A few of the tools that make me effective

Efficiency isn’t about being perfect; it’s about knowing your limits and leveraging technology smartly. Tools like Todoist for tasks, voice notes for clarity, and VS Code for coding keep me on track. Success isn’t a destination but a journey of continuous improvement.

I wouldn’t call myself the most effective person, but I’m keenly aware of my limitations and a few strengths I have. Let’s just say I’m obsessed with personal efficiency.

Because I respect myself a lot and I don’t want to be insulted, I’ve respectfully cultivated a culture of using technology to make up for some of these limitations and I’m able to achieve a measure of personal effectiveness using different tools and techniques. 

I mean, I’m not yet a billionaire (when will maga pay? 🥺), so I won’t say these tools have taken me to the top. But I can say for sure that they’ve definitely taken me far. Case in point, I have the worst memory in the world and I can’t remember sh*t to save my own life. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this, I can’t even remember my name. 

But in 2015, I discovered Todoist and just to show how bad my memory is, I don’t even remember how I managed to find it. Here’s the thing. There are so many task tracking tools in the market but this particular one caught my fancy because it was easy. It was love at first sight. The chemistry was amazing. I’m even considering getting married to it 🤣.

Something that stood out about Todoist was that I could use it not only on my phone, but on my laptop and PC as well, a feature which wasn’t common 10 years ago. The app allows me to record literally everything. I have details of everyone’s information like birthdays as well as all the tasks I have to do. I can set dates and times to these tasks and it has tons of reminders. I can’t say what exactly was so special about it. I guess I just fell in love with it. And one thing that made me stick with it is the fact that I literally get that dopamine hit when I mark something as done. It’s one of the most fulfilling things in the world, marking a task as done. 

So Todoist is one of my best tools ever.

Here are some of the other areas that I have applied tools to improve my efficiency

Recording voice messages

I work with a lot of writers at Lendsqr and personally. Before now, they sometimes got stuck when they needed directions for new writing directions or a summary of what to write about. Then I discovered that I could simply send a voice note when I am in between tasks or when I wasn’t using my hands. That made their lives so easy that they now love it.. 

The good thing is that I could send voice notes from different platforms – on Windows, I use the voice recorder. On my phone, I simply use WhatsApp to send quick notes. Google Workspace recently added voice notes to their mobile and web apps; I now terrorize everyone at Lendsqr with my half-baked ideas every minute of the day.

I’m so glad I don’t work for Adedeji Olowe 😂😂

Jokes apart, voice notes are incredibly helpful as it takes away the confusion and reduces the pain of so much back and forth or typing a lot. My fingers already hurt just thinking about this.

Note taking

For my notes, and things I keep to myself, I use Evernote, but I’m thinking of moving away from because they went shitty as f*.

Evernote used to be one of those tools that people used to praise and talk about, but they went bloaty, slow, and I’m sorry, extremely stupid. They’re just kind of irritating and I’m probably going to leave them.

I use Windows Notepad a lot, because sometimes I just want to take quick notes and I’ve found that Notepad, especially on Windows 11, is a really great tool to put my quick thoughts together. My brain is still begging to move to Notepad++. 

Unfortunately for my PC at home, I still use Windows 10. Isn’t that shameful? Not my fault! I have this badass PC I’ve been using for a while that is old, unupgradable, but really chocks along well. I also use Notepad on my laptop and it works really well. 

I use OneDrive to sync my personal information. But the Google Drive application on the PC is literally amazing. Instead of having to go into a browser to look through my files, Google Drive allows me to use it like it’s directly on my PC. 

Programming

I still write codes. Yes, even at my ripe old age.

My tool of trade is VS code and  I’ve a bunch of extensions and indexes like Prettier, Tabnine, etc. , which makes coding more fun and quite effective. I think I’m going to be working with data till the day I die. I have a feeling that even when I die, I’ll probably have a database of people that died before me and I’ll be arguing with the angels about the morality of using certain types of identity for each soul that gets into heaven.

I started my career with data on SQL Navigator, then  I moved over to Toad. I actually miss Toad, especially when you launch it and it makes that creaky sound. 

