There is no hotter technology out right now than virtual events platforms, with the pandemic accelerating their growth exponentially. Bevy is no exception as its virtual events platform is experiencing hyper growth right in line with the industry. But where Bevy is completely exceptional is how it has put diversity and inclusion at the core of the company’s culture – as the company is closing in on 20% of its employee base being black, and with 60% of the participants in its recent $40M funding round also being black.
During a recent LinkedIn Live conversation I spoke with Bevy CEO and co-founder Derek Andersen about competing in the virtual events platform space and the role the Startup Grind – the local event driven startup community he founded in 2010 – played in shaping Bevy’s approach to building its virtual events platform. We also spend time discussing why he felt embarrassed a year ago when none of his 27 employees were black, and how that realization led him and his cofounder to build diversity and inclusion into all aspects of the business going forward, including seeking out black advisors and investors to participate in the company’s latest funding round. And to add additional perspective one of those angel investors participating the funding round, Salesforce VP of Trailhead Evangelism and Trailblazer Community Leah McGowan-Hare, joins us to share why she felt investing in Bevy was a “no-brainer”.
Interview with Derek Andersen of Bevy
Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation. To hear the full conversation click on the embedded SoundCloud player.
But just over a year ago, none of Bevy’s then 27 employees were black, and that realization caused the company’s CEO and co-founder Derek Andersen to be, in his own words, “super embarrassed”. So why was he so embarrassed and how did that feeling lead to such a dramatic change in such a short amount of time? This clip from my convo with Derek and Bevy investor (and Salesforce VP) Leah McGowen-Hare, MSEd provides incredible insight into how real #leadership can lead to positive change for all involved.
Derek Andersen: In the earliest days of a startup, you’re basically trying to get a dead body off the operating table. And that dead body is your product and into the hands of customers. And you flat lined and you’re doing everything you can. And I think to a big fault we weren’t looking at all of the things that were going to make our company great specifically around racial diversity. And so my co-founders and I, we had talked about this and said, “Wow, we’ve got to do so much better than this. We have people inside the company trying to offer suggestions about what we could do.”
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And then on May 25th, when George Floyd was killed. It’s the day after my birthday and I was traveling. And I was in an RV with my family, trying to stay COVID free. And I was driving back and I was thinking about this stuff that it had been happening that week. And I was just frustrated with myself. I think we try to be action orientated people. We’re entrepreneurs, we’re doers, we’re not talkers. And my cofounder called me and he’s like, “We have to do something.” And I said, “Man, I’m literally thinking about this, right when you’re calling me. This is exactly what I’m thinking about.”
And we just said to ourselves like, what would be something big? What does meaningful change look like? 13 to 14% of the U.S. Population is black. And we just said, “Well, what if we got to 20% of the company?” I mean, I don’t know if that’s right or not, but that’s just like the number we made up. I was like 13, 14% minimum 15% so, what if we got to 20? And so, we didn’t really announced it internally, but we just started working on it. I hit LinkedIn, and hit Valence and other communities to go find great people, and started just recruiting.
And we found some amazing people, brought them in. Then we said to the company in September, “Look, we’re going to get the 20% of the company being black. This is why it’s important to us.” And in the conversations I had with one of my lead investors, Kobie Fuller whose African American, he said, “Look, what you’re not realizing Derek, is not only is this going to make your company so much better, but it’s going to make it so much more valuable. Because, you’re pulling from this broader talent base, you’ve got 15% of the population you’re not even looking at. And you’re going to collectively raise the bar of the talent. The companies you work with are going to appreciate it. They’re going to be more likely to want to keep working with you. There’s all these positive business effects around it”
So that’s what we did. We were 5% in June of last year, we got to 10% by September. We’re just over 15% today. We think we’ll get to 20% by the summer. I didn’t know how long it would take. I thought maybe it could take two years, but we’re going to do it in the first year. And then we’ll keep doing other things. But that’s sort of the Genesis of like what we wanted to do around racial inclusivity. And then with our funding round we decided while we are doing this our employee base, we should do it with our investors as well, why not? And that’s where a lot of wealth gets created in these startups, it’s with the investors.
Sometimes as an entrepreneur, you try to minimize dissolution. You try to keep control as much as you can. But we said, “Hey, let’s take 20% of this round, let’s have it be led by black investors.” And so we added about 30 investors, including Leah. And we’re so grateful for her participating in that. But 30 absolutely amazing people. People I’ve looked to, some I’ve looked to up to my whole life. Others I’ve just met and now are like my heroes, because I know what they’ve done. And I wasn’t of some of these people before we started reaching out.
And so we’ve tried to do it in our employee base. We try to do it at our investor base and really try to create wealth for the Black community. And then create what a racially inclusive company should look like. And I think we’re not the first to do this, but we’re sort of on the cusp. And I think every company in the future is going to do what we’re doing. I don’t think there’s anything proprietary about this. Everyone’s going to do the same thing.
