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Just stepped down as CEO, what's next?: Joshua Okusi

Please note: This interview has been edited for increased clarity and readability. Joshua Okusi’s views are still fully represented.

Joshua is a Computer Science undergraduate at the University of Warwick and passionately harnesses technology for innovative solutions to overcome societal challenges. As the ex-CEO of Butterfly, a social media platform developed on campus, he aimed to enhance student connection and interaction. In Joshua's talk, he emphasised the importance of self-reflection and identifying your gifts to help you succeed at work and in fostering meaningful friendships.

First, could you tell me what the purpose of Butterfly is and what the process was like to create it?

I came up with the idea and then got a couple of my friends and coursemates to join me on it. It is a social media app, but the key difference is that we wanted the main focus to be on real-world connections rather than just follows or likes, which is what you get with traditional social media platforms. The main purpose behind ‘Butterfly’ is to connect students with the real world. I believe everybody has a genuine desire to connect with others, and I wanted to encourage that through technology. We all use social media, often not for the right reasons, so I thought of taking that paradigm and shifting it towards something more positive. In terms of the process to create it, at the time, I had never made an app before. In Computer Science we learn how to create websites, but we don’t actually learn how to make mobile apps. I had to take the little I had learned in my first year about software development, and over the summer months, learn how to make an app from scratch. It was a very fun process because I got to see something that I didn’t think I could make come to life. It was a very comprehensive process.

How did you succeed in fostering real-life connections on Butterfly?

What makes it more of a real-life connection is that everyone on the app is a registered Warwick student, so you can only sign up with your university email. On top of that, there is a feature where you can see all the other students who signed up. So, from there, you can go and message them - we actually incentivise messaging people - you can get points for reaching out to others. We also have a map feature, where you can see areas of activity on campus, and gauge where people are at. You also can see posts related to real-time activities, for example, someone sitting in the library can share something happening there and post it.

Often, recognising that you need to step away from something can be the hardest part of progressing. How did you find the courage to do this with your prioritisation of your degree over Butterfly?

A key point I mention in my speech is that I am a Christian, so that is the lens through which I look at everything. For me, when I started Butterfly, I knew I would only pursue it as long as I felt I had the assignment to. I saw the different factors involved at the time. I recognised that it had been tough balancing the app with university work in my second year and I knew this would only be harder in my final year. Also, while I always had high hopes for Butterfly, I never imagined that I would achieve the things that I have. Having built the app, led the team, and gained all that experience, I was at peace and comfortable to step down, knowing it would serve me well at some point beyond university. 

In your talk, you highlight the importance of self-reflection. If someone self-reflects and finds that their behaviour isn’t aligned with the qualities that they think they truly possess, how can they try to bridge this gap?  

I think one key point I want to make about bridging the gap before we even get to the main part of the question is that it is essential to identify the gap between the things in your life that you want and the things that are holding you back. To get to the point where you know that there are things to fix is in itself a challenge. Acknowledging that things in your life need to be rectified is the key first step. 

In terms of actually bridging the gap, there are many different ways of doing that. I would say my encouragement is to use your intuition. Often, external factors are keeping you from doing that, maybe it's fear, maybe it's procrastination, but taking the time to sit down and explore the different ways you can change is crucial.

What advice would you give those who feel stuck in superficial friendships and struggle to connect with people on a deeper level? 

The first thing I would say is that I have been there, and I know a lot of people who have been there. I would also say that as much as I am encouraging other people to avoid it, I am also learning to avoid it. I believe it is very intertwined with being comfortable in who you are, and knowing who you are. When I found myself in superficial friendships in the past, I wasn’t holding myself to a series of values rooted in my personality. That's why I was unable to see that my ‘friend’ was not exactly the kind of person I wanted to be around.  

There is also the fear of being alone. Often in these situations, you know that you might not be in the best friend group possible and you want to change that. However, also knowing that you will have to go through the process of cutting off friends and building new friendships from the ground up is quite discouraging. So I would advise that in the face of fearing being alone, go a step further and envision the other side where you are in a better place, where you are happier, and where you are around people who actually love and care for you. It can be hard to envision that. Yet, knowing that there are better things out there, and not fully conforming to your current situation, will do you a lot of good. 

British culture tends to encourage self-depreciation, resulting in people finding it difficult to accept compliments. Personally, I shy away from the thought of asking friends to identify my unique gifts. Why do you think getting over this initial embarrassment is essential to bringing about meaningful change in the world around you?

If there is a culture of self-deprecation, that is something you should seek to fight against, as you shouldn’t allow that to guide how you live your life. Not all cultures are bad, but if you see that there is a negative culture of self-deprecation and you don’t want to participate in it, then I know it sounds a bit too straightforward, but don't be self-deprecating.

In terms of why I think understanding your gifts is essential to making meaningful change in the world, in a sense, I think we need to get over ourselves. We live in a world that is so focused on gifts and not fruit, which is a concept I cover in my talk. It is not about the gift itself, it is about what you can do with it. You are given a gift to share with others. So, if we are too scared to accept our gifts, then we can’t get to the stage where we can share them with others. The whole point is to get over ourselves and look within to see which qualities we have that we can share with others.

Currently, UK voters are being driven towards disengagement. This political apathy is one way that undefined views manifest themselves in society. What are your thoughts on this – are undefined views just as problematic on a larger scale as they are when running a business?

Business and politics are two areas that are hard to reconcile but are quite linked in the public eye. While this is just my opinion, as I am not on the inside of politics and so I can’t really say, I think that undefined views lead to a lack of structure, unity and a common shared sense of purpose and value to drive society forward. One day, you have a group that thinks one thing, and the next day you have a group that thinks another way; and what is acceptable today, would have been an abomination to people 50 years ago. So, I think in general, undefined views are always going to be problematic, whether it is business or politics, as they can bleed into every aspect of our society. There is no good scenario in which undefined views can bring about change as far as I can see.

After graduation, what do you see as your next stepping stone to something greater?

It is hard to envision. You said after graduation, but as far as I can see, graduation is a big stepping stone for me in the present moment. Having sacrificed as much as I have for Butterfly, sometimes to my detriment academically, and still being able to succeed and finish would bring my university journey to a great close. Beyond that, I will be carrying forth the experience and desire to bring positive change into other people’s lives. However that manifests, I am really looking forward to it. 


Transcribed and edited by Kate Johns.

The views and opinions presented in this interview belong to Joshua Okusi  — not Kate Johns, nor TEDxWarwick.

If you have any questions concerning the interview, or opinions expressed, do feel free to comment in the comments section, or email

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