Author Archives: Ozisco

F.I.V.E Questions with Evita Grant: From Ivy League Engineer to Silicon Valley Lawyer

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When you realize your career is a journey rather than a destination, inspiration often comes when you least expect it. Some of us are wired to think that when I get “X” title or “Y” title, I would have achieved my career objective. Then when we get there, we still feel unfulfilled. Evita’s story is a reminder to keep an open mind, follow our curiosities, and be open to learning a new skill. I’m excited to feature Evita Grant on the first F.I.V.E Questions of 2018. It brings me joy to celebrate #BlackExcellence, and even more joy to celebrate #BlackGirlMagic.

 

  1. Briefly describe your background- education, experience, etc. What is the most exciting or rewarding aspect of what you do now?

My name is Evita Grant. I was born and raised in Ghana. I was fortunate to attend Ghana International School which exposed me to diverse people of different backgrounds and cultures.

I moved to the US in my late teens to attend MIT for my undergraduate studies. I majored in Chemical Engineering because it encompassed my favorite courses from secondary school – Math, Physics, and Chemistry, and it provided me with a skill set that I believed I could apply in Ghana to contribute to its economic development.

For the summer following my sophomore year, I conducted research in the lab of one of MIT’s 12 Institute professors, Professor Daniel Wang. The following year, I interned at a major pharmaceutical company. Both experiences piqued my interest in bio-engineering and academia. Upon graduation, I enrolled in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology (HST) program for my doctoral degree, instead of working at a major consulting company.

The HST program is indeed one of a kind. Its Ph.D. students take first- and second-year medical school coursework with Harvard Medical School students, and intern for several weeks at a Harvard-affiliated hospital, in addition to satisfying the traditional engineering program requirements. I learned a great deal about medical sciences and the US healthcare industry. The HST program also afforded me the opportunity to work with the late Norman Letvin on HIV vaccine development. Even though I was an engineer amongst immunologists, virologists, and physicians, my lab members were incredibly supportive and collaborative. My thesis focused on the use of Polyethylenimine, a type of polymer, to modulate immune responses to DNA vaccines.

During my doctoral studies, I realized that I did not want to pursue a path in academia or research. So to satisfy one of my HST medical requirements, I volunteered for four weeks at a public maternity hospital in Rabat, Morocco. My time in Morocco allowed me to focus on what I truly wanted for my career – to assist in Africa’s development, which was a burning passion of mine.

When I returned to the US, I focused on completing my doctoral program while exploring alternative careers. I was drawn to Intellectual Property (IP), in particular patent law, because it spurs and supports innovation. Sadly, most African countries have a weak patent protection system. I believed I could contribute to building new legal and non-legal infrastructures, and strengthening existing ones to support innovation and technology transfer in Africa.



After graduating, I worked as a scientific advisor at an IP boutique law firm for a year, then enrolled at Harvard Law School. Law school was very different from my STEM bubble of MIT and Harvard. For the first time in my life, I was forced to think more critically about race, social constructs, global trade, and Africa’s future. It was enlightening, and provided personal meaning to the popular word “woke.”

After I graduated, I moved to Silicon Valley to join Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati PC as an intellectual property attorney. My practice focuses on working primarily with startups in the Life Sciences and MedTech space to develop and monetize their IP portfolio. It is incredibly rewarding to work with founders and inventors who are passionate about improving people’s lives through their inventions. It brings me great joy and satisfaction to assist them in achieving their goals.

 

  1. Flash back and then fast forward to the present, what has surprised you the most about your journey thus far? What advice do you have for others looking to take a similar path?

 

I am most surprised by how unpredictable my journey has been. I went from being a chemical engineer to being a medical engineer, to being a lawyer. I would never have predicted this journey when I left home in my late teens.

My advice will be to be open to new uncharted paths. My experiences have been instrumental in my personal evolution. And I don’t think I would have done it any differently.



  1. Why is the cause you are pursuing or problem you are solving the most important for this generation? How would future generations benefit if it’s successful? What is at risk if you do not succeed?

 

I am currently interested in using mobile technologies to better connect African countries, and non-African countries for trade purposes.  Connected African economies should contribute to the growing economic development of Africa. Frankly, there is no risk of failing because it will be an enriching experience that will add to my growth and expose me to new opportunities.

 

  1. Reflect on all of the key sacrifices and trade-offs you’ve had to make to get to where you are today. Which of these would you say was the most pivotal and why?

 

I think the greatest sacrifice is living in the US away from my family. I miss home (Ghana) all the time. That said, I have gained many personal and professional experiences during my stay in the US. It has been worth it.

 

  1. What is the best piece of actionable advice that you’ve received that continues to be a source of inspiration in good times and challenging times?

Bet on yourself! I cannot remember who or when I received this piece of advice. I may have heard it on a sports podcast. I always remember it whenever I have doubts about myself and/or the future. Choosing to believe in me and to put myself in the position to succeed has been a source of motivation and inspiration.

You can connect with Evita via LinkedIn!

For Rocketship Education, Progress is Vital for Success

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With the advent of the internet, there really are no excuses when it comes to all children receiving a quality education. While rural areas may still struggle with attracting teachers to their schools, the online resources that are available to everyone makes a high-quality education a possibility for every child.

Rocketship Education is a network of charter schools that use technology to create a charter school that provides quality education to all children, regardless of income level. It was founded in 2006 and began its first school in San Jose, California in 2007. Since then thousands of children have received a high-quality education in a number of expanded areas to include Redwood City (CA), Milwaukee (WI), Nashville (TN), and Washington D.C.

