Yale School of Management

#SOMBFF: Friendship Leads to Business Partnership

Generations of students have made lifelong friends at Yale SOM. Amy Kao ’17 shares the story of meeting her #SOMBFF, Adebayo Alonge ’16, and collaborating on a startup that is tackling the counterfeit drug crisis.

February 23, 2021

I always knew that my experience at Yale would be transformative. I started my MBA journey in the summer of 2015. Prior to business school, I was a strategy consultant at Deloitte and had just finished wrapping up a series of international projects in New York and Shanghai. At that time, I enjoyed problem solving and developing creative solutions to tackle complex challenges. I knew that was the direction I wanted to take my career in, but I never really considered starting my own business or saw it as an option for my future. All of that changed after my first encounter with Adebayo, who was starting the Master of Advanced Management program.

Adebayo and I met during the fall semester of my first year. We immediately bonded over our shared experience as victims of counterfeit medicine. Adebayo survived a 21-day coma after being administered fake medicine at a hospital in Nigeria, and I triumphed over my traumatic hospital stay after a horrible episode of ingesting medicine that I thought would alleviate my (initially minor) stomachache in Asia. With similar experiences, though thousands of miles apart, we quickly became good friends with the ability to connect on a deeper level and realized how fortunate we were to be given a second chance at life.

Together, we decided that we wanted to do something about the global counterfeit health crisis; no one should have to go through what we did. It was with that vision and passion from our personal experiences—along with the tremendous resources and mentorship offered by the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute—that we founded RxAll, an artificial intelligence company dedicated to fighting the counterfeit drug market. In the five years since, we’ve built a company that has attracted the most talented and passionate individuals devoted to fighting the fake drug crisis, helped customers identify thousands of counterfeit medicine in their supply chain, and won multiple international awards in different corners of the world.

“I oftentimes get asked if it’s challenging to balance friendship with work. One of the best things about going into business with a friend is that it can be really fun!” —Amy Kao ’17

Adebayo and I have traveled across the United States, Africa, Europe, and Asia to meet clients, share our stories, and raise awareness on the counterfeit medicine crisis. Looking back on my unexpected experience as an entrepreneur, what a journey it has been fighting fake medicines around the world. From building our product in a garage at Yale to now impacting thousands of lives across Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia, we’ve truly come a long way in bringing our vision to reality. These five years have been some of the most rewarding, frustrating, demanding, and exciting years of my life.

It has been an emotional rollercoaster of trials and tribulations, and we probably had more people who didn’t believe in us than those who did. But we continued to fight—and became more practical as a result. We learned, we developed, and just as the company has grown, we have also grown as people. While Adebayo is my business partner, he will always be my friend first. I oftentimes get asked if it’s challenging to balance friendship with work. One of the best things about going into business with a friend is that it can be really fun! I think of work relationships and friendships like a good marriage: You need to have foundational trust and open communication, but you also must have fun together to make things work. Even during our most stressful times, Adebayo and I made sure that our friendship was our priority.

I still remember the days when Adebayo and I would hustle to meet investor after investor for 10 hours straight when we were launching our company in Singapore. At the end of a hardworking day, we would turn work “off” and enjoy time to hang out as friends and explore the city with no work talk. We’ve always found ways to enjoy non-work activities together so we can grow together in ways that benefit our company and our friendship. Starting a business together with a friend is definitely a thrilling adventure, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Friendship and business can complement each other wonderfully, but the key learning for me is to prioritize friendship in the realm of work so you don’t lose sight of what brought you together in the first place before the passion became a company. I never expected that my friendship with Adebayo would change my life like this, but I am so grateful that I met Adebayo during my time at SOM and am proud to call him my business partner—but above all other things, my #SOMBFF.

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About the author

Amy Kao