Categories
career Venture Capital

1 year at Microtraction: Behind the Scenes

It’s June 17th 2020 — one year since I joined Microtraction.

A long way since the events described in my Breaking into Tech story — since that first email to Yele.

Let’s go back to the beginning, shall we?


Day 1— June 17, 2019

My colleagues would say I was super quiet at the first internal meeting. They wouldn’t be lying. Usually when I get a new job, I spend the first few days observing team dynamics, mode of operations and absorbing information generally. This allows me determine true reporting lines, how to prioritise tasks, the company’s focus and if I have made a mistake by joining the company. It wasn’t any different here.

What I really liked was how things were explained along the way, without me having to ask. There were also other meetings dedicated to getting me up to speed, explaining company goals and why we were adopting certain strategies. This made onboarding very easy. It’s difficult not to feel like you are doing important work when you are included in the big picture.

As we left that first meeting, all I could think about was how failure was not an option.


One thing that impressed me was the team’s insistence on knowing what my personal goals were and how the company’s objectives fit in. We did it when I resumed and at the beginning of this year. In the year after, we have had many more honest conversations, primarily aimed at making sure we are all on the same page and everyone’s head is still in the game.

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L-R; Ife Ojobanikan (Investment Associate), Chidinma Iwueke (Managing Partner), Thonia Okonji (Community Associate), Dayo Koleowo (Managing Partner), and Yele Bademosi (Founding Partner)

Working remote-first

In February 2019, I wrote about working remotely in Lagos. Being in a remote-first company has taught me the importance of responsibility and reliability.

While I am fine with the solitude as I am introverted, I’ve had to adjust to being in constant contact with my team. I’ve also learnt that motivation to get work done will not come from heaven. It comes when you actually start the work.

These days, the only battle I have is to get to my workstation. Everything else happens after.


What I found difficult — and how I have adjusted.

The first few months were not funny. Many times, I felt like I wasn’t in control of my time. Infact, there were real issues around:

  • Being spread thin, and always wanting to be up to date on everything immediately. This led to being busy, not productive. Productivity in this context refers to how many tasks were actually completed. This translated to time management and prioritisation issues. These days, I work hard to dedicate myself to one task at a time.
  • Admin work: The sheer volume of calls and emails alone was drowning. However, I realised there would always be a billion things to do and got more intentional with better time management.
  • Verbal Contribution & Taking Action: When you’ve worked in structures where you are assigned tasks, proactivitybecomes a pipe dream. Here you are trusted to make the best decisions for activities within your purview. PS: Part of this trust means you know when a Partner’s involvement is required.
  • Time had no boundary: The line between work and life was blurred for some time. To help with this, I invested in an at-home workstation so my brain knows that sleep and work are two equally important and distinct activities. We are getting there — most days, I have to play Rain Sounds or Enya to prompt myself to sleep.
  • Focus:My biggest lesson in learning the power of focus was when I read 62 pages of a book in 45 minutes with my phone on DND. Time moves slower and things get done faster when you focus.
  • Power and Internet issues
  • Saying No

What has helped me

  • Putting my phone on DND: I found that I lost control of days where I focused on messages and emails first thing in the morning so I started blocking notifications. The Samsung Focus Mode is also a good alternative. I don’t do this everyday and some numbers can still get through. If you are a PM, project manager or healthcare professional though, this may be a bad idea.
  • Batching tasks: Before I started doing this, it felt like all my time was spent on only emails and calls. These tasks are now conducted on specific days and times.
  • Eating later: I’m not big on breakfasts, especially because food can be distracting. I usually eat around 4/5pm.
  • Instrumentals: If I’m incorporating music for deep work (usually between 12am and 12pm), Binaural beatsGame of Thrones Season 6Hans ZimmerThe Piano GuysClassical music or 8D Audio will be playing on my speaker or headphones. Mafo, Local Rappers and company have been reserved for reactive/shallow work.
  • Time away from Social Media: I occasionally delete Twitter, Instagram and YouTube from my phone.
  • Time blocking using Google Calendar: This helps me lay out and prioritise tasks.
  • Using Todoist: This helps me track productivity and task completion.

