You need a diverse executive team to ensure your company is not run by people with overlapping blind spots, which is dangerous. There’s going to be activity occurring in that blind spot that requires accountability, and no one in leadership will be up for the task of addressing it since they can’t even properly behold it.
I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ebere Anosike.
Ebere Anosike is the Founder & CEO of ThankYouKindly, a venture-backed startup using machine learning to reinvent the *present* of gifting. They’ve built a platform for companies to surprise & delight their clients, prospects and employees with personalized, unforgettable gifts so good that they spark tears of joy. Even better? They prioritize gifting pieces sustainably crafted by a workforce that may otherwise be without a job. Additionally, for each gift ThankYouKindly delivers, they pledge a gift to a child in need.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My pleasure truly!
I worked at a handful of startups and a few think tanks beginning from my teenage internship days onward. In each role, there was one constant — data. Whether I was researching global anti-poverty initiatives or ghost-writing content for investors, I thrived at seeing answers to pressing questions on the major issues I cared about show up in large sets of data.
When I began working in enterprise sales, I was big on tracking what was working and what wasn’t, which led me to see that gift pitches, as I like to call them, drove a significant amount of new business to the company I was working at then. I began looking for a vendor to leverage high-end, incredibly thoughtful gifting as our secret sales weapon at scale. I found plenty of vendors that could automate swag delivery, gift baskets, books, wine, and chocolate — all the type of stuff I was not keen to send. They didn’t tell a unique story to each prospect about our product’s value for their use case while also celebrating their taste. I didn’t find a single vendor that could automate those types of one-of-a-kind gifts that I knew would deliver massive ROI if done right. So, I began building the company that I was looking for.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Earlier in my career, I learned precisely how much more my male, white and Asian colleagues made while in the same role as me and doing the same work as I was. There were no other women beside myself and no black, Latino or Native American men at the time in the role, by the way. I wasn’t surprised by the inequality. Instead, I immediately recognized that the gift was in knowing the specifics. Armed with the numbers, I not only had more information to use to advocate for myself, but I also got a better grip on value. I knew I could create a massive amount of value on my terms, with my own business where I would not have to plead for parity. Figuring out the extent of the wage discrimination I was facing accelerated my decision to pursue entrepreneurship fully.
It is widely understood that the wage gap harms innovation by limiting the number of women, particularly those of color, who can afford to leave a full-time job to pursue their professional dreams. So, I know it’s of interest when I share that the wage gap was one factor that shifted me toward starting my company sooner than I had imagined. My thought at the time was: If I’m going to be leaving money on the table with respect to my salary, potentially for years on end, it might as well be in the context of investing in the company I envisioned, not the one deriving benefit from limiting my earning potential.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It seems funny to me in retrospect, but starting out, I didn’t realize that I had to be visible as a CEO. I thought I could create a company and just let the product and incredibly satisfied customer base speak for itself. I was firmly committed to being behind the scenes, heads down, executing, and iterating on the best tech-enabled gifting platform available on the market. I didn’t think I needed to be visible and tell a story apart from that of the company and the unique value we deliver to sales, customer success, employee engagement, and real estate teams. Eventually, I learned that being firmly planted behind the scenes is not an option for a CEO. You have to be present in ways that aren’t expected of other executives. You have to create openings for people to know not just your company, but you, the individual at its helm, too. As obvious as that may sound to many, it was jarring to me!
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?
It’s important for a business to have a diverse executive team because businesses don’t exist in a vacuum. The world is diverse; if you want an organization built for longevity, you need to prioritize diversity as soon as possible. If you don’t, you’ll have trouble keeping, then catching up.
Secondly, you need a diverse executive team to ensure your company is not run by people with overlapping blind spots, which is dangerous. There’s going to be activity occurring in that blind spot that requires accountability, and no one in leadership will be up for the task of addressing it since they can’t even properly behold it.
Thirdly, our most creative moments occur when we encounter at least a bit of resistance to our default thinking. In a diverse setting, your assumptions are going to be pressure tested. Leaning into that resistance allows you to be more creative, fine-tuning your ideas so they stand up against basic scrutiny. It makes you sharper. There’s no company on the planet that doesn’t want their executive team to bring their sharpest, most creative insights to the conference table.
More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?
Culture benefits when the most talented people on Earth can contribute to it. Every time someone’s potential is snuffed out by systemic discrimination, we all lose: from employers to everyone in the sphere of that employer’s influence. We miss out on the contributions that could’ve been.
Companies led by homogenous leadership teams with dangerous blind spots have done significant damage to our social fabric. Much of the damage could have been avoided had a diverse range of executives been in the room when decisions impacting millions of people were made. That said — a commitment to diversity is not valuable to culture because it mitigates disasters; it’s valuable to culture because it means culture will evolve faster, which is exciting.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?
We’re already seeing millions of conscious consumers address systemic racism and sexism by choosing not to patronize companies that are an active part of the problems they’d like to see addressed. We’re seeing politicians introducing legislation that would better enforce equal opportunity laws in industries like big tech that have done an abysmal job of regulating themselves. We’re also seeing tenacious, indomitable founders building companies that are committed to being inclusive from Day 0. My recommendation is to celebrate all the above and show up with our wallets, our voices, and our votes to ensure momentum continues to build.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define leadership as the way you show up for yourself and others. Your presence is a one-of-a-kind gift. If you show up undaunted and genuine, you have the potential to inspire the people who receive you to unwrap themselves and be fully present too.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- “You’ve got all you need.”
