Tech founders have traditionally been thought of as fair-skinned Ivy-League dropouts or “rising” stars from legacy wealth. For decades, Black & Brown founders have been pigeon-holed into a portrayal as an exception to the rule. Recently, I gripped a steaming cup of joe tucked away in the corner of a local cafe to chat with Kendrick Trotter, Founder & CEO of Us in Technology. As the conversation flowed, I found myself overwhelmed with the honor of sharing just one of the stories of the many Black & brown founders who continue to push what success can and always has looked like. Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.
At just 27 years old Kendrick Trotter is the founder and CEO of Us in Technology (UIT), a virtual community, job placement, mentoring and training platform aimed at bridging the gap between hiring companies and qualified underrepresented talent. UIT is on a mission to help diversify Silicon Valley and beyond by educating and placing minorities and historically excluded individuals in sales, marketing, coding, engineering, and revenue roles with top tech companies committed to attracting, retaining and developing them.
Some of Us in Technology’s partners include such notable companies as ServiceTitan and Drift, among others. Before launching UIT in 2019, Trotter was an award-winning sales manager operating primarily within the cybersecurity space. Successfully recruited into the tech industry himself in 2017, while moonlighting as an Uber driver, Trotter picked up a successful tech executive and the pair struck up a conversation about his career path that would not only change his professional trajectory but his life mission: to give others the same opportunities he’d been given to succeed in one of the world’s most lucrative career fields.
Prior to launching UIT–responsible for securing more than 100 minorities with entry-level-to-management-level positions within the tech industry since its inception — Trotter has held executive or management positions at, among others, Radware and Agari, where he made President’s Club and was a finalist for the memoryBlue Phenom Award, which recognizes the former employee off to the hottest sales career start.
So who is Kendrick and how has life has brought you to where you are right now?
“ Kendrick Trotter is a person who is an extraordinary dreamer who refuses to give up. I’m originally raised by a single mom, growing up in areas like Richmond, Vallejo, Oakland and Stockton, California, with my siblings. There were many times in my life where I was literally 10 miles away from Silicon Valley and had no idea what the tech industry was. When I got in it I found myself creating space for myself and for others who look like me simply by not giving up and being a person who focused on having a bigger vision for myself.”
You say you were raised by a single mom. I like to try to figure out how our early experiences connect to how we move professionally. What are some specific lessons that you’ve learned from her?
“ I think the biggest thing was perseverance. Being raised by a single mom living mostly in low income areas, every step we took was a step towards improvement of our family’s circumstances. Sometimes those steps were big steps ; sometimes they were very small steps. But every day, I had the opportunity to witness someone willing to do whatever it took to maintain momentum and keep moving forward. Now that I’m older I see my mom’s journey relative to entrepreneurship, which was a journey of perseverance rather than perfection, and not giving up even when the going got tough.”
Have you ever experienced a time where you were gripped by imposter syndrome?
“Absolutely! The biggest imposter syndrome-related hurdle I’ve faced came when I was making the decision to incorporate Us In Technology as a full-time business. Here I was, this 20-something-year-old who had never run a business. What if I failed? Fortunately my co-founder and now advisor helped me get over that hump. He asked me, “Do you love what you do with Us In Technology?” and I said yes. “So then why not do it full-time?” Truth was, this marked the first time in my life I had ever thought of myself as something other than an employee. I had to shift my mindset to be able to begin to imagine myself as a successful entrepreneur. I’ll always be grateful to him for that, as well as the other, older and often white men who poured into me as well, encouraging me to dream without limits. Without this mentorship, Us In Technology wouldn’t be what it is today. Before I could effectively encourage others to make this leap of courage I needed to do it myself. “
Your goal is to diversify the tech industry by presenting opportunities to underrepresented individuals and preparing them for success within the industry. That said, have you ever faced a challenge with clients investing in your service?
“All the time. You have to understand that many of the people making the decision to invest in our company don’t come from underrepresented backgrounds. One of the most important things I’ve learned about engaging with investors from “traditional” backgrounds is to help them understand that when we say diverse, we’re not limiting to only the Black and Brown. What we define as talent from “underrepresented backgrounds” include members of the LGBTQ+ community, first-generation college graduates, military veterans and more – not only the economically disadvantaged, Black and Brown people or women.”
If you do this, how would you encourage underrepresented individuals to view their life experiences as launching pads, rather than them needing to move beyond the space of being “disadvantaged”?
“One of the first questions potential investors ask me is “What makes you different from other tech company founders? I tell them that what makes me different is not what I know but who I am and what I’ve had to learn in order to be successful. What makes me unique are my life experiences – they separate me from the average tech company founder and make me special. Where I come from – the disadvantaged streets of the Bay Area – where you’ve got to constantly solve a lot of real-life problems just to stay afloat. Questions like Where’s my family going to live? How are we going to eat? How do we stay safe? Entrepreneurship is about problem solving and taking risks. I’ve lived more of my life having nothing than I have with something… It’s very hard to intimidate a person whose used to not having a lot with the concept of failure. Every step is a step up! If I go into a meeting today and lose a deal or don’t get that investment, it’s not as discouraging for me as others more accustomed to getting their way because I’ve gone my whole life being an underdog and having to over perform. Whereas for a lot of other people, where the solution isn’t there they don’t know how to create that mindset. “
Relationships play a huge role in your success as a founder. How does your personal and professional community help you be better and stay on mission?
“Relationships are everything. It’s true what they say – we naturally become the people that we most surround ourselves with. I’ve been very fortunate in that within my friend groups we’ve grown with one another over the years. But I’ve also had to separate myself from things and people I truly care about that aren’t really aligned with where I’m headed. They’re aligned with where I was but not necessarily who I am now or where I’m headed. What makes Us In Technology special is that I basically created it with four or five best friends. Originally I was just a mentee to those individuals, and now we’ve grown our relationship to the point its so much more. As a result the business has grown and matured, and they continue to volunteer their time and energy to help me out wherever possible. My inner circle has probably been the biggest asset in my journey. “
Is there anything else you feel the need to say?
“Yeah! You know, when I was growing up the main thing people told me was that I could be an athlete. I was a good football player – even going on to play Division 1 ball for the University of Idaho in college. Where I’m from you’re either an athlete, an entertainer or in the streets. Because of this emphasis on sports, what I grew up believing “success” looked like for a Black man was pursuing and mastering one of those three different career options. Because of my own career trajectory and that of others, now I know differently. What I want to show the world is that these three “careers” aren’t the only way Black men can make six or seven figures. I want kids growing up under circumstances to look at my journey and say, “I want to be a company CEO like Kendrick!” And to know they can show up to these spaces as their true selves. I show up to investment meetings in cornrows or a curly afro sometimes, and I still win. They can, too. “