Business 07 December 2018
Taking on new challenges and experiences can be enriching. Co-Founder and CEO of Hoppin, Bilyana Freye, is a big believer in experiential and multi-disciplinary learning. In fact, Freye is a product of all of her experiences. “From a very young age I’ve always loved new beginnings,” she begins. “It’s so terrifying but ultimately so rewarding and exhilarating.”
Job shadowing is one of many opportunities that anyone can take part in, especially if you feel like you need a change of pace in your work-life, or want to try something new. Freye and Luuk Derksen, Co-Founder, and CTO are on a mission to empower people to find a career they love. Hoppin is a New York-based shadowing marketplace. Hoppers (those that shadow) can try different jobs with no commitment for a short period of time.
Bilyana Freye, The Hudson Yards. Photo Courtesy of Freye.
There is a range and breadth of experiences that Hoppers have had. An engineer shadowed a jewelry designer for a day to explore life as a creative. A former accountant spent two days at an experiential marketing agency in search of her passion. A female angel investor was interested in the cannabis space and shadowed a Founder of a cannabidiol (CBD) beauty brand. There are many opportunities one can take on. Freye is very experienced in the realm of job shadowing. Originally from Bulgaria, she moved to the U.K. on scholarship when she was a teenager. She stayed in the U.K. for 14 years and graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
At the height of the 2008 financial crisis, her job search led her to take on a role in risk management at The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). “The only divisions hiring were in risk-management [and] I was really grateful to have that job,” she beings. “I [just] realized it was a really bad fit.” She took this unfortunate situation, flipped it and made it into a networking opportunity. She asked a private banker if she could shadow him in a department that seemed like a better fit. “I’ll never forget it. He took me along to two meetings and I loved the adrenaline.” She instinctively knew that she wanted to work for that branch of the company. “Everything was a lot more fluid and energetic and I just instinctively knew I should be there,” she says.
After one day of shadowing, they created a new role and hired her. “I was there for five years,” she exclaims. “This massively changed my career trajectory within the same bank.” The shadowing got her working at Coutts, a well-known British private bank owned by RBS. “I was working with U.K.’s top high net worth entrepreneurs and still, I wanted to test my hand at different industries and fully explore my potential,” she says. Her impact in the company didn’t stop there. She implemented these shadowing opportunities between bankers. “These internal job shadowing schemes really increased empathy, remove stereotypes and increase deal flow,” she comments. Through her perspective, spending the day with someone provides the opportunity to really step into his or her shoes and see what they go through on a day-to-day basis.
Her career didn’t stop at the bank. Freye continued to challenge herself, through the realm of shadowing. This driven entrepreneur was selected to take part in “The Apprentice” show in the U.K. while she was employed by RBS. Even though she remembers the experience feeling extreme, it was the only way for her to try her hand in different industries and jobs back to back. This remarkable woman wanted to fully explore her potential. “I’m really living my truth and that was discovered through experiences,” she admits. “There’s no better way to know if something is right for you if you don’t experience it. It’s been 10 years in the making of knowing how powerful job shadowing is.” We may have unlimited information at our fingertips, even at the touch of a button, but Freye concludes that nothing prepares you for how the right fitting job will feel until you experience it.
A NEW CHAPTER
A few years ago, Freye and her husband wanted to start their new lives, as a family, with an adventure. Never living in America before, they decided to move to New York. “It was a symbolic move for me; a couple of months after my 30th birthday and a wedding,” she says. “After seven years in finance I took a hard look at my life and thought ‘Is this really what I want to do?’” Freye felt like she should find a job that made her energetic and enthusiastic. It led her to the tech industry and working for a company called Decoded, which teaches people how to collaborate with technology.
“I felt like I should experience a change; Tech is underpinning our generation and it’s affecting [many] industries,” she emphasizes. “I moved from a large corporate [job] to a small tech startup.” She remembers feeling how exciting and daunting it would be. “When I did the big move from finance to tech, I couldn’t help but think ‘what if I could have shadowed again?’ and ‘why doesn’t it exist?’”. A piece of her felt there was still so much more to discover. She met Derksen at Decoded. The second time founders ended up bonding over the importance of finding the right job, the right fit. “Job shadowing is the best thing since sliced bread,” she laughed. “It can help college students figure out what they should go in to; it could help experienced professionals just like me; it can help baby boomers stay relevant by trying out this intimidating world of startups.”