By the time I moved my ass to FCMB and the database was MSSQL, I switched to Microsoft SQL studio, which was pretty good. But now that I’m out of banking and life is different with everyone using MySQL, I switched to DBeaver. 

DBeaver, an open source data software, is absolutely fantastic. Like it’s super awesome and works very well for me. 

Security

At home, I have Ring cameras and they  keep me safe and secure everytime. From anywhere in the world, I can see my doors and monitor everything happening inside my home. Best thing is, everyone around me knows I have these cameras.

Emails and contacts

Google handles my emails and contacts and this works pretty well for me. I have nothing to complain about. Like I earlier mentioned, I have the worst memory in the world. One thing that helps me remember tasks alongside Todoist is my emails. I always tell those who work with me that conversations should be recorded via emails. 

Sometimes when I check-in on some tasks assigned, it’s easy to assume I go through my emails and remember all of them. I actually have a hack for this. I simply label the important threads as follow up and then add to my TO DO to check my follow up label periodically. Other times, I simply schedule an email ahead of time. 

With this technique, I’m always on top of priority tasks and I ensure packets don’t drop.

When saving contacts, I make sure  all my contacts are well saved with their emails, and recently this paid off as I was able to reach out to tons of my friends for marketing. I have a paid version of TrueCaller which ensures that when saving contacts, it finds their emails and save this as well

Video sharing

When it comes to being able to express my thoughts, Jam Dev is an amazing tool for use on the web. It’s able to show what you’re doing and help, say your developer, your friends or your customers with a lot of things by providing better clarity. It’s amazing. 

Jam Dev is probably going to be way better than Loom down the line. Loom was a choice for everybody in the beginning, but they’re kind of screwing up.

On my phone when I want to record some of the things I share with people I use XRecorder. It’s also pretty amazing. I mean yeah, it has some ads but they’ve got to make money, right?

Financial management

When it comes to monitoring my finances across all my bank accounts and figuring out how broke I am, I make use of Kolo Finance, an app that we built at Lendsqr. It works really well for me. It’s able to show me everything about my accounts in one shot, including my international accounts.

For banking,  Wise and Monzo are the best banking apps you could think of. For my individual account, of course I will give it to Monzo, but Wise is literally awesome in every possible way you can think of.

Receiving and making calls across the world

For telephone calls. I use Hushed. It’s an amazing tool for having virtual phone numbers. I’ve got a bunch of phone numbers with them, including the ones that I use for testing stuff. 

And last but not the least, I know this might seem like just a hype, but ChatGPT is actually f* awesome. It helps me to do a lot of stuff. We’ve recently been experimenting with using embedded GPT at Lendsqr and so far it’s been pretty great.I love it
So there you are. To everyone who thinks Adedeji Olowe is highly efficient and disciplined, my secrets are in the open. And maybe one day, I’ll successfully clone myself and this version of me won’t need to get anything done.

Vanity metrics are deadly but a slow poison

Lendsqr’s journey warns against the allure of vanity metrics. Success hinges on metrics like loan uptake and profitability, not superficial engagement numbers. Focus on what truly drives business growth.

About a year ago, my loan management SaaS company, Lendsqr, partnered with one of the most recognized tech media startups in Africa. We experimented with activations and a whole lot of other stuff and spent thousands of dollars to push the Lendsqr brand out there. The team was pretty excited about the partnership and we caught a lot of eyeballs. 

But you know what? What!

Despite all the attention we got, it translated to absolutely nothing tangible for the business. Zero. Zilch. And we only found out because we had put a system in place to track our inbound from all the activities.

This incident, amongst others, got me thinking deeper about some of the marketing efforts we’ve put in over the past couple of years at Lendsqr and their impact, and I realized just how dangerous vanity metrics can be. During those years, working with my technical assistant and marketing team, we designed different campaigns to drive traffic and sign ups, etc. and tried our hand at various marketing platforms. 

