I remember the first time I heard Andy Ayim speak on stage over a year ago at a tech startup event in London - a natural home to one of the most well-connected people in the ecosystem. These were the good old days before the global pandemic wiped away every last bit of normality we knew. You could feel the buzz in the packed room. As I watched him speak passionately to an engaged audience of founders, there was an incredible familiarity to his voice, which I sensed before we had even met formally.
Fast forward a year and a half and Andy has been awarded an MBE for his work in the technology ecosystem and the successful launch of his own Angel Investing School last year. We’re now good friends and catch up regularly for temperature checks about the black tech ecosystem and honest exchanges about founder life.
From building Mixtape Madness, the fully bootstrapped cultural hub of London music culture, to his VC days at Backstage Capital through to his community building work with Capital Enterprise to now having launched the Angel Investing School, it’s clear that Andy is intentional in playing the long game.
With a love for people, product and building a thriving ecosystem, Andy has built his reputation by spotting gaps in the market. After what has been an eventful year, he’s ready to reflect and unpack the key moments in his life that have shaped him into the person he is today.
Raised in a British-Ghanaian family, culture has always been an important part of Andy’s story. He recalls his love for video games as a child, an early signal of his interest in technology. “When I was younger, my brother and a few friends and I used to walk 25 minutes to a technology centre called Technopark and we used to sneak in during the evenings and download SNES emulators to play SuperNintedo,” he says.
The path into the technology industry was not initially clear for Andy since nobody around him could offer him an easy route into the game. Andy recalls how he didn’t have the coding clubs on his doorstep or friends or relatives who could open doors, so he had to be creative.
He remembers reading the Financial Times regularly. Usually, newsagents wouldn’t stock the paper in his local area, Tottenham, but his Dad would pick them up from surrounding areas having negotiated with one of the local newsagents for a special subscription to feed his son’s budding curiosity about business. This gave him his first introduction to the basics of business, as well as an insight into middle class lifestyles. The more he read, the more he became fascinated by this different walk of life. He would eagerly read stories about business figures like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos but found he couldn’t relate to their backstories because they were so different to his. It made him question whether black people could ascend to such levels of business success and sparked a desire to explore the technology space further.
In our conversation Andy mentioned a quote which really resonated with me: “Always be the Sun in your own universe.” As he unpacked why these words meant so much to him, he told me about two life-changing events.
The first was a month-long backpacking trip across South America, which Andy says opened his eyes as travelling in this way was a new experience for him. The second was a trip across East Africa where he toured Victoria Falls, went on safari and travelled from Kenya to Tanzania accompanied by his brother and a friend.
On that trip, Andy had some key realisations about life and his purpose. “There is so much in this world that is out of our control...and that’s okay,” he says.
Following a fire at the airport, he had an exhausting and unexpected trip back on a diverted route two days later than scheduled. As he got off the plane, he turned on his phone and learnt that his father had passed away the night before through text messages of condolence. It was even more difficult for Andy to grasp as he had received a message from his father before his flight saying he would pick him up from the airport.
From this tragic event, Andy grasped the importance of learning from every experience and never wasting a moment in his life. “It sucks to lose, it sucks to fail, it sucks to lose a loved one, but it really sucks if you can’t learn from that experience,” he says.
His experience building Mixtape Madness - while working full-time as a management consultant at EY - mirrored the guerilla approach many startup founders take. With his brother and a friend, Andy was able to build one of the biggest digital media platforms for underground music and youth culture, fully bootstrapped.
The platform, in which Andy and his co-founders curated mixtapes, evolved from his passion for music and underground artists. At the time, many blogs were fragmented and there was no trusted centralised place to discover new up-and-coming artists.
Mixtape Madness was launched before the days of Spotify and digital streaming and the young team found clever growth hacks to build trust with music fans and expand their user base. This included a clever backlinking system from artists’ Wikipedia’s page to increase page visits to the Mixtape Madness website. The team would also get their hands dirty by standing outside show venues and universities giving out CDs to fans, spamming forums and raising brand awareness for their site as the new hub of culture.
Andy notes a pivotal moment for the business during the rise of streaming as the music industry was going through seismic shifts. “We had to build our product where our customers were and go to our market,” he says. This realisation led them to build their own YouTube channels and Spotify playlists and build a presence on external platforms. The move paid off in the long run, with Mixtape Madness having over one million subscribers on YouTube to this day. The platform has since evolved from being solely a music discovery channel to a full stack music management and consultancy business, which has helped some of the biggest UK acts sign major record label deals.
