Love List: Sam Ulu

After growing up in Nigeria and spending his childhood learning English by watching movies, Sam Ulu came stateside to pursue an education in aerospace engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology.

Name: Sam Ulu

Age: 29

Title: Founder of Kandid.ly

Hometown: Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria

Why we love him:

His desire to inspire others while keeping an innovative focused-yet-fun “work hard, play hard” attitude (and his cool accent).

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fter growing up in Nigeria and spending his childhood learning English by watching movies, Sam Ulu came stateside to pursue an education in aerospace engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology. Upon completing his bachelor’s degree at Florida Tech and getting his master’s in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Cincinnati, Ulu decided to take a different path — he discovered a passion and what he says is a “calling” for Web technology.

Instead of going corporate, he took the start-up route, and his first big Web idea — a Myspace meets YouTube spinoff of American Idol called MusikCity — was bought out by corporate America within months of its launch.

Although Ulu moved to Cincinnati to attend graduate school, he says he discovered it was the perfect place to launch a tech start-up despite claims that the city is constantly 10 years behind the times. 

“It might be a surprise, but Cincinnati is the perfect launch pad for starting a technology-based company,” he says. “You can start a company from the ground up, get investors, create a team and have success. Cincinnati is one of those cities that’s not too big and not too small for a new idea.”

For his latest passion project, Kandid.ly, a Web-based marketplace for photographers, he partnered with local innovation initiative Cintrifuse to assemble a team and seek out investors. 

With the launch of Kandid.ly, Ulu is on a mission to create a way for people to capture life’s memorable moments — no matter how big or small one’s event or budget may be. Kandid.ly allows Ulu to play matchmaker for talented, local photographers and the people who want to book them to have their memories captured.

Ulu finds this ironic since he hates having his photo taken. “But that’s sort of how I came up with Kandid.ly,” he laughs. “My best photos are candid. When I look at them, I can remember the exact joke someone was telling me or the conversation I was having. Candid photos capture memories. Photos like these have become a fundamental part of how we document life and remember it.”

What aspects do you love about your job?  

I’m able to build technology that can enrich the way we experience and document what we care about. Something essential to life is our memories and the experiences and lessons behind them. Capturing memories through photography is an integral part of life now. Something like Kandid.ly allows people to focus on events in their life without having to worry about documenting it themselves. Kandid.ly creates that connection between the public and local, passionate photographers.

How do you define passion? How is passion different from love? What are you most passionate about? 

Being passionate means that it’s part of your calling. I’m passionate about technology and inspiring others. I’m African-American, so I want to inspire other African-Americans and say, “We can do tech, too.” Everyone talks about Steve Jobs with Apple or Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, but you never see a black person who launches technology with that level of potential. Working to accomplish something like that isn’t work for me, it’s my passion.

Finish this statement with five of your favorite things: “I love…”

I grew up in West Africa and I learned English by watching movies, so I love them. I love driven, hardworking people and open-minded people. Coming from West Africa to the United States, I had to have an open mind about new cultures. In college, surrounded by international students, I was able to take in other cultures. I was open to taking what I connected to within those cultures and making those aspects part of the best version of myself. 

Name someone that you love: role model, best friend, inspiration, etc., and tell us why.

My parents. Throughout my life they raised me with the notion that I could do or be whatever I wanted. I went to college and graduate school for aerospace engineering, then I graduated and said, “You know what? I’m going to do Web tech instead.” They gave me the ability to do that. They taught me that I could change my mind and goals and still be successful. They’ve always supported me and said, “Just put your mind to it, do the work and everything will fall in line.” ©