Imagine a global business economy underpinned by equality, where the success of your project is based solely on efficacy and merit — and not your intricate network of connections or social profile. In other words, imagine an economy that thrives on a lack of nepotism, not an abundance of it, where success is extended far beyond familial favoritism. To the majority, this type of economy sounds like a utopia, elusive and impractical, and not the social classism we know our legacy financial infrastructure to be built upon.
In August 2013, I showed up to UPenn’s campus, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take my academic studies on business economics and public policy to the next level. Nescient to the goings of professional life beyond university, I believed I had already solidified my success. I was attending one of the top 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 at times is unavailable to most that look like me, a then 22-year-old West African man. 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 class sat a prime minister’s son and to my right, a self-proclaimed future president of the United States.
Although I was exposed to a wealth of learning experiences for the duration of my four years at Wharton, I was also made aware of just how inequitable and inaccessible the traditional world of finance is for those with 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 quite vividly: my colleague professing about the familial relationships he had throughout the firm. For some context to my oblivion, I had never even heard of the Hamptons prior to starting my position — 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 Wall Street circle. As an obvious outsider, it was almost incomprehensible how one could not only have such privileges growing up but also be doubly rewarded for having such privilege in their vocational life.
It All Falls Down
I’m eternally grateful for my university experience — it provided me with the foundation I needed for my time in financial services. I learned that substantive networking is conducive to one’s career development. I absorbed numerous processes for assessing value in just about any type of company or financial asset. My natural capability for grasping complex financial concepts ensured I was among the top performers in my class.
However, what I could never have prepared for was the amount of cliques and insider circles throughout 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 time over at university. I would learn this in the most dramatic of ways when venturing out on my own as an entrepreneur.
A Message to All Founders
As entrepreneurs in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, we understand that securing investor funding is incredibly challenging. For most of us who reside outside of the top 10 percent, we are presented with the challenge of convincing complete strangers to make a risky bet on an unproven, intangible vision. As a student of this economy, I’ve learned that people like to invest in those who remind them of themselves or people whom they are fond of.
This framework would be fine if the broader investment community was sufficiently diverse, meaning everyone would have the opportunity to find their biggest champion. Unfortunately, such is not the case.
After transitioning into the world of Web 3.0 in 2020, I was introduced to an entirely new economic paradigm. Web 3.0 is a decentralized ecosystem built upon the principles of interconnectedness, trust and financial freedom for all. Web 3.0 holds potential for budding entrepreneurs to break free from legacy players for financing. It is centered on the principle that no one actor or entity should have outsized control over any particular outcome.
By design, an interconnected blockchain means that entrepreneurs can obtain financing from the people who care most about supporting their vision. Peer-to-peer networks undoubtedly pave the way for a far more accessible offering where thousands, if not tens of thousands, of individuals can participate in investment opportunities. Think of it like crowdfunding but far more secure.
In this world, access to financing and access to asymmetric yield and governance aren’t influenced by one’s dispositions or connections. Historically, Wall Street insiders have been benefitting the most, both financially and influentially, from successful venture trades. This uninterrupted cycle creates an even larger disparity between the haves and have-nots. But the advent of Web 3.0 systems means that this could all finally change.
While we may not be able to disrupt the legacy financial system and its nepotistic qualities overnight, it is critical that we move to further more equitable opportunities for all. As a collective, we can successfully do so by way of investment, applying a concerted focus on educating the masses and building a more equitable future for all. We as founders have the power to help craft economic systems unimpacted by financial aristocracy, racial heritage and most of all, centralized points of authority.