years, I think at this point. And I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be together and be able to talk about some of this. And so I want to welcome Ade.

Ade Olonoh: Thanks, Chris. Excited to be here.

Chris Byers: Excellent. Well, maybe just as a quick aside before we get into more serious things. Where was it we met 23 years ago? Do you remember? I think we were both working at the same place. I'm not sure exactly if that's what caused us to meet, but where was that?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I don't know if that was really the first time we met, but the first time I remember is when we were both working in I.T. at Anderson University. Where we were both going to school. Is that what you remember?

Chris Byers: That's what I'm remembering. Who knows exactly where we met along the way. But I know we got to work together in I.T. off and on over a couple of years and then that eventually led to founding a company together and then Ade founded Formstack later on and it kind of worked out well, then he founded yet another company. And so at the time I said, hey, if I can come help be a part of finding the future for Formstack, I can do that. And that turned into just kind of a long term role. But what's really interesting is Ade and I have talked about everything over the course of all these years, and especially in the past 10 years, we've talked about family and business and we've had endless meals together and endless meals with our families. And yet, you know, what's fascinating and sad is one of the conversations we never talked about until three weeks ago was race. And the impact of that on Ade, the impact of that around us in the world. And right now, I think it's a really important time where we need to be having these conversations. And the fact that we haven't been having them has created an unnecessary just kind of layer of just not talking about the right things in our country. And so Ade, you wrote an article and it was titled I Can't Breathe. And you share your personal experiences with racism, prejudice, injustice, and in the opening you mentioned struggling on whether you should write or not. Can you talk a little bit about what made you write it? What helped you decide to finally put that together.

Ade Olonoh: So I wrote that about a week after the news about George Floyd came up. And like I start out in the piece, I really struggled for a number of different reasons. One of which is that I felt like as I was thinking about, and how the whole country was talking about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable talking about my own struggles because they pale compared to those stories. I mean, clearly, I'm still here living and breathing. I haven't had incidents where I've been really attacked by police or anything, you know, to that extent. And so I really struggled with how do I talk about my struggles being Black in America in the context of those stories, which are just much more tragic. So I think that was part of it. But then in general, I struggle with kind of what you alluded to. I think growing up in the 90s here, it was almost like there's kind of an unsaid thing. You know, we shouldn't talk about race. And I've always struggled, you know, as somebody who's trying to succeed professionally. I think a lot of Black people in the workplace kind of struggle with this. If you talk about race, then you're kind of going to be pigeonholed into this point of view where, you know, you're somebody who always brings up this issue and it makes it uncomfortable for others. I have unfortunately swung too far to the other side where I don't talk about it publicly. It's kind of a struggle on what's the right way to approach that? How do I tell the story in a way that people would listen. Like finally just got to the point where I felt like I had to write something. And that article was kind of the outpouring of my background and what was on my mind.

Related: Fornmstack's Stance Against Inequality, Injustice, and Racism

Chris Byers: I do just fully agree. There's some message and I can't tieback exactly when it happened, what it was, but there was some message along the way that was definitely if we don't talk about this, then it's not an issue anymore. And I've kind of thought about the stupidity of that, I guess, in the past couple weeks where, you know,= if you had some sort of maybe disagreement with somebody or if you had an issue that was not helping your relationship with someone kind of succeed. And if you ever said to your friend, you know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to talk about it. The response would be like, that's stupid. Like that is totally not going to be the way you ever actually communicate with somebody. You're just going to bury these thoughts and ideas. And if you never talk about them, then you've, like, lost an opportunity in your relationship. And I think it's just fascinating how this conversation. I mean, between you and I, even about this article was just extremely eye opening for me to say. Oh, actually, it's also OK to have this conversation. And it's OK to say we do have different backgrounds and that does mean something and has impacted the way that we've lived or grown up. You'll get to see a link to this article if you're listening, and we'll post that in the shownotes or otherwise here in a bit. But definitely worth a read to kind of get some more color here. But we'll talk through this a little bit more.

So, you know, in the article, you I mean, first of all, just extremely eye opening, moving, and beautifully moving in a way where I saw so many people who I know care about you, share it with other people. And it was great for them to be able to say, you know what, I now see something I might not have otherwise. But how as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, as a tech founder, how have these experiences shaped your professional journey?

Ade Olonoh: I talk in the piece and I won't rehash the whole thing, but essentially I talk about how eye opening and kind of my journey growing up here in the U.S. is different because I'm Black and how that gets reinforced in all these small ways throughout my career. And just as I'm growing up and yeah, I guess in terms of my professional journey, I mean, I'll say I talk in the piece about how one of the things that I allude to in the piece that's really hard is that, you know that racism exists in the country. It's empirical, but you don't always know the ways it impacts you. There were jobs that I thought I was qualified to get, that I didn't get an interview or didn't get a job offer, and maybe none of them were because of racism or implicit bias. But maybe some of them, more statistically I would have to assume so.

Similar in terms of raising capital, as an entrepreneur, there are times where many, many times that I heard no from investors, which is common for entrepreneurs, whether you're White, Black, Brown, male, or female. But sometimes you kind of walk away from those experiences wondering, like, was it because of the color of my skin or is it just because they didn't like my idea or something didn't really click on the pitch? And so what when you think about your question about how it shaped my professional journey, I don't have any of the stark stories. Nobody ever kind of kicked me out of their offices saying, I'm not going to invest in you or I'm not going to hire you because you're Black. But it's something that was top of mind as I kind of walked through my journey. The end result was I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder. I always felt like, both in terms of output, just in terms of my own psychology as well, to kind of put my head down and ignore the reactions from the outside world and carve my own path. So that's a very nuanced answer. But in terms of how it affected me. I would say it's something you think about all the time, but never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.

Chris Byers: If I think about my own life and how I've never left an interview, left a capital raising opportunity, left a conversation and thought because of the color of my skin, it mattered. It's not even a thought that comes to my mind. And so I can completely understand how that is a weight you carry. You're trying to raise money, and that's already hard enough work. And if there's just one more thing that causes your own doubts or causes you to just wonder. It works against you and it makes it all the more difficult to get done the job you're just trying to get done like everybody else. It is challenging.

Ade Olonoh: One way to think about it, too, is, you know, walking into a VC pitch. And as you walk into a boardroom and all the investors you are pitching to are white men and they tell you no, and you look at their portfolio website and it's predominantly white founders, again, men. And I think the stats are that only about one percent of venture investments are to Black founders. And I forget, I actually forget the number of women that are invested, but it's, again, single digit percentages. You know, you have to think there's a pattern here that the industry has shown. And then similarly, if you're applying to work in a company and you look at their website, and it's predominantly white men, then you have to wonder, like, do I really fit in here? And, you know, despite their best intentions, am starting a few steps behind other entrepreneurs or other candidates, you know, when you see kind of the results of who they're investing in and who they're hiring.

It's not enough to say we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know they're welcome and that you're reaching out to hire those people.

Chris Byers: And I think it's fascinating, you're talking about technology, where we think of ourselves as the most progressive, the most, you know, ahead of the time in terms of whether it's anything from benefits or hiring more diversely or being open to new ideas. And yet, even in technology, you still have those questions. I'm curious, how do you think this does impact technology, what have you noticed that how it applies still to technology, even though we think of ourselves as forward thinking?