So many times in the past I had enough but I just didn’t know it. I was told I had to have more to accomplish what I said I would. But I was told wrong. Key for me has been to stop believing wrong. As I continue to build my company, when I have a thought about not having what I need, I respond to it with a memory from a time in the past when I bought into that same thinking only to find out shortly thereafter that what I thought I needed wasn’t essential after all.
2. “Keep a close eye on your wellbeing.”
When there’s so much to do, it can be easy to forget the principal thing: I need myself to be well in order to perform well. I’m relentless. Many times in the past, I didn’t recognize when I was compromising my own wellbeing because I wouldn’t relent long enough to take inventory of all that was going on. The problem with that is: you can’t redirect if you don’t even see the crash coming. Now, I’m gaining more clarity on how to identify when I’m not as well as I deserve to be.
3. “Keep a close eye on the numbers.”
Paradoxically, I’m incredibly fond of numbers, yet, I’ve had to work very hard to translate that into the kind of meticulous administrative stewardship you learn to exercise as a CEO overseeing a company in its earliest, scrappiest stages. I’m still learning, and I hope to never stop.
4. “Make a rest stop.”
I work with a sense of urgency. It pays off in certain contexts, and costs a hefty amount in others. In the past when I needed to pause, and didn’t, I struggled in ways I could’ve avoided. Through painful experiences, I realized that sometimes, instead of crawling, it may be best to sit it out until you’re capable of walking.
5. “This doesn’t mean what you think it does.”
I come to different conclusions now about experiences I had early on in my career than I did previously. I was right when it would’ve caused me less trouble to be wrong. I didn’t receive much credit, even from myself, that I now know I deserved in certain instances. There were also times, too, when I was wrong when it was worth being wrong because the fallout got the lesson to stick.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My name means “mercy”. It’s Igbo. I’m Igbo. Mercy is defined as compassion in the context of a power imbalance. I think we’re missing that sense of compassion not only in tech, but also in the private sector as a whole, and even in the public sector too. Globally, there’s a deficiency. Locally, on a peer to peer human level, we can each identify where mercy is lacking. It would be a dream come true and an answered prayer to be a part of a movement that prompts more of us to make a daily choice to exercise compassion especially where a power imbalance exists. If we had this ‘mercy movement’ today, we’d see workplace (and outside of the workplace) harassment cease, stronger corporate social responsibility occuring, extreme poverty eliminated, mass incarceration become a relic of the past, oppressive policies rolled back, safer streets — particularly for women and girls, and more honesty in how we show up to live life each day with more joy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise,” especially the last stanza quoted below, often plays in my mind. It was printed on the back of an elementary school annual tee shirt I received one year, and I’ve not stopped reciting it since. The elementary school I attended, the Benjamin Banneker Charter School (BBCS), was initially founded by a group of people including the trailblazing lawyer Charles James Ogletree Jr. and his wife, Pamela Ogletree. They saw that black and brown children were being locked out of educational opportunities in STEM and put their money, time, and passion into building a solution. I benefited from that tremendously.
My love for both technology and creative arts was fostered as a kid at BBCS. I was a whiz at math & loved memorizing theorems as much as I did Harlem renaissance poems, Sojourner Truth speeches, Negro spirituals, and Shosholoza. Before I reached puberty, I had already built my own computer, robots, and all sorts of technical trinkets out of donated parts provided by engineers who volunteered at the church next door to the school. Even more meaningful, at Benjamin Banneker, I learned my history and that I had a culture within a culture that is worth celebrating every day of my life. I received an education that let me know that 1) there were no limits on my future, 2) I stood on the shoulders of giants, and 3) my very DNA meant that I couldn’t be stopped.
There’s a lot of talk about embracing failure in the tech industry that I work in, but the implication is that message is just for a precious few. A lot of the optimism of Startuplandia is juxtaposed against a plethora of statistics that spell out the slim chances people from backgrounds like mine have of breaking through to achieve massive success. Those statistics paint a bleak portrait of limited access to capital, relevant networks, and even just the benefit of the doubt from so-called industry kingmakers. I have plenty of professional experience and unfortunate anecdotes that illustrate the disappointing reality of the industry and the society it operates within. Yet Maya’s words often remind me that my life as it stands today is already my ancestors’ sweetest dreams come true. In the face of hardhanded headwinds, I have the honor of carrying their gifts into daybreak. The constant, the very guarantee, is that I rise. I love that.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d love to have a meal with Charles James Ogletree Jr. and his wife, Pamela Ogletree. Charles and Pamela founded the elementary school I mentioned previously. It was an oasis in a public school system that taught kids like me the exact opposite of what I was so fortunate to learn there. Charles also founded the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute on Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. It was there I completed my first professional internship as a teenager when I was thriving at Mock Trial and extremely interested in learning about policymaking.
The professional trajectory I’m on was made possible in part because of Charles’ and Pamela’s existence in the world, and they likely have no idea of that. I didn’t have any idea until I reflected, again, as an adult, on how impactful efforts like theirs, to open a wide door behind them, truly are. I don’t remember ever meeting Charles or Pamela, and yet I have walked; right now, I am walking, and later I will walk right through many doors held open by them and countless other givers and door holders cut from the same generous cloth. That fact is not lost on me. I’m thankful. It would be my honor to thank them kindly in person.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can find me on Twitter @miss_ebere & my company there @thankyoukindly_
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Thank you kindly for this opportunity to reflect!