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Imagine a global business economy based on equality, where the success of your project rests solely on efficiency and merit – not on your complex web of relationships or social profile. In other words, imagine an economy that thrives on nepotism, not abundance, where success extends far beyond family patronage. To the majority, this type of economy feels like a utopia, elusive and impractical, not the social classism on which we know our legacy financial infrastructure must be built.
In August 2013, I showed up on the UPenn campus with bright eyes and a bushy tail, ready to take my college studies in business economics and public policy to the next level. Not knowing the vagaries of professional life beyond university, I thought I had already solidified my success. I was studying at one of the best undergraduate business schools in the world, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. This feat alone felt like a golden key, giving me access to a world that is sometimes not accessible to most of those who look like me, a then 22-year-old man from West Africa. However, it wasn’t long before I succumbed to the depths of my own ignorance and the reality of business school and the world beyond. To my left in the classroom sat the son of a prime minister and to my right a self-proclaimed future president of the United States.
Although I was exposed to a multitude of learning experiences over the span of my four years at Wharton, I was also made aware of how unfair and inaccessible the traditional world of finance is for those who have ethnic and racial backgrounds outside of the white majority.
This revelation became all the more profound during my time on Wall Street through a host of different events, one of which I remember vividly: my colleague and then roommate professing the family connections he had in the ‘business. For some context to my forgetfulness, I had never even heard of the Hamptons before I started my job – talk about an out-of-towner. My lack of prowess on the very things that define New York’s social stratum meant that I was often ostracized from the insular circle of Wall Street. As an obvious outsider, it was almost incomprehensible that one could not only have such privileges growing up, but also be doubly rewarded for having such privilege in one’s professional life.
I am forever grateful for my college experience—it provided me with the foundation I needed for my transition into financial services. I learned that meaningful networking is conducive to career development. I have absorbed many value assessment processes in just about any type of business or financial asset. My natural ability to grasp complex financial concepts allowed me to be among the best in my class.
However, what I could never have prepared for is the amount of cliques and insider circles in the world of conventional finance – a place where nepotism is often misunderstood for effective networking.
It’s a world so far removed from the meritocratic paradigm that was preached to us in college. I would learn this most dramatically by venturing on my own as an entrepreneur.
A message to all founders
As entrepreneurs in today’s rapidly changing business landscape, we understand that obtaining investor funding is extremely difficult. For most of us who reside outside the top 10%, we face the challenge of convincing complete strangers to gamble on an intangible, unproven vision. As a student of this economy, I learned that people like to invest in those who remind them of themselves or the people they love.
This framework would be nice if the broader investment community was diverse enough, meaning everyone would have the opportunity to find their biggest champion. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
After transitioning into the world of Web 3.0 in 2020, I was introduced to a whole new business paradigm. Web 3.0 is a decentralized ecosystem based on the principles of interconnection, trust and financial freedom for all. Web 3.0 offers budding entrepreneurs the potential to break free from legacy players for funding. It is centered on the principle that no actor or entity should have disproportionate control over a particular outcome.
By design, an interconnected blockchain means entrepreneurs can get funding from the people who care most to support their vision. Peer-to-peer networks undoubtedly pave the way for a much more accessible offering where thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people can participate in investment opportunities. Think of it like crowdfunding but much safer.
In this world, access to finance and access to asymmetrical performance and governance are not influenced by a person’s dispositions or relationships. Historically, Wall Street insiders have benefited the most, both financially and influentially, from successful venture capital deals. This unbroken cycle creates an even greater disparity between the haves and the have-nots. But the advent of Web 3.0 systems means that all of that could finally change.
While we may not be able to disrupt the legacy financial system and its nepotistic qualities overnight, it is essential that we move on to fairer opportunities for all. As a collective, we can do this successfully by investing, focusing on educating the masses, and building a more equitable future for all. As Founders, we have the power to help create economic systems unaffected by financial aristocracy, racial heritage, and most importantly, centralized points of authority.