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Skills Series - Bami Kuteyi

Introduction to Bami

Bami is a young, fearless entrepreneur. Having founded the international Afro-Caribbean inspired wellness brand Bam Bam Boogie when she was only 22 years old. Since then Bami has left a full-time job at Google as an advertising executive to focus on creating a more inclusive world through fun, fearless fitness.

She aims to transform the way that people feel about their bodies and minds. In turn, enabling them to feel the confidence needed to chase after their dreams and make a positive impact on the world. Bami has shared her story with over 17,000 people around the world through fun, engaging and motivating talks, workshops, online videos and fitness classes.

She's a Prince’s Trust Young Ambassador, and has launched the UK first twerk app and has worked with some of the top companies in the world, including Facebook, Marvel, Google, Nike, and many more. Twerk after work has also been featured in Vogue, MTV, and recently Bustle.

How would define a skill and what do skills mean to you?

Skill means to me something that either you've tried out and you feel that you're quite confident in. You don't have to master a skill to have that skill set.

It's just something that you may feel that you've done very well. For example, I would say one of my top skills is communication. It's very important to me that I use my skills day in and day out.

Is that a skill that you've just kind of always had, or is that something you've had to work on?

I feel like my skills in communication have had to really grow. I'll give you a little bit of my background. I was born in London. I moved to Toronto when I was 14, and then I moved to Dublin when I was 22. I moved back to London at 25. I feel like because I've had to live in so many different cultures and so many different countries, I've had to learn how to communicate in different ways and communicate with people from all different walks of life.

I've realised that if I want to get my point across, or I want to get my way, I need to know how to communicate correctly.

If you were to reflect back now, what's your earliest memory of developing a skill?

I'll go back to communication because that is the skill that I use all the time. I remember being in primary school and we would have to do acting classes and I always remember being the first person to put my hand up and be so excited to go and present my idea.

I remember that doing these classes helped me feel more confident about myself. And then in classes whereby I wasn't as strong, like maths or English class, I felt more confident to put my hand up because I had developed that communication skill in something that I found fun and that I found interesting.

At the time of developing that particular skill, were you conscious that you were developing communication skills?

I'd say from a young age, I wasn't very conscious that it was communication. I just was always known as someone who was very chatty in the class. I just saw it as a way to make friends, but it was only until I entered the job industry and started working in retail that I realised, oh, all these conversations I was having in class actually helped me to become an excellent communicator.

What was it in particular about those experiences in drama classes that allowed you to develop those skills? And how did that look over time?

I think it was the fact that especially with improvisation, you have to think on your feet.

So someone else in an improvisation skit might suddenly say that they are in some type of tragedy and you have to react without having a script in front of you.

It was that thinking on my feet, which I guess is another skill, that I think helped me to develop my communication skills and really helped me in things like interviews.

They might throw you a question that you hadn't prepared for and you're able to take a moment, take a breath and then going ahead and answering the question with as much poise as possible.

In terms of the journey of developing that communication, I realised that it was a strength of mine when I got to high school and moved to Toronto and I had to make new friends. I think after I kept developing it from there.

Doing things that stretched my communication, such as public speaking, or auditioning for school plays, going to lots of interviews.

How did you get into a position where you could practice public speaking?

I love to talk and I love chatting and meeting new people. I would end up just telling my story to others in general conversation. I remember there was a girl I used to work with at Google where we were just having a chat one time after lunch.

I was explaining my whole journey with Bam-Bam Boogie and feeling displaced in Dublin. And she mentioned that she was organising something similar to a TEDx and told me it would be a good opportunity to share my story with the rest of the company.

Because of that networking, because of that support, she trained me and coached me for the talk. I was able to have the confidence to push forward. I think it's really also about the circles that you're in when you are communicating.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you've gone about building your network and the skill of doing that?

Networking and community are huge for me. It's how I've built my business and my brand from the ground up. My first thoughts of networking were in university and I always used to hate networking events, because I just found them so forced and so awkward.

Once I got the job at Google I started to realise that networking is just making new friends and making new acquaintances.

You have to go into it with a goal, but it shouldn't be something you need to get X from certain people in the room. It’s more about just starting conversations and sharing your story and making it a genuine interaction.