Organizations like Rocketship Education that level the “educational” playing field and democratizes access to knowledge, especially during the early years of a child’s life, are what is needed more than ever today. Access to quality education shouldn’t be limited only to the highest bidder. Our children deserve better.

This is a sponsorship post.



F.I.V.E Questions with Ismail Maiyegun, Co-Founder of Hingeto

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Hidden in the credits of any successful entrepreneurial story are small fonts of close calls, pivots, rejections, adversities, doubts, failures, etc. Ismail’s entrepreneurial story is no different. He is quick to tell you that the journey is just as important as the destination and having an unshakable self-belief, surrounding yourself with like-minded people, and working your a$$ off will get you farther than you’d expect. Ismail and his team are building a venture called Hingeto, to tackle inventory risk in retail. The Oakland, CA based startup has raised $1.9M in seed round funding to date, and are backed by Y Combinator (W16), Kapor Capital, Cross Culture Ventures, Precursor Ventures, Stanford University / StartX (S16), Comcast Ventures, Andre Iguodala, #blessed & Base Ventures. Hingeto launched with a limited-edition collection of bomber jackets designed by Oakland Raiders superstar, Marshawn Lynch. Ismail was kind enough to make time to share his story with the hopes of uplifting and inspiring other entrepreneurs. Enjoy!

1. Briefly describe your background- education, work experience, etc. What is the most exciting or rewarding aspect of what you do now? What could make it even more exciting or rewarding?

I attended Stanford University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering with a focus on Computer Software. In High school, I got my A Levels in Computer Science, Math, Chemistry & Physics. I started programming in my early teens. After graduating from university, I worked for a financial-technology company in San Francisco that was co-founded by Bill Harris (former CEO of Intuit & interim CEO at PayPal). After spending four years there, I decided it was time for me to work full-time on my own ventures given the success I had enabled for those I had consulted and advised on the side.

My focus is now on Hingeto, a YC company I co-founded. We’ve raised ~ $1.9M to tackle inventory risk in retail.

I also serve as Chairman of the Board of Big Wolf Games, a company I co-founded before Hingeto.

One of the most exciting & rewarding aspects of my current role is to see how the solutions we build based on our customer’s feedback make a difference in their livelihoods. I also, admittedly, love the power I have in being able to bring any idea to life (it remains exhilarating even after almost 20+ years of programming). What would make it more exciting & rewarding is to look in the room and see more people that look like me, armed with the skills to pursue their dreams the way I have been able to.

2. Flashback and then fast forward to the present, what has surprised you the most about your journey thus far? What advice do you have for others looking to take a similar path? Is there something you could have done differently to get to where you are faster?

My biggest surprise has been how methodical building a successful company can be, once you master certain core principles and strategies.


The biggest thing I would have done differently is that I would have saved a lot more money before going on the entrepreneurial journey so that I could avoid contract work while building my ventures. Luckily, while it’s worked out so far for me, I had way too many close calls earlier in the journey that could have been avoided had I invested in having 6 months – 1 year of income stashed away.

But at the same time for me, knowing my personality, not having that cushion, created the urgency I needed back then to be able to build fast, iterate fast, close deals, etc. I don’t think I’d advise other entrepreneurs to do the same, because for me, my “worst case” was that I would find a mini-gig to “re-up” if needed – which would derail me for a few weeks/months but I knew that if need be, I could hypothetically continue finding contract work indefinitely until I figured out the long-term money maker – although that would not have been ideal. I built relationships with some agencies that sent me opportunities all the time specifically for this purpose.

For others looking to take a similar path, I would tell them to start small right now. I’d advise them to begin absorbing everything they can about starting/building a business and to begin surrounding themselves with positive/like- minded-people. Most importantly, I’d advise them to start putting their learnings into action immediately, even if on a small scale. I’d advise them to focus on building mini ventures that can make $10/month, then $100/month, then $1000/month then $10,000/month then $100,000/month and so forth.

It is extremely difficult to predict the future success of your company, but what is more within your control is what happens within the next few months. Then after that, focusing on the next few months after that. And after that. And when you look back 1-2 years later, you’ll find a few things will have happened.
You will have achieved product-market fit on one of the experiments you were running
You will have success on some small (or even large scale)
You will fail, but those learnings will make you more enlightened for the next thing you work on.
You will have built confidence in variety of competencies that empowers you to be a better entrepreneur (or employee or employer)

3. Why is the cause you are pursuing or problem you are solving the most important for this generation? How would future generations benefit if it’s successful? What is at risk if you do not succeed?

Hingeto builds no-risk inventory solutions for large retailers & small brands, mainly in the fashion/apparel niche (primarily Streetwear).

A lot of people express their identity by what they wear on a daily basis. Even those not looking to make a fashion statement, express a lot about themselves by what they decide to wear and what not to wear. When my co-founders approached me with the idea they were kicking around (they previously worked at a $130M online retailer and understood the industry very well), I was somewhat hesitant about if this would be something I would be passionate about because I am not one that cared much about fashion at the time.

However, after discussing the idea a few more times & digging deeper into the macro & micro economic implications of the issues such as excessive waste due to excess inventory, shifting consumer shopping habits, business process & logistics issues experienced by large retailers, predatory sales practices that severely impact small brands (many of which were being run by minorities), my interest was piqued. I also realized that streetwear was arguably the biggest driver of fashion trends & culture, outside of luxury.

While these issues were multi-faceted & complex, we identified what we believed was the root cause of many of them: Inventory Risk. To that end, we are building valuable solutions to solve this from a few angles as it isn’t a one-size-fits-all problem.

