When you think of popular meeting platforms — Zoom, Google Meet, and Calendly may instantly come to mind. While the latter has created convenience for scheduling for over 20 million users worldwide to date, per its website, the company was built despite facing obstacles along the way.
When growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Calendly Founder Tope Awotona learned about overcoming hardship early on.
The billionaire CEO once recalled at age 12 watching his father being shot and killed. The tragedy scarred Awotona and lit a fire in him to carry on his father’s legacy, who launched numerous businesses, including industrial chemical distribution.
“If that had happened in the United States, I would have gone through a lot of therapy,” Awotona told Inc.com. “In Nigeria, it happened on Friday and I went to school on Monday. For six months, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. That insomnia has carried on to my adult life. I’ll probably have it forever.”
“In February, I visited my dad’s gravesite,” he continued. “It was my first time going back there since he died. I felt like he didn’t get a chance to complete his work. There was a part of me, from a very early age, that wanted to redeem him.”
Along with his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, Awotona’s mother co-owned a pharmacy and his maternal grandmother created a successful import-export textile business. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs and being raised in a city where hustle never sleeps laid the foundation for him to persevere when he was met with the challenge of funding Calendly.
After draining his bank account and 401(k), he went on a quest to raise venture capital funding. Despite being hit with no’s left and right, Awotona became “resourceful, scrappy, and maniacally focused” to prove people wrong.
“Being a foreigner really helped,” he said, according to Inc.com. “I grew up in a country where 99 percent of the people looked like me, so race wasn’t something I consciously thought about. It’s good to have that mentality. You can dwell on all the reasons you shouldn’t do something or why it’s harder for you. Or you can just go out and do it.”
Stretching money and bootstrapping in the early stages ultimately led Awotona to lead Calendly into becoming a major success.
Under Awotona’s leadership, Calendly is one of the few Black-owned unicorns in the world. Among the other Black-led startups in the last several years to reach the rarity are Esusu and Chipper Cash, per The Plug.
The feats of Calendly have yet to cease since its launch. The adoption of the platform for enterprise teams — including 86% of Fortune 500 companies — increased by 61% year over year in July 2023, per a press release. What’s more, customers who spent over $50,000 on Calendly spiked by 400% year over in June 2023.
On Nov. 2, Awotona is set to speak at the 2023 AFROTECH Conference in Austin, TX. Moderated by Blavity Inc.’s very own Jeff Nelson, the fireside chat will dive into his journey of building Calendly into a billion-dollar company and explore growth strategies.
To hear more about Awotona’s story directly from himself, click here to snag your AFROTECH Conference ticket.