The good of the past year is best shown in pictures


This team is bada**

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Yes, black is our favourite colour 👀

Our Portfolio Companies are extraordinary

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Visiting some of our PCs — w. Stephanie & Folasade of AccounteerIre & Timi of BuyCoins and Emotu & Segunof Sendbox

We added value to the ecosystem through events

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At the Microtraction Growth Fireside Chat (27th Nov 2019). Top image is with the panelists L-R; Estelle DogboVP of Diagnostics & Country Manager (Nigeria) at 54geneOpeyemi Fowler, Vertical Lead, Growth at FlutterwaveBabs Ogundeyi, CEO at Kuda Bank, and Bili SuleFounder and CEOat AlGROWithm

I met awesome people! — and I’m grateful I can call many of them friends today

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Appearances by Chidinma OkoliYvonne OkaforChinyere OkaforSegun MakindeAlexis RomanDamilola ThompsonAima Nwafor-OhiwereiTemilade DentonIye Rotimi-OdunugaVictoria FabunmiOdunayo AyorindeTaiwo KetikuAlma KariboDamilola EmuzeTeniola LawalOluwajoba Oloba

We even turned up a lirru bit!

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Location: Classified

By June 2021, I’m hopeful we’ll have at least 30 portfolio companies, at least 5 non-Nigerian, with a combined valuation of $250M. Somebody say amen?


To the good vibes Year 2 will bring!🚀🚀🚀

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Say hello!

Twitter1fedolap0

LinkedInIfe Ojobanikan

Email: ife@ojobanikan.com

Categories
career Venture Capital

Breaking into Tech

When I made the decision to leave banking for the startup life, some thought I was going crazy. The biggest question was why I was leaving stability and a “sure” monthly pay for a tech company they weren’t sure would meet salaries at the end of that month. I’ll admit that for most of these people, startups weren’t more than manifested wishful thinking doomed to die in a few months. Now my friends call me “tech sis” and my mum has said I’d explain what I do to her one day.

I don’t tell this story to inspire. This is my journey. Not all of us will be tech bro or tech sis and that’s fine.

Venturing Out (pre-2013)

I’ve always felt a critical disconnect between the first 19 years of my life (when I got my BSc) and the decade I’ve lived after. Pre-grad, all I ever heard was how young I was and how everything would be perfect.

I fell for it.

A little back story, I first wanted to be a lawyer, but went for Economics in Unilag — maybe I wanted to be like my dad who had studied and taught Economics before his role at the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) and subsequent passing away.

My eyes cleared when I went for NYSC (2012/2013). There, I was thrown into teaching at a secondary school that had less than 20 students total in all six grades, got toasted by village boys I had 5 years on and was inundated with calls to register for the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) certificate exams.

First Job (2013)

I started out selling. First I sold books and then plots of land with a real estate company.

It didn’t take me long to realise how much I hated sales. I simply hated convincing people to buy something and having my salary/performance review depend on their decision. Soon though, colleagues felt like family and I stayed for more than a year. On the flip side, I noticed how interesting I found creating a deck for the company (without being asked) and sourcing more effective lead generation techniques.

PS: I botched a panel interview with an investment bank in VI in April 2013, right after NYSC. Final stage interview and the CEO thinking I was nervous complimented my handbag to put me at ease. I appreciated that gesture and it told me how good the workplace culture would be. E pain me sha but it was clear why I didn’t get it — they needed technical knowledge and relevant experience.

I stalked the person that got the role for the longest time on LinkedIn. Lol.

The “This can’t be my life” syndrome (2014–2015)

Around this time, I got on JarusHub and even contributed articles on knowing oneself and making the best of sales jobs here and here to the platform. JarusHub rekindled an old interest in Finance, so I gave myself the next assignment — send cold emails to as many investment banks as I could find online.

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What my cold mails to companies looked like in 2014. Why did I feel the need to add my contact information so many times? 👀

I had left my real estate sales job around the same time without a new job in the pipeline. My only plan was hoping that a family member would pity me and refer me for a new job. I was at home for 5 months before I got a role at Nigeria’s longest surviving indigenous bank.

By 2017, when I had gotten serious about seeking a change, my format had changed. I drew up an Excel of companies I wanted to work in, and went after HR and decision makers in those companies. LinkedIn was the way this time and I only sent emails when they directed me to. Surprisingly, response rates were way better here than in 2014 and I got very good leads as well.