Ade Olonoh: It's really interesting to look at because as you said, I'm sure if you pull the people who work in technology and compare them to other industries that we think of as less progressive, that is true, that personally we probably have more progressive mindsets than other industries. But the interesting thing about technology is the systemic racial problems really are compounded when it comes to technology, because usually access to computer science education is something that's afforded to the wealthy people in this country or people with access to great schools and good backgrounds. And even something as maybe even something as specific as the people who are more likely to be good at coding are more likely to have laptops in the home or access to a computer at home.

I don't remember all the details about this, but I remember reading something relatively recently talking about how, kind of before the explosion of the PCs, kind of in the 80s, male female participation in computer science was about equal. But then what happened was that this article is speculating that with the rise of PCs in the home and PCs especially focused around gaming and the types of games that were on the early PCs, what happened is inevitably boys would kind of push out the girls from using the PCs because they were the ones playing the games and the action games. And then, you know, over time, that compounded to mean that there are fewer and fewer women that were in the computing field and then felt comfortable taking computer science classes and stuff like that.

So back to my point being that I think those types of effects compound. If you have fewer Black people able to succeed in school, especially around computer fields, and maybe that's because of access at home or access to great schools that are providing that, then that shows up kind of later with an attack. Similarly, when thinking about entrepreneurship, one of the big problems with venture and investing is that venture capital funds are typically looking for a lot of traction with the companies that they invest in. But in the very early days, it may be that Black entrepreneurs have much less access to kind of those friends and family rounds that they need to kind of get an idea off the ground before they even get the traction that gets the VCs.

It may be that even just kind of the lack of a safety net where they feel like if they tried something risky and failed, that they'd be able to brush themselves off and either get, you know, get a loan from friends and family or get a job to kind of replenish their bank account. And maybe they don't have a safety net that their White counterparts do. So that compounds as well to why, I think we see the problem so much more starkly in tech versus other industries that might be less risky.

Read More: Why We Should Talk About Race

Chris Byers: You know, I think technology is really interesting here, too, because in technology, we're always thinking about solving problems really quickly. We're always thinking, oh, we're five minutes away. We're weeks away. We're a couple years away from solving major problems at speed. And yet what you're talking about is there are so many things that we've got to go so far back or wait a ways into the future to really make serious impact. We need to start an education and finding more fundamental ways to provide education on entrepreneurship or finding, to your point, access to capital or helping people even see there's an ecosystem that maybe they can join or be a part of to help new ideas. I'm curious, you are an investor, you've thought about these things. I'm curious if you've ideated on your own ways to how we could think about having some more long term impact.

Ade Olonoh: Yes. You're right in saying that. I mean, it's a very complicated issue. There are no overnight successes here or silver bullets to kind of solve the problem. So, yeah, I think it spans all of those things you touched on. I think it's, you know, it's education at an early age. It's access. It's even just things like people seeing themselves represented. So, I mean, just even the archetype we have of this successful entrepreneur, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you know, all white men. I'm not going to take anything from their accomplishments. They're incredible entrepreneurs. But some of it, I think is even just socializing more of the successes, people of color and women who are successful and kind of changing the way we have a conversation about what an entrepreneur even is. I think it's a systemic things; I think it's in some ways, it can also be a copout to kind of say, well, it's a pipeline problem or that these issues are too complex. I think sometimes it really just does come down to trying to make a difference by being conscious of your own biases and working on that personally. I think for every investor really working on their network and make sure that they are talking to founders of color or they're talking to female founders just as much as they are talking to White male founders or at least in proportion to the population. Right. And so maybe working a little bit harder to make sure that you're in the right networks, that see that kind of deal flow and be conscious of your own biases and working through that when talking to people, because, yes, the systemic issues are definitely there. But I think we can all grow in the moment in terms of how we approach our business.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And, you know, I think you make a great point. I hope that we all walk away from this conversation hearing there are things to do. Absolutely. Now, I think one of the things, I will say as a White person, I have come to realize is, first of all, just in general how much racism still exists and how much, in a way, I support those things and have supported systems that create this longer term kind of systemic racism. And I don't tend to think about my past a lot. I don't think about where I came from. And yet I don't see, therefore, how many bits of access I guess I've had over time, whether it's capital or otherwise. I can think about, you know, one of the things I've learned in the past three weeks is just how difficult or impossible it was to get a mortgage as a Black person in the 1950s. And, you know, I think about when I was trying to pay off some debt. My wife and I were trying to pay off some debt early in our marriage. And one of the things that allowed us to pay off that final bit of debt was an inheritance I got from my grandparents, who I know got a mortgage in the 1950s, and part of that inheritance was from them selling their house. And so these are things that most days I would never think of as like, oh, that's an advantage I have. And yet have completely played into some of the ways that I've been able to to move forward.

I wonder, as we do think about things that we can do now, you've brought up some of them. I know as a company there's really a couple of messages that I've been trying to just begin to talk about. One is I want to make sure we have a space for conversations. As you and I both know, as we all know, social media is a horrendous place to have a conversation. It's all about headlines and you know my dramatic view on the world. But I think one of the challenges is we're not talking about these things and we're not able to say, hey, can we sit down and have a pure level one to one conversation about your views, my views, how can we learn together and grow together? I'm curious if you've seen some good examples of conversations beginning in the past, in the past month. You know, one of those things that we're talking about is having conversations, and as a company, we're trying to begin to facilitate that so we can have maybe a third party come in and help us just have some better, real conversations together about race, racism, equality, and how we as a people can make sure we are treating the people around us on a pure level and truly as equal and making sure they feel comfortable being around us. The other thing that we're talking about is really diversity at a greater level. So we have had a very broad, very broad diversity kind of plan in the past week. We've talked about it internally, but we've not made a big deal of it, frankly. And in fact, I've also taken a very inbound approach to it. I guess where I said, yes, everyone is welcome here. I hope this feels like a comfortable place. But one of the things I'm realizing that really just recently is that's not enough. We need to be much more proactive at saying both what are the things that we do in our hiring practices and our onboarding, even in our marketing. How do we show up and how do we look to people who might not look as much like us? And how do we make sure that feels less like the case? And so, you know, I think one of my questions is, what do you think some things technology companies can do to improve diversity, inclusion, and really making a better effort here.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I think you're thinking about things the right way. I guess to start I mean, just to underscore the point, I think being proactive about it is the right approach. And I think that's what's encouraging about the conversation that a lot of people are having right now, is that realizing that it's not enough to just not be racist, but you actually have to be anti-racist and especially recognizing that there's systemic racism in this country. You have to be proactive to counteract that. And so, yeah, like you said, it's not just enough to say, oh, yeah, we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know that they're welcome there and that you're reaching out to hiring those people. I think, as you know, the longer you go as a company and the less representation you have in your company, the harder it is. Nobody wants to be, or very few people want to be the only Black person in a company or the only woman to work in a company. Right. And this gets magnified.

So in terms of your question, what can tech companies do about it? I think understanding that, prioritizing it in a way that maybe it hasn't been prioritized before. And I think at this moment, we all have to ask ourselves. Yes, we care about these issues, but how much we care about it. Do we care about it enough to really make it one of the key corporate initiatives and put money and time behind it? And that may mean hiring people within the company to really kind of spearhead these initiatives. To that point, I think one of the most important things, anything within business, you need to measure what's happening within the company and have accountability behind those numbers. I think when I think about it, I'm certainly no expert around H.R. and may not have all the tricks in my tool belt in terms of how to solve the diversity equation within companies. But I know like foundationally, you have to start with understanding well, measuring your pipeline, measure throughout the interview process to better understand that retention around all of the dimensions of race and gender and sexual identity. Understand like where we're falling short and where is there room for improvement. And so just creating that mechanism and that infrastructure to measure and hold accountable is one of the first places to start to make sure that, like, something meaningfully changes, and it's not just a nice sounding initiative, but that there's actually teeth behind it towards making change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think for us, we hired a diversity talent acquisition specialist early this year. And I will say, frankly, we probably wouldn't have done much reporting, maybe in terms of a leadership team or something, but not publicly. Again, out of a naivety that like this is going to work itself out over time. And one of the things we said last week to the team is you're going to start to see a monthly report on this. And I know as an organization, we've always thought transparency is a huge key to creating good, accountable systems and showing reporting, because if I am showing this to you every month, then I better show some progress and show that we're doing a better job of finding the right places to both show up and are we learning how that talent funnel is working out or are we letting people drop out that shouldn't drop out. And so I like that thinking. Anything else that comes to mind you just think companies should be doing to improve diversity, making sure it's more comfortable and engaging place for diverse team members?