I hope the work & impact we achieve with Hingeto will leave a lasting legacy & change the way small brands & large retailers work together and to foster a healthy ecosystem that allows all involved to thrive in the modern economy.

I am also the Chairman of the board of Big Wolf Games, a 6-person gaming venture I co-founded before Hingeto. While on the surface, gaming feels as though it provides no direct societal impact, one of the reasons I’m so passionate about games, is their ability to reach a wide audience across all socioeconomic/cultural/ethnic/language backgrounds.

Games also provide a temporary escape/reprieve from the day-to-day hardships many go through. I started programming in my early teens because I loved games so much & wanted to learn how to build them, so games have changed my life.

One thing about games is that building them requires the ultimate blend of a variety of highly skilled competencies (art, animation, engineering – client side & server side, psychology, emotion, user experience, product, etc.). Building a successful game is arguably one of the most difficult things to do, and hence, it is a challenge that stimulates me intellectually (even if I’m not the one writing the code).

Games we’ve built (both internally & as part of joint-ventures) are played by millions around the world which is really awesome. The revenue is also very nice (lol).

4. Reflect on all of the key sacrifices and trade-offs you’ve had to make to get to where you are today. Which of these would you say was the most pivotal and why?

I’ll speak about one big moment for me I had in addition to more general sacrifices/tradeoffs I’ve had to make during my entrepreneurial career.

The big moment was when I liquidated my 401(k) at the time (hence incurred early withdrawal penalties) as well as liquidating the FB stock I had at the time (which I bought right at IPO).

One on hand, these investments would have been worth a nice chunk of change today had I left them alone. However, at the time, I NEEDED the cash to get through another month of payroll, so I did what I had to do. I also always felt that the biggest investment I could ever make was in myself / ventures, and I wholeheartedly believed that I would make 5-10x whatever I was sacrificing by being able to “stay alive” for a few more days/months/years.

At that moment, I felt that it was best for me to withdraw from the stock market entirely and focus on $AIM (my initials & personal stock ticker :-p) & forego any upside I had from holding those positions.

Thankfully, that worked out for me. And thanks to the hustle, I put myself in a position where I’ve been able to generate several orders of magnitude more than what I forewent, but it was very very risky & I would never recommend anyone else do that (unless you have the same mindset and skills to be able to execute).

The next set of sacrifices is around lifestyle. Randi Zuckerburg posits that you can only pick 3 out of Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, or Friends.

My biggest lifestyle sacrifices have revolved around my lack of balance across these 5 things, particularly early on in my career. In my early 20s, I neglected sleep, fitness and focused mostly on Work, Friends, and Family. I have paid the price for the lack of focus on my fitness & sleep (in the form of random health issues here and there), and I never got to focus on my family as much as I thought I would.

My rationale was always to work hard now (i.e. be in a position to retire in my 30s), so that I could focus on everything else later.

I realized the naiveté of this approach and shifted things in my late 20s where I sought to have more balance across all five areas because the journey was just as important as the destination. I have only recently (I am now 32) been able to feel like I am making real deliberate moves to achieve more balance across these key areas.

All in all, I disagree with Ms. Zuckerburg, and I believe there is a way to achieve balance across all five areas if one is deliberate about their time.



5. What is the best piece of actionable advice you’ve received that continues to be a source of inspiration in good times and challenging times?

One of my early clients from my consulting days once told me that the most powerful I could do with my ventures, is to give myself the financial runway to figure things out because it was just a matter of time before things start to click/work and that it wasn’t an “if it works” but more of a “when it works”. That has stuck with me.

A similar piece of advice I got during my track days at Stanford (unrelated to business) was during a time we were doing a stadium steps workout.

I was struggling badly & felt like quitting the workout, and one of my good friends/teammates said “Just take one more step man. And then one more after that & you’ll get there. Don’t think of how much more we have to do. Just focus on getting through the next step.. then next set and before you know it we’ll be done.”

I’ve taken that mindset shift and applied to many things that feel insurmountable at first.

Other things I do to get me through difficult times is to recite

If by Rudyard KiplingCourtesy of fineartamerica.com
See it Through by Edgar A Guest

I have those two poems memorized completely and will recite them once or twice a week at any given point.

Connect with Hingeto

F.I.V.E Questions with Modupe Ajibola, CEO of Nigex

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Photo credit: @iLabAfrica

Modupe is a serial entrepreneur with an exceptional drive and passion towards problem-solving. A few years ago, Entrepreneur.com put out an article on the “7 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs” which are Tenacity, Passion, Tolerance for Ambiguity, Vision, Self-belief, Flexibility, and Rule-breaking. Modupe embodies all seven characteristics. Having enjoyed a decade of success at Texas Instruments, he went on to found multiple companies that are now making a difference in the lives of many professionals across North America and Africa.

I caught up with Modupe while he was visiting Silicon Valley to engage Investors and Strategic Partners about his latest venture, Nigex (more info below). What excites me about the Nigex venture is the potential it has to uplift a generation of talented minds in Nigeria, and the rest of Africa.

1. Briefly describe your background- education, work experience, etc. 

Modupe is the founder and CEO of Nigex, a proprietary Agile Software Platform that enables resources from Africa to consult seamlessly for global jobs with the backings of a US company. Nigex developed agreements and tools that both consultants and clients can use to facilitate secure vetting, training, managing, and holding resources accountable. Nigex is a cost-effective way to outsource Software Development work without the typical issues of language barriers or requirement miss-alignment.