Here’s the jarring thing; when dealing with these marketing platforms where we splash a boat load of cash to get noticed, they’d only ever report metrics like views, clicks, downloads, etc. Vanity. And whenever I chatted with my customers and their marketing teams, it was always the same story – hyping vanity metrics like they’re the best thing since the internet. They’d say things like “This was successful. There are x thousand clicks” But for me, I’d always roll my eyes and think “What the h*ll are you talking about? Yes, people clicked and saw our stuff but what use was this to the bottom line?”

If your marketing isn’t doing this, stop, it’s a waste

When it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of marketing efforts, I believe it’s crucial to look beyond surface performance and focus on what defines success for your business. It’s also important that whatever you are doing for marketing is worth the money spent. At a time when everyone is watching cost like weight watchers, ensuring your money provides a real return is the real deal.

I understand the temptation to boast about these surface level metrics; sometimes, I love to talk about the number of lenders we have at Lendsqr and the number of customers (borrowers) we have by proxy. But the truth is these things are like barometers; they’re not the real thing, simply tools meant to indicate something else.

What really counts are the tangible outcomes. Specific to my business, that’ll be things like how many people are actually taking out loans, how many of them pay back and ultimately, how much profit is being generated for our lenders and us? These are the real indicators of the health and sustainability of what we do. Anything else falls apart under scrutiny.

It’s easy for anyone to get caught up in the kumbaya of measuring some feel-good metrics

But if you don’t know what’s most important to your core objectives and then work backwards from there, any other thing you’re doing is a waste of time and resources.

For us at Lendsqr, the things that are important are the number of loans booked by customers, our ability to facilitate recovery and the overall profitability of our lenders. Everything else pales in comparison. So even if I bring out a babalawo (dark magic practitioner) to do his stuff and help me achieve these core numbers in a sustainable manner, then it’s more important than if the whole world is reading about me raising a gazillion in TechCrunch when I’m not able to achieve the important things. 

Do this to beat the vanity trap

Given how easy it is to get swept by vanity metrics, how do you avoid that for your business? Well, it’s all about setting the right priorities from the jump (or doing a reset if you’ve already lost your way). Whether you’re a founder, stakeholder, or investor; you MUST figure out what truly matters for your business to survive and eventually thrive. 

Start by identifying those core metrics that really determine sustainable success. Maybe it’s profitability or the journey towards profitability. Break that down further into details like unit economics. How much are you making now, and how much could you make if you run your business as well as you possibly can?

Once you’ve gotten these details sorted then you can get down to it and take a look at what you need to do to achieve these vital metrics.You might even find that the path to achieving these is surprisingly simple. This assessment will make you face the reality; whether you’re on the right track or not.

So this means that as a founder, leader, or investor, it’s your responsibility to sit down with your team and guide them to distill the tangible results from the hype and noise. Ask the tough questions – “it’s okay that this content is trending and gathering views on social media but how does it translate to *insert your core metric here*?”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that those who quote these vanity metrics are bad people who are out to deceive you. Not at all. They’re just operating based on what they know. It’s up to us as leaders to reorient them and make it clear that if whatever they’re doing doesn’t translate to real value, it’s a distraction.

So, the next time your marketing team comes to you with a proposal, challenge them to connect the dots. For instance, “if we invest in this video and rack up a million views, what does it really get us? How many new customers can we expect to sign up, and what’s their long-term value to the business?” That’s how you determine the success of your efforts. But if you don’t have these numbers, then it’s a waste.

Let’s find balance: Intangible results matter too

Before even my own marketing team comes for me, of course, I recognize that not all marketing efforts are about immediate addition to the bottom line. Sometimes, we’re aiming for those intangible wins like brand recognition and top of mind awareness which are also important and contribute to the groundwork for future success.

Think about Coca-Cola or Apple. We all know that these names mean something and add substance to anything they’re affiliated with right? It’s clear it’s not just about the products; brands like these have proven that building brand trust and a good reputation matter too. 

So, we can also say, “Let’s grow our brand equity,” because sometimes, that also paves the way to real value. Not every marketing effort will translate to Naira and kobo or Dollars and cents. Having a strong brand means people trust you, they’re willing to pay more for your stuff, and they’re more likely to buy from you in the first place. This is an intangible asset you can leverage to improve your earning margins significantly and boost your core business results down the line.