Ade Olonoh:I think that, as I said, I think it's important to kind of look at the whole picture. So not just in the hiring process, but what happens to what the company looks like once you hired somebody who's unrepresented within the company. And so looking at retention, I think is important and really focusing on that inclusion part or diversity and inclusion. And so that means that they feel their voices are heard, does it feel like they're safe and comfortable and welcome at the company. But some of that also means do they have the same opportunity for growth within the company as do others. Right. And so I think back to measuring and measuring what retention looks like measuring what, you know, pay, looks like within the company across different diversity dimensions, measuring what kind of promotion looks like. Focusing on that part of the cycle and that part of the funnel is important, too. I mean, just in the same way that we think in our business, and Formstack is a SaaS business, we think about acquisition and retention and churn and kind of all those. And when we think and measure how we're doing as a business and think about the customer, I think you need to do that from an employee perspective as well. Look at the whole lifecycle and the holistic picture of what it means to work at a company.

Related: Taking Action: Behind the Scenes with Our Diversity Talent Acquisition Specialist

Chris Byers: Yeah, that's good. You know, 2020 has been a tough year as I think everybody knows. And, you know, if any of you were to ever be in the room with a Ade and I, one of the things you'd notice is, you know, both CEOs, both founders, we wouldn't necessarily, though, be the loudest person in the room. And in fact, you might not even notice we're there at times. And Ade, you've put yourself out there in a huge way, being extremely vulnerable. What are the things you're doing to kind of just stay mentally healthy figure out like, how do I both respond and frankly grieve at times of what's going on? But then also say, you know what, maybe there's hope in the world. Maybe there's something I can do.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. So just, you know, personally, it's been a tough few weeks. And I would say, I guess to explain that a little bit more, because I think I've had a lot of conversations with Black friends, I think, who are kind of in the same boat. I remember vividly, you know, the Rodney King incidents back when I was as much younger. And there have been a number of incidents, kind of similar to that, that have broad visibility within the public sphere from Rodney King to George Floyd. And I think one of the struggles that I've had is, you know, each time a story like that flares up, like it brings a lot of emotions. There's anger, there's sadness. But in the end, it leaves a lot of hopelessness and thinking that nothing's changed. Right. And we've known about issues, especially surrounding kind of police brutality and criminal justice and how that's affected people of color disproportionately in this country. We've known about it for a while, but if anything, it's probably gotten worse in the last 20 years when you look at the number of Black people in prison and, you know, the militarization of police. Those trends have gone in the wrong direction.

And so I'll say one of the hardest things, to be honest, when I first heard about George Floyd, I was just kind of coming off a few weeks ago the Ahmaud Arbery case just really shook me. And when I heard about George Floyd, I read the headline and just went on to the next story. And I just wasn't in a place emotionally where I wanted to process it. And it took a few days before I was able to watch the video, before I was able to read the details of that. And the great thing that's happening now is there's a lot of conversation about all these problems and injustices. But I think one of the hard things emotionally is to wonder, like, is this really going to change? Is anything going to come out of this or are we just reopening old wounds but not really going to find any healing from that? And so that's a very indirect way to answer your question. I think it's helpful to give context just because I know I'm certainly not speaking for all Black people in the country, but I know for a lot they're going through a similar emotional journey. And that's why it's tough right now. It's hard sometimes. And I think we all need to be mindful that not every person of color really wants to have these conversations at the moment, just depending on where they are in their emotional journey.

But for me, I mean, I've had to do a number of things to kind of help myself stay healthy and sane. Some of it is just kind of fundamental things that I try to do on a regular basis. Exercise, meditate, eat well. Spend time with family. But some of it is just taking breaks from social media, taking breaks from the news, especially when I feel myself get caught up in the anger and emotion that's spurred by those mediums. And then I'd say the last thing is I really try to focus and kind of step back and say, well, how do I want things to change, like, how can I help contribute to that conversation in a positive way and what can I do? So that's practically it for me. I've been spending a lot more time learning and understanding these issues from a policy perspective or a sociological perspective, where my background knowledge, I'm a technologist and entrepreneur, so spending time learning more about these things I think kind of helps me understand the process better.

Chris Byers: If you're listening to this, everybody's going to get a broad set of responses to what's going on right now. And I know for me, I have, I'll say had to, and had to because I just understood something needed to be done in my own mind, in my own life. But I had to spend a great deal of time reading and watching videos and watching documentaries. I will say even I had to watch the video of George Floyd. There was a moment where I was like, you know what? If I really want to actually step forward and be a positive part of the change, I need to see some of the lows and be a part of some of the lows, I guess. And that was I mean, to anybody listening, I'd say if you've really just done surface level headline reading, if you're really just done a surface level attempt here, if you've frankly not had a conversation with somebody of color like around you, those are things you're missing out on. And I don't think you're going to progress in the way that I think we all need to to have the right conversations. And so I appreciate everybody who's taken time to really spend time reading and thinking and trying to understand like what is my perspective and how does it need to change and how do we need to improve to move forward. I know as a company, we have brought in some outside help to help us, first of all, as a leadership team. But then eventually as an organization to see where frankly, even where are we on this subject? Because, again, we're all at different places and we need to kind of begin to move toward the same destination. I know we've used an outside coaching group to help allow our team to call any time they want for coaching, counseling through this. Any particular subject matter, be it books, blogs, podcasts, etc., that you point people to to say, this is a great place to start?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, there's been a lot of good ones that I've come across, especially recently. But I guess rather than rattle down a list, I'd say to your point, I think it's important for people to start somewhere that really kind of touches on both the history of systemic racism in this country and then kind of a full comprehensive overview of where we are today in terms of the criminal justice system. Probably the best thing that I've come across, and there may be others, but the documentary 13th on Netflix, I think does an excellent job of piecing all these things together. I'd say you start there and that at least kind of helps launch a starting point to see where you might want to dig deeper to kind of understand different components better. So personally, I'm reading Just Mercy right now and find it really eye opening on digging into the criminal justice system. But yeah, if anything, start with 13th, it is probably the easiest thing to consume.

Chris Byers: That's good. So, you know, one of the conversations that I've noticed is not kind of being had in this country is what certain things mean. And I guess I'd love your perspective. And I I think we should all note that it's your perspective. And I think you will say it's not everybody's belief exactly. But there are a couple of kind of thoughts, phrases, movements that I think might be valuable for the audience to kind of hear about what's going on here. And the first one is Black Lives Matter. Tell us what that means to you and what you think that means to the people who speak it and are out kind of thinking about it and kind of moving it forward.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, certainly I don't claim to speak for all Black black people or for any particular organization or anything like that, speaking of Black Lives Matter. But yeah, to me, that just means that at its surface that, yes, Black lives matter. And I think that's highlighted because, you know, especially when you look at the history of Black lives in this country. And again, what's happening today, like the incidents, again, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, you know, Elijah McClain and so on, so forth, is that it's easy to feel like Black lives don't matter to the system. So all it is, this is highlighting the fact that, yes, they do and they should in this country. And that's not to say that other other people don't matter. Certainly they all do, but it's that this is one sector of society that has been long ignored. And we need to make sure that there is equality and justice for Black lives, just as there are for White lives in this country.

