Black Tech CEO: Startups are 'Virtually Insurmountable' for Women of Color

Airfordable CEO and co-founder Ama Marfo speaks on the her journey to make travel affordable for everyone and the perception of tech startups. 

Name: Ama Marfo

Age: 28

Profession: Cofounder/CEO 

Company: Airfordable 

School: Drexel University

Ama Marfo is the CoFounder and CEO of Airfordable, an online platform that allows users to book flights with just an upfront deposit and the rest on a payment plan, making that dream vacation more affordable for anyone. She talks about the perception of tech startups and wearing multiple hats. 

1. Talk about your company and why you decided to create it.

Let me take you back to when I was in college. I'm originally from Ghana and wanted to go back home during the school breaks but couldn't afford the $1500 flight all up front. I had a job but no credit history, which meant it was difficult to get a credit card with a credit line of more than $300.  Because of this I stayed in the dorms every single break, alone, and missed my family. 

Fast forward to today, I'm not the only one experiencing this problem. Two thirds of Millennials do not own a credit card, over 100 million worldwide are living paycheck to paycheck and last year alone, 33% of Americans couldn't afford to buy a plane ticket all up front. So the person that I am who always turns challenges into opportunities figured if you could pay for high price items like electronics and furniture on layaway, why can't you do that for expensive flights? 

Now you can with Airfordable. We allow you to book flights for just a fraction of the cost up front and the rest in recurring payments before your departure date. With over one MILLON miles of flights booked on Airfordable since launching 3 months ago, we're confident we're on to something here. We're on a global mission to democratize air travel for everyone.

2. What got you into tech?  

I have loved tech since the days of dial up internet. I would stay up late to get online when my parents were asleep just so I could use the phone line when nobody was to connect to the Internet.  My parents were tech driven and saw the usefulness of it earlier on and so we had some of the latest electronics at home growing up. My mom right now is on Facebook and has added all my friends to her Facebook page. It cracks me up every time she uses the black emojis in text messages so perfectly. She learned how to do all this on her own. That's where me being passionately curious about tech comes from.  

In college, even though I don't have a computer science degree, I always had a thing for having the latest phone. My interest in tech piqued when the first iPhone launched and apps became a thing. I was so fascinated with how simple the user experience was versus using a mobile website. I would always jailbreak my iPhone so I could have more room to personalize it. After getting a BSBA at Drexel University, I worked in consulting as a financial technology consultant where I managed innovative tech solutions for fortune 500 companies such as Discover Financial Services and Sony. 

3. What was an obstacle you faced and how did you overcome that obstacle?

I've been faced with so many obstacles in my startup journey. One that I'm very proud of overcoming was keeping Airfordable alive when I had no money to hire a team. It was hard convincing anyone to quit their job and come work with me. I could have easily just thrown in the towel at that point, but the conviction I had about Airfordable and the problem we’re solving was so strong, I couldn't just give up. So I did everything from marketing, business development, operations and product management. I learned how to code to the point of understanding the basic programming concepts that way when I brought on a technical cofounder or developer I would be able to communicate with them effectively. I'm proud of myself for being resilient and not giving up and now because of this, I have two amazingly smart cofounders who've joined me in bringing the vision of Airfordable to life!

4. What is your experience being a POC in Tech? 

The POC in tech community is small. I just realized how small it was after attending black tech week in Miami last month and seeing the same faces at SXSW last week in Austin. This is great but I just wish they were more of us. There's a lot of work being done about this and I'm looking forward to seeing new POC faces at tech events across the country. 

5. What was your perception about the tech industry before entering it, what is your perception now?

I read a lot of tech articles and magazines before and while starting Airfordable. I used to think it was so easy after seeing company X raise $5M or founder Y who was the same age as me launches an app with thousands of users and got acquired by Google. I would think to myself that it looked so easy to do till I got in the trenches and started working on Airfordable. Startups are hard. They are even harder for PoC and virtually insurmountable for women of color.  What keeps me motivated is the problem we're solving at Airfordable, the traction we're getting and the lives we are changing every single day now that we've made traveling accessible to all.

6. What are three tips you can give to someone who want to enter tech?

1. Find a mentor who's in tech and constantly build that relationship. Avoid making it transactional. 

2. Join mastermind groups and surround yourself with those in a similar position as you. This way you're able to encourage and help each other along the way.

3. Never pass up an opportunity to learn a new skill. Technology is ever changing so knowing the latest sets you apart from others.

Ruth Mesfun is the woman behind POCIT: People of Color in Tech, an online destination that covers men and women of color making waves in the world of technology. 

Read More