“If I put it into my head that I can do it, there’s no one that can stop me,” says Dr Kola Tytler.
In his 27 years, he’s more than proved that to be the case. As well as practising medicine at Ashford & St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey, he has co-founded the multi-million-dollar company dropout, which specialises in selling limited-edition sneakers and streetwear.
This developed from an earlier venture, HypeAnalyzer, the world’s first tool for analysing the sneaker and streetwear resale market. He was also one of two masterminds behind YEEZY Mafia, a blog reviewing sneakers released by Kanye West. And even the man himself was a follower.
Growing up as one of four children of Nigerian parents just outside Rome, where there was very little diversity, things could have been very different. The environment was conservative, traditionally Catholic and very few role models to inspire a young Black high achiever – Tytler had a spotless academic record.
He credits his parents for setting an example. “Despite being well-educated, their opportunities were nowhere near their potential,” he says. “But when I look at what I’ve done, from working in the hospital to business ventures, it’s due to a set of skills that I gathered from them.”
His drive to do “what makes me happy and make sure that no day is wasted” partly stems from a near-death experience at the age of 16 when he almost drowned. “I was at a birthday party, and I passed out in the swimming pool,” Tytler recalls. “There were four doctors nearby, thank God, and they took me to A&E. I was in intensive care for about a week; it took a long time to recover, and I couldn’t play sports for a month. So, my motivation is to give 100% every day.”
Medical schools lacked diversity
The change in fortunes and opportunities began when, armed with top high school grades, he moved to the UK at the age of 19. Just a day after arriving, he landed a job as a specialist support worker, helping people with learning disabilities. He says the UK opened his eyes to the possibilities.
That meant studying medicine at King’s College London and, at the same time, pursuing his life-long interest in collecting sneakers and streetwear. But, while the university’s intake was generally diverse, it wasn’t reflected in the medical school, where most of the students came from private school backgrounds.
Tytler points out: “King’s is the largest medical school in the UK and Europe, and I could count on one hand the number of Black males in my year. It didn’t stop me from doing anything, but it just meant that I couldn’t find people like me.”
Undeterred, he completed his degree, is currently working in cardiology and plans to become a public health doctor. Despite the demands of caring for patients in a busy hospital, Tytler has a seemingly bottomless source of energy that has helped to ignite his entrepreneurial ambitions.
Exploring the sneaker market
It was during a trip to New York that his eyes were opened to the limited-edition sneaker market and how the footwear was in such demand that it attracted significant profits.
“I could buy an item that costs £200, but then next month goes for £300,” Tytler explains. “That’s a 150% increase in value that you don’t get in many industries. I got to the point where I knew a little bit about the industry, that there was potential, but people did not care about it.”
Co-launching the blog talking about Kanye West’s YEEZY range in 2015 was his way of testing the water. “It was a complete success,” he says with evident pride. “We got tons of views; everyone reached out to us. It became so big that Kanye West started following the page. We started to capitalise a bit – people were paying us to help them get sneakers.”
Then, a year later, Tytler was contacted by a 16-year-old boy in Italy who had learned how to code and wanted to use his technical skills. “I replied, and we looked at the sneaker industry like it was Bitcoin,” he reveals.
“We thought, ‘what if we can get all the data and try and plot it with statistical methods to check which sneakers are going to be worth more?’ Because, even if I have £10,000 to invest, there are so many sneakers out there, so if you can do it objectively, you have a higher chance of making the right decision.”
Together they created the software HypeAnalyzer that was automated and compared prices for brands such as Nike, Jordan, Adidas, Balenciaga and Asics.
With an ever-expanding collection of sneakers, Tytler felt opening a store was the obvious next step. As similar operations exist in London, he decided to set up in Milan. The name dropout is a tribute to Kanye West, who has an album called ‘College Dropout’. Tytler pumped his savings into setting up the Milan store and an online shop. And it’s paid off. A few months ago, the business had its first funding round, attracting higher than anticipated venture capital. Interestingly, two-thirds of the investors were under 35, a statistic considered a record in Italy.
For now, he is happy to stay with just the one physical store and online, although the Milan shop will be moving to a more upmarket shopping area. In the meantime, Tytler is honing his business acumen by studying for an MBA.
What about his medical career? “In cardiology, the split-second decisions we make can be the difference between this person living or dying before our eyes,” he responds. “It kicks off the adrenalin in me. I’m more than happy to continue.”
Juggling medical duties and running a business is possible due to his focus on efficiency and productivity. In dropout, everything is fully automated.
Tytler is happy to be a role model for others, adding: “It would be great to influence 100,000 people, but if I can inspire one person to develop and express their potential, I would be satisfied.”
To learn more about the great work BAME healthcare professionals do, join us at The National BAME Health & Care Awards on June 9. Book your place here.