Chris Byers: Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that's been just eye opening for me in this time is if you look at the Hispanic community in the U.S., it has on the whole, especially at the size that it is and how much it represents to the U.S. today, not been in the U.S. Nearly as long as as kind of the Black community. And yet the Black community is behind the Hispanic community in terms of income, net worth. And as I looked at that, I thought, wow, there is definitely a problem when a community has been with us all, nearly always, is that far behind. There is something that speaks to why we need to speak about Black lives mattering today and why we need to point that out and make it a thing and make it make it the point. And so I thank you for sharing those thoughts.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. And just speak on that real quick. I think the thing that's easy to forget and I mean, I think part of even going back to what we said in terms of during the 90s, the last couple of decades, it's almost been that the conversation has shifted in this country to talk about like we live in a post-racial society and feeling like racism was solved during the civil rights era. And clearly, I think we're saying very clearly that that's not the case. But even given the progress that was made in the civil rights era, it's discounting today, like how much of that history does matter. And like you said, that the injustices that happened in this country really weren't that long ago. When you think about it in the context of how it's affecting people's lives today. And maybe that's like the example you gave in terms of receiving an inheritance that helped you pay down loans. Well, you know, when Black people in this country started with nothing and weren't allowed to accumulate wealth and weren't allowed to have the freedoms to just basic freedoms within this country, and kind of starting so far behind, those things still matter and still make a difference today. That's the reason why the average net worth or the median net worth of Black households today is a tenth of that of White households. That that's still affecting us today. The things that happened, you know, 400 years ago, much less 50 years ago in this country. And Jim Crow and such. So, yeah, it does still matter to them.

Chris Byers: Thank you for that. The other thing that I think would be great to kind of express what you think is happening right now is there are protests going on all around the U.S. and in fact, if you think they're not happening because they're not hitting the news, it is actually because I think a number of very peaceful protests are going on right now all over the country. And so that's not making the news. But there is a message that is still trying to be kind of delivered at the moment. What do you think that is?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I mean, the protesters are asking for a bunch of different things. But I think, you know, right now the most critical issue, again, goes back to just we want changes in the policing systems in this country. We need changes in the criminal justice system. And I think and again, I don't speak for everybody, there are different perspectives in terms of what people want. But I think we need meaningful change beyond just I think what we saw a few years ago when the start of the Black Lives Matters protests. Largely inaction. But then I think there was a lot of talk and superficial things about like, you know, let's add training or like let's increase training within police forces to help them overcome racial biases. Let's add body cameras and invest in body cameras to help make sure that we're catching things that are happening.

And the reality is, as far as I can tell, most people are saying that didn't do much. And I think one thing real quick. The reason why the word systemic racism is so important, that term systemic racism, is because it highlights the fact that we have a system that in and of itself is disproportionately affecting people of color in this country. The issue is systemic. And so that's everything from, me personally, just really passionate about removing cash bail out of our system. The fact that we have people who can get arrested and though innocent until proven guilty just because they can't afford to pay a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for bail, they're held in the system, which creates all these ripple effects. Like that in itself, it disproportionately affects people of color. And that itself is systemic racism. The war on drugs itself is an example of systemic racism. So I think we need to rethink fundamentally what are the things that we make illegal in this country and what are the punishments behind them? Why did that happen in the first place? And you can kind of look at the history. Understand why, you know, why was crack cocaine, sentencing for crack cocaine 10 times more than sentencing for powdered cocaine, the equivalent amount of powder cocaine? Why was marijuana made illegal in this country to begin with? And the answer to those, unfortunately, were racist things. Right. And so I think protesters are asking for a lot of things, but I think they're asking for meaningful reform to the criminal justice system so that we're not locking up people of color at disproportionate rates. We're not killing Black people at disproportionate rates. These systemic things need to change before we see the results that we want to see.

Chris Byers: So as we take all of this conversation in and as we think about kind of where we go from here, what are the things you hope people... How do we move forward? What is it so that we actually have that positive ripple effect and can look back days, weeks, months, years from now? What do you think the things are that we can do to move forward?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, ultimately, I should start by saying that I'm more optimistic now than I probably ever have been that things will change. And one of the reasons why is because people are having conversations like this that are meaningful. And people do seem to, on a wide scale, trying to understand where and why systemic racism exists in this country. So, I mean, in terms of moving forward, I think just one, that needs to continue. Like you said earlier, I think if you haven't had conversations with people in your life, just ask about these issues and ask with an open mind and an open heart. I think that will do a lot towards just improving your own understanding and towards getting the change because of awareness and understanding needs to proceed change. And so starting there and then to deepening understanding. And then I think, you know, what will come from that is really understanding. You know, like I touched on a couple of things like bail and, you know, the drug laws in this country. But I think that change that needs to happen is political. I think the change that needs to happen is that we need to push our politicians to readdress some of these issues and kind of fix some of these issues. And the way that we do that individually is, you know, by voting, by encouraging others to vote and then, you know, by calling politicians and sending them letters and demanding change. And I think it may take some time, but that's the real answer, is that we need. We need to change the system.

Chris Byers: Well Ade, thank you for joining us today. I hope that everybody who's listening is really thinking about how can I be a part of a positive change? Be a part of raising my own awareness, starting conversations with people, thinking about the ways that I might have supported racism in the past and do today even and how can I break that and become anti-racist? And Ade, just I thank you for many things in life, but in particular today being just a help to us moving forward and opening up your story so that we could learn from it and kind of grow going forward.

Ade Olonoh: Thank you. It's great to chat about this. Great to talk with you, as always. So glad we're having this conversation.

Thanks for joining us today on Ripple Effect, what we heard today was a really powerful story, and it was the powerful story of a Black individual who, first of all, has been really important in my life. But I hope his story has become important in your life to really reframing what we think about in terms of racism and how it still persists today in this country. And I hope it causes you to want to take some action. If I can encourage you to take any action, it is really start a conversation or begin researching. Where can you find people or resources to help you take the next step? And how can we move forward this conversation on race and equality in the U.S.

Well, thanks for joining us today on this special episode of Ripple Effect. You can read Ade's full story at adeolonoh.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're doing something a bit different than what you may have heard in previous episodes. 2020 has been a year many of us did not anticipate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the injustice and inequality that we're seeing more clearly here in the U.S. And we want to do our part in sharing voices and perspectives to our community and how we can think about being more proactive and take action to really just improve the world around us. At Formstack, we've come to our own realization that not only do we need to say something, but we also need to do something. And so we started with our own statement that Black Lives Matter. And we affirmed that we want to be a support to the Black community today.

In addition to that, we've hired a diversity talent specialist to help make our organization more welcoming to diverse candidates, as well as helping us bring in a more diverse candidate pool. We're finding ways for our employees to give their time and money to help fight social injustices and inequality. And then, we're starting conversations. And if you hear anything today, I think the most important thing you should hear is about conversations and really education. What we all need to do right now is think about having conversations with people around us about race, racism, et cetera. And so in this episode, we have Ade Olonoh on the show. He is Formstack's founder and he is here to have a conversation with us about a personal story he shared. And it's all about sharing his story on racism and how we can improve diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces. So take a listen.