Modupe is also the co-founder of the award-winning technology and company called OTGPlaya. OTGPlaya connects end-users to digital content by leapfrogging existing bandwidth constraints of internet infrastructure. Since its founding in Austin, Texas, OTGPlaya has won the USAID Africa Diaspora Marketplace Award in 2012 and the 2013 LLGA City Pilot for City-Wide Wi-Fi in Lagos, Nigeria.

Modupe is also the founder of Vision Invent Inc (VI), a leading Design House and technology rep firm in the USA that supports hundreds of Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) customers.

Before forming VI in 2008, Modupe blazed his path successfully at Texas Instruments (TI) and served in several leadership roles. Modupe studied Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M University.





2. Flashback and then fast forward to the present, what has surprised you the most about your journey thus far? What advice do you have for others looking to take a similar path?

One could say I wasn’t such a risk taker, but when I found that my job at TI was never going to satisfy my desire to solve problems I cared to solve, I knew it was time to hire myself. So my advice here is to take your ambitions more seriously than anyone’s belief or disbelief in you.

My career at TI grew based on my ability to solve problems which made my job and those around me easier. I remember creating a tool for the Technical Team to use in isolating the right processor for a target client requirements by using a drill down signal chain block diagram system. Management found out about the tool and gave me my first promotion. The advice here is to not complain about what limits you, but find ways to solve and test your assumptions on the solution as opposed to looking to get credit for your unproven ideas.

Entrepreneurship is first about solving problems, but I was surprised to find that it is not sustainable without the right partnerships or resources. I learned this over the years of winning and losing business because of my inexperience with managing expectations. To fix this, I had to give shares of my company away to those who specialized in building a company and team; and before I knew it, everything I did began growing instead of shrinking. The advice here is not to become a jack of all trades and master of none. Master what makes you unique and comes easily to you while surrounding yourself with complementing partners that have measurable track records of success. In picking partners, focus on strengths and ensure you set goals, so everyone knows what to do and when. If a partner misses a goal, you should quickly evaluate the partner’s position and keep or vote them out based on their ability to meet the agreed upon goals.

3. Why is the cause you are pursuing or problem you are solving the most important for this generation? How would future generations benefit if it’s successful? What is at risk if you do not succeed?

The power to enable smart African kids is of significant value to me from a business and personal standpoint. I also believe technology is the great equalizer that can help young Africans circumvent government bureaucracy and transcend the corruptible reputation of Africans globally.

The Government and African leaders have yet to realize the goldmine of human brain resources they have, so why not me is what I asked. This realization is why I have decided to invest in the great minds and ensure a paradigm shift based on results and not just words. People tend to believe in what works which is why it is important to prove that a global job market will best serve our young minds.



4. Reflect on all of the key sacrifices and trade-offs you’ve had to make to get to where you are today. Which of these would you say was the most pivotal and why?

My realization about sacrifice is to prepare to lose it all before gaining what you seek. I had to sell my house and shed many cost centers that would have caused me to look back when I became an entrepreneur. You need to believe that you have what it takes to do more than what you have in your possessions, and rid yourself of any potential distractions.
5. What is the best piece of actionable advice you’ve received that continues to be a source of inspiration in good times and challenging times?

My friend, dad, and mentor, Alade Ajibola shared this with me “Success is a journey and not a destination, so chase your dreams only if the process is fun and rewarding.”

Mezie Avu! Elevating Higher Education Even Higher

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The following post is from my e-book, The Most Interesting Thing About Investing in Africa.
***

Students-Owerri

Investment: Education in Jomeka Commercial Academy, AVU, Owerri – Elevating Higher Education 

***

Chief Dan Obiyo was an early investor in Jomeka Commercial Academy.  Chief Obiyo is also the CEO of AVSECO NIGERIA LIMITED. AVSECO’s mission is to eliminate all security challenges through an aggressive training development of hands and minds in the aviation workplace. Recent civil aviation experiences pose the rhetorical question of which way forward for emerging economies.  Government efforts cry out to be complemented through supportive private expertise… now provided by AVSECO.



SITUATION

Avu town is located about four miles west of Owerri municipality in Imo state, Nigeria. Avu Community Secondary school, the town’s only secondary education facility was not easily affordable to most parents. The subsistence farming community was poor, requiring a more affordable alternative for the teeming applicants in Avu and environs. Professor J.O.C. Obiyo took on this challenge head-on upon his retirement after a successful career in Abuja. Jomeka Commercial Academy was established to provide primary school rejects as well as secondary school dropouts with placements in a vocational school to realize their dreams. Students whose guardians could not cope with the exorbitant fees at the public school, students who do not have the aptitude for formal education, and indigent students became the target demographic for Prof Obiyo’s vision.

For everyone everywhere, literacy is…a basic human right. 
– Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary-General

Mean-Years-of-Schooling

ACTION

Away from downtown Avu but within easy reach of the cluster of houses bordering the village to the north, Prof. Obiyo secured an ideal location for the academy. Registration formalities with the Ministry of Education, construction of temporary structures at site of classrooms and basic facilities to kick start the project were primarily

funded by Prof Obiyo’s retirement benefits. Notices were put up in church services to canvass for students and skilled staff. Volunteers and National Youth Service Corps members were requested to beef up the staff strength. Cash Crunch-Provision was made for students with special cases to pay their fees in several installments without interrupting studies. The vision was actualized.