The Long Game
“I’m a firm believer in living my life in decades not days,” Andy says. He jokes that it may not be the sexy route but he is convinced that it will pay off in the long run.
When discussing what the European tech ecosystem needs and the difference between the European and US investment cultures, he talks about the importance of supporting communities early on in the journey, “category winners” and founder success stories.
“In venture capital, the goal of funding those companies is that they become category winners globally,” he says. “There are not many that we can turn to in Europe, let alone the UK, who we can say are category winners. If we look through the apps on our phones - Instagram, Amazon, Gmail, Netflix, Disney Plus - they’re all US-based companies.”
Andy believes there is a greater opportunity to improve diversity and make a difference at the angel level by supporting founders earlier on in their journey and giving them the necessary tools, support and capital to compete.
He cites the pivot Instagram’s founder Kevin Systrom made after receiving angel investment, buying him time and giving him the breathing space to pivot from his initial idea, a mobile check-in app called Burbn, to the hugely successful photo-sharing platform. This is the same time, breathing space and runway diverse founders need at the earliest stage of business, Andy believes.
“As a startup you’re saying, I’m running a series of experiments to reach product market fit and scale,” he says. “We really need a change at the angel level and that’s why I started the Angel Investing School. If we can invest in more diverse founders at the start, it gives them the opportunity and a better chance of getting to Series A. That initial capital can make such a difference to outcomes.”
He highlighted how essential the competition element is here. Everything from hiring the best talent, to running the right experiments to effective marketing campaigns. If we can give diverse founders more funding earlier on, they may stand a better chance of competing.
It’s a game of numbers and Andy’s message is to support diverse founders as early as possible so that they can compete, build the best products and aspire to be category winners.
Andy’s passion for product has been a common theme throughout his career. “I love product dearly, it’s been a passion of mine for years,” he says. “I realised when I was building Mixtape Madness I was assuming the role of product manager, I just didn’t know what it was.”
After living in San Francisco for eighteen months and working with some of the major players in the VC space such as Sequoia Capital, Andreesen Horowitz and Greylock Partners, he was exposed to founder pitches, Silicon Valley culture and the vernacular of the venture ecosystem.
It was from there he assumed the role of product manager at WorldFirst, helping build their product function from the UK to the offices in Hong Kong and China up until the company’s acquisition. It was there where he met his mentor Mark Abraham, who took Andy under his wing.
Andy then went on to a series of product and technology consulting roles for large organisations, including pharma giant Novartis. Describing his professional career as a portfolio one, Andy seeks to add value to products and industries he is passionate about. “The way I see it, I’m a content creator in all worlds,” he says. “I’m creating playbooks in product management and playbooks for angel investing.”
Angel Investing School
The vision behind the Angel Investing School was to demystify investing in startups and address barriers facing underrepresented groups, including limited access to knowledge and networks. “We really want to train up the next generation of diverse investors because that will influence them in investing in diverse founders,” he says. “We’ve had 78% people of colour and 43% female attending the Angel Investing School.”
The school has now grown into a powerful brand, empowering those who know little about investing to become fully-fledged angels who are deploying capital in emerging businesses. Andy has also been working in close collaboration with Climate Change syndicates such as Green Age and female-led syndicates like HERmesa, with many of the school’s graduates joining the syndicates off the back of his programme.
Andy recognises it’s the simple things such as language which can present a barrier for underrepresented groups. That’s why he created the Angel Investing School Dictionary, which defines over 100 key terms of angel investing for beginners. He also tries to make the world of angel investing relatable through a series of engaging Instagram posts about celebrity angel Investors from the hip-hop world, such as Nas and Snoop Dogg.
Lastly, we spoke about his most recent notable achievement, the award of an MBE this year for his services to the technology and business ecosystems. “In the age of Covid, I received the good news in an email in May, but it got announced in October so I was under embargo not to share anything until then,” he says.
He candidly shared how he went on a journey to figure out whether it was an honour or dishonour given the historical context around the British empire. Similar concerns have been expressed by Black British artists such as George The Poet, who turned down the award. However, Andy was able to come to terms with it by acknowledging he has an opportunity to shape history and how our stories are told. He talked about the impact on his daughter and being a positive representation for other young black people in the ecosystem.
Ultimately, Andy is clearly a man whose values drive him. After what has been an eventful year, he remains optimistic about the future and how he can help change the narrative and shape the lives of the most ambitious founders, investors and operators around him and beyond.
The interview was conducted by Rahmon Agbaje and Maatin Adewunmi.
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