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3 years later, my messages were shorter, straight to the point and through a more “responsive” channel

Dealing with Rejection (Never Ends)

Going through my old emails and it’s clear that 2014 was my year of sending cold emails. It was also my year of multiple rejections.

A rejection from a telco in that year was the one that hit me the most. It was the one I thought I had in the bag as many of my suggestions had been used in my group’s presentation at the Assessment Centre. No — it was not KPMG.

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The second happened in 2018 — an investment bank that I really wanted to work with. The deal breaker was my 2:2 grade. In some companies, I wasn’t even allowed in the door because I had a 2:2.

Do your best in school kids. Second Class Upper and First Class degrees look nicer on CVs. They also make the journey easier.

But this was 2018 and 7 years post-graduation. I decided that wasn’t going to rule my life anymore.

Certifications and Progress (2014–2018)

At one point I got it into my head that certifications were the only way I could make any tangible progress. I hated Accounting with a thorough passion and yet between August 2014 and December 2016, I registered for ICAN, CIBN and ACCA (paid GBP 😩). I never sat for any exam.

None of it felt right.

ALAT was launched when I was a team lead at Wema Bank’s contact centre and finally, I felt some excitement. I saw the move to Victoria Island as moving to the land of opportunity. Even as a mainland babe, I knew that all the interviews, opportunities and corporate events were happening on the other side of 3MB.

Breaking into Tech, Networking and Shooting Shots (2018)

ALAT dialed my curiosity up and the lull I had felt hitherto left. These were the early days and things were moving fast. The technology was now in my face. I was responsible for finding out what was going on and making sure we solved problems. Even my WhatsApp status updates quickly became about things I found interesting in tech, innovation and fintech, not bants from IG and Joro. Moreso because at the time, one of my mentors told me no one would take me seriously if I kept posting such silly stuff.

By 2017/2018 when I decided to test the waters again, I had 3 opportunities in the pipeline — 2 product management roles and a Customer Support role at TeamApt. What is interesting is that leads for the two roles that weren’t with my current employer had come from LinkedIn/shot shooting. I nearly shut the door on one of them because of the low self-esteem I had from having a 2:2 degree and being an outsourced staff. My exact words were:

Please tell this person that I am an outsourced staff here, not a full staff and please let me know the brutally honest feedback.”

These were Lola’s replies to my insecurities at the time.

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See how it starts with “Thanks for sharing.”

My next words were:

“I don’t have energy again ni. Getting dismissed because of that or because I had a 2.2”

The reply:

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We talked a little more after this but you get the point.

Even though they were things I already knew, hearing them from somebody else further validated them.

I went with the Customer Support opportunity at TeamApt and oh what a new world that was. What really struck me was how fluid one’s career trajectory could become and how much of an edge specific technical skills could give you.

Surrounded by software engineering genius, pretty soon I wanted in. I tried learning to code, chose Python, no joy. It was exciting but was a ton of work that my lack of a (Computer) Science background wasn’t going to help. I had seen this play out in real life.

By August, I had an opportunity to join the HR team and I took it. Tech recruiting was eye-opening and all through that year, I delved deeper into the tech startup world. I was dead-centre now.

Curiosity got the best of me and on December 28 2018, I reached out to Yele for the first time. You know the rest.

Last thoughts

Two other things that didn’t help me were that I was unknown in the universe and I lacked specific technical skills. The second meant that I wasn’t going to be rushed on LinkedIn the way developers usually were. To solve the first, I realised I had to create more content than I consumed — especially since I always shied away from events.

Vision is always 20/20 in hindsight and here are some things that helped me along the way:

  • I had a mentor and sponsor: I once wrote about mentors but this video by Carla Harris does justice to why you need a sponsor. I won’t sit here and tell you I got lucky and finally figured stuff out myself. The truth is things got better when I got a mentor and sponsor.
  • I stopped overthinking: Call it fear or self-sabotage, but there’s a spirit that whispers negativity when you finally get the opportunities you’ve been looking for. Just remember that the worst case scenario is that you gain the interview experience. Also, there are people less qualified in better roles so spend more time doing than worrying.
  • Have an image of your “future self” in your subconscious: A clear image of your destination makes the journey more bearable, trust me. It also gives clarity as you now know what it takes to get that coveted role.
  • Refine your process: Sending cold emails (the way I did 6 years ago) led me nowhere. While it is a numbers game, push for quality more than quantity. Remember to find smart ways to gain visibility.
  • Surround yourself with like minds: If your closest friends aren’t on the same wavelength as you in terms of ambition and ginger, you are already screwed.
  • Give back: Soon enough, you will be flooded with job offers or opportunities, never decline them without recommending at least one person.

