20 invaluable lessons I’ve learnt running a startup

Two years ago, I hung my tailored jackets and fancy pants for good and left my cozy corporate gig to fully devote myself to building Lendsqr. I knew it was going to be rough for a white bearded baba agba to run a startup but I never knew that in 2 years, I would learn so much as to upend many of the hardcoded corporate knowledge I had used two decades to amass. 

Let’s just say there have been moments I think we founders definitely need our own exclusive support group. 

The lessons I’ve picked, some of the most important ones that I would share here, are things I wish I knew in my previous careers, especially when I got to the top. Things are definitely wild in the startup land.

#1 Overplanning does nothing but slow you down

Don’t overplan. When reality hits, the elaborate decks and models won’t survive the first contact with realities. Just have a few good North stars that keep you focused when things go off-book, because they definitely will. Reality has a knack for ignoring the script and humbling even the best-laid plans. So McKinsey and KPMG, I won’t be calling on you guys any time soon 😎.

#2 Partner with caution

I always knew partnerships are a delicate dance. But what I didn’t know is how fickle partners could be especially when you are the smaller fry. Please, don’t build your entire plan around them. Most of them don’t have the same urgency you most likely do and will just suck you into their morass and corporate spuddle

#3 There’s only one right reason to hire anyone

Hiring isn’t charity work. Don’t ever let your personal biases anywhere near your hiring decisions. Don’t hire out of pity or with the hope that they’ll miraculously improve. But what if they do? Good for them but I don’t care. As a startup, you can’t afford to give chances. It’s a cold truth, I know; but the truth nonetheless. These are adults. They either show you they can do the job from day one or you show them the door.

#4 Keep the nonsense away

Unless you run a garbage collection service, there should be no room for rubbish. Maintain a zero-tolerance policy for toxicity, especially from those who preach about work-life balance. Those guys don’t want to win as badly as you do. The best course of action is to send them away. Fast. Such attitudes can derail the entire team; swift action is your best defense. 

I don’t have a problem with work life-balance. But right now, I’m working so I can afford to balance later. For those who want the balance now, my door is the wrong one to knock.

#5 Social media is a lie

Social media is hype. Everything you see there is 50x less impressive in real life. Keep your expectations grounded or get swept away at your own peril. Whatever is trending now, for good or for bad, won’t be remembered in 2 days time. Keep your peace! ✌️

#6 Be f*ck-shit prudent

You’ve to be financially prudent. Don’t spend unless someone will die if you don’t. Cash you’ve saved can be a lifeline someday but cash you’ve wasted is gone and will be a pain to replace.

We all know that this is a turbulent time for startups trying to raise money. Lendsqr was lucky to have raised funds just weeks before the storm hit but best believe that doesn’t mean I intend to rest on my oars. We could all use some sense.

#7 Measure only the metrics that matter

Beware of fake marketing metrics. Downloads and views are vanity metrics; they don’t mean sh*t. Track the metrics that matter and actually create value for you. For instance, depending on your niche, this could be transfer amount, fees charged, loans booked, order paid, deliveries,etc. Focus on activities that impact these, everything else is just pretty numbers not worth a dime.

#8 The customer is king 👑

Support your customers like your life depends on it because, in the startup world, it often does. Go to the end of the world to make them happy. Listen to them. Be their friends. Even when they have issues beyond what your company is set out to do, help them. Customers will remember you when the going is good and they would be your best sales rep. 

Make sure you are always in contact with them even if they aren’t doing any business with you. Emails and SMS are the cheapest means to remain in your customers’ lives. They are not paying attention to what you’re saying but they sure as know you’re alive and kicking. Top of mind awareness is key!

#9 The customer is often wrong

We’re already thinking about it, might as well say it. Customers don’t know jack-sh*t. Half of the time, customers are driven by vibes, emotions, and FOMO. They ask for things they don’t know anything about. I’ve had tons of customers pay for expensive features and never used them. Well, some of those features helped snag other customers down the line.

