Forty years ago and more than 5,000 miles away from Brooklyn, a sleeping sickness struck the people of Nigeria. As the epidemic ravaged the population, Esosa Ighodaro’s grandfather found a successful treatment for the disease. In reward for his ingenuity, the Nigerian government granted two of his five children access to America, where they were able to study in Brooklyn. One of those kids, was Ighodaro’s mother.
“I know if my mom did not get chosen to get to America, I would not be talking to you right now,” Ighodaro told Opportunity Lives. “There was no other way really for us to be in America… I definitely feel like the stars are aligned for me to be here. I feel like my life is meant to do something great.”
Now the founder of a CoSign, a successful and growing technology startup, Ighodaro is a woman on the rise.
She credits her industriousness to her immigrant parents, who were constantly working and starting new businesses and ventures. At various points her mother owned a shoe store and was a food vendor at Brooklyn’s famed Labor Day parade; she also sold various American goods back in Nigeria.
“One of the biggest things happening with Nigerian parents is this whole idea of pushing to be making sure that you have education, first and foremost,” Ighodaro said. “They really push and instill [on you] why education is important …there’s a sense of discipline that comes with that territory of doing well in school, there’s a rigor with the honors classes that challenge you mentally.”
Ighodaro’s parents worked hard to pay for private tuition at a Catholic School, cobbling together their earnings to make it work.
“I knew when I was going to school I was very different from my classmates,” Ighodaro said. “I was the only African, I don’t know if there were any immigrant children in the school but I knew that their parents would be able to come pick them up and my mom was always working.”
After graduating from Temple University in Philadelphia, Ighodaro decided to pursue a major in finance, “with the idea that I wanted to work in banking and being able to improve people’s lives through finance because of the struggles of my parents,” Ighodaro said. “They had a lot of ups and downs because of it, so I wondered if there were other ways to be more successful, if they knew. So that was part of my drive to help people make better financial decisions.
Temple had strong relationships with Chase, Citibank other major banks in the New York City market. On her second day of classes, Ighodaro said she marched directly to career services offices and introduced herself to everyone in the room. She was adamant that she would graduate with a job in hand.
“It was so important for me to have something coming in so that I could be independent and not be a burden to my parents,” Ighodaro said.
Ighodaro joined Citigroup in 2008 as a management associate for the consumer bank, working in marketing initiatives and strategic business development.
At the Park Slope branch for Citibank, she was the acting branch manager, which meant she managed a staff of 15 and more than $400 million in consumer deposits. She stayed with Citibank for some six and a half years, though she started to feel the itch for something more around year four.
“I started to get a little bored,” she said. “If I really wanted to make change or impact in the bank world, it seems they really honor longevity and years at the bank. That was the big thing—you show how many years you’ve been at the bank. I don’t know if I want that, and what is the legacy?”
She had seen a friend leave his comfortable, six-figure job at Microsoft to work in app development, and she began to cultivate the seeds of an idea for a startup of her own.
In a moment of serendipity on the New York subway, she met the man who would become her cofounder, Abiodun Johnson, a Dartmouth grad who had launched a previous startup and was looking for new ideas. When she announced to her family she was quitting her six-figure, stable job, they were floored.
“I don’t think people took me seriously,” she said. “They were like ‘Okay, well we’re going to pray.’ My mom was so upset and would call all these family members. It was so annoying because you have respect your elders, you have to answer the call.”
Ighodaro and Johnson successfully hatched a Kickstarter for CoSign, an app that allows users to “tag” products within the images they upload to social media, this eliminates the detective work of trying to find where to buy items you see on social media. Their hope would be to democratize shopping and empower consumers.
Though she and her partner stumbled and struggled to find investment in the first couple years, they were eventually accepted by a business accelerator in the Midwest that has propelled them into a major partnership with consumer-facing retailer. The company faced early fundraising struggles, but the way Ighodaro sees it, that could be a good thing.
“Try to figure out a way to give value without investment,” she said. “If you could create the product and start selling to people and not have to worry about it, try it. Try to figure out those ways so you don’t have to worry to feel about becoming amazing at this other skill of fundraising.”
Ighodaro bursts with pride about her new app and the impact it is already having.
“You’re creating products for the future,” she said. “It’s a game changer in the way that people interact with the world and with each other.”
Indeed. A pretty remarkable story about the daughter of Nigerian immigrants to the United States looking for their piece of the American Dream.
This article was originally published on OpportunityLives.com.
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for Edward Conard, Bain Capital founding partner and American Enterprise Institute scholar. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.