“If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.”

-Jim Rohn

Perhaps the greatest lesson is that you can change your path if you do not like the one you are on. No one has this totally figured out. For me, it’s been Customer Support, a sprinkle of Product Management, Recruitment and HR, and now Investments.

Even startups pivot.

Make a move.

See where it takes you.

Thank you Chid for inspiring me to write this.

Categories
Startups Venture Capital

Impressions and Fundraises: How not to run a tech startup in 2020

A few days ago, I shared a link that allowed people send me anonymous messages. The truth is that some of the people who sent their thoughts have never met me in person or worked closely with me. There were however indicators on which they based their assumptions. For example,

  • I had a serious face when they saw me in passing, therefore I must be unfriendly.
  • They never saw me at crowded events, therefore I must be antisocial.
  • I am ~6’1″ when the global height average for women is 5’4″, therefore I must be intimidating or unapproachable.
  • I frequently posted tech startup related content and they had heard of me therefore I must be smart.
  • Someone said he thought I was rude, no evidence or reason, it was just what he thought.

Thoughts, sentiments, intuition and second-hand gist. When does evidence and first-hand experience come into the equation?

We subconsciously apply the same assumption strategy to startups.

“X recently raised $abcM, therefore they have a great business model and anyone who hasn’t raised as much will fail.”

“Y has joined A startup, therefore they will succeed.”

Z startup has won awards therefore their idea is valid and scalable.”

Sole focus on externals means that I can bluff anyone to submission — if I choose to.

Fundraising and increasing valuations have become de facto indicators of a tech startup’s financial wellness, growth and future success. Valuations determine if you are a unicorn, decacorn, hectocorn or not. Undisclosed amounts and your firm is shrouded in mystery. High and it is assumed you are thriving. Low or not growing astronomically and it’s assumed you are bound to crash and burn.

Over-optimistic initial valuations can turn unicorns into unicorpses.

— Anonymous


A Tale of Startups

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The story of Theranos is one that is overflogged but reminds us of the importance of due diligence and the inevitable consequences that come when we don’t pay attention. Even though the company raised $700M (some sources quote >$1.1B — Yes, 1.1B American Dollars) at a peak valuation of $9B, it failed because the product did not work.

E-scooter startup Unicorn and Token, a startup that presold payment rings for $249 back in 2017 were plagued by the same problem — non-delivery of products. Unicorn’s CEO in an email wrote “We are so, so very sorry.” He attributed the company’s failure to loan repayments and covering marketing and advertising (Facebook ads) costs which left little for production and deliveries of the scooters which were ordered at $699 a pop.

Monitor monthly burn rates anyone?

At the core of (ad)venture capital, investors want to turn a profit.

Insiders at uBiome also cite the use of certain “growth hacking” techniques and fundamental flaws in the science as responsible for the company’s downfall.


If you watch the Series BullS4E2 opens up with founder Whitney Holland pitching her water desalination technology to an investor audience. She promises that they are working to scale the technology to cater to municipalities. She ends the pitch with “my tech team tells me we are only 90 days away” and then proceeds to drink water filtered during the live product demo ON STAGE. The investors never stood a chance. They were in.

The next scene shows an exchange with her CPO/CTO (later turned whistleblower) who asks why she has promised investors 90 days when they both know the technology wasn’t likely to scale to promised volumes in maybe 90 years. She tries to wave off his concerns saying it is the stress talking and asks what new gizmo or talent he needs her to get to make it happen. He responds by saying, “you keep taking people’s money, promising them the moon and I’m supposed to be your Neil Armstrong and give it to them and I’m telling you I can’t.

Not every problem can be solved simply by adding enthusiasm.


What I love about the Skully co-founders is that they were on the same page albeit the wrong one. Don’t know the story?

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Source: https://blog.usejournal.com/modern-entrepreneurial-fraud-c05f2c86a068

Does anybody monitor anything once the cash is in?