What was the process of launching Twerk After Work and Bam Bam Boogie? Can you identify any skills that you had to learn in order to get that up and running and be as successful as it is today?

I was 22 and definitely not as confident as I am today. I had just moved to Dublin and started working for Google. And at that time I didn't really feel included in the workspace necessarily. I felt a little bit excluded, like a diversity hire, kind of like a number.

In order to try and make sure that other people don't feel like this when they come into the company, I thought how can I merge my passion for dance and fitness, while still making it a diversity and inclusion initiative. That’s when Bam Bam Boogie was born - bridging the tech and the twerk together.

In terms of skills I'd say the first skill was definitely communication. It was the foundation of everything because I literally had to pitch the idea first.

If I didn't pitch the idea clearly to my manager, to people in my team, and also the key stakeholder for the wellness section of Google, then it wouldn't have been able to go ahead. That was the first step - practicing that pitch, and developing my communication skills and my idea so clearly that I was able to pitch it and get it approved.

The second skill would definitely be the marketing piece. So even though I was working in digital marketing. When you want to market to employees, it's a little bit different because you do have to do some offline marketing as well. I had to talk to other people who had done similar things at Google, and see how I was able to market it in a clear and concise way to get people involved and get that buy-in and people on board.

And then the last skill I would say I had to develop was community building. Bringing people together and keeping them together. Building a community whereby people actually feel part of a group, feel part of a safe space, and feel part of something that they know is going to grow and become much bigger.

I was able to build my community building skills by making sure that everyone was present in the room and that they felt trust and they felt that trust so that they could really be open and be themselves.

How do you make sure that you deliver a good pitch? What are the key elements of that?

I'd say when you are delivering a pitch internally it's so different compared to talking with investors. There's no real official slideshow. It's more that you have 30 seconds or so to get buy-in from that stakeholder.

I'd say the most important thing is to understand your audience.

I delivered different pitches to my manager, to people on my team, and to the gym manager. So for the gym manager, first of all, I spent time going to the gym, looking around to see what he was doing and see how he was interacting.

My pitch to him was straight to the point. I knew that some of his goals were to increase the amount of community events and increase the number of people using that gym space. So I told him I could bring in a diverse audience. We're going to be able to increase the memberships by X per cent. Using his language and making sure that he's hearing those buzz words, which relate to his key performance indicators.

For my manager, it was more about adding to the team, because it's going to show that we as a team are passionate about diversity and inclusion and that we don't just talk about it. We actually create initiatives that make a change.

You always have to know your audience in, in all scenarios. Even if you have a business, even if you're pitching to stakeholders or investors, you still always need to really be touch and know your audience.

For the marketing piece, how did you go about that compared to networking?

It was more about me sitting down and coming up with ideas. Looking at what other people had done, like Zumba and other aerobics classes such as Jazzercise.

Taking time to research and understand more about flyers and posters and where people's eyes go on the post or what colours would be good for the branding.

Was it always your plan for Bam Bam Boogie to not be limited to Google? Or was it, something you envisaged doing alongside your day job?

I thought that it was just going to be something that I was doing as a 20% project. I thought to myself if it works out, it works out. If it doesn't, it doesn't.

The idea stuck with me. Hearing that people had been promoted at their jobs because of the confidence the classes had given them, or they were able to network horizontally and then move to a different team that they were passionate about because of coming to the classes.

Not having that forced networking. When you're dancing and when you're sweating, no one can feel like I'm higher than anyone else. It's a great way to network with managers and senior directors, because it's the most vulnerable time where you're just going to find them twerking and dancing.

Have there been any skills that you have had to develop that you’ve found particularly challenging?

One of my toughest is analytical skills. Getting deep into the data and understanding the numbers and then putting them in a way that's easy to digest and understand.

I am the opposite of a numbers person. I'm very much a big picture person. You can manifest anything that you want, but you do also need to have those numbers so that people can understand.

I still struggle with it today, but the best way that I've been learning is getting support from people who I know are very good at those things. People that are good at accounting, who are good at breaking down the numbers. I spend time with them to find a way which is easy for me to understand and make things a little bit more simple.

