Ken and Mary Okoroafor, above, are founders of the The Humble Penny and Financial Joy Academy and recently won the Entrepreneur Senior Leader award at the Black British Business Awards. Here, SME catches up with the couple and hears more about their success
Can you start by telling us how you feel about this win and what is it that has contributed to your success?
WOW! We literally cried when we learned that we’d won this award. Then we shared a big hug. The BBBA award is very special to us because it is a direct recognition from the black community at the highest level for our work to empower other people financially. Being recognised as Entrepreneur Senior Leader Of The Year has massively boosted our confidence because the work we do is mostly a faith walk. We wake up daily with a vision for the future and take steps each day to bring that vision into the real world. This is never easy because most people don’t see the vision you see or believe in you and some even think you’re mad. However, The Humble Penny and Financial Joy Academy are a testament to us daring to believe that we can change the financial destiny of millions of people for the better even with minimal resources. In terms of what’s contributed to our success, I’d say that we work very hard behind the scenes. We put more work in than people will ever imagine. But we also operate smartly and focus on the 20% of activities that will give us 80% of our results, that way, we’re able to prioritise our well-being and practice what we preach. Another thing that has helped us is to be clear on our values from the start and to make sure that those values align with the people that we work with. This naturally means that we won’t work with everyone who approaches us and that’s ok.
This focus on quality over quantity continues to open doors for us. Given we’re dealing with money as a topic, trust is a huge factor. So our core values of honesty, integrity and transparency have been key to success. We only teach our audiences and communities things we’d be happy for our parents to do. This way, there is love and care in the work that we do. Finally, our work comes from our lived experiences and we aren’t just sharing random things we’ve read somewhere or found online. This gives us more authority in the space coupled with our many years of real-world work experience, for example, I (Ken) worked in the investment business for 14 years and trained as a Chartered Accountant as well as hold an MBA from the University of Cambridge. However, none of these would have been of any use had we not recognised a problem and decided to make it our problem, take action and find solutions to help others. This is the key to success.
Finally, it’s important to share that we wouldn’t be here without the love and support of so many people including our audiences and communities. The more we have sown love into their lives, the more they continue to support us and show us love.
Tell us more about your business
The Humble Penny (THP) is a Financial Education brand and platform that we created to help individuals and families create Financial Joy in their lives. The “Financial” element of Financial Joy is about helping people to take control of their finances, grow their money and achieve Financial Freedom.
The “Joy” element is about prioritising family, well-being, fun, and purpose on that journey. In essence, we’re helping people to build wealth whilst prioritising well-being intentionally.
THP started in 2017 as a passion project alongside my CFO job. Although today, our work attracts people from all communities, we started The Humble Penny with a big emphasis on empowering minority communities, such as Black families that started life in the UK with little or no wealth relative to other races.
Our goal is to help such families re-write the wealth stories of Black households in the UK relative to what the ONS statistics typically show. E.g. The average Black households have a net worth of around 10% of the average White British household, for example.
Having been on our journey as a first-generation immigrant who started with nothing and achieved Financial Independence in 10 years with my wife, Mary (born to London immigrants) and our 2 children (aged 8 and 10), I know it is possible for other people in our community to do the same and change our financial destinies and legacies as a community.
This is our calling and mission. We teach online (Website/Blog, YouTube channel “The Humble Penny”, Instagram) and offline (Corporate workshops, speaking events, charities, etc). We also founded our sister brand, Financial Joy Academy, a membership platform with the core mission of helping 10,000 families achieve Financial Independence by 2030.
Plus, we’re beyond excited to share that we’re now published authors of our debut book titled, Financial Joy, a step-by-step 10-week plan to help people banish debt, grow their money and unlock Financial Freedom. Financial Joy is published by Quercus and Hachette UK and available to order on Amazon and other retailers from all locations.
In the early days, what were the main challenges you had to overcome and how did you achieve that?
The early days were tough because we didn’t see people who looked like us doing what we’re doing. We were afraid of being judged. Earlier, we mentioned that we wanted to improve the lives of millions of people. However, we used to be scared to even say the word “millions”. As a black couple, we struggled when we started with people seeing us. People were only used to and trusted a specific type of person for financial advice – The white male. So it took doing things differently for us to find our path. For example, we began to tell our own unique stories in our own authentic voices. Everything from our failures, mistakes, doubts and fears, to the successes. This helped people to truly get to know us and reduced the trust barrier. We also focused on demystifying money as something that’s only accessible to the 1%.