You don’t have to do everything a customer wants, no questions asked, just to satisfy them. Ask tons of questions, understand the answers, guide your customers to think the right way when they’re wrong, but of course, the trick is to do it without them ever feeling wrong.

#10 Make sure the price is right

Don’t undervalue your product and make it too cheap. While a free trial might attract attention, the real deal should reflect its true value. Customers willing to pay for value are your tribe. The onus is on you to make sure the value is there and worth every penny.

Beware of customers who don’t want to spend anything to run their businesses; if they really value that business and they honestly think it would succeed, they would spend to bring their dreams alive.

#11 Sharpen your bullshit antenna 

Develop a finely tuned antenna to detect bullshit customers and partners. If they demand the world before committing, they might be on a joy ride at your expense. Cut them loose. The worst thing that can happen is to spend quality time on customers who drain your morale. 

#12 Spying is not only allowed, it’s compulsory

Spy on your competition. You need to know what your customers know. So when a customer claims your rival is better than you, you can call their bluff by showing them exactly why you’re their best bet. I won’t mention names here but I know what you do 😜

#13 Respect the competition

It’s one thing to research your competitors  to gain an advantage but don’t badmouth or demarket the competition. Never ever do it no matter how tempted you are. Defend them if you can because when you do, your customers, staff and the industry actually respect you even much more. 

Your competitors are in the business just like you and if they thrive, the entire market benefits, including you.

#14 Do tons of mystery shopping

Invest time in mystery shopping. Your customer support team might be messing with your customers and causing havoc. Go undercover and find out if you’ve unintentionally hired clowns. 

Do it often and be decisive about actions; if anyone in your company is consistently screwing customers over; cut them loose like a bad habit. Let your team also know that mystery shoppers come around; it keeps them on their toes.

#15 Discipline isn’t negotiable

Don’t play with discipline. Small lapses often lead to big problems. If anyone in your team can’t do the little things right, they will fumble the big things. Are they worth the chance that you might lose everything? Set a standard and a red-line that can’t be crossed – the life of your business depends on it.

#16 Collaborate with the right people

Don’t work with anyone or company lacking ambition, taste, or integrity. They can’t give you what they don’t have so don’t bother asking. These qualities directly influence the success of your startup so stay focused.

And of course, loyalty is a big deal too. You always need someone in your corner when sh*t hits the fan. This can make all the difference.

#17 People will come, people will go then more people will come again

Don’t feel too bad when your staff leave you hanging and can’t stay the course. It’s tough initially but if the success of your business depends on one person, you’re not building a business, you’re building a house of cards. 

But at the same time, you must know why people leave you; is it because you’re toxic or demanding. If toxic, fix your ways. If too demanding; well, nothing you can do about that.

#18 Loyalty is king

People join your team for various reasons; some just want a job and are happy to move on when they smell greener grass. Some want to build a career. Some care about your vision and what the company is doing. But for those who are loyal to you; treat them like royalty because when you are backed to a corner and vulnerable, you want nothing but the assurance that you ain’t alone in the deep trenches. 

And please, repay the loyalty in full and even with some extra toppings on top. And for those who aren’t loyal; don’t hold anything against them; as long as they do their jobs, everyone is fine and dandy.

Lastly, be that person that it’s worth being loyal to.

#19 Experience is not always an advantage

Experienced staff are good on paper but often carry baggage. Be prepared for the weight, and manage expectations accordingly. While some are great, you might be better off with green hires in some cases.

#20 10x employees aren’t a myth

True gems, these 10x individuals are serious, don’t come with bad attitudes and are curious and ready to work. Cherish them; success is made sweeter with them by your side.

And there you have it folks, two years in the business and it already has me just shy of attaining sage status. Running a startup is a wild ride but I’m hanging on with everything I’ve got because success is the only option. 

These are lessons I’ve learnt from my own experience, and they’ve made the journey not only survivable but potentially enjoyable. As a startup, you either adapt or die; there’s nothing in between. 

