“Serial Intra-preneur” turned Entrepreneur with a passion for tech, health, and humans. Esther Ayorinde Iyamu is Founder of GrowthQ, the Match.com for mentorship, diverse interviewer-SaaS, and tech sales talent. Esther also recently joined as General Partner for VC firm, 1Flourish.
From coast to coast, you’ve had such diverse experiences. As a dancer in the NFL and NBA, you must have seen some history making games but it also must have been a hectic schedule. How did you keep up with your skills, health, education, and travel during those years?
For context, I danced professionally in the NFL and NBA for 7 seasons between 2004 and 2014, 5 of which while working in tech. This meant, for 5 years, I was working a full time job while also working sometimes 30 hour weeks as a pro-dancer at the same time. The only way this was possible for me, and honestly my anxiety, was with Prioritization, Preparation, and Community.
Community: It’s incredibly difficult to be sober and be living with a group of people who drink.. I share that as an example to demonstrate how important and influential your community is on your success. For me, I had to surround myself not just with pro- athletes or pro-dancers, but pro-dancers who were also lawyers, surgeons, department heads in fashion, entrepreneurs, and finance leaders. I needed a tribe of other women who were faced with the same demands and code-switching I was faced with that I could turn to when it got tough or to encourage when I’d figured out a hack. I’m incredibly grateful not only to my teammates who held me down during those times, but also my friends and family outside of dance who dog sat, house sat, carpooled, drove so I could take a conference call on the way to the stadium, shared their post workout snacks with me when I left mine… the list goes on. There’s no feeling in the world like performing on that field or court, but I owe every minute of that experience to the community around me that made it possible.
You made New York Jets history in 2013 as the first African American captain of the franchise’s dance team “The New York Jets Flight Crew Cheerleaders”. What were the biggest takeaways that you learned working with so many women and being “the first”?
- “This whole experience is bigger than just you”: For the over 5 decades the profession has existed, every pro-NFL/NBA dancer knows they are representing more than themselves when they step on the field or court or even into a coffee shop. The millions of women and men who have the unique opportunity to experience this profession is a walking ambassador for the others who have ever been in this profession. Once someone gets word of my dance experience, they immediately name off others they know in the industry… and if they are black, there is a strong change we either know or know of each other. I realized very quickly that every success or failure is a representation of us all and to hold tight to that responsibility.
- Lean into your strengths: Listen, I didn’t grow up in a ballet studio with years of private technical training. My high kicks were high but didn’t touch my ears after 25. I haven’t been able to do a quadruple turn since high school once, my triple turns were mediocre, and I held my double turns together for dear life by 29 and 30. But I’ve always been a strong leader, I’ve always seen strengths in others and how to amplify them, and I’ve always been great at bringing people together for a common goal. So while I may not have had the long torso for cover of the swimsuit calendar, you better believe I leaned into my strength in making sure my line and co-captain had a season we would never forget!
- Though you might be the first, leave it so you won’t be the last: I believe it was our current Vice-President Kamala Harris who coined the now famous phrase as the first Female, First African & First Indian-American Vice-President in US history. As the eldest of 3 sisters, my parents always taught me that whatever I had or experienced was to benefit the next sister to follow me and then the next to follow her. In my professional career I’ve often been the youngest, most junior, and least paid at most corporate tables I’ve sat at. Ok I know what you’re thinking… Esther, shouldn’t you be angry? Maybe with a narrow view, but in the long run, I’ve still had a contributing and valued voice at every table I’ve sat at and always left it so those coming after me had 2 or more seats after I’d left. For every “first” in my career, the legacy I’d leave and the doors my experiences would open for others has always been my motivation… the rest would take care of itself.
What made you -a professional dancer and choreographer -pívot into the tech industry?
Haha, yes it’s true I was a dancer well before I was in tech. However, as the first child to very Nigerian, hardworking, 2-time immigrant parents, I had 4 choices for a professional career:
c. engineer or
I chose a bit of c and added a pinch of dance, a shot of entrepreneurship, ice and a little bitters and here we are. I’m kidding but not really. As an artist, what I love about technology is the ability to create new things to solve real world problems. The creative opportunities are endless.
You worked for Cisco, a top tier enterprise computer information software company with 80,000 employees worldwide. How did you separate yourself to achieve success and stand out as a “40 under 40 Achievers” by The Network Journal?
It probably sounds cliche but by being more myself. Earlier in my career I didn’t know my superpowers so mentors guided me to mimic those I looked up to. Which was great for a while, but eventually I recognized my unique strengths and the more I leaned into them, the easier it was to excel in my career. I also identified my weaknesses and partnered with talented individuals who were strong in those areas. This and any other recognition I’ve ever received has always been a representation of an incredible team of smart people I’ve been able to work with whose strengths outweighed my weaknesses and allowed me to play to my strengths.
How does your professional identity influence your wardrobe choices? Do you have any favorite “go-to” styles that work for your lifestyle?
The best way to sum up my style is “Princess Diana meets Hip Hop Dancer meets Posh Spice meets Carrie Bradshaw”. I was born and grew up in London then moved to Silicon Valley and latched onto the dance scene then moved to Los Angeles for a short period before moving to New York City. Now that I’m back in Silicon Valley, my style is definitely influenced by the season changes in London and New York, the conservative nature of London and Corporate America, and the edgy creative liberty of the LA Dance scene.
As a leader in Silicon Valley, what are some of the top learnings that you can share to other women trying to land a position in tech?
- Lean into your strengths and be who you are
- Your network is your net worth, deposit 5X more than you withdraw
- With every level you climb, always send the elevator or ladder back down
Are there any personal traits in women you have seen resonate in a male-dominated tech industry?
I keep going back to leaning into your superpowers, which is independent of gender. Your strengths come easy to you. I define “your superpowers” as the strengths you enjoy doing and can be overextended without burnout. No one else has those superpowers but you and that’s your own unique advantage. The most successful people I’ve encountered really lean into their advantages.
What are your goals now since you’ve left Cisco to pursue entrepreneurship?
Change the world for the next generation, build generational wealth, and prioritize loving on my family
As an impact and people first executive, what are you most passionate about and how do you spend most of your time?
As you can probably tell by now, I speak in threes. There are 3 things that I call my “ethos” or non-negotiable’s that I prioritize for where I spend my time
- Advocacy: will this action or commitment be in service to or advocating for others?
- Freedom: will this action or commitment be intentionally congruent with the other things in my life that are important? Will this further contribute to my personal freedom of time, location, creative liberty, and growing wealth?
- Connecting the Unconnected: will this action or commitment connect two people, worlds, communities, etc that may have never been connected before if not for my intervention?
These 3 are energy drivers for me. These are my guides for where I spend my time and if they don’t fit, I’m not there and there is likely someone better positioned to be there than me.
Health and wellness is a significant priority in your life. Have there been any products that have “changed your life” that you highly recommend?
- Oura Ring: for monitoring sleep health, efficiency, and so much more
- Vessel Health: testing strips that use urine, much like ovulation or pregnancy tests, to monitor several health markers like PH Balance, Magnesium levels, Vitamin C, Hydration, Ketones, etc
- Lumen: a device that uses your breath to monitor your metabolism and what your body is burning for energy at what times. Game changer
Lastly, can anyone get involved with GrowthQ?
Thanks for asking.
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