Diversity is and should not be used as a recognition framework — I find more companies using diversity and inclusion plans solely to get recognized on a top 100 diversity management list. We need to stop looking for recognition and start thinking about and earning respect from the actual people in our workplaces.
I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Upile Chasowa.
Upile is a business and software development entrepreneur with over nine years of commercial experience in Retail, Insurance, Finance and Real Estate.
Since obtaining a Degree in Computer Science back in 2012, he has founded three successful startups and gained vast amounts of exceptional computing and product development skills. Meanwhile, He has very hands-on development experience spanning software, design, R&D and product strategies for big data and online marketplace applications.
His hunger for innovation, knowledge and determination to turn ideas into consumer driven products, has contributed to his most recent success at WorkClubHQ. In less than nine months he was able to build a product from nothing to the point where it’s now valued at just over £1.8million.
WorkClubHQ reimagines the idea of how we use space in an urban environment by transforming unused space into productive working areas for people to work, network and share ideas.
His secret ingredient to building a killer remote team is get to know your team, learn about them, figure out what makes them laugh, what makes them tick and pay attention to every concern they have. Productivity is very important for Upile, he enjoys implementing strategic project management methods while ensuring a work-life balance.
Upile is originally from Malawi, and has been based in London since 2001. He enjoys cooking, reading, and if he is not spending time with his friends or family, Upile is probably planning for his next big trip abroad.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up in a single parent household and witnessing the amount she had to sacrifice for years, juggling three jobs at one point — in order to keep me on the straight and narrow and ensure I had the best upbringing as possible- triggered my ambition to do something great. My father was influential on the technology front — as every time I had a chance to visit him — all we talked about was technology, something I was always inspired by — building technology for the greater good — helping communities.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I ran a startup called propertyGroup that registered and managed over 200 private properties within six months, working with a number of private homeowners looking for residents across the UK. propertyGroup partnered with Zoopla, which allowed me to have access to a pool of residents across the UK looking for rental properties. That initial success enabled me to gain support from Virgin Startup, which opened further opportunities to build on the initial business model.
Following the success of propertyGroup, I was able to identify an enormous opportunity with AuctionShelter and was able to raise funds to help build the initial product. AuctionShelter, recognised that online home-selling technology was woefully out of date and making things more difficult than necessary for buyers and sellers alike. So I decided to fix it.
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?
I worked on a side project called — LetMeView — 2015–2016 — an on-demand property viewings service — imagine a Deliveroo for Real Estate Agents and private landlords across the UK. For the first viewing I had a local agent contact me to use the service. At that point I was working in Wimbledon, beaming full of excitement as the property was on the market for £700,000.
I had no idea what I’d let myself in for. Before I could even carry out the viewing I had to travel from work in South West London to North London — an hour on a good day, then collect the keys and the buyer’s pack before traveling to East London to carry out the viewing. I could probably have gone to Birmingham and back in less time.
To save 30 minutes, I had to lie that my “Mum” was my PA and would be collecting the buyer’s pack and keys — and she met me halfway.
I finally arrived at the property in East London, 5 mins before the potential buyer arrived , struggling to get into the property, covered in sweat and frankly to be honest and very clearly winging it!
After sneaking out of work, travelling almost four hours and sweating through my first viewing I was still hoping the strength of the London property market might bear out. Sadly, despite my best efforts, I didn’t sell the flat.
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?
- Personal and product growth — You will enhance your social development, but you also increase your understanding of the world. This will prepare you to be a part of a global society, whether you are traveling to a new country, working with diverse co-workers, or just reading about events in the news that have heavily impacted a population different from your own. You will learn the skills to communicate and interact with communities and concepts that you are unfamiliar with and this collective intelligence can inform really great product design.
- Being the (authentic) change — Increasingly, people are looking for brands and companies that have purpose and want to align themselves with companies that are vibrant, diverse and trying to drive a change in behaviour or outlook. Diversity is a key indicator for many customers and they want to see businesses that walk the walk. Having a representative senior team shows that your business isn’t just paying lip service to diversity but it comes from the top down to permeate the company culture and mission.