Additionally, beyond external projection of your brand; what goes on internally matters. How are your employees performing? Sure, a lot of people want to build a happy workplace. This is good. But here’s the thing: if your business is dying, no amount of employee happiness will save it.

You have to stay focused and ensure that your measure of employee happiness or the employee experience in your company is assessed within the context of sustainability. What benefit is it to you to have happy staff and a dead business? It’s utterly useless. But obviously, if you also have unhappy staff and you’re only fixated on numbers and driving results, your business will die. 

It’s all about finding balance. Happy staff produce good business and good business makes staff happy. Don’t break that cycle. 

Find what’s right for you, today and every day after that

As a company, you’ve got to know which metrics really matter, and that can change from time to time. The metrics that are important this year, may not be important next year.

Maybe in the early stages of your startup, you’re all about survival then growth before paying attention to profitability. Not because profitability is wrong but because you know that survival and growth are crucial to charting the course to profitability. 

For a B2C company, you may have to work a lot on your brand equity and find a good way to measure it, because you know that down the line, brand equity will translate to easier ways to sell and better margins.

Whatever the case may be, you’ve got to be able to call b*llsh*t on the fakes and focus on what truly drives success.

Lastly, do views, clicks, downloads have their benefits? I really can’t say but what I will say is that they have to lead somewhere meaningful. If a marketing agency tells you to spend $100,000, they better have an answer for what’s in it for the business, beyond the feel-good stuff, because if it doesn’t add up, you might as well just set that pile of cash on fire.

Delights, dangers, and disappointments of remote work

Remote work transformed the professional landscape, offering flexibility. Some prefer it, while others opt for traditional offices. Each approach has merits and drawbacks; choose what suits your needs.

Remote work or Work From home (WFM) is either the biggest blessing or the craziest curse to hit the professional landscape in the last 50 years. Before you scream your opinion, just know that views depend on who is making an opinion.

The impact of remote work on the global work culture has been undeniable. I think it’s just as transformative as the advent of cloud computing which allowed startups to work their magic. Who would have known Stripe, Paystack, Moniepoint without the ease of launching scrappy startups from the cloud?

Then the COVID-19 worldwide lockdown happened. 

And then individuals and organizations came to realize they could do so much more from their homes– the world unlocked a new realm of possibilities that had been hiding just under our noses.

There are only two kinds of people left in this world

It’s been three years since remote work became as normal as working from the office and now there are two kinds of people left in this world: those who want to work from home and those who want to return to their offices. A subset under those who want to work from the office is those who can’t even work from home to start with because they don’t have the means.This is prevalent in Africa where constant power and affordable stable-internet access is a daily miracle.

Some even pray for this 😞. 

The argument of whether or not it’s time to return to the office or if life can continue with remote work is one in which there’s some merit on all sides. Remote work introduces a much appreciated flexibility and, in many cases, boosts productivity, especially in cities like Lagos where long commutes are a norm. There’s no such thing as a 9-5 job in Lagos. 5-9 is a more accurate description for the average Lagosian when one considers travel time to and from work and traffic conditions. Personally, there are some places I dread going to in Lagos for fear of growing old and missing the birth of my grandchildren because I’m stuck in traffic. 

Alternatively, for those pushing to go back to the office, they’ve probably measured their productivity in both situations and determined they’re better off with traditional office-based work. Access to power, internet and no screaming family members or daytime chores? Can we really blame them?

Don’t even start with annoying parents who send their grown kids on errands during work hours.

Hybrid work presents a middle ground and has its own benefits. Sometimes, being able to meet up with colleagues physically just makes sense. Teams are able to balance virtual interactions with occasional in-person collaboration.

As much as there are merits to all sides of the arguments, some professions don’t have the luxury of choice. For instance, pilots, air hostesses, logistics agents, etc. Try being a dispatch rider from home and see how that works out for you. 

If remote work met the love of its life and had a poster child, it’ll be me

There are people like me for whom remote work has done wonders and fueled innovation and growth. Without the opportunity to remote work, my Lending-as-a-Service (LaaS) startup, Lendsqr, wouldn’t exist and I probably wouldn’t be configured the way I am right now.