And, and that's all from a perspective of reaching into your network and finding individuals with that skill, as opposed to me giving any particular course or studying or watching YouTube videos or anything like that, is that right?

I would always prefer to have someone else teaching me. It could be via zoom. It could be in person. But yeah, I'd always prefer to be taught live or pay for a course that is taught live.

Most of the time because my network and our community is so engaged I can send a WhatsApp message or post something on my Instagram story.

Are there any lawyers about there that can teach me law? Are there any, you know accountants that can teach me how to analyze these numbers? And usually there's someone who's quite willing to help.

Don't be shy. It's not begging. It's not weak to ask for help because you never know when it might be on the flip side and you have something that you're really good at and someone needs your help. So always ask when you can.

After university have you done any more studying or has it been learning on the job?

I'd say I've done a mix of both. The majority of my learning has been on the job and getting people to support me, but I've also done a lot of business courses.

The key ones that stand out in my mind are the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Program. That one changed my whole life. And then we have the Fearless Female Founders Program. And also a small business accelerator with Enterprise Nation.

What was it that drove you to want to go on those courses and receive that training?

I feel at each point I did these business courses I was going through a dip in either development, confidence or growth.
I always felt like at that time, I just needed a little bit of a push, a little bit of inspiration, a little bit of knowledge to help me get through this.

So the main thing I'd say I learned from the Prince’s Trust program was franchising.

The main thing I took away from the Fearless Female Founders Program was money mindset. So having an abundance mindset. That was the first time I learned that ever on a business course. And it changed everything for me.

And then the small business accelerator program, I'd say the main thing that I learned was more around product. Actually selling products on Amazon or Shopify etc.

Do you think there needs to be a balance struck between the skills that you intentionally learn and develop and work on compared to if you haven't got a skill? Is there any point in trying to develop skills you don’t possess?

Things change. When I first started my business, I was that person that wanted to be able to do everything and know everything so that when I do hire someone, I know the standard of the work that I want done and the quality of the work that I want done and the price that I'm going to pay for that.

But then there's also the flip side of things whereby your time is so valuable, and if you have the resources to invest in someone else with the skills instead of using your time trying to learn something new.

If there's a skill that you don't have but you’re not in a position to necessarily outsource it, how do you go about that?

Utilsing learning platforms like Future Learn, Jolt or Coursera. Take a few hours and invest in a couple of months and go and learn what you need to learn in order to flip yourself at that skill. And then there's always YouTube, which is free.

Do you think all skills can be learned by all people?

I think that everyone has innate qualities in them that they're naturally better at. Some people are better at communication or more art-based skills depending on their lineage and their heritage. I think that not all skills can be learned to the level that you may need it.

Sometimes you just have to say, you know what, this isn't for me, I'm going to move on.

Do you think that there is still value in formal qualifications today?

I did a lot of courses with Jolt and I found that that really helped me to kind of level up on skills. It was an alternative to an MBA.

I don't think that moving forward, we're going to see as many young people choosing university, MBAs, or choosing to do PhDs, because it seems as though it's not required as much in certain industries.

I think times are changing, which is good because it opens up a much wider pool to people from underprivileged backgrounds who may not have been able to afford something like university or an MBA.

Regarding your experience being in a corporate environment, and then now running your own business. What would you identify as the most transferable skills to those thinking about setting up their own businesses?

I would say take a moment to actually reflect and think about all the skills that you've learned at your current organisation that you. It’s easy to forget that you're a pretty amazing person.

Take a moment to reflect and write down all the skills that you think you're good. Go through manager reviews. If you've got good feedback to start mapping and looking at how these things link to working for your own company.

When you look at yourself now versus when you started what's the biggest difference? What are you great at now that you were bad at before? And can you talk about how you stopped being bad at it?

One of the biggest differences would definitely be the way that I prioritise. Before I wasn't prioritising necessarily myself or prioritising exactly what I needed to add value to. Whether it was Google or whether it was my business.

Whereas now I feel like I'm actually prioritising my strengths and things that I'm good at. Before I was always thinking about what was that thing that managed I needed to improve on? How can I improve at it to be the best well-rounded person? But now I just think, forget about that. What are the things that I'm incredible at? Let the world see that first. Put the things you're good at the forefront.

