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Ablorde Ashigbi, Founder and CEO at 4Degrees – Interview Series

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Ablorde Ashigbi, is the Founder and CEO of 4Degrees a platform that analyze a team’s network to assist with finding the best path to a company, investor, or expert in seconds.

Could you share the genesis story behind 4Degrees?

The inspiration for 4Degrees comes from our customers. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the challenges that our customers face in managing and driving value from their relationship network and how to best answer our customers’ needs. Part of the inspiration for 4Degrees also comes from the backgrounds of myself and my co-founder. Prior to founding 4Degrees, we worked at a few different industries that are heavily relationship-driven. We had come to realize the role successful relationship networks play in helping early stage companies make it to the next stage of their development and how ineffective manual and transactional focused systems are in facilitating that. Based on our experience and feedback from our prospective customers, my co-founder and I took the leap and started 4Degrees.

How important is relationship building to businesses?

Successful businesses are built on strong long-term relationships. For many businesses, especially the ones in service industries, an effective relationship network is their most valuable asset. It helps them acquire new clients, hire great talent and attract potential partners. And that’s what 4Degress is all about – we provide tools to help people manage and maximize their relationship networks. In today’s digital world, many transactional processes are being taken over by machine learning and other technologies. But if you think about it, the place where humans can continue to differentiate themselves is in building relationships and how we relate to one another. A product like ours helps people strengthen and engage with their relationship network to generate long-term value.

How does 4Degrees help professionals manage and get value out of their connections?

4Degrees is all about helping people cultivate and manage robust relationships. We are not a social network that simply surfaces news and alerts from the connections in your network; Instead, we focus on understanding the strength of these relationships. In some cases, our customers across various sectors have successfully turned these valuable relationships into business opportunities. By gathering communications data from emails and calendars, the platform can help track the connections your team is making through a dynamic fashion. It also provides insights and actions that your team can take to build new relationships overtime and/or maintain existing ones.

Could you discuss some of the machine learning technology that is used at 4Degrees?

At 4Degrees, we use machine learning and artificial intelligence in a number of different ways. Here are two different examples.

  • Number one is understanding the strength of a connection between the person on your team and people outside of your team. One of the core aspects of our product is not just telling you who your teammates know, but giving you a view for whether those relationships are ones you can leverage for different purposes. This is where data and machine learning come into play – we analyze the history of communications data, for example, email and calendar exchanges, to try to score relationship strength.
  • The second example is related to the categorization of the team’s relationship network. By gathering a person’s current and prior roles and online profile, we can suggest what this person may be focused on, or what areas of expertise they have.

These are the two key areas where machine learning is in use at 4Degrees.

4Degrees was accepted in the Techstars Chicago accelerator program in 2017. Could you share some highlights of this experience? 

Probably the biggest highlight of this experience was getting access to the Techstars network. The program has allowed us to connect with phenomenal companies, industry experts and prospective customers. In fact, some of our early investors came from Techstars. Some of our biggest customers came from referrals through the Techstars network and some of the closest advisors and mentors to the company are people who we’ve met during Techstars office hours. TechStars has truly been a foundational piece of our entrepreneurial journey.

Since 2014, you’ve been a mentor for 1871, an entrepreneurial hub for digital startups in Chicago. What are some common traits that you have observed in successful entrepreneurs?

Some common traits that help entrepreneurs succeed as they go on this journey are perseverance and optimism. There are plenty of points along the journey where the rational thing to do can feel like giving up. You’ll meet people who will tell you that what you are pursuing is too hard or isn’t worth your time.  But building something new requires seeing something others don’t, and the boldness to pursue it – and overcome the many obstacles that will stand in your way. Every entrepreneur who’s ultimately succeeded in building a business of scale refuses to let those obstacles win. They keep fighting to try to find a way.

You’ve also invested in a number of companies. What do you look for when investing in a startup?

I look for two things – business opportunities with growth potential, and maybe most importantly, the team of entrepreneurs themselves. The size of the market that a startup competes in is a big influence on its future growth, so I tend to look for large or high growth markets. But you need a great team in order to succeed in that market. Great teams are able to make use of the little resources they have and they don’t give up easily when times become challenging. They also have a clear vision of what they want to achieve for their company, and a large part of that includes finding the right people to help them get there – a huge focus for me, personally. Great teams also demonstrate the ability to develop trust and inspire people to embark on the same mission.

Sadly, the AI community is lacking in both gender and racial diversity. Do you have any words of wisdom for entrepreneurs who are intimidated by a field that is dominated by white men?

My biggest advice is to find your tribe. Find people who understand the journey you’re on, and who have been through the ups and downs of company-building. Doing so makes you feel less alone and helps you build a group of supporters around your company that you can lean on for advice and support.

Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit 4Degrees.

Antoine Tardif is a Futurist who is passionate about the future of AI and robotics. He is the CEO of BlockVentures.com, and has invested in over 50 AI & blockchain projects. He is the Co-Founder of Securities.io a news website focusing on digital securities, and is a founding partner of unite.AI. He is also a member of the Forbes Technology Council.