Obviously, I had to do Lendsqr by the side when I had a corporate job but it wasn’t scaling. I barely had time to check on it and it stayed a tiny operation on the road to who knows where not. Then the COVID-19 lockdown happened and suddenly I could do it all. I could tap into a diverse pool of talent across Nigeria, work from home and work for as long as possible. Additionally, I didn’t have to hide what I was doing in the office. 

That was how Lendsqr grew. 

This isn’t unique to Lendsqr alone. That’s how a lot of companies flourished between 2020 and now. Of course, some others had been working remotely even before then but it was a relatively new development to much of the world.

Remote work is a great color on my company, Lendsqr

During one of my recent travels, I met a bunch of founders and business owners who all had offices in Nigeria at one time but had to shut them all down because the cost of running those spaces was unreasonable. That’s just the reality of trying to run a business from physical offices. In the last few years, the price of everything has gone up: diesel, petrol, rent, etc. For large organizations with big business and cash flow, perhaps the price hikes have been manageable. But not so much for small operations. 

Lendsqr isn’t profitable yet (sadly) but if we had decided to operate from a physical office, we probably wouldn’t exist anymore. 

Last year, I considered using one of my apartments as Lendsqr’s office and after looking at what it would cost to set the place up into a really nice office, I just didn’t think it was worth it. That money would have been better spent on salaries for the next few months. The opportunity to work remotely has allowed us to significantly reduce operational costs and redirect our funds towards growth and employee wellness.

One of the blessings I’m most grateful for operating remotely hasn’t even been the cost savings. It’s the opportunity to have discovered a few young people that have been extremely amazing.

In Lendsqr, access to quality talent is one of the benefits we enjoy from operating remotely. If we weren’t operating remotely, we would need to have an office and by extension, only be able to employ only people who could easily get to the office. This would limit our recruitment to a very narrow geographical area.

Some of the best people that have worked in Lendsqr have been from all over Nigeria: Abuja, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Benin, etc. These are people who would have never been able to come work with us if we didn’t operate remotely and Lendsqr would have been forced to compete in a very narrow space.

I’m sure we can all agree that the flexibility from working remotely is also unmatched. My staff can jump on different projects throughout the day and take a nap to recharge as well. Yes, we sleep at work … but with sense. They don’t need to sit in traffic for hours or think about getting robbed on the way to work. They also don’t need to worry about getting to work tired or coming to the office smelling like petrol and fumes (sorry guys, but it’s true) from commuting. Uber is out of the question of course, that’s expensive for most and not sustainable for all.

If Lendsqr had a voice, it’ll probably curse remote work sometimes too

Operating remotely also comes with its own significant pains, of course. The most obvious one is that employee retention becomes a concern. Wait. Don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s because I’m impossible to work with. Those who’ve stuck with me the longest are actually the ones who’ve seen even the worst of me. 

Virtual meetings are a pain; video meetings are a curse. They drain you so deeply you are more tired than a 70 year old running a marathon the first time. It never ends well.  

The real reason is that with remote work, the ease of exploring alternative employment opportunities is frictionless. They can jump on calls, take interviews, and close new jobs without breaking a sweat. This would have been incredibly difficult to do if they were working out of an office. If you don’t agree, do your next interview in your current company open-plan office and then let me know how unemployment is treating you.

Also, there are some issues with the quality of work. It takes longer to get some things done with the communication barriers and longer review cycles. These are things that would probably only take a couple of minutes to refine if we could just stroll into each other’s offices. Don’t even mention how difficult it is to have decent conversations via chat when your colleague takes 57 minutes to reply to each message.

It’s not the common view but working remotely actually demands more discipline and not a lot of people have it. People can tell you they’re working on something already meanwhile they haven’t even opened the brief. Guess what? There’s nothing one can do about it. 

I see the lack of discipline a lot with young people who usually have a hard time fitting in. But you can’t blame them at all! 