Nigerian-Literacy-2013-2014

RESULT

Igbo Kwenu!  Mezie Avu!  Twilight gradually changed to dawn for the tiny town which separates the city of Owerri from the large food producing areas of Ohaji. Education in Avu gradually became less of an effortless privilege and more of an earned right. Avu town discovered that vocational school graduates were more readily employable.  The National Basic and Technical Education Board certificate gained popularity in Avu opening up a wider horizon for higher education. Knowledge is power which opens doors for greater opportunities to do even greater things.

Investment: Education in Jomeka Commercial Academy, AVU, Owerri – elevating higher education 




L = 50

I = 50

C = 30

Business Idea Metric: 130

7 Igbo Proverbs To Boost Your Sales Skills

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Mountain-and-blue-skiesAs I reflect on what inspired me to pursue a career in sales, I’m reminded of some timeless Igbo proverbs I heard growing up in the bustling streets of Owerri in Imo State, Nigeria (#IgboKwenu). Fascinating tales of gutsy protagonists, crafty villains, and crazy plot twists helped contextualize these proverbs. I remember my siblings and I listening as my late grandma swirled our imaginations and skillfully imparted wisdom in our minds. Thanks, grandma!

Below I share seven Igbo proverbs that have continued to be a source of inspiration through my sales journey. I’m still learning about each skill and improving my mastery every single day. 

1. O Re-Ere Bụ Eze; O Zu-Azụ Bụ Eze – The seller is King; the buyer is King. This proverb reminds us that we earn mutual respect. As a salesperson, the best way to earn respect is to prioritize understanding your customer. When a client believes you understand them, they reciprocate with respect and trust. If a sale goes as it should, no party should feel disrespected or misunderstood, simple as that. Plus, we are both Kings, let’s act as Royals since we have empires to govern.

2. Ejighi Ụtụtụ Ama Njo Ahịa – You shouldn’t measure the success of a day by what happens in the morning alone. In essence, you have to wait until the end of an allotted timeline to evaluate your performance. Often, we may have a rough start but finish with a positive result because of our perseverance. As my father always says, you can’t be triumphant without trying. On the other hand, celebrating too early may result in disappointing defeats in the end. Nonetheless, in every defeat, there is an opportunity to learn. And for every victory, there is a strategy that works; enhance and repeat it.




3. Ahịa Ukwu Armagh Na Otu Onye Abiagh – A big market does not miss someone that is absent. Essentially, if you don’t show up, your competitor will. If you fail to delight your customer, your competitor is around the corner ready to charm and convince your clients to forget you. So, show up. Be present. And do your best.

4. Izu Ahịa Wu Ezhi Ihe Ma Ewere Egwu Chineke – There should be a higher purpose to whatever you do. #Enoughsaid.

5. Erefu Otu, Erema Ọzọ – You sell your products (or do things), one after the other. This proverb goes at the heart of effective time management. Research cautions us that multitasking doesn’t work. When someone tells you they can multitask, they are just deluding themselves. The key is to prioritize not multitask for effective time management. Luckily, here are 15 apps and tools from Lifehack to help.

6. Ahịa Oma Na-Ere Onwe Ya – A great product sells itself. You have a great product when your customers purchase without any complicated sales pitch, and then proceed to promote your goods or services without you asking. Ultimately, these clients become some of your top salespeople and rarely ask for a raise or more commission. 🙂 The reality is not many want to be sold to, but everyone loves to buy.




7. Onye Nwere Mmadụ Ka Onye Nwere Ego – A person with a robust network of people is stronger than an individual with only money. This proverb encourages us to focus on building and fostering the right relationships. As a salesperson, a robust network leads to more customers, more referrals, more luck, more happiness, more mentors, and more attractive job opportunities. Plus, money can be finite, while healthy relationships last a lifetime. Here are five ways to start building valuable relationships now.

Thanks for reading. I hope one of the above proverbs serve as a boost or refresher to your sales acumen. 

Happy Selling!

A very special thanks to my father, Chief Dan Obiyo, for his contribution to this article.

F.I.V.E Questions with Brent Maropis, CEO of Rev.io

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Brent MaropisBrent is the CEO of Rev.io, a billing and back-office SaaS company dedicated to solving the mission-critical problems of providers with recurring and metered service offerings. In his short time at the helm, the Rev.io team has acquired high-profile clients and accumulated numerous industry awards, including One of the Nation’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For and One of the Best Workplaces for Women. 

I worked with Brent at Cbeyond where I witnessed him lead with an unparalleled work ethic. This inspired us to not only pursue ambitious objectives but crush them. If after reading his interview below you aren’t as fired up as me to “get after it” and crush your goals, you may want to check your pulse. 🙂

1. Briefly describe how your background and share the most exciting or rewarding aspect of what you do. 

I studied Business and Finance at Elon University in North Carolina. Elon prepared me for a great start to a career in business. A degree, however, just gets you the interview. Elon is a smaller school with a lot of engagement and accountability, so I couldn’t just show up and pass the class. That discipline translated well for me in the professional world.  You have to show up prepared or expect to fail.

After graduation, I moved to Atlanta and started at Cbeyond. I didn’t know anyone. I took the opportunity because it was a true meritocracy, and that appealed to me.  The harder I worked, the more I could earn. I went door to door to 50 businesses and made 40 phone calls a day. Honestly, I was a terrible salesperson, but I worked hard. I learned about failure and the importance of setting goals. 




After six months, I was on the verge of being fired and thought about giving up on the job.  But on the last day of the month, I achieved my quota in a single day. This taught me a lot about perseverance and hard work. I never missed my quota again and was the number one sales person in the company during that period.  I would later learn that embedded in that experience was the idea that you should fail forward.  Failure is an extremely formative, humbling and necessary part of success.  Expect it and use it to move forward.