This “bad boy” collaboration was absent with Roadstar.ai. In what is probably the saddest startup story I’ve ever read, 1 of 3 co-founders allegedly received kickbacks during fundraising, deliberately hid code (bear in mind this was a self-driving start-up) and falsified records. The CEO and CTO fired him but in a crazy turn of events, the investors fought back stating that Zhou — Chief Scientist was fired without their consent and letting him go would be detrimental to the interests of the company. Next, the board “discharged” the CEO and replaced him with CTO. Of course by now, investors simply wanted out. By March 30, they were looking for new acquirers after procedures to dissolve the company were initiated and a $90M investment fund was frozen. Current valuation is less than 0.1 what it used to be. They had so much potential but alas.

In crypto startup Wala’s story, sources told CoinDesk that the CEO allegedly spent funds from 2017’s $1.2 million initial coin offering (ICO) on travel, a posh office space and expensive equipment. According to them, the company also lacked a revenue model and quickly expended resources.

Everyone’s looking for an easy way to grow, but there’s no shortcut for solid business principles.” — Anonymous


For Investors

Move fast and break things? I think not.

Pre-Investment Due Diligence (DD)
1. Run independent DD. That X just invested in Y startup or A referred B to you doesn’t make them foolproof.

2. Have your own investment criteria.

3. Voice out issues you may have with the deal or founder to your team — even if everyone else thinks you are crazy. Even when the concern isn’t a deal breaker, it helps your team know what to be ready for. Best case scenario, you get to say “I told you so.” Worst case, maybe you are crazy. Sometimes all you have is intuition — get proof to back it up.

Analysts and Associates, speak up.

Partners, listen.

Tools of Titans touches on how Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz beat up each other’s ideas in front of newer hires. This encourages newer hires to talk about possible pitfalls they see as well.

Post-Investment “DD” (More Due Diligence)

Man up when you discover fundamental flaws eg a product that isn’t working or cannot work at scale, a revenue model destroyed by new government policies, co-founders running amok with exotic automobiles, women and luxury accommodation on company dime.

  • Are they fulfilling orders? See Token, Unicorn
  • Are they hitting predefined milestones?
  • Is money unaccounted for?
  • Are they having issues with customer acquisition? Building distribution networks?

And more importantly, how can you help?

I would also find a mass migration of talent or key personnel interesting. According to Business Insider, CFO, Henry Mosley was fired from Theranos after asking questions about the reliability of the tech and the honesty of the company in November 2006. Theranos went on for the next decade without a CFO. How this was not a red flag for a company valued at $10B is beyond me.

Fun fact — Investors never saw audited income statements, balance sheets, or cash-flow statements either.

“The billion dollar SaaS company I joined is a ticking time bomb of technical debt. We can barely ship anything. The CTO sugarcoats the situation to the CEO, clients and investors. If only someone thought to ask the engineers…”

-Anonymous

“Big companies do surprisingly little due diligence when making $100M+ acquisitions. They often regret mere weeks after the acquisition closes when they realise they can’t reuse any of the software, the business is a lot less solid than it seemed, and the talent a lot less talented.”

-Anonymous

Bring more than Financial Capital to the table

In case you’ve forgotten, you have skin in this game. The only way you hit it big is if one or more of your portfolio companies exceed expectations. What good is your network if you can’t make asks that give your PCs a better chance at survival?

Building a company is hard. Sometimes all that founder needs is for you to check on them. Remember how you felt when your (rich) parents never showed up for Open Day, PTA or Visiting Day? Yeah. Unfortunately as a parent, the only way you know that your child fell ill or is having issues in school is by showing up and asking questions.

For Founders

Every time a founder tells me that an investor is giving them close marking after investment, I laugh. Some term requests for investor updates as micromanaging and I follow up by asking if they can leave someone to run a business with $10K or $50K and never ask “how far?”

Especially for first-time founders without any corporate or operational experience, if we are being honest, you aren’t 100% sure what you are doing. Please don’t refuse help. So…

Put your investors to work

  1. Your investors have networks that can open doors. If they don’t, they probably shouldn’t be on your cap table — especially if you are a Nigerian startup. Make asks. After all, they are sorta your employees. Remember, every opportunity that you are looking for is a person. Don’t be shy to run non-equity/sales deals with them also.