As for me and mine, F*CK death, we’re in it to win; BIG!

Brain drain is the root of Nigeria’s fraud pandemic

After my last article about the hushed rape of the Nigerian financial ecosystem, which some call fraud, quite a number of people reached out to share their horror stories hoping I could step in and solve their problems and it got me thinking.

I started asking myself – what’s the foundation of this horrible thing called fraud?

I worked in banking for 16 years before they kicked me out and I remember the quick and decisive ways we dealt with fraud in those days. And I keep asking myself – what happened to the good old days when we tackled fraud without mercy? What changed?

I hate to break it to you, but it’s the people. It’s the people who have changed.

The machine is fine, the man is not

I recently started working with banks again and I’ve found myself comparing the quality of people I knew and left in banking with those I meet with now. Sadly, the latter have come up short. 

Most of my colleagues back then are now Executive Directors and Managing Directors in the banks and I still engage with them often. Their quality remains undisputed; they’re still as sharp as ever, driven and want to get things done. This is a far cry from my experience working with the middle managers who are charged with running these banks. The difference is clear as day. The sad reality is that the incompetence, apathy and poor outcomes from the financial sector are because there are no good hands to manage things effectively anymore.

We’re all busy crying that the working class are leaving the country in droves but that’s not the real problem. The main issue is not that people are japa-ing, it’s that the BEST brains are the ones leaving. Those who successfully migrate to Canada or the UK, especially via the education pathway, are not your average guys. These are the brainy bunch who passed the IELTS, got top grades and paved the way with their competence. Let’s be serious, not many people fall into this category. 

The truth is that only the best brains can go, at least the right way. I’ll save my ink and not bother diving into the other ridiculous pathways.

Banking’s greatest hits are throwbacks

Think about this: what hit product has come out of banking in the past five years during this latest wave of brain drain?


Bank Verification Number (BVN), Interbank transfers, mobile money and all the other cool stuff that have transformed the Nigerian finance space over the last few years? Those either started a long time ago or are the latest innovations of fintechs founded by people who bailed on traditional banking.

The best guys are long gone and there’s no covering up anymore; it’s showing, especially in the fight against fraud. Those with the intelligence and competence to deal with the fraud pandemic aren’t around anymore.

The two major impacts of the best brains leaving is that they’re no longer here to teach the rookies and even more importantly, they are not around to dilute the influence of the poor talent. And now the whole nation is suffering for it.

Today, customers of every bank complain about unauthorized transactions on their account and what do we hear in response? Crickets. The ease with which fraudsters are taking the money shows zero competence from those in charge of stopping this. And don’t even get me started on the Know Your Customer (KYC) process from the stone age the banks still use. 

Lack of tech is not the problem so more tech is not the solution

Some people have come around to suggest the use of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) etc. But the use of ML and AI only makes sense if the banks acknowledge they have a problem in the first place. If you report fraud to your bank today, the response will most likely lack the urgency that shows an understanding of the seriousness of the issue from the jump. So is it really the tech that’s lacking? 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is only as good as the Human Intelligence (HI) using it.

The tools the banks need to tackle fraud are gathering dust in their already existing arsenal. They’re not being used. Technology is not the problem.

Why won’t the banks come together to solve the problem and create an effective deterrent to fraud? Because it requires competence and discipline. And those two guys seem to have colluded and left the building. 😔

What’s the plan?

We’re in a serious crisis, and I don’t have the answer, but brain drain is the root of this problem. I cannot be convinced otherwise. But you are welcome to try. Let’s lay it all on the table and look at it together.

The leadership in the banks is still pretty impressive but they need to address this problem urgently. It’s time to either upskill their current talent or bring some of those who have japa’d to come back to help. It goes without saying that they will pay through their noses for this; especially for those who’ve gotten their papers and aren’t hungry anymore.

Because if this continues, contrary to what we like to tell ourselves, we will not be alright, and nothing will be okay.