You have green talent, fresh out of school, have never worked before and they come into a remote job. How do they make themselves sit at a desk everyday and do the work without being pushed? Many get distracted with domestic responsibilities, seeing friends, playing games, binge-watching series, etc. You can get on a call and ask people to turn on their videos only to discover someone has been on the road somewhere doing something completely unrelated to work. 

Everyone knows this can’t happen when you work physically and no one gets to go home until the day’s work is actually done. With remote work, someone says their internet isn’t working and poof everyone disappears. 

To each his own. I know my own.

Hybrid work seems to be the best and we’d have the chance to bond and connect more when we see each other physically. However, it’s not always practical. I can’t always get my designer in Kaduna, developer in Abuja or support person in Port Harcourt to come down to Lagos to work. 

Lendsqr will probably continue to operate remotely for a long time. However, I can’t ignore what I’m missing out on from not having a physical office. I wish we could be more stable. The attrition rate is atrocious and we, myself included, could all benefit from being even more disciplined than we are now. Although, I do recognize that some people who work physically just pretend to be busy while they misuse theirs and company time gisting and doing other irrelevant things.

The reality is that remote work comes with many blessings and many curses. It’s up to you to decide which works best for you. I won’t recommend any approach to anyone because it depends on what you have the capacity to make work.

Just like cloud computing created the opportunity for startups to build things without having to actually build things, remote work has created the opportunity for serious-minded people to build beautiful careers. 

Above all, do what works best for you. I know I am.

Look before you leap: A practical guide for those who want to work in startups

Startups are hailed for their transformative potential, yet the reality of their challenges often remains overlooked. Joining one demands immense dedication, resilience, and a readiness for relentless hard work. It’s not for everyone.

Startups have undeniably fueled global economic growth over the last 30 years. In Africa, success stories like Paystack, Moniepoint, and Piggyvest have demonstrated the value startups can create. The irresistible allure of startups, driven by their achievements, entices many to join their ranks.

However, here’s the question, “is everyone truly cut out to work in a startup?”

Focusing on successful startups alone is like admiring a pretty, healthy child without acknowledging the traumatizing birthing experience for the mother and the challenging journey that led to their growth. Startups can be likened to sperm cells; billions of them are produced but only very few are fertilized and end up becoming children. In the same vein, startups emerge from a myriad of ideas, yet only a fraction possess the potential to flourish and only a handful of passionate individuals believe so deeply in their viability that they bring these ideas to life as companies. 

Startups are built on rocky ground

Building a startup is extremely hard and the odds of success are strikingly low . Statistics show that 90% of startups fail. The stories we hear of successful startups are compelling, but the incredibly painful journey and exhaustive effort behind their success often remain untold — after all, these stories don’t exactly fit the glamorous narrative. 

For job aspirants, it’s easy to romanticize startups, envisioning young people like them accomplishing remarkable things. They believe in their own potential and aspire to contribute meaningfully to the cause. Or it could even be that their pastor told them they’re destined for greatness and they want in on that ASAP. 

Work-life balance who? Sorry, she doesn’t work here!

Reality check: over 95% of individuals who join a startup without a clear understanding of the demands end up regretting their decision. Note, this doesn’t imply that 95% of startup employees experience regret, but rather those who plunge into the startup world unaware. So, a word of advice— people, do your research! However, since you’re already here, let me be nice and give you a glimpse into what lies ahead. 

Imagine running up a moving escalator that’s heading down.

Yes, that’s exactly what building and working in a startup feels like —exhilarating if you make it to the top, yet spectators don’t understand your struggles and some may even think you’re crazy for trying.

Now, back to my analogy on startups and child-rearing. Working in a startup is a lot like raising a baby; they’re cute and they coo, and people love to look at them and pinch their cheeks but the reality behind closed doors is far from ideal. They pee, poo whenever, scream like banshees, fall ill a lot and don’t grow fast enough.They demand an enormous amount of effort but most of that stuff, however, isn’t visible to outsiders.

Working in a startup is immensely challenging. Work-life balance? That idea might need to take a backseat, at least in the initial stages. If you try to balance work and personal life in a startup, you won’t be successful in either; you’ll struggle at work and your life won’t be balanced. And that’s not a curse.