We made the language of money simple and accessible to everyone and approached our business without judgement. In addition, we prioritised purpose over profits. This is critical to our success. It has never been about the money and never will, although we need money to run our operation, hire people, pay for technology, etc. We’re self-funded and at least 95% of our work is free, with around 5% of our work funding our running costs. But we didn’t want these economic aspects of not having funding to stop us. We used own savings to gradually bring our visions to life e.g. creating our first website with freelancers we never met around the world, hiring Virtual Assistants to help us, etc. Then you throw in the challenges of parenting two children, working full time jobs with The Humble Penny as a side hustle, etc. It has not been easy! However, having a vision and being led by the impact we’re creating has kept us ground and committed. This is our life’s work and we feel like God continues to bless us because our intentions with this work are right.
What advice would you give others who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t ever think that someone else already has the idea you have and therefore, you give up. This is borne out of scarcity thinking. I’ve learned in life that literally, anything is possible. If I can go from first generation immigrant with nothing 25 years ago to where we are today, imagine what’s possible for you IF you believe.
I love the quote by Napoleon Hill, “Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, your mind can achieve”. This gets me so pumped and even when things aren’t going so well, I think, “they are not going well YET!”.
Dream your dreams, have a life’s vision, take responsibility for a problem, and just start and gradually find your voice in your niche. The dots don’t all need to be aligned for you to act.
Where do you and your business hope to be in five to ten years’ time?
Here is the vision that we have for the next 5 to 10 years:
- Financial Joy TV Series on Netflix or other network
We’d love to see our new book, Financial Joy, become a TV series for wider impact. We believe the 10-week format of the book lends itself to a great TV format and our training on creating over 400 YouTube videos so far have prepared us for that next level.
- Helping 10,000 Households in 10 Years
We are committing our lives over the 5 – 10 to helping at least 10,000 people become Financially Independent. Although this figure somewhat scares me, it also excites me because I know it is possible. We’ve begun this journey through Financial Joy Academy, and have a dream of building our own app one day.
- The Humble Penny: Kids
If you meet our sons Joshua and Elias, you’ll understand why we are super passionate about the family unit. Our kids are a joy and even I say so. In particular, they are way more advanced than I ever was when it comes to understanding and thinking about money healthily. We see a big part of our next 10 years being about extending our brand to create products that will serve the younger generation. We’ll do so through schools but beginning local from our homes, churches, communities, etc. We’ve always dreamt of publishing kids’ books on money and creating a curriculum that will serve our communities. We see these resources being available internationally and created in different languages.
- The Humble Penny: Foundation
When we started this platform, we also bought www.thehumblepenny.org as a domain with long-term desires for charitable works. We dream of creating ‘The Humble Penny Foundation’, with its own independent Board and a core mission closely tied to our commitment to the 10,000. Ultimately, this foundation will exist to serve and build our communities.
- Conferences, Summits, Family Retreats etc
Years ago, I (Ken) had a dream and in it, I stood on a stage and in front of me were more people than my eyes could see or count. That dream scared me initially because, at that stage of my life, The Humble Penny didn’t exist. I’d never done a TV interview, podcast, YouTube video, etc. I just had a regular day job and that was it. Today I’ve gradually come to think of this dream as something that is gradually starting to happen today. Somehow, we are reaching thousands of people daily by doing what we do using the same amount of time. To add to what we do, our vision is that one day, we will launch and run the Financial Joy Conferences, Summits, Retreats, etc. A place for lifelong learning and we will run these in multiple countries. These will be broadcast and beamed across other continents using the power of technology. We see this as a way in which we can also begin to better serve our home continent of Africa.
- More Books and Speaking Engagements
Writing our first book is just the start and we see a future of more books. In addition, we’d love to do more speaking engagements internationally as well as dream of doing a TED and Google Talk.
- Products & Services
Since we have the audience, why not create the products and services that serve them better? Given we’ve built trust already, why not create our own investing and saving products that our communities buy directly from our platform, as we’re better placed to know what they want and also better placed to serve them better and protect their interests? If we’re being super bold, this is what would happen next. Or we may have a large company that’s aligned, spot this vision and approach us to help to make it a reality. Given we’re so committed to changing the financial destinies of millions and their generations to come, this direction makes sense.
In addition, we plan to extend our brand to other areas that will serve families and households. For example, we have been eating primarily plant-based for the last 4 years. We are working towards creating a food brand in the near future. We expect this will be called The Humble Kitchen. We’ve trademarked it, bought a premium domain, etc. So this is something we’ll be doing to help families not only manage money better but eat well too. Among products and services, we expect to create future digital products, e.g. journals, planners, etc.
Phew! Crazy plans but hey! We have nothing to lose and everything to gain if we stay focused on our priorities and serve our audiences and communities remembering our focus on purpose over profits.
The future is bright and we’re excited about the adventures ahead. Learn more about us and so much more by ordering our new book, Financial Joy, on Amazon and other retailers.