“I’m naturally a connector, a community builder, so with everything I create, my focus is to bring people together.”
Jumoke Dada, Principal of Signature RED, LLC and Founder of Project ALOE
Jumoke Dada is the founder of Signature RED, LLC a business that focuses on supporting and empowering women through technology and strategy consulting services. Jumoke blends her love of technology and social entrepreneurship by giving back to her community through her initiative Project ALOE, a beauty drive and annual send-off event for college-bound girls.
What was your initial vision for Signature RED?
My career started out in the IT space. In 2009, I hit a turning point and decided to go off on my own rather than continue in IT. At the time, I had been planning events for family and friends, and for a few other clients on the side. Through doing that I found that I really liked it; I liked being able to bring ideas to life.
When I started Signature RED, it was a woman-targeted marketing company. I put on events, managed social media, did some promotion, and wrote content. Fast-forward to 2013, and there was a lot of talk about women in tech, with a focus on STEM. I didn’t even realize they were looking for women like me in the tech space so I decided to return. The company shifted, and Signature RED became a combination of marketing and tech services. I started producing tech events for women, hosting fun mobile app workshops and tech brunches.
How did Project ALOE come about?
I launched Project ALOE in 2010, when I realized I wanted to do something to empower girls. I got the idea when someone asked me if I wanted one of their beauty tools they were getting rid of, like a curling iron. I said no, because I have so many. But the question got me thinking, so I decided to start a beauty drive to collect items like curling irons and other beauty products, and I asked friends to help me.
I was the first of my siblings in United States to go to college. When I got to college, I wasn’t prepared at all. I remember going to K-mart and having to stock up on items for my dorm room, because I had nothing. There are so many expenses when you first get to college like tuition and text books. The idea behind Project ALOE, which operates under the umbrella of Signature RED Cares, was to make that transition easier and send girls off with care packages they can really use.
Are there any other socially-focused entrepreneurial opportunities on the horizon for you?
In 2016, a lightbulb went off. Someone asked me for a referral; it was something along the lines of, ‘do you know of a good accountant?’ I searched LinkedIn and tried to find someone I know to refer, and I found it difficult to find them easily based on their skillset. So, I decided that’s what I need to build: a platform where you can find women specifically based on their skills. That’s how the idea for Tech Women Network online platform came about.
There’s a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion in tech right now. I noticed that a lot of women of color with technical skills began signing up for the Tech Women Network. My goal is to host events, like the HUE tech dinner and summit, for diverse women who want help with their career in tech. In the startup world, for example, a lot of times the focus is on the founder, but I wanted to draw more women in tech who are behind the scenes, who want to build things. I’ve been more vocal about having more women technologists at the table when it comes to making decisions. I’m naturally a connector, a community builder, so with everything I build, my focus is to bring people together.
Did you have any fears about becoming an entrepreneur? If so, what were they?
I’ve definitely had fears – it’s weird in the sense that I am a confident person, but I still do struggle with fear. When things – companies, brands – start out small, they’re easy to manage. But sometimes I get fearful when things get big. Maybe that’s that introverted part of me. When things get big I think, “what did I just start?”
It can be scary to do things you weren’t taught in school and just jump in and figure them out as you go along. Honestly, I’m still learning. I had never launched a business before, never launched a platform before. I’d never had to go get money before – that’s BIG.
“I’m not just a coder, I’m not just an event planner, I’m not just a giver. I am versatile.”
What has been your greatest struggle in founding these companies and brands?
My biggest struggle right now is finding time and ways for me to grow. I need time for me to build a team. Really it just comes down to finding the right people to grow with. I want to find people with an interest in tech that also know how to start from scratch, and can be comfortable figuring this out as we go. They have to be of the mindset of wanting to see other women win.
What has been your greatest triumph in your founder’s journey thus far?
If I think most recently the HUE tech summit for women of color that took place in May. It’s been an emotional year. My father passed last summer, and then this winter I was really sick. From January to May was all the time I had to produce and host this massive event that’s drawn a lot public recognition — even from the mayor — so to do so many things in such a short span of time, with so many other things going on in my life, it was hard. The response alone, and encouragement, showed me that I’m on the right path.
I just remember thinking in January: Wow, I’m approved to host HUE at Philly Tech Week, how am I going do this? God just started sending people. Women started taking note, saying, hey, this looks interesting! A great team ended up forming to produce the event.
What has been your biggest sacrifice?
I do try to stay balanced, and I am definitely family-oriented. I love to travel. I also like to dance, and I love the arts. It can be a struggle but I always make time for those things. A lot of the sacrifices I’ve had to make concern time. Because I try to stay balanced, but I also work a lot, I’m up late. Maybe I get 5 hours of sleep if I’m lucky. I sacrifice my week time, sacrifice sleep, to do what I want. Just to get some freedom in some ways.
On my personal life — being newly single and not yet married — I don’t think of that piece of my life as a sacrifice, instead I see it as having the freedom to work when I can and enjoy other things and people when I want.
Did anyone in your life try to dissuade you from becoming an entrepreneur?
When I pivoted away from tech, people were asking me, “why are you not working in IT?” A lot of my friends from college stayed in IT, and are doing extremely well. Some have since moved up into managerial roles.
What’s funny is I remember when I was in that [tech] space, people used to ask me then, “What are you doing here? You’re too fun and creative for this.” I have a big personality that works for marketing.
Nowadays people keep trying to put me in a box that I don’t fit in: I’m not just a coder, I’m not just an event planner, I’m not just a giver. I am versatile.
Has anyone in your personal life been a constant source of support?
Both of my parents. But my dad was my biggest cheerleader. Losing him was devastating. But I have my faith to get me through. I am Christian, and I believe I will see him again. After the first event I hosted, he told me, “I didn’t understand what you were doing, but now I do. What you’re doing, I understand it: you’re blessing people.” I called him almost everyday to talk about everything from relationships to work. He was a light in my life and always knew what to say. One thing he always said was, “Jumoke, you have some great ideas. One day, one of your ideas is going to make you a rich woman.”
Did you ever come close to giving up?
All the time because it would be so much easier to just do that. It would be so much easier to not worry about building a team, bringing in X amount of dollars every month. That works for some; they get their paycheck and don’t have the extra weight that comes with being an entrepreneur. But being a consultant is the life that I’ve chosen so I will always figure things out.
This interview has been lightly edited from an in-person conversation for clarity.