Hold on, before you come for me, I’m not discrediting the importance of work-life balance. Eventually, the “child” will grow up and maybe even end up taking care of the parent; but there’s an initial stage of dedication that’s necessary for the future well-being of all involved. That’s the same way it is with a startup. There’s no work-life balance at the early stages; not until the startup achieves stability and success and grows enough to accommodate it. 

Much like parenting, a startup becomes your life, but only temporarily.  If you grind hard at it and the start up becomes successful, then you have the chance to be recompensed for all you put in. Ask any parent who sacrificed for their children’s future—their sacrifice pays off over time.

Reality check: leave startups alone if this is you

Let’s pause and answer a brief questionnaire:

  • Do rigid boundaries and structured roles appeal to you? – If you were employed to do A, you must not be asked to do B.
  • Do you struggle with health issues like high blood pressure, etc.?
  • Can you work and adapt quickly to rapid changes?
  • Can you handle high-pressure situations?

If you answered yes to any of the first two questions and no to the last two, please go back home; working in a startup isn’t for you.

Startups aren’t for the faint-hearted

The glory of a successful startup is enviable but one has to be fully aware of what it takes to get there. It’s unfair, deceptive and downright reckless to enter a startup if you don’t have the mental fortitude required. You will definitely fail and maybe even endanger the entire company if you fail epically enough. 

It’s equally misguided to request a founder to slow down for the sake of your work-life balance. Doing so could spell doom for the startup. You either agree to do that mad job to raise the startup ‘child’ or don’t get into it. It can destroy you if you don’t have the fortitude to get through it. 

I’m not trying to glorify pain, I’m simply telling what it takes to build something great.

So what do you do if you get in and realize you can’t cope with it? Leave!  The nature of the startup won’t change to accommodate your preferences. If the startup slows down for you to give you that time you want, that startup will die a miserable death. You have to ask yourself: do you want to leave the job or do you want to destroy the company? There’s no other way. If an alternative exists other than full commitment, then it’s not a startup.

Startups aren’t the only fertile ground for greatness …

As much as I’ve spoken about how much strength and determination it takes to thrive in a startup, does this mean you can only achieve greatness in a startup? Not at all.

If you’re good at your job and are responsible with what you do, you can find yourself work in an established organization and build an awesome career. For instance, if you work in a bank, that means the possibility of getting promoted every two years with a salary bump and if you’re diligent, you move up faster. The same applies to opportunities for growth and advancement if you decide to work for the government.

The point is that you don’t need to contort yourself to fit in a startup or try to disrupt the workflow there, you can go somewhere else your talents are appreciated and you can truly shine. What is it they say, go where you’re loved (as you are)? Yes, do that.

… But here’s the greatness you can achieve in a startup

I do hope I’ve not tarnished the image of startups as modern-day boogeymen. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s greatly rewarding. Now, let’s address the question: “What’s in it for me if I commit to a startup?” The short answer: fulfillment and financial success.

You know that feeling you get when you finally get that broken thing in your house to work again after trying for what felt like forever? Just hold on to that feeling and multiply it tenfold.That’s the bliss and pride that surfaces when a startup finally overcomes its challenges and breaks into success. 

In a startup, solving the problems might feel a lot like having to find the right key to unlock say 5 doors from a bowl containing 156 different keys. And no, the keys aren’t labeled or tagged. So it’s only fair those who are around long enough to make it work win and win big. 

For those who stay and decide to build a startup to success, no one can take away the satisfaction of conquering a million and one obstacles. Also, unlike most established organizations, startup employees handle huge amounts of responsibility and are able to see a more direct relationship between their decisions and the impact on the company and customer satisfaction.

If ever there was a “Jack of all trades, master of one, novice of none”, it’ll probably be in reference to startup employees. The solutions required in a “baby” company are varied and often require employees to know a lot about everything in addition to their core area of expertise.This presents a unique opportunity for both wider and deeper learning and what the younger employees may not have in years of experience, they make up for in depth of experience. It’s little wonder that startup employees are often rewarded with a stake in the company. 

