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Build & Develop

Fireside Chat with Wepow Co-Founder & CEO Imo Udom

A company is defined by its reputation and employees, current and future. At Bozzuto, we strive to cast a wide net, hiring diverse talent who will leverage their passion, concern and creativity to create extraordinary experiences for everyone with whom we work.

That’s why we started using Wepow, a user-friendly video interviewing platform that reduces interview time and improves hiring quality—making the recruiting process easier and more efficient.

Bozzuto’s employee resource group, SOUL (Shades of Unified Leadership) and the Talent & Culture team invited Wepow Co-Founder and CEO Imo Udom to provide insight as a trailblazer and innovator in the digital technology field.

Echoing their thought process, “We power your recruiting. We power HR. We power you,” Wepow is short for “We Power.” Committed to helping organizations all over the world preserve human connections, Udom spoke a lot about diversity and inclusion from his beginnings to now during our conversation.

What were some of the obstacles you faced?

We had done 50 pitches and gotten a lot of noes, maybes or not interested, but then someone told us to go pitch an investor at an accelerator. That got us into 500 Startups, a venture capital firm that backs companies focused on diversity practices. After 500 Startups, you typically pitch bigger investors so we had to go back out again. I think we pitched another 20 investors—no response.

The gentleman and the fund that actually invested in us, the main partner, was an Asian American guy and he told us very honestly, “Look, you’re an African American guy and two Mexicans. No one in the Valley is going to invest in you.” He just said it straight up.

But he said, “I like what you’re doing. I believe in you guys. I know that you guys are going to have something to prove, so no matter what, you’re going to make this work and I’ll take that risk on you.” I actually appreciated it a lot. He was just being direct. He liked what we did. He cared about us, but he said, “You don’t look like other people who typically fundraise.”

A lot of people would be really discouraged by that feedback: “You can’t do this,” or “Nobody’s going to support you because you’re black, because you’re not from here or because your name sounds funny.”

Was this the first time you heard that kind of feedback?

It was probably the first time that it was that explicit, but we had experienced this in the past. It did not slow us down when we heard those things. The reality is we had dealt with it earlier in life. It’s just something we deal with on a regular basis.

After growing the business and having great clients, I was at a board meeting at one point and we had a really great quarter. We crushed our numbers and we were growing. I remember asking one of our investors for more money. I thought it was a perfect time for them to give us more money so we could just step on the gas. This is someone that supported us. But he said, “You know what? You guys seem to do so well without money. You’re so scrappy—you figure everything out. Maybe you don’t need the funding.” I was shocked and amazed. Unfortunately, I believe that I’ll continue to deal with it.

For decades, people of color have tried to mask their identities. The thought of video interviewing and being discriminated against because your name sounds a certain way or because you’re of a certain background has been a reality for minorities for a very long time.

How are you trying to change the idea of masking or hiding identity?

From a personal perspective, I’ve never been a fan of masking or hiding. It just doesn’t work in the long run. Something always comes up or comes out and puts you in a tough situation. So I’m a big fan of dealing with challenges head-on or upfront even when they might make you feel uncomfortable.

The reality is you’re going to go on-site for an interview. So if the person’s going to discriminate against you because of your color, age, sex or gender, they’re going to do it when you come on-site. So we thought, “How can we structure the solution in such a way where there might be opportunities to identify if discrimination is happening?”

People are going to be able to see you in the camera via video. With the way Wepow is structured, every candidate gets the same exact questions and is asked to answer in the same amount of time. Then, in the backend solution, the responses are seen by multiple people within an organization. That actually brings a lot more consistency.

Unconscious bias is a very real thing, and it lives inside all of us. Sometimes you don’t know what your biases are until somebody points them out. Many ask, “How do you get hiring managers—people making decisions about other people’s careers—to really come face-to-face with their unconscious bias?”

How did unconscious bias factor into your thinking for Wepow?

We were very fortunate. One of our early investors was an organization called Kapor Capital, and they’re huge with thinking about social impact and bias. They challenged us very early on to think about that in Wepow. However, at the time, that’s not what our customers were asking for.

I felt a lot of that trade-off between, “Do we give our customers what they’re asking for to gain the money we need to continue going and keep the lights on?” or, “Do we divert time to really address the unconscious bias issue that we were addressing well enough but there were areas for improvement?”

It was a struggle. There were times where we said, “You know, we just need to grow and we’ll come back to this.” Then, fortunately, we did come back to it.

Do you have a favorite interview question?

I’m not looking for a right or wrong answer. I really am just looking to see how they think, and if they just don’t have an answer, I want them to be honest with me. That’s so important. Actually, when I interviewed at Lockheed Martin, they had this crazy problem to solve on a whiteboard. I didn’t solve it. I did a terrible job, but I was honest about where I got stuck and what was confusing. The interviewer actually coached me through it and we solved it together.

I think in that stage of the interview, I showed my willingness to be transparent about where I was and asked for help. For me, when I interview people, that’s what I like to see. I don’t like seeing perfection in an interview. I like seeing someone that’s willing to talk about vulnerability because I think that’s really important.

Udom’s final four tips for interviewing success:
  1. The journey is the destination. I know we all want to get there, but if we are only focused on getting there and not recognizing what we’re doing every day and living a fulfilled life, we’re missing out.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Oftentimes we fear failure, but as a result, we miss out on opportunities.
  3. Raise your hand and speak up. Have your voice heard. You don’t need to dominate every conversation, but speak up.
  4. Pay it forward and give back. That’s the big thing. You didn’t get here on your own.
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