Today, we have a really cool opportunity to get to talk to somebody who has been really important in the history of our company and the history really in my life. He's going to help us explore a topic today that I think is really top of mind for a lot of us and trying to figure out how do we best approach going forward. And that topic actually covers a lot of things. It's about racism, the challenge of the Black community, and ways that we need to help overcome those challenges. It's about equality. And, you know, who I've got today with us is our founder, Ade Olonoh. Ade has founded really a number of companies, one of them being Formstack and we've gotten the benefit of being able to be a part of this organization and grow together. But more importantly than that, he and I have been friends for 23 years, I think at this point. And I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be together and be able to talk about some of this. And so I want to welcome Ade.

Ade Olonoh: Thanks, Chris. Excited to be here.

Chris Byers: Excellent. Well, maybe just as a quick aside before we get into more serious things. Where was it we met 23 years ago? Do you remember? I think we were both working at the same place. I'm not sure exactly if that's what caused us to meet, but where was that?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I don't know if that was really the first time we met, but the first time I remember is when we were both working in I.T. at Anderson University. Where we were both going to school. Is that what you remember?

Chris Byers: That's what I'm remembering. Who knows exactly where we met along the way. But I know we got to work together in I.T. off and on over a couple of years and then that eventually led to founding a company together and then Ade founded Formstack later on and it kind of worked out well, then he founded yet another company. And so at the time I said, hey, if I can come help be a part of finding the future for Formstack, I can do that. And that turned into just kind of a long term role. But what's really interesting is Ade and I have talked about everything over the course of all these years, and especially in the past 10 years, we've talked about family and business and we've had endless meals together and endless meals with our families. And yet, you know, what's fascinating and sad is one of the conversations we never talked about until three weeks ago was race. And the impact of that on Ade, the impact of that around us in the world. And right now, I think it's a really important time where we need to be having these conversations. And the fact that we haven't been having them has created an unnecessary just kind of layer of just not talking about the right things in our country. And so Ade, you wrote an article and it was titled I Can't Breathe. And you share your personal experiences with racism, prejudice, injustice, and in the opening you mentioned struggling on whether you should write or not. Can you talk a little bit about what made you write it? What helped you decide to finally put that together.

Ade Olonoh: So I wrote that about a week after the news about George Floyd came up. And like I start out in the piece, I really struggled for a number of different reasons. One of which is that I felt like as I was thinking about, and how the whole country was talking about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable talking about my own struggles because they pale compared to those stories. I mean, clearly, I'm still here living and breathing. I haven't had incidents where I've been really attacked by police or anything, you know, to that extent. And so I really struggled with how do I talk about my struggles being Black in America in the context of those stories, which are just much more tragic. So I think that was part of it. But then in general, I struggle with kind of what you alluded to. I think growing up in the 90s here, it was almost like there's kind of an unsaid thing. You know, we shouldn't talk about race. And I've always struggled, you know, as somebody who's trying to succeed professionally. I think a lot of Black people in the workplace kind of struggle with this. If you talk about race, then you're kind of going to be pigeonholed into this point of view where, you know, you're somebody who always brings up this issue and it makes it uncomfortable for others. I have unfortunately swung too far to the other side where I don't talk about it publicly. It's kind of a struggle on what's the right way to approach that? How do I tell the story in a way that people would listen. Like finally just got to the point where I felt like I had to write something. And that article was kind of the outpouring of my background and what was on my mind.

Related: Fornmstack's Stance Against Inequality, Injustice, and Racism

Chris Byers: I do just fully agree. There's some message and I can't tieback exactly when it happened, what it was, but there was some message along the way that was definitely if we don't talk about this, then it's not an issue anymore. And I've kind of thought about the stupidity of that, I guess, in the past couple weeks where, you know,= if you had some sort of maybe disagreement with somebody or if you had an issue that was not helping your relationship with someone kind of succeed. And if you ever said to your friend, you know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to talk about it. The response would be like, that's stupid. Like that is totally not going to be the way you ever actually communicate with somebody. You're just going to bury these thoughts and ideas. And if you never talk about them, then you've, like, lost an opportunity in your relationship. And I think it's just fascinating how this conversation. I mean, between you and I, even about this article was just extremely eye opening for me to say. Oh, actually, it's also OK to have this conversation. And it's OK to say we do have different backgrounds and that does mean something and has impacted the way that we've lived or grown up. You'll get to see a link to this article if you're listening, and we'll post that in the shownotes or otherwise here in a bit. But definitely worth a read to kind of get some more color here. But we'll talk through this a little bit more.

So, you know, in the article, you I mean, first of all, just extremely eye opening, moving, and beautifully moving in a way where I saw so many people who I know care about you, share it with other people. And it was great for them to be able to say, you know what, I now see something I might not have otherwise. But how as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, as a tech founder, how have these experiences shaped your professional journey?

Ade Olonoh: I talk in the piece and I won't rehash the whole thing, but essentially I talk about how eye opening and kind of my journey growing up here in the U.S. is different because I'm Black and how that gets reinforced in all these small ways throughout my career. And just as I'm growing up and yeah, I guess in terms of my professional journey, I mean, I'll say I talk in the piece about how one of the things that I allude to in the piece that's really hard is that, you know that racism exists in the country. It's empirical, but you don't always know the ways it impacts you. There were jobs that I thought I was qualified to get, that I didn't get an interview or didn't get a job offer, and maybe none of them were because of racism or implicit bias. But maybe some of them, more statistically I would have to assume so.

Similar in terms of raising capital, as an entrepreneur, there are times where many, many times that I heard no from investors, which is common for entrepreneurs, whether you're White, Black, Brown, male, or female. But sometimes you kind of walk away from those experiences wondering, like, was it because of the color of my skin or is it just because they didn't like my idea or something didn't really click on the pitch? And so what when you think about your question about how it shaped my professional journey, I don't have any of the stark stories. Nobody ever kind of kicked me out of their offices saying, I'm not going to invest in you or I'm not going to hire you because you're Black. But it's something that was top of mind as I kind of walked through my journey. The end result was I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder. I always felt like, both in terms of output, just in terms of my own psychology as well, to kind of put my head down and ignore the reactions from the outside world and carve my own path. So that's a very nuanced answer. But in terms of how it affected me. I would say it's something you think about all the time, but never really know what opportunities you lost because of the color of your skin.

Chris Byers: If I think about my own life and how I've never left an interview, left a capital raising opportunity, left a conversation and thought because of the color of my skin, it mattered. It's not even a thought that comes to my mind. And so I can completely understand how that is a weight you carry. You're trying to raise money, and that's already hard enough work. And if there's just one more thing that causes your own doubts or causes you to just wonder. It works against you and it makes it all the more difficult to get done the job you're just trying to get done like everybody else. It is challenging.

Ade Olonoh: One way to think about it, too, is, you know, walking into a VC pitch. And as you walk into a boardroom and all the investors you are pitching to are white men and they tell you no, and you look at their portfolio website and it's predominantly white founders, again, men. And I think the stats are that only about one percent of venture investments are to Black founders. And I forget, I actually forget the number of women that are invested, but it's, again, single digit percentages. You know, you have to think there's a pattern here that the industry has shown. And then similarly, if you're applying to work in a company and you look at their website, and it's predominantly white men, then you have to wonder, like, do I really fit in here? And, you know, despite their best intentions, am starting a few steps behind other entrepreneurs or other candidates, you know, when you see kind of the results of who they're investing in and who they're hiring.

