Deborah Igunma, CEO at Peek
"Deborah graduated from Philosophy BA in 2019. After dropping out of an accountancy and finance course, Deborah explains how studying philosophy changed her life, leading to her creating her own venture backed startup, Peek."
Why did you choose to study philosophy?
"After dropping out of my accountancy and finance course due to lack of interest, I looked through the prospectus and narrowed my choices down to five subjects.
I knew I’ve always loved essay based subjects and subjects that critique the human condition and behaviour in some way – politics and international relations, psychology, philosophy, sociology and history. Upon researching them all, I stumbled across Harvard’s very own Michael Sandel’s 'Justice: What’s the right thing to do' video on YouTube. I knew within about five minutes that philosophy was the perfect degree for me."
I had no idea that there was a name and discipline for the robust study of things I’d think about anyway in my spare time.
What did you love the most about your course?
"It changed me as a person. I enjoyed studying meta, normative and applied ethics as I was able to challenge the assumptions underpinning my beliefs. Many evenings spent discussing environmental ethics, consequentialism and realism taught me to have strong opinions that are loosely held.
Engaging with political philosophy was just as enlightening. When I studied the module ‘Philosophy of Criminal Law’ I was able to explore grounds of political obligation. These are questions you would ask yourself particularly if you’re from a background that’s predominantly bore the brunt of prejudice and bias when dealing with legal, financial and other major institutions and systems."
It gave me a toolkit to learn and think critically about anything.
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered whilst studying? How did you overcome it?
"I discovered late in my academic career that I have ADHD. The specific type of ADHD that I have causes hyper-focus, meaning I’m only able to really give myself to a task when I’m under pressure – i.e. a day or two before the deadline!
Because of this I never had any draft essays. I always wrote them in one go and then thought about them over time in my head, until I figured out the entire plan. This really worked for me but, before I knew the cause of this working style, I was very self critical of being undisciplined. Thankfully my grades showed that this method truly did work for me because I got consistent first class grades."
As a student, did you feel like you fitted in? How did you go about making friends and developing a community?
"I definitely felt like I fitted in. Staff and other students, particularly during seminars, would add to this belief too with how open we all were to the discussions we had.
Philosophy seminars have to be one of the best places to make friends! What else brings people together like heated debates on consequentialism or banning doping in sports?
I was also a part of several societies that spoke to different parts of me – the ACS and Entrepreneurship societies for example were amazing. But ultimately speaking up and asking/answering questions in lecturers helps develop communities, because people identify with your thoughts or they don’t and may have something to say!"
How did you feel on graduation day? Who was most proud of you and why?
"Graduation day was unreal! Years of hard work culminating in a few hours.
Particularly as someone who had switched courses, I was reminded of how worth while that decision was when I crossed the stage in front of my family having achieved a first and a whole heap of corporate experiences across banking, law, tech, politics at Citigroup, Linklaters, Google and Houses of Parliament. Then, to top it off, my philosophy department had sponsored my study abroad programme to Harvard! It was amazing because, when I saw their faces as I crossed the stage, they looked so proud!"
How do you define success? Has that definition changed since you were a student?
"I recently watched ‘No Time to Die’, the latest James Bond movie, and a quote stood out to me: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." The quote is by American author, journalist and social activist Jack London.
Ultimately I think a large part of success is intentionally using your time here on Earth to add value to everyone you meet.
I do this currently with my venture backed startup Peek, where my team and I make reading multiplayer and social. Helping authors and content creators have more intimate relationships with their audiences and understand what’s going on in their heads as they read and for the rest of us making reading way more social and exciting, all whilst we potentially make a living from it too!
I think I’ve always thought this way, even as a student. It’s why I ended up being the #7 top black undergraduate in the UK, awarded by Oxford University and HSBC, because I spent my undergraduate education exploring what I had to give to the world. Sometimes it was in tech at Google, other times it was through entrepreneurship as I pitched my app idea to MD’s at Citigroup winning an internship, other times it was campaigning for the Tampon Tax."
What advice would you give to a young person starting at Nottingham this year?
"Seize as many opportunities as you can. I tried accounting and finance and it wasn’t for me, but it led me to philosophy. I tried investment banking and it wasn’t for me, but by pitching my app idea to senior management I found entrepreneurship. Now, I’m one of the youngest black women in the world to have raised venture capital for my startup - Peek. Currently backed by the likes of Comcast, NBC, Universal, Techstars, elite content creators and execs at Fortune 100 companies.
I tried tech at Google and it was for me, it drove me deeper into the intersections of storytelling at tech where I’ve ventured from my own TV show to building an app that helps musicians get investments from their fans that was backed by the Mayor of London and $900M Fintech - World Remit Co-Founder.
I tried to go to Harvard and the Philosophy Department at the University of Nottingham made it possible."
I’m still trying new things today, but the university of Nottingham is undoubtedly the best place to try absolutely anything. Keep exploring. Keep wondering. Keep trying.
Find out more about studying Philosophy