The company grew fast and I was promoted to Vice President at the age of 26. I helped the company open multiple offices across the country. I lacked the experience for the job, but the company believed in me and I was willing to do what was needed to succeed. I believe if you want something bad enough you can obtain it. You must plan, adapt, evolve, learn, improve and push through until it is achieved. I’ve come to believe we can always adapt to our situations. We can always make ourselves better. Also, and equally important, get clarity on what it is you want to accomplish and then build your plans around it.  Present those plans to other people, be open to changing it, keep adapting, fine tuning, and making it better, but push through the challenges.

Rev.io-logoAs CEO of Rev.io, I have the best team that I have ever worked with in my career. They are the most talented, transparent, and ultra-authentic group of people I have known professionally. We are completely aligned and going in the same direction. We have problems but we are always working to solve them together.  That authenticity and teamwork translate directly into our software and service to our clients.  It is so humbling to lead a team that is so focused on helping clients grow in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise been enabled to do. We obsess over providing innovative solutions and extraordinary service. Our team, our service, and our technology come together to power our customer’s business. We grow by being better for our client.

2. Flashback and then fast forward to the present, what has surprised you the most about advancing in your career? What advice do you have for others looking to take a similar path? And is there something you could have done differently to get to where you are quicker?

What has surprised me the most is that if you are humble, and seek help, you will find it very easily. Also, you have to be your authentic self. I was encouraged by the fact that people were willing to help, you just have to ask.

The other surprise was that most people who are wildly successful earned every bit of it. It is a perception that you get lucky, but not really. You can be as successful as you want to be. Success is subjective and it’s based on how you define it. For me, success is the ability to fulfill what you truly want in life. That could be different for two people, but for most, it is likely to be hard, which is why people don’t get there as often as they imagine.

My advice is that you have to do what others aren’t willing to do. Also, never ever think you are bigger than your company, even if you are the CEO. The reality is that if it is a company you really want to be a part of, they likely don’t need you. Entitled people are miserable and people don’t like miserable people. 

What I could have done differently was network more often. Networking is key, just go out and network. There are so many advantages of knowing the right people and tapping into your network.

3. What is your unfair advantage and how has it contributed to your success?

I have great mentors in business and my personal life that have taught me about being a leader. It helps to have great examples. I personally don’t feel like I have any unique qualities, I just know that I have had great examples to emulate. There are always people smarter, better or wiser than you, so surround yourself with them. I’ve also learned how to put my people first and always challenge them to be their best. I make sure to put my team first and I am motivated to do that, every single day.

4. Reflect on all of the key sacrifices you’ve had to make to get to where you are today. Which would you say was the most pivotal and why?

Do what others are not willing to do. Move across geographies, industries and sacrifice short-term finances. An inflection point in my career was to gain executive experience that required taking an opportunity in a totally different industry. It was a big risk, but within 2 years I learned how to lead my current company. I learned what to do and not do that shape my company culture every day. Lastly, you have to be willing to sacrifice short-term finances for long-term growth. Often times people are caught up on how much money they are going to make in the short-term and forget the long-term possibilities. In fact, if I wanted to make more money in the short-term, I would not be a CEO now.

5. What is the best piece of actionable advice you’ve received that continue to be a source of inspiration in good times and bad times?

I’ve received a lot of great advice over the years. There are a few that stand out which have been particularly helpful for me:

  • Without my faith and family, none of this would matter
  • You need steady goals. Goals help you say “No” to things that may seem important but are distractions. To truly make it, you have to be able to say “No” to some opportunities.
  • Get a mentor and network yourself.
  • Learn something new every day and keep getting better.
  • Take risks. My goals helped me prioritize and take the right risks. Taking risk is about knowing what you want and going after it.

Connect with Brent on LinkedIn

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Biography

Brent is a technology entrepreneur and leader. Brent has a knack for attracting ethical people who have unique strengths and similar ambitions. He has fun providing exceptional value to customers and building a winning culture, while continuously learning about business and leadership. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, Whitney, and two kids, Presley and Kolson.

#Donezo!

F.I.V.E Questions with Jeffrey Manu, CEO of GrowingStartup.com

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CEO of GrowingStartup.com

Jeffrey Manu, CEO of GrowingStartup.com

Jeffrey, CEO of GrowingStartup.com, beams with charisma and passion. A conversation with him is highly engaging and inspiring. I was fortunate to cross paths with him during a networking event organized by the African Technology Foundation at the Google Campus in Mountain View. The event featured talented entrepreneurs from all over Africa and the diaspora pitching their ideas to members of the Black Google Network and other invited guests. After conversing with Jeffrey for a few minutes, I knew I had to feature him on the F.I.V.E Questions project.

1. Briefly describe your background and how you got started. What is the most exciting or rewarding aspect of what you do? What could make it even more exciting or rewarding?

I grew up in Ghana for most of my life. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs so I grew up in a home where the drive to school was peppered with pep talks on how to spot business opportunities. One time my mom came home with some doughnuts and proceeded to say “I bought them for this amount, you should take them to school and sell to your mates.” I was too shy at the time but I wish I’d started my mini-doughnut business at the time.

After high school I worked as a business to business salesman on the streets of London. The compensation was only commission based so I didn’t get paid if I didn’t sell anything after twelve hours of work. That taught me that products are a commodity in most markets but the ability to sell is what defines the success of many entrepreneurs.

I started GrowingStartup.com because I wanted to help entrepreneurs make better decisions and to give them a proven system that attracts customers and increases sales. 

