For Muoyo Okome, the epiphany came behind the wheel of his car, in heavy traffic in metro Washington, D.C., as he came to terms with the fact that once again he was faced with failure.
Okome had struggled after earning his MBA from Wharton in 2011. He’d tried to break into consulting but got no offers after dozens of interviews with top companies. Eventually he found a job at Microsoft, working in the tech giant’s Reston, Virginia, office, but the work was far from rewarding. As Okome tells it, “I found myself wondering why I needed an MBA to make photocopies, or why I was being instructed to get up from the meeting table so that someone my age and rank could take my seat, or why I was being yelled at over the phone on Saturday night because someone’s revenue numbers were not as he wished they were.”
Okome didn’t know that in just a few short years, all the strife of a life of corporate ambition would be behind him. As the designer of multiple mobile game apps that cumulatively have been downloaded more than 11 million times, Okome would punch his own ticket to financial and creative independence.
AN UNFORGETTABLE FEELING
But as he drove down Northern Virginia’s Washington Boulevard in 2012, Okome reflected on more bad news. He had just learned that of his work cohort of eight MBA graduates, two would receive a promotion and the other six would be given a lesser title. He was one of the six. Though the demotion didn’t involve a pay cut, it stung nonetheless. He felt disrespected.
And suddenly, unexpectedly, he broke down.
“I’ll never forget the feeling,” Okome later wrote in a story for the Huffington Post, “driving down Washington Boulevard in my Mazda, tears welling up in my eyes. I generally never cry, but this time the tears were ready. I couldn’t understand how I had worked so hard just to become a failure yet again.”
REJECTIONS PILE UP
MBAs are high-achievers who aren’t accustomed to failure. As Okome tells Poets&Quants, “It’s really not the sales pitch that you get (in B-school), that you’re gonna go to this top school and it’s going to be rough afterward.” Wharton, like all top B-schools, prides itself on high job placement numbers for its MBAs. Its figures for the Class of 2011 show that 97% received job offers within three months of graduating.
“One thing they don’t tell you,” Okome says, “is that here you’re graduating from one of these top schools, but if you’re going for some of these coveted positions like McKinsey, BCG, or these few funnels where everybody is going, you’re graduating from a top school but so are your classmates. You’re in a room with 40 or 50 other MBAs and all of them have the same resume and some of them are coming back to the same firm they left to get their degree.”
Okome applied to dozens of firms, from boutiques to giants. He got to several final-round interviews, only to hear, “We loved you but we’re going another way.” And so the rejection letters piled up — even from IBM, where he had interned between his first and second years at Wharton.
“That was a real surprise to me,” Okome says of his rejection by IBM. “I thought that I was on top of the world, and nobody really gave me any indication that things weren’t going to work out.”
A CHANGE IN DIRECTION
Eventually, Okome got the job at Microsoft, working as a business manager. But he soon came to see the job as a dead end. “The D.C. office was very separate from the Seattle office, and here it was a lot more politicized. There were a lot of different power games going on,” says the Brooklyn native of Nigerian descent. “People were just concerned with making their numbers for the quarter — very short term-focused. And I’m like, ‘What are we doing here? Is this what I went to school for?'”
Only a few months into his new job, even as he questioned his future there, Okome was demoted. It wasn’t the first time he’d felt disrespected — but it was the last. As he says, “I have to thank God for that moment and that feeling, because it fueled my fire.”
Seeking some kind of “positive outlet,” Okome began working on a side project. He read how-to books and spent thousands of dollars on online courses to learn to create and promote game apps for smart phones. For months he followed the progress of other game-makers and sought the counsel of trendsetters in the business.
It took half a year, but finally one of Okome’s apps made it to the App Store. That first month, it was downloaded 936 times for a total income of $81.78. A month later it was up to 2,762 downloads for $132.38. “I kept working,” Okome says. Now it was all about marketing — how to get more downloads. He sought out more counsel, more mentors. By the third month he was up to more than 22,000 downloads and $1,196.68 in income — enough to cover his rent. “We were getting somewhere now.”
Three months later Okome published three games, two of which took off. And that’s when he received a seven-figure offer to buy the business.
And he turned it down.