It's not enough to say we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know they're welcome and that you're reaching out to hire those people.

Chris Byers: And I think it's fascinating, you're talking about technology, where we think of ourselves as the most progressive, the most, you know, ahead of the time in terms of whether it's anything from benefits or hiring more diversely or being open to new ideas. And yet, even in technology, you still have those questions. I'm curious, how do you think this does impact technology, what have you noticed that how it applies still to technology, even though we think of ourselves as forward thinking?

Ade Olonoh: It's really interesting to look at because as you said, I'm sure if you pull the people who work in technology and compare them to other industries that we think of as less progressive, that is true, that personally we probably have more progressive mindsets than other industries. But the interesting thing about technology is the systemic racial problems really are compounded when it comes to technology, because usually access to computer science education is something that's afforded to the wealthy people in this country or people with access to great schools and good backgrounds. And even something as maybe even something as specific as the people who are more likely to be good at coding are more likely to have laptops in the home or access to a computer at home.

I don't remember all the details about this, but I remember reading something relatively recently talking about how, kind of before the explosion of the PCs, kind of in the 80s, male female participation in computer science was about equal. But then what happened was that this article is speculating that with the rise of PCs in the home and PCs especially focused around gaming and the types of games that were on the early PCs, what happened is inevitably boys would kind of push out the girls from using the PCs because they were the ones playing the games and the action games. And then, you know, over time, that compounded to mean that there are fewer and fewer women that were in the computing field and then felt comfortable taking computer science classes and stuff like that.

So back to my point being that I think those types of effects compound. If you have fewer Black people able to succeed in school, especially around computer fields, and maybe that's because of access at home or access to great schools that are providing that, then that shows up kind of later with an attack. Similarly, when thinking about entrepreneurship, one of the big problems with venture and investing is that venture capital funds are typically looking for a lot of traction with the companies that they invest in. But in the very early days, it may be that Black entrepreneurs have much less access to kind of those friends and family rounds that they need to kind of get an idea off the ground before they even get the traction that gets the VCs.

It may be that even just kind of the lack of a safety net where they feel like if they tried something risky and failed, that they'd be able to brush themselves off and either get, you know, get a loan from friends and family or get a job to kind of replenish their bank account. And maybe they don't have a safety net that their White counterparts do. So that compounds as well to why, I think we see the problem so much more starkly in tech versus other industries that might be less risky.

Read More: Why We Should Talk About Race

Chris Byers: You know, I think technology is really interesting here, too, because in technology, we're always thinking about solving problems really quickly. We're always thinking, oh, we're five minutes away. We're weeks away. We're a couple years away from solving major problems at speed. And yet what you're talking about is there are so many things that we've got to go so far back or wait a ways into the future to really make serious impact. We need to start an education and finding more fundamental ways to provide education on entrepreneurship or finding, to your point, access to capital or helping people even see there's an ecosystem that maybe they can join or be a part of to help new ideas. I'm curious, you are an investor, you've thought about these things. I'm curious if you've ideated on your own ways to how we could think about having some more long term impact.

Ade Olonoh: Yes. You're right in saying that. I mean, it's a very complicated issue. There are no overnight successes here or silver bullets to kind of solve the problem. So, yeah, I think it spans all of those things you touched on. I think it's, you know, it's education at an early age. It's access. It's even just things like people seeing themselves represented. So, I mean, just even the archetype we have of this successful entrepreneur, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you know, all white men. I'm not going to take anything from their accomplishments. They're incredible entrepreneurs. But some of it, I think is even just socializing more of the successes, people of color and women who are successful and kind of changing the way we have a conversation about what an entrepreneur even is. I think it's a systemic things; I think it's in some ways, it can also be a copout to kind of say, well, it's a pipeline problem or that these issues are too complex. I think sometimes it really just does come down to trying to make a difference by being conscious of your own biases and working on that personally. I think for every investor really working on their network and make sure that they are talking to founders of color or they're talking to female founders just as much as they are talking to White male founders or at least in proportion to the population. Right. And so maybe working a little bit harder to make sure that you're in the right networks, that see that kind of deal flow and be conscious of your own biases and working through that when talking to people, because, yes, the systemic issues are definitely there. But I think we can all grow in the moment in terms of how we approach our business.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And, you know, I think you make a great point. I hope that we all walk away from this conversation hearing there are things to do. Absolutely. Now, I think one of the things, I will say as a White person, I have come to realize is, first of all, just in general how much racism still exists and how much, in a way, I support those things and have supported systems that create this longer term kind of systemic racism. And I don't tend to think about my past a lot. I don't think about where I came from. And yet I don't see, therefore, how many bits of access I guess I've had over time, whether it's capital or otherwise. I can think about, you know, one of the things I've learned in the past three weeks is just how difficult or impossible it was to get a mortgage as a Black person in the 1950s. And, you know, I think about when I was trying to pay off some debt. My wife and I were trying to pay off some debt early in our marriage. And one of the things that allowed us to pay off that final bit of debt was an inheritance I got from my grandparents, who I know got a mortgage in the 1950s, and part of that inheritance was from them selling their house. And so these are things that most days I would never think of as like, oh, that's an advantage I have. And yet have completely played into some of the ways that I've been able to to move forward.

I wonder, as we do think about things that we can do now, you've brought up some of them. I know as a company there's really a couple of messages that I've been trying to just begin to talk about. One is I want to make sure we have a space for conversations. As you and I both know, as we all know, social media is a horrendous place to have a conversation. It's all about headlines and you know my dramatic view on the world. But I think one of the challenges is we're not talking about these things and we're not able to say, hey, can we sit down and have a pure level one to one conversation about your views, my views, how can we learn together and grow together? I'm curious if you've seen some good examples of conversations beginning in the past, in the past month. You know, one of those things that we're talking about is having conversations, and as a company, we're trying to begin to facilitate that so we can have maybe a third party come in and help us just have some better, real conversations together about race, racism, equality, and how we as a people can make sure we are treating the people around us on a pure level and truly as equal and making sure they feel comfortable being around us. The other thing that we're talking about is really diversity at a greater level. So we have had a very broad, very broad diversity kind of plan in the past week. We've talked about it internally, but we've not made a big deal of it, frankly. And in fact, I've also taken a very inbound approach to it. I guess where I said, yes, everyone is welcome here. I hope this feels like a comfortable place. But one of the things I'm realizing that really just recently is that's not enough. We need to be much more proactive at saying both what are the things that we do in our hiring practices and our onboarding, even in our marketing. How do we show up and how do we look to people who might not look as much like us? And how do we make sure that feels less like the case? And so, you know, I think one of my questions is, what do you think some things technology companies can do to improve diversity, inclusion, and really making a better effort here.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I think you're thinking about things the right way. I guess to start I mean, just to underscore the point, I think being proactive about it is the right approach. And I think that's what's encouraging about the conversation that a lot of people are having right now, is that realizing that it's not enough to just not be racist, but you actually have to be anti-racist and especially recognizing that there's systemic racism in this country. You have to be proactive to counteract that. And so, yeah, like you said, it's not just enough to say, oh, yeah, we welcome everybody. You actually have to seek out and maybe work a little bit harder to make sure that people from underrepresented groups know that they're welcome there and that you're reaching out to hiring those people. I think, as you know, the longer you go as a company and the less representation you have in your company, the harder it is. Nobody wants to be, or very few people want to be the only Black person in a company or the only woman to work in a company. Right. And this gets magnified.