The biggest problem for struggling business owners is wisdom. The ability to know and do what is right consistently is what I provide through our apps and content. Within the next decade, we’ll be the destination fight for business owners who want to know how to attract paying customers and boost sales. 

What I love about what I do at GrowingStartup.com is that I get to help people turn their ideas into profits. It’s a calling for me almost the same way a pastor sees his ministry. Having hundreds of millions of aspiring and early stage entrepreneurs using our products and services to start and grow profitable businesses would make it even more exciting. We plan on creating other forms of content such as video games and TV shows for entrepreneurs so that’s something else I’m really looking forward to doing.

2. Flash back and then fast forward to the present, what has surprised you the most about the success in your business? What advice do you have for others looking to take a similar path? Is there something you could have done differently to get to where you are quicker?

What has surprised me is the effectiveness of content marketing. Even while I was working as copywriter for an advertising agency, I started out cold calling small businesses that I knew I could help with branding and web design services. As a matter of fact I did not even have a company name or website at the time. I just went and pitched the value of my services and I had over 90 percent conversion rates. What happened afterwards was that I realized consulting did not scale and what many small businesses needed was a system to increase sales and multiply their conversion rates. I started blogging about marketing and sales and that brought in clients from all over the world.

My advice for people who have a job but would want to start their own businesses would be to focus on a need or problem that they can solve better, cheaper or faster than anyone else.

My success would have been accelerated if I had learnt how to market and sell better at the beginning. The second thing is faith. I have learnt that what separates the top performers in business from the others is a mixture of boldness and understanding. Those two pillars are the keys to exponential growth.




3. What is your unfair advantage? What would your colleagues or clients say are the main reasons that make working with you rewarding?

My unfair advantage would be two-fold and that is having the boldness of faith and using love as my business strategy. By God’s grace I don’t believe in impossibilities like most people do. I also know that the less excuses you have the easier it is do what’s necessary.

With regards to love I believe the easiest way to innovate and get paid more is by giving more value to your customers than anyone else in your market. People always buy things at a discounted price to the real value so giving people magnitudes more than they are paying for is good.

I reckon that’s what people will say is rewarding about working with me. For example, the last time I sold an online course, I noticed one of the students needed help. I conducted special consulting sessions for free just to help her. She’s now a lifetime client.

4. Reflect on all of the key sacrifices and trade-offs you’ve had to make to get to where you are today. Which of these would you say was the most pivotal and why?

The most pivotal sacrifice would be how much time I spend reading and imbibing knowledge. Many of the advice out there is tactical. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts that don’t produce results. I found out that understanding how to create the best products and most importantly how to get the right people to buy them makes up for the 50 steps to success that we see and hear all around us.

5. What is the best piece of actionable advice that you’ve received that continues to be source of inspiration in good times and challenging times?

It’s biblical. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (amplified version) talks about how to use love in daily life. It’s not the emotional or sexual high the movies paint it out to be. In my business we make it a point to out-give (and out-love) everyone else. That’s invaluable advice.

Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.5 It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].6 It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.7 Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].8 Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end]. As for prophecy (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), it will be fulfilled and pass away; as for tongues, they will be destroyed and cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away [it will lose its value and be superseded by truth]. Source: https://www.bible.com/bible/8/1co.13.4-8.amp 

 




Jeffrey Manu’s Bio

Jeff ManuJeffrey A. Manu is a Marketing Strategist and the Founder of Growingstartup.com, a media and technology company. At Growingstartup.com, he builds technology and content that help aspiring and early stage entrepreneurs to start and grow profitable startups. 

He enjoys reading business books, biographies, Christian books and watching movies and TV shows. He particularly like shows like The Profit and Billions. Above all else, spending time with my wife is his greatest pleasure. In addition to this, he enjoys playing basketball and reassures himself that he could have played in the NBA league 🙂 #Baller 

Connect with Jeffrey on LinkedIn @Jeffrey Manu and Twitter @JeffreyManu

Connecting global brands to Kenya’s demand

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The following post is from the e-book, The Most Interesting Thing About Investing in Africa, which features a series of conversations with entrepreneurs, community leaders, students, executives, and doers both home and abroad driving economic empowerment in several parts of my beloved continent of Africa.

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peter nalika

Mr. Peter Nalika

Peter Nalika leads the Digital PR department at Tellem Public Relations East Africa, a digital public relations company established to help organizations communicate better on online platforms.” He was previously a Technical writer at CIO East Africa, where he reported on ICT innovations, policy development, and product reviews. During his time at CIO East Africa, he interviewed several global technology leaders including Oracle’s Mark Hurd, IBM’s Dr. Mark Dean, Microsoft’s Jean-Philippe Courtois among others.

 

Investment: Digital Public Relations in Kenya

SITUATION

In the 18th century, spice trading was the main economic activity around East Africa. This was before the Agrarian revolution swept through the world in the 19th century, followed by the industrial revolution in the 20th Century.

The 21st century is experiencing what is now being referred to as the technology evolution. Kenya may have struggled to simultaneously catch up on both the agrarian and Industrial revolution in the 20th Century, but the country feels quite at home when it comes to the technology revolution. Tourists from around the world stream into Kenya not only to see the wild animals, or beaches, but also to see how mobile payments are transforming everyday lifestyles in the country.

Kenya also plays home to some of the startups that are changing the way we do things in the world, by incorporating technology. Small Kenyan firms have developed software solutions that are used to collect information and coordinate response in disasters, while others are exporting automated payment systems to Kenya’s neighbors, and even as far as West Africa. In this era, information technology has become a key component in our daily lives, and I believe it has affected the way we manage our information and data. For the few years I have studied and worked in the fields of IT and Information Management, the power of information and how it empowers different organizations and society structures has stood out for me.