Finally, for the million dollar question, “will I get my life back?” The answer is a big fat YES. Work-life balance will come naturally when the bulk of the work has been done and dusted and all that’s left is to watch the company flourish. The great thing is by this time, most of the stuff works on autopilot anyway but that’s only because you already poured blood, sweat and tears to make it great.

New beginnings are wonderful, but we can’t get carried away with the pretty stories and forget that it’s back-breaking labor that births greatness.

Hiring is as hard as investing in startups. Maybe harder

Finding top talent is as hard as finding a successful startup investment. Despite using various methods, my best hires came from random encounters, while highly recommended candidates often disappointed. In the end, recruiting is more luck than science…

Finding the next Facebook, Paystack, or TeamApt as an angel investor is pretty hard. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to reiterate what you probably already know; most startup investments fail! In fact, 90% are duds and maybe only 2 out of 100 investments would be rockstars. 

Sadly, hiring, especially for startups, is no different.

Tech investment, especially angel investment, is almost like glorified gambling and the line separating both can be quite blurry. Only the obsessed stand a chance against the odds. 

It’s the same when it comes to finding talent. It’ll probably be redundant for me to qualify talent further with any fancy adjectives. Talent is just that. Talent. You’ve either got it or you don’t. That’s not to say I don’t believe people can improve themselves or that employers can’t invest in developing employees. They absolutely can. And they should.

I’ve read tons of how to find good talent; worked with a bajillion different recruiters. My best outcomes have been more of luck than science or any definite process. Maybe I’m the one with a problem. But when I share my pain with other founders, we always arrive at the same conclusions.

Where I found some of the best people 

I have looked at my own track record of how I found some of the best people I ever worked with in the last 5 years and I can confidently say I’m at best, gambling. There’s simply no common sense formula to how I got these people. 

Just to give you an idea where I found some of the best people I have worked with: a friend found one at a saloon, I met another on a staircase and I was introduced to another by someone I didn’t even know. They’re all so random that I’ve given up finding a pattern.

And where did I find some of my biggest disappointments?

Hold on to your hats for this one. You’d think the random strangers I met “off the streets” would have been the ideal candidates for disappointment. That was not the case. Many of those who fell short of my expectations (or just common decency in some cases) were those who graduated with a first class, had high CGPAs and came highly recommended. This category of people are exposed and present themselves properly. I fell for it. But learnt very quickly there was a whole lot of fluff in the mix. 

Ironically, a significant proportion of those who scale through the recruitment process are those described above. As we’ve established, recruiting is nowhere near a science but employers can keep tweaking the process to get better results. Assessment tests, where applicable, to establish competency levels from the jump is a step in the right direction.

Disclaimer: I’m not a hater. I have nothing against this class of smart people. Many of them go on to do great things. The ones I’ve met have just shown me “shege”. 

Despite the gambling, some things stick out

Despite the fact that my best efforts have come from random encounters, some things do stand out more and make all the difference. Good people are smart, relentless and determined. They are also loyal and can keep their word. Perhaps my favorite thing about them is how responsible they are. They own their sh*t with their chests and don’t deflect blame to others.

Some things are also perplexing

Some of the best people aren’t especially smarter than others. Oftentimes, they don’t even have the right answers. But what they do have, is the right attitude. One can’t give up because talent is now the most important thing. Let’s not even get into how globalization and the wave of newly funded startups are rapidly changing the hiring game. 

As a tech leader, seeking and grooming talent, one must have an infinite capacity to take the pains and disappointment. You must know when/who to nurture or simply let go. Not everyone can be groomed; and definitely not everyone can grow fast enough. And not everyone wants to have that growth pain with you. 

It’s even pretty bold of you to assume that everyone wants to grind and hustle for success. Some people were born to just seek the “soft life” and that’s okay too. But not with me.

Investors take a risk on startups and hope the company takes off. Recruiters take a risk on people and hope they don’t run the company into the ground and take off. To each his own pain. 

To the leaders and recruiters seeking rockstar employees or discovering diamonds in the rough, good luck!