Written by Matt Rewata, McCormick ’22
On February 26, the winter 2021 Activate cohort spoke with Ablorde Ashigbi, co-founder and CEO of 4Degrees, experienced investor, and advisor for Techstars Chicago, about his journey as an entrepreneur, and what entrepreneurship means to him.
A Harvard alum, Ablorde is a man who forges his own path. He started his journey working in consulting, but, graduating with a government and economics degree, his interests aligned with “job creation, economic development, and economic dynamism,” something that he did not find in the realm of consulting. What he was able to find however, was that “the places where that dynamism exists in today’s economy, particularly in the US, tends to be around early stage technology companies.” This led to his work in venture capital. From these two experiences, 4Degrees was born, addressing one of the most critical aspects of both of those fields – relationship building and management. Seeing an issue with the way they were doing things in his place of business, he and his co-founder also saw an opportunity.
One of the biggest pieces of advice for the ambitious cohort of talented students, was around how to deal with failure. In the world of entrepreneurship, “failure” is something that will happen. It will not feel good, but it cannot be something that stops you from going forward. Ablorde’s advice in that arena was twofold. The first thing to know was that “there is no such thing as a failure that gives you absolutely nothing in terms of lessons to go work on.” Even the failures are a part of the process of getting better. The second piece of advice was to know the benchmark for failure. In a field where most ventures fail, a failure is not as debilitating as it may initially feel. The important thing is to be able to keep going and try again.
“There is no such thing as a failure that gives you absolutely nothing in terms of lessons to go work on.”
Some of the other key takeaways from the event happened after Ablorde asked the members of the cohort “What has been the hardest thing so far, in running your business?” before launching into more targeted advice.
One of these takeaways was based around “the process” and the nature of a business that is a “slow burn,” after one of the students, Zaria Howell, brought up struggles to stay motivated when results are not immediate. In response, he said “there are 1 in 1000 companies where it is not a slow burn. And so you see that in TechCrunch and the news, and assume that that’s what it should be, and so you must be doing something wrong.” It was a reassuring statement for the cohort, as Ablorde validated their experiences. He gave the simple, yet effective advice, of celebrating your “micro-milestones,” the small signs of progress you have made towards your larger goals.
Another key takeaway was advice on balancing life as an entrepreneur with the rest of your life. With a cohort of full-time students, the reality of limited time is one the entire group faced. His advice was, “There are always fires. The question is, which one is okay to leave burning for a little while. I think all of this comes down to a game of prioritization.” Being an entrepreneur and a founder is a personal endeavor by nature, and it is important to remember that while it may have goals and deadlines, it is still a single part of your life out of many. It is equally important to prioritize your personal life as it is to prioritize your business life. One way to help when limited on time for the business is to ask yourself, “If there was only one thing that I got done today, what is the most important thing I could do to move the business further?” Ablorde would then make sure his calendar reflected that prioritized task so that it was completed.
Entrepreneurship is not easy, and Ablorde made no efforts to act as though it is. We wondered what pushed him through the more challenging moments in the journey. He said he sees entrepreneurship as “a mechanism to solve problems you see in the world.” 4Degrees is a solution to problems he encountered in the workforce, which was inspired by his interest in larger problems like job creation, economic development, and economic dynamism. Influencing and ultimately solving these problems is not easy. Similarly, having a successful business is not easy. As these young entrepreneurs go forward with their own journeys, it will be their dedication to solving a problem, influencing a field, making a statement, giving support, and/or making a difference that will help them weather the storms to come.
Watch Ablorde’s full talk below:
Matt Reweta is a junior studying mechanical engineering with a concentration in design. As the program coordinator for Activate, an identity-based cohort program to make entrepreneurship more accessible and inclusive for Black Northwestern students, he is responsible for program recruitment and weekly meeting facilitation. Matt grew up in Tanzania and hopes to pursue a career in engineering project management after graduation.