Brent Leary: What attracted you to become an angel investor in Bevy?
Leah McGowan-Hare: First of all, if you just heard Derek’s answer, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that movement, right? Clearly this was on their trajectory as company long before the George Floyd murder. And when the George Floyd murder happened, you had all these companies tweeting and posting, “we’re about change, and we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that”. And there were very few that were being about it outside of tweeting about it, right? And to see Bevy be actionable and take meaningful action…
If you just heard what would Derek said, I mean, if we dissected just what he said. It started with the employee base and it could have stopped there, and still been impactful. But I’ve recently learned, because I was invited to take a class called Black Ventures by Black Venture Institute, learning about venture capitalism, and all the wealth and opportunities there. It was like Alice in Wonderland, you opened a whole other door. And you’re like, “Oh my goodness. I didn’t even know all this was back there.” So, then it brings up a whole other world of opportunities that I did not know about.
All things happen as they’re meant to, because I took that course back in like November, December. I was empowered with all of this knowledge. And then this opportunity came to me from Derek to be an investor in Bevy. And at this point I was powered with knowledge, I was prepared. And I could understand it whereas if the opportunity to come to me prior to me being powered with knowledge, I don’t know that I would have taken it. So I think for me, what was really appealing about the opportunity was that one, I highly believe in the product. I knew the product, I worked with the product, I’m a customer of the product.
And I really was fascinated and impressed with how they quickly pivoted during COVID to offer the virtual platform to keep conferences. Because we needed to be able to offer our community something, to allow them to stay connected in a very disconnecting time. And so that’s what that platform allowed us to do. And then beyond the platform was the people just the people. Not just the employees, but the investors and the board. It’s like a whole jambalaya, just goodness. And being able to have the opportunity to be a part of that seemed like a no-brainer to me.
Brent Leary: What lessons have you learned from this experience and how do you build on what you’ve begun in this past year?
Derek Andersen: I’m so energized and excited about this aspect of what we’re doing in terms of building a company. If it’s not the most exciting thing I’ve worked on, it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve worked on. Just really going out. How do I say this in a way that all the wonderful companies that I work with will not get upset with me. What I’ve learned about being a Black professional is that the platforms, the system, it is in many ways stacked against these incredible people.
I’ll share one story of one person that I met. We found this incredible African American woman who was working at Cheesecake Factory. And we’re looking at her resume and she was the captain of her basketball team in college. And her brother is in the NFL. Like this is a family that comes from excellence, this is a family that understands excellence. And she did incredibly well in college. And I was talking to her, I’m like, “Why are you working at Cheesecake Factory?” She’s like, “I just haven’t been able to get an opportunity.”
As I have talked with a lot of Black professionals, I have seen over and over again that there needs to be people opening more doors. We need to be shining more light on the incredible things that people from this community can do, specifically for tech companies. Which is as James Lowry [visionary management consultant and entrepreneur] calls, it is like the last great opportunity to build wealth and sort of the last revolution of wealth creation. And so what I’ve seen is, as these people come into our company is just the contribution that they have made is in some ways greater than anyone we’ve ever hired.
Again, we’re in the bottom of the first inning of what we think we can do and should do. And frankly, like the thing that makes me… And Kobie said this to me last year, “Just go do it. Don’t talk about it, don’t tell anyone. You just go do, see how you go.” And we’re kind of out there now. So, can we retain these great people? Can we create careers for them? Can we create place for them to thrive? We have to prove that. And is it just talk, is it just marketing or is it real? To me, it’s very real, but we have so much to do, so many more steps to go.
I don’t know exactly what all those steps are, but we’re going to get to the 20%. We’re going to keep diversifying our leadership team and our board. And then when we get to that point, we’ll kind of look up and say, “Okay, what’s next.” And try to set another audacious goal. And we still have to maintain those other things too, as we keep going. So, just adding to that. I mean, our sort of internal goal is to be the most racially diverse company in tech.
I don’t know exactly know what that means to be honest, but I say it because I hope people reach out to me and say, “Hey, you’re not even close. You got to do this, this, this.” And that’ll help me figure out how to do that. But that’s sort of our goal. I think the future way companies are going to be built, that’s not even going to be a consideration to be. It will just be like that. But we have to go create that, and as a company that’s gone from 27 to 120 people in just over a year. And as we hope to double that again in the next nine months keeping pace with that and making that a key part of our growth.
Again, this is empowering to us as a team that’s trying to build a good culture and somewhere that people want to work, but also it’s making our company much more valuable. So, if you’re a capitalist or if you’re an altruist, hopefully you can find something there that gets you excited to be part of.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.