“There’s no better way to know if something is right for you if you don’t experience it," Freye exclaims. "It’s been 10 years in the making of knowing how powerful job shadowing is.”
What makes Hoppin unique is how affordable the shadowing experiences are and how it benefits both the Hoppers and the hosts. “We wanted a new take of the word ‘hopping,’” she explains. Job-hopping can be seen as negative but Freye emphasizes it’s necessary to find what you’re looking for, to embrace something new. “Time is the most valuable thing we all have,” she continues. “Taking five days to try five different jobs is one of the most efficient things that you can do when you’re looking for [your] next passion or purpose.”
“If you’re passionate about what you do and are looking to share your craft and experiences, host” Freye advises. Hosts that take part in this shadowing experience maximize their exposure, earn something extra and get a fresh perspective. “The hosts get to meet pre-screened, talented individuals who are proactively exploring their next move,” she explains. “There are different benefits to different types of hosts.” A bond can be created between host and Hopper. “Being able to share that passion with someone that’s curious about what they do is very beneficial,” she goes on. The feedback she received from hosts is positive, as they enjoy helping others. In addition to the revenue, Freye explains how hosts can bring Hoppers along on their business journey, meet new talent and get a fresh perspective from people that value the experience and the business. “So many people that I speak to are actually job switchers [and] a lot of them are ex-finance, ex-lawyers, ex-engineers,” she admits. “They wish [they] could have shadowed someone.” She is passionate about helping others discover their talent.
“All of our shadowers today have been women, and a huge portion of them have been minority women,” she states. “It’s such a positive, amazing experience.” Hoppers pay an average of $150 a day to go shadow. Out of several shadowing success stories, one stuck out in particular. An angel investor wanted to learn more about the cannabis space by immersing herself in the business. The day she shadowed the Founder of a cannabidiol (CBD) beauty brand, nothing went as planned. “The Angel investor loved the experience,” Freye shares. “For the investor, it was really interesting to see all the battles we fight and all the problems we have to solve as entrepreneurs day in and day out.” The challenges threw off the day planned, but the experience was more authentic.
Team Hoppin (Co-Founder's Bilyana Freye and Luuk Derksen). Photo Courtesy of Freye.
Freye describes the community of Hoppers as being outgoing. “The people that do it [are] a very self-selecting group,” she says. “They’re very, sociable, intellectually curious, positive, outgoing women.” A majority of industries are still predominantly male. Hoppin helps deconstruct this problem in many ways. “There are still too many industries that are male-dominated; we still see dreadful statistics about that and a lot of companies are trying to change but it’s a slow process,” she says. Freye offers a powerful, bold suggestion to the men asking what they can do. “My answer to them is, sign up to be shadowed. “It is such a real, tangible solution. Anyone can sign up, and do it. Bring in an amazing woman to work, and show her what her future could look like,” she concludes. A lot of the shadowing opportunities turn into mentorships with the host afterward.
Freye has many plans in store for Hoppin. In fact, she is one of three entrepreneurs that won the Uber x Girlboss competition last month. The competition's goal is to empower startups with financial support, mentorship and resources. Hoppin came in second place with a prize of $65,000. Freye is extremely grateful for their backing of Hoppin's vision. In addition to the recent win, she also looks forward to launching several more locations in the future, and hopefully expanding to colleges and universities.
This Co-Founder is real, authentic, and truthful. She understands the difficulties behind starting something new -- and she wants our Swaay audience to know. “Starting your business or quitting your job is a really highly stressful thing,” she begins. “It’s a big life commitment [and] my advice would be to start small.” Even for those that aren’t considering switching their jobs and just want to learn something new, Hoppin is a resource for that as well. “It can be a slow process, as long as you’re taking action and putting yourself out there,” Freye continues. “In the long run, I see [Hoppin] as the Airbnb for work.”
“From a very young age I’ve always loved new beginnings,” Freye says. “It’s so terrifying but ultimately so rewarding and exhilarating.”
6 Min Read
I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.
African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.
I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."
While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.
We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:
If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.
If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.
If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.
If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.
We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.
People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.