- Multiple voices, perspectives, and personalities — bouncing off one another can give rise to out-of-the-box thinking. A company in our today’s world — needs to have a global mindset and understand competing challenges, cultural norms and ways of working. Having that represented in your senior team can be a powerful accelerator for competing in a global context. A variety of viewpoints along with the wide-ranging personal and professional experience of a multicultural team can offer new perspectives that inspire colleagues to see the workplace and the world differently. Based upon experience, diversity drives creativity and innovation, helping to solve problems and meet customer needs in new and exciting ways.
More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?
Promoting diversity is the first step to not just “tolerance,” but true acceptance. Through growing contact with, exposure to, and communication between new people with unique ideas, individuals may see that they may have more in common than they thought. Increasing familiarity can alter perspectives, facilitate acceptance, and diminish the misconceptions and prejudices that fuel discrimination.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?
- Move diversity out of the decision making processes — especially during recruitment. By and large, diversity and inclusion initiatives focus only on recruitment, reputation management, and “checking off the boxes” meaning that change is only at a surface level.
- Understanding the diversity and opportunities companies have — having a framework is part of the problem — most believe in their hearts that the implementation will make the company better inside and more competitive outside. Most leaders cannot and, as a result, have no idea how big the opportunity gaps are, let alone which ones need to be solved for first. That’s how companies end up solving for the wrong things at the wrong time — as a result, widening opportunity gaps.
- Diversity is and should not be used as a recognition framework — I find more companies using diversity and inclusion plans solely to get recognized on a top 100 diversity management list. We need to stop looking for recognition and start thinking about and earning respect from the actual people in our workplaces.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership boils down to the ability to change the hearts and minds of people. The success of any team depends on the key stakeholders e.g. CEO, CTO, Project Managers, Business owners etc. to fully be involved and engaged. It’s not about micromanagement, but being able to foster and build an open environment. Creating clear project guidelines for productivity, teamwork, and accountability is very important.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Looking after my health — Exercise is a great stress relief for me. Also making time for hobbies and favourite activities. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management.
- Setting boundaries — As a CTO, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establishing some work-life boundaries is very important for me. I try to avoid checking emails, Slack messages etc. from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner.
- Taking time to recharge — taking short holidays, I do love to travel as it helps me to switch off from work by having periods of time when I am neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work.
- Being transparent and clear on goals — everything starts off with assumptions, which are then further refined.
a. Be patient,
b. Be persistent,
c. And be ready to fail
d. Never give up and always be ready to learn from your mistakes. That’s how you build your experience and those are the tools you need.
5. There are two decisions you need to come to in order to be free, and to be more effective. First is that you are not entitled to anything in the world, until you first create value for another human being. Second, you are 100 percent responsible for producing results. No one else. If you adopt those two views, you will go far.
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. 🙂
Making the internet and education accessible to everyone — we all should have an opportunity to learn and have free access to data. During the lockdown in the UK, we saw many schools and teachers move heaven and earth to get free laptops to children to enable them to continue their learning online at home. I think we should be thinking about this for every child from the moment they start school. Inequality of access is a fundamental barrier to many children from more deprived backgrounds.
“An educated man is not one who is trained to carry a few dates in history — he is one who can accomplish things…. A man’s real education begins after he has left school. True education is gained through the discipline of life…. A man may be very learned and useless…. Merely gathering knowledge may be the most useless work a man can do. What can you do to help and heal the world? That is the educational test. If a man could hold up his own end, he counts for one. If he could help ten or a hundred or a thousand other men hold up their ends, he counts for more. He may be quite rusty on many things that inhabit the realm of print, but he is a learned man just the same. When a man is a master of his own sphere, whatever it may be, he has won his degree — he has entered the realm of wisdom.” — Henry Ford.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Tiny tweaks bring big changes” — Amy Cuddy. In order to see results, it really boils down to keeping things simple, and that’s the path I have followed for the last few years.
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. 🙂
Denzel Washington — a true pioneer to someone that is very persistent and consistent.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!