So in terms of your question, what can tech companies do about it? I think understanding that, prioritizing it in a way that maybe it hasn't been prioritized before. And I think at this moment, we all have to ask ourselves. Yes, we care about these issues, but how much we care about it. Do we care about it enough to really make it one of the key corporate initiatives and put money and time behind it? And that may mean hiring people within the company to really kind of spearhead these initiatives. To that point, I think one of the most important things, anything within business, you need to measure what's happening within the company and have accountability behind those numbers. I think when I think about it, I'm certainly no expert around H.R. and may not have all the tricks in my tool belt in terms of how to solve the diversity equation within companies. But I know like foundationally, you have to start with understanding well, measuring your pipeline, measure throughout the interview process to better understand that retention around all of the dimensions of race and gender and sexual identity. Understand like where we're falling short and where is there room for improvement. And so just creating that mechanism and that infrastructure to measure and hold accountable is one of the first places to start to make sure that, like, something meaningfully changes, and it's not just a nice sounding initiative, but that there's actually teeth behind it towards making change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think for us, we hired a diversity talent acquisition specialist early this year. And I will say, frankly, we probably wouldn't have done much reporting, maybe in terms of a leadership team or something, but not publicly. Again, out of a naivety that like this is going to work itself out over time. And one of the things we said last week to the team is you're going to start to see a monthly report on this. And I know as an organization, we've always thought transparency is a huge key to creating good, accountable systems and showing reporting, because if I am showing this to you every month, then I better show some progress and show that we're doing a better job of finding the right places to both show up and are we learning how that talent funnel is working out or are we letting people drop out that shouldn't drop out. And so I like that thinking. Anything else that comes to mind you just think companies should be doing to improve diversity, making sure it's more comfortable and engaging place for diverse team members?

Ade Olonoh:I think that, as I said, I think it's important to kind of look at the whole picture. So not just in the hiring process, but what happens to what the company looks like once you hired somebody who's unrepresented within the company. And so looking at retention, I think is important and really focusing on that inclusion part or diversity and inclusion. And so that means that they feel their voices are heard, does it feel like they're safe and comfortable and welcome at the company. But some of that also means do they have the same opportunity for growth within the company as do others. Right. And so I think back to measuring and measuring what retention looks like measuring what, you know, pay, looks like within the company across different diversity dimensions, measuring what kind of promotion looks like. Focusing on that part of the cycle and that part of the funnel is important, too. I mean, just in the same way that we think in our business, and Formstack is a SaaS business, we think about acquisition and retention and churn and kind of all those. And when we think and measure how we're doing as a business and think about the customer, I think you need to do that from an employee perspective as well. Look at the whole lifecycle and the holistic picture of what it means to work at a company.

Related: Taking Action: Behind the Scenes with Our Diversity Talent Acquisition Specialist

Chris Byers: Yeah, that's good. You know, 2020 has been a tough year as I think everybody knows. And, you know, if any of you were to ever be in the room with a Ade and I, one of the things you'd notice is, you know, both CEOs, both founders, we wouldn't necessarily, though, be the loudest person in the room. And in fact, you might not even notice we're there at times. And Ade, you've put yourself out there in a huge way, being extremely vulnerable. What are the things you're doing to kind of just stay mentally healthy figure out like, how do I both respond and frankly grieve at times of what's going on? But then also say, you know what, maybe there's hope in the world. Maybe there's something I can do.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. So just, you know, personally, it's been a tough few weeks. And I would say, I guess to explain that a little bit more, because I think I've had a lot of conversations with Black friends, I think, who are kind of in the same boat. I remember vividly, you know, the Rodney King incidents back when I was as much younger. And there have been a number of incidents, kind of similar to that, that have broad visibility within the public sphere from Rodney King to George Floyd. And I think one of the struggles that I've had is, you know, each time a story like that flares up, like it brings a lot of emotions. There's anger, there's sadness. But in the end, it leaves a lot of hopelessness and thinking that nothing's changed. Right. And we've known about issues, especially surrounding kind of police brutality and criminal justice and how that's affected people of color disproportionately in this country. We've known about it for a while, but if anything, it's probably gotten worse in the last 20 years when you look at the number of Black people in prison and, you know, the militarization of police. Those trends have gone in the wrong direction.

And so I'll say one of the hardest things, to be honest, when I first heard about George Floyd, I was just kind of coming off a few weeks ago the Ahmaud Arbery case just really shook me. And when I heard about George Floyd, I read the headline and just went on to the next story. And I just wasn't in a place emotionally where I wanted to process it. And it took a few days before I was able to watch the video, before I was able to read the details of that. And the great thing that's happening now is there's a lot of conversation about all these problems and injustices. But I think one of the hard things emotionally is to wonder, like, is this really going to change? Is anything going to come out of this or are we just reopening old wounds but not really going to find any healing from that? And so that's a very indirect way to answer your question. I think it's helpful to give context just because I know I'm certainly not speaking for all Black people in the country, but I know for a lot they're going through a similar emotional journey. And that's why it's tough right now. It's hard sometimes. And I think we all need to be mindful that not every person of color really wants to have these conversations at the moment, just depending on where they are in their emotional journey.

But for me, I mean, I've had to do a number of things to kind of help myself stay healthy and sane. Some of it is just kind of fundamental things that I try to do on a regular basis. Exercise, meditate, eat well. Spend time with family. But some of it is just taking breaks from social media, taking breaks from the news, especially when I feel myself get caught up in the anger and emotion that's spurred by those mediums. And then I'd say the last thing is I really try to focus and kind of step back and say, well, how do I want things to change, like, how can I help contribute to that conversation in a positive way and what can I do? So that's practically it for me. I've been spending a lot more time learning and understanding these issues from a policy perspective or a sociological perspective, where my background knowledge, I'm a technologist and entrepreneur, so spending time learning more about these things I think kind of helps me understand the process better.

Chris Byers: If you're listening to this, everybody's going to get a broad set of responses to what's going on right now. And I know for me, I have, I'll say had to, and had to because I just understood something needed to be done in my own mind, in my own life. But I had to spend a great deal of time reading and watching videos and watching documentaries. I will say even I had to watch the video of George Floyd. There was a moment where I was like, you know what? If I really want to actually step forward and be a positive part of the change, I need to see some of the lows and be a part of some of the lows, I guess. And that was I mean, to anybody listening, I'd say if you've really just done surface level headline reading, if you're really just done a surface level attempt here, if you've frankly not had a conversation with somebody of color like around you, those are things you're missing out on. And I don't think you're going to progress in the way that I think we all need to to have the right conversations. And so I appreciate everybody who's taken time to really spend time reading and thinking and trying to understand like what is my perspective and how does it need to change and how do we need to improve to move forward. I know as a company, we have brought in some outside help to help us, first of all, as a leadership team. But then eventually as an organization to see where frankly, even where are we on this subject? Because, again, we're all at different places and we need to kind of begin to move toward the same destination. I know we've used an outside coaching group to help allow our team to call any time they want for coaching, counseling through this. Any particular subject matter, be it books, blogs, podcasts, etc., that you point people to to say, this is a great place to start?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, there's been a lot of good ones that I've come across, especially recently. But I guess rather than rattle down a list, I'd say to your point, I think it's important for people to start somewhere that really kind of touches on both the history of systemic racism in this country and then kind of a full comprehensive overview of where we are today in terms of the criminal justice system. Probably the best thing that I've come across, and there may be others, but the documentary 13th on Netflix, I think does an excellent job of piecing all these things together. I'd say you start there and that at least kind of helps launch a starting point to see where you might want to dig deeper to kind of understand different components better. So personally, I'm reading Just Mercy right now and find it really eye opening on digging into the criminal justice system. But yeah, if anything, start with 13th, it is probably the easiest thing to consume.