What I was bad at before was specifically explaining exactly what I needed. Even though I can talk for days, I wasn't good at being succinct. Because I've had to explain my business to different people so many times I've been able to improve it. I always make sure that I get feedback on it.

I'd say that's how I stopped being bad at it - practice and feedback and reiterating it.

How do you network to bring more awareness to your company?

At the beginning, I was literally just going to as many different corporate events as I could. So say if there was a black history month event, or there was a black Googlers event, I would go to that event and talk to people. I’d talk to them about my business and what I'm doing.

However, now the way that I network, especially during COVID (because I'm an in-person person) I just hop on to Instagram. I kill it in those Instagram DMs. I'd say in a week I can send over 200 DMs. I'm searching hashtags. I'm searching for companies that are similar to mine. Companies that might not be similar to mine, but I know would have a similar target demographic.

I scroll through their follower list if they look right l follow them and send a message. Hey, love what you do. I ask random questions. What's your favorite breakfast? As a means to start a conversation. It works.

When you're networking B2B, I feel sometimes people forget that real people work at businesses. Remember that when you are pitching to a business, whether it's for a wellness package or you're pitching something else, remember that you're speaking to a specific person.

I slide into a lot of LinkedIn DMs as well. I'll look at CEOs. I will talk to founders, HR managers, recruiters, all just to start a conversation with them. They'll introduce you to someone else, which has actually ended up with me getting corporate contracts with companies like Facebook.

Twerking as a skill? How did you learn how to twerk? Where did that come from?

My first memory of learning to twerk was when I was 14 or 15. I definitely saw my grandma doing it when I was way younger. After school I went to my Caribbean friends house and she was doing this move she was couldn’t believe I did not know how to do it. And from then I fell in love with working. So it's been 12 to 13 years now.

There is not one day that I do not twerk. That is a skill that makes you happy. Trust me, it's actually got me a lot of opportunities. When I was first pitching my business, I would show up into the gym. I put on the music and twerk for the gym manager, showing him what it was.

Presumably, there's only a certain number of people that respond to DMs and only some that lead to an opportunity. Can share a little bit more about that?

Especially with B2B, I'd say we have about 75% open rate. 50% of people will respond, and 25 to 30% book a meeting. And then those who actually book and go onto to sale is about 10%. You can see how that slims down at each level of the funnel. Of course, the more that you DM, the bigger your funnel is and the more money you're going to make at the end.

Is that something that you've learned on one of the courses you’ve been on?

Actually, no, this is something that I learned from Alexia. She's our corporate partnerships manager. She worked in recruitment. When you're a recruiter, you spend all day reaching out, trying to fill positions. So she taught me that.

What would you say is the key skill you're working on at the moment?

I'm working on developing sharing my ideas virtually, because it's different sharing, in person versus sharing it virtually. I'm trying to understand how I can still build that human connection through the screen.

I found it quite difficult six months ago. I think I'm getting better. You can always DM me on Instagram with some feedback. Motivational speaking in a virtual space is hard when you can't see the people looking at you. Even though we have comments, there's energy in a room when you do a public speech in person versus virtually.

How do you even go about trying to work on that?

I'm looking at content creators. Incredible YouTubers that have millions of subscribers, and they've been able to build connections and build a community with people they haven't even met before.

I'm accepting opportunities like this, where I get to practice - it's recorded and then I watch it back. Doing the classes every day helps me to learn more about it.

Top tips - Observing what others do and what you can pick up and start implementing. Reflecting back on your own performances and how you can improve going forward.

When it comes to thinking about developing a skill, what are your top tips?

I would say, first of all, don't be too hard on yourself because you're going to get it wrong many, many times at the beginning. Don't overwhelm yourself with that sense of like, Oh, I'm not getting it right. I'm not getting it right. Honestly, just keep going.
The second thing would be to use the network and the people around you, because I didn't do that enough at the beginning of my journey. I felt like, I've worked at Google, I should know pretty much everything about business. I shouldn't go to people because it makes me look a certain way. But no, honestly, it's so important to use the people around you. They’ll be more than happy to help.

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