In the future, I see myself enabling my organization and our clients to take advantage of technology as an enabler. This is something I have envisioned long before becoming a Public Relations consultant.  Four years ago, as a field reporter working with CIO East Africa, I developed an art of compiling information and news from events through information posted on Twitter, the social network. Thus, my computer and an information network became my virtual pen and paper, enabling me to source a variety of opinions of the topic in discussion from the various stakeholders. At CIO East Africa I further explored social media beyond a tool for just reporting my stories, but tried it out as a tool to distribute my published works. Like a newspaper vendor delivers a newspaper to your door, with social media, I could target my stories especially to the valuable “C” level executives. A tweet tagging them would virtually deliver my story to their computers, or phones, in front of their eyes. Further, social media enabled me to bring new business to my employer through meeting of potential advertisers and striking deals with them. Through messages on these platforms, I was able to position my publication to advertisers and come to a value proposition that suited them, and paid our bills.




I started a Digital Public Relations (PR) company to help organizations communicate better on online platforms. For so many years, many Kenyan organizations have relied on traditional PR to reach various audiences, they have invested a lot of resources (time & money) in press briefings, open-ended editorials and one on one interviews in order to pass a message to the general public. This has since then changed once the country was connected through fiber optic cables, access to the Internet became affordable, and device manufacturers brought in smart devices that allowed people to consume content from online social forums.

Since then, organizations realized the need to use social media as online concierge for their brands, because this is where most people access content. This is when I realized the need to help them strategize and communicate better on online forums. The level of Internet adoption and proliferation of affordable smart devices among Kenyans forced companies to think twice and invest on managing social communities for a two-way engagement and harness reviews about their brand and products.

Mobile Phone Subscription in Africa

ACTION

The digital world is abound with opportunities. Not only can a Mandarin speaking Chinese in Shanghai have their tweet to an English-speaking Kenyan automatically translated, resulting in conversation where it was no longer possible, but a firm can have their consumers send a tweet to machine in return for a cup of tea or even can of soda. Social Media further breaks the news cycle. No longer are the roles, such as those of the audience, news-makers and subjects cast into stone, but these can be easily reversed. Clients easily find themselves becoming the news, but with the audience playing the previously unfamiliar role news-makers, say if they like something about the client, or bad news if they are not happy with a client’s move.

It thus requires immense experience and skill to help clients walk this tight rope, and hold their hands, as they become front-runners in the digital world.  My task is helping organizations not talk to their clients, but rather, to have a conversation with their clients, with the ultimate aim of having both understand each other better and forge a long-term relationship. We undertake a feasibility study, which involves learning the communication objectives of various clients on digital platforms, and then understanding how online audiences prefer to consume such content before coming up with a strategy and community management plan. We invested a lot on training on the employees to enable them understand how to deliver best practices and models that sell, manage and measure digital communications.

Relevancy is the corner-stone of social content.

But in order for organizations to be relevant online they need to understand what is happening in the online world around them. To do this we invested on a comprehensive social listening tool like Radian 6 to ensure our clients jump onto relevant online conversations. In everything we have done in terms of pulling together online monitoring tools, resources and capacity building, we try to be helpful experts by giving clients more than just managing their online communities. We have venture into business intelligence around their customers to enable our clients monitor various consumer behaviors.

This kind of information has encouraged participatory conversations between the client and online communities which has built engagement among these two parties and given the client’s organization a personal side.  However, despite the time and effort we have taken to advice organizations on social forums, there is still some sort of resistance. Most organizations are not willing to engage on social media, they don’t understand the importance of having a level of approachability social platforms give to a brand. This has been a challenge so far in addition to quantifying the return on investment when a client or an organization engages into digital communication.

Internet Users in Kenya

 

RESULT

Through various engagements, organizations have restructured how they present their messaging to various online audiences. While these audiences have grown to be passive recipients of online messaging, communities have sprout up and created value by connecting members to each other and not just the brand. We have designed remarkable strategies for brands, and even counties in the Kenyan government, the social media strategies have enabled these organizations to have some sort of unity by harnessing the power of social capital and a high purpose among communities. Measurement planning was also one of our outcomes, it is a necessary element of social strategy, and most of our strategies are deeply rooted in measurement planning that is evaluated against client’s marketing and business objectives.




As a company, our objective is to marry traditional PR and digital integration, being a small outfit we started by assisting our clients to creatively use PR and media engagements and we are determined to build the company into a global player.  My goal is to have all our existing clients realize and achieve more value through digital platforms. Digital platforms will enable these clients establish personal relationships with their clients and fans, something that is now possible with little effort. Even as a consultant that is highly regarded by my clients, akin to a captain guiding a ship in the high seas, social media and the digital world have also been, and remains a learning experience for my team and me.

To keep up to date with the latest tricks and best practices, my team and I have attended various digital communication training, both in-house and from our affiliates in South Africa. Going to the future, I am aiming to turn social media from more than just being a communication and relationship tool for my clients, but make the same a valuable business insight tool. Through analytics and business intelligence, I aim to provide insight into Kenyan businesses, such that, based on what people are saying online, they can predict the impact of the same on their brand, and be in a position to favorably react to the same, resulting in a positive impact to the business.

 

Investment: Digital Public Relations in Kenya

L = 50

I = 25

C = 30

BUSINESS IDEA METRIC (BIM): 105

You can connect with Peter on Twitter: @peternalika