Chris Byers: That's good. So, you know, one of the conversations that I've noticed is not kind of being had in this country is what certain things mean. And I guess I'd love your perspective. And I I think we should all note that it's your perspective. And I think you will say it's not everybody's belief exactly. But there are a couple of kind of thoughts, phrases, movements that I think might be valuable for the audience to kind of hear about what's going on here. And the first one is Black Lives Matter. Tell us what that means to you and what you think that means to the people who speak it and are out kind of thinking about it and kind of moving it forward.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, certainly I don't claim to speak for all Black black people or for any particular organization or anything like that, speaking of Black Lives Matter. But yeah, to me, that just means that at its surface that, yes, Black lives matter. And I think that's highlighted because, you know, especially when you look at the history of Black lives in this country. And again, what's happening today, like the incidents, again, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, you know, Elijah McClain and so on, so forth, is that it's easy to feel like Black lives don't matter to the system. So all it is, this is highlighting the fact that, yes, they do and they should in this country. And that's not to say that other other people don't matter. Certainly they all do, but it's that this is one sector of society that has been long ignored. And we need to make sure that there is equality and justice for Black lives, just as there are for White lives in this country.

Chris Byers: Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that's been just eye opening for me in this time is if you look at the Hispanic community in the U.S., it has on the whole, especially at the size that it is and how much it represents to the U.S. today, not been in the U.S. Nearly as long as as kind of the Black community. And yet the Black community is behind the Hispanic community in terms of income, net worth. And as I looked at that, I thought, wow, there is definitely a problem when a community has been with us all, nearly always, is that far behind. There is something that speaks to why we need to speak about Black lives mattering today and why we need to point that out and make it a thing and make it make it the point. And so I thank you for sharing those thoughts.

Ade Olonoh: Yeah. And just speak on that real quick. I think the thing that's easy to forget and I mean, I think part of even going back to what we said in terms of during the 90s, the last couple of decades, it's almost been that the conversation has shifted in this country to talk about like we live in a post-racial society and feeling like racism was solved during the civil rights era. And clearly, I think we're saying very clearly that that's not the case. But even given the progress that was made in the civil rights era, it's discounting today, like how much of that history does matter. And like you said, that the injustices that happened in this country really weren't that long ago. When you think about it in the context of how it's affecting people's lives today. And maybe that's like the example you gave in terms of receiving an inheritance that helped you pay down loans. Well, you know, when Black people in this country started with nothing and weren't allowed to accumulate wealth and weren't allowed to have the freedoms to just basic freedoms within this country, and kind of starting so far behind, those things still matter and still make a difference today. That's the reason why the average net worth or the median net worth of Black households today is a tenth of that of White households. That that's still affecting us today. The things that happened, you know, 400 years ago, much less 50 years ago in this country. And Jim Crow and such. So, yeah, it does still matter to them.

Chris Byers: Thank you for that. The other thing that I think would be great to kind of express what you think is happening right now is there are protests going on all around the U.S. and in fact, if you think they're not happening because they're not hitting the news, it is actually because I think a number of very peaceful protests are going on right now all over the country. And so that's not making the news. But there is a message that is still trying to be kind of delivered at the moment. What do you think that is?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, I mean, the protesters are asking for a bunch of different things. But I think, you know, right now the most critical issue, again, goes back to just we want changes in the policing systems in this country. We need changes in the criminal justice system. And I think and again, I don't speak for everybody, there are different perspectives in terms of what people want. But I think we need meaningful change beyond just I think what we saw a few years ago when the start of the Black Lives Matters protests. Largely inaction. But then I think there was a lot of talk and superficial things about like, you know, let's add training or like let's increase training within police forces to help them overcome racial biases. Let's add body cameras and invest in body cameras to help make sure that we're catching things that are happening.

And the reality is, as far as I can tell, most people are saying that didn't do much. And I think one thing real quick. The reason why the word systemic racism is so important, that term systemic racism, is because it highlights the fact that we have a system that in and of itself is disproportionately affecting people of color in this country. The issue is systemic. And so that's everything from, me personally, just really passionate about removing cash bail out of our system. The fact that we have people who can get arrested and though innocent until proven guilty just because they can't afford to pay a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for bail, they're held in the system, which creates all these ripple effects. Like that in itself, it disproportionately affects people of color. And that itself is systemic racism. The war on drugs itself is an example of systemic racism. So I think we need to rethink fundamentally what are the things that we make illegal in this country and what are the punishments behind them? Why did that happen in the first place? And you can kind of look at the history. Understand why, you know, why was crack cocaine, sentencing for crack cocaine 10 times more than sentencing for powdered cocaine, the equivalent amount of powder cocaine? Why was marijuana made illegal in this country to begin with? And the answer to those, unfortunately, were racist things. Right. And so I think protesters are asking for a lot of things, but I think they're asking for meaningful reform to the criminal justice system so that we're not locking up people of color at disproportionate rates. We're not killing Black people at disproportionate rates. These systemic things need to change before we see the results that we want to see.

Chris Byers: So as we take all of this conversation in and as we think about kind of where we go from here, what are the things you hope people... How do we move forward? What is it so that we actually have that positive ripple effect and can look back days, weeks, months, years from now? What do you think the things are that we can do to move forward?

Ade Olonoh: Yeah, ultimately, I should start by saying that I'm more optimistic now than I probably ever have been that things will change. And one of the reasons why is because people are having conversations like this that are meaningful. And people do seem to, on a wide scale, trying to understand where and why systemic racism exists in this country. So, I mean, in terms of moving forward, I think just one, that needs to continue. Like you said earlier, I think if you haven't had conversations with people in your life, just ask about these issues and ask with an open mind and an open heart. I think that will do a lot towards just improving your own understanding and towards getting the change because of awareness and understanding needs to proceed change. And so starting there and then to deepening understanding. And then I think, you know, what will come from that is really understanding. You know, like I touched on a couple of things like bail and, you know, the drug laws in this country. But I think that change that needs to happen is political. I think the change that needs to happen is that we need to push our politicians to readdress some of these issues and kind of fix some of these issues. And the way that we do that individually is, you know, by voting, by encouraging others to vote and then, you know, by calling politicians and sending them letters and demanding change. And I think it may take some time, but that's the real answer, is that we need. We need to change the system.

Chris Byers: Well Ade, thank you for joining us today. I hope that everybody who's listening is really thinking about how can I be a part of a positive change? Be a part of raising my own awareness, starting conversations with people, thinking about the ways that I might have supported racism in the past and do today even and how can I break that and become anti-racist? And Ade, just I thank you for many things in life, but in particular today being just a help to us moving forward and opening up your story so that we could learn from it and kind of grow going forward.

Ade Olonoh: Thank you. It's great to chat about this. Great to talk with you, as always. So glad we're having this conversation.

Thanks for joining us today on Ripple Effect, what we heard today was a really powerful story, and it was the powerful story of a Black individual who, first of all, has been really important in my life. But I hope his story has become important in your life to really reframing what we think about in terms of racism and how it still persists today in this country. And I hope it causes you to want to take some action. If I can encourage you to take any action, it is really start a conversation or begin researching. Where can you find people or resources to help you take the next step? And how can we move forward this conversation on race and equality in the U.S.

Well, thanks for joining us today on this special episode of Ripple Effect. You can read Ade's full story at adeolonoh.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

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