2. Always take the call.

3. Drop the attitude – you’re really not as smart as you think.

Draw up periodic investor reports

This is for your startup as much as it is for your investors. Be as honest as you can. Again, investors are in this as much as you are. You won’t know how well or poorly you are doing until you draw up that doc. For early stage companies, monthly is best. You can always drill in when producing internal docs.

Keep up with the numbers

You will experiment a lot as a startup and monitoring metrics will help you measure success, failure, growth or decline. Are you using data to your advantage? Are you using it to build a smarter product, service, feature?

“For every metric, there should be another ‘paired’ metric that addresses adverse consequences of the first metric.”

– Andy Grove

Have a product that works

This goes without saying.

Have defined pathways to profit.

Stop building companies that twerk for investors. Are you just “growing and expanding” or building a sustainable business? If your only USP is freebies, discounts or lower transaction fees — CBN recently gave us all a Christmas hamper here, what is the plan because this is just a market penetration strategy and Uber teaches us this lesson everyday.

View yourself and your startup through the eyes of a stranger

Are you building a company that you would consider acquirable?


I honestly believe that we are in a tech VC bubble that will inevitably burst. The ones that will be left standing are the ones that have hacked sustainable, profitable and transparent growth.

Excerpts featured in Business Day

Categories
Uncategorized

The Life of Payments in Q4, 2018

I’ve always been curious about how we make payments in Nigeria. Here I talk about some of my observations on our payments patterns especially between October – December 2018 based on data available from the NBS.

ATM v POS – How did we prefer to pay? 

The average transaction values of ATM and POS transactions for the period were nearly the same, the lowest and highest being N7,291 and N8,518 across both categories. Also noteworthy is that the transaction count and value numbers for ATM transactions were around 2.5X and 2.0X those of POS transactions respectively. This could count as progress as data from H1 2017 shows that ATM transaction count was usually 6X to 8X that of POS transactions. 

Reasons for lower POS transactions aren’t far fetched and there are 2 primary architects in my opinion – the merchants and of course, “network” 

Case in point, the last time I was at The Place in Phase 1, they had a notice at the door saying that there was a POS downtime and so customers needed to withdraw cash at the ATM outside —better than Hubmart that allows me get out my card to pay at the till before telling me the POS isn’t working. There are also times the POS displays error codes – 91, 06 etc but the customer is able to withdraw without incident at the ATM outside. Sometimes I catch myself withdrawing the cash I expect to spend in a store before walking in. Essentially, customers trust that cash will make the check-out process less painful. 

Let’s not talk about the merchants that tell you to pay extra if your goods are lower than a certain amount. The store I get frozen meat from in Mende expects me to pay an extra N500 or so when my total purchase is less than N5,000. 1kg of Turkey is maybe N1,500 giving me 3 choices: buy more than 3kgs of turkey, pay N2,000 for 1kg or just have my N1,500 cash available. Oh, if I try to suggest a transfer, they have to get out the account number, call their madam to confirm receipt of funds and that’s if my mobile banking apps decide to be on their best behaviour – see where I’m going with this?

On WEB

Transaction value for this category practically exploded in November 2018 – with an amount that was nearly the sum of the previous 8 months, does anyone know why? Data going as far back as January 2017 shows that this has never happened. If anything, the transaction value average has been on a decline while the transaction count has steadily risen – to 6,257,553 as at December 2018. Also, there was no corresponding spike in transaction count in November 2018.

CHEQUES vs NIP 

I find it interesting that the Cheques transaction data hasn’t changed much in the last 2 years. It’s almost like the same people have refused to let go of this payment method. The bottom line is that Nigerians prefer to trust cheques when it comes to the heavy lifting – this is reflected in the data that puts the transaction average around N500,000+. Infact the only time the average went below N500,000 was in the period May-November 2017. In my opinion, people prefer cheques because: 

  • there’s a paper trail for when things go awry. It helps them keep better records (or so they think). Internet and mobile banking platforms enable you generate transaction receipts these days. Admittedly, the receipts are not immediately available to both parties.
  • it’s not affected by implemented limits on e-banking platforms.
  • it’s less likely to get reversed or liened. It is not uncommon for the transferring party to call their bank claiming an erroneous or even fraudulent transfer after receiving value for goods or services – in the case of NIP. 

Rather unfortunately though, the transaction value average for NIP transactions in December 2018 (N100,038) was less than 50% of what it was in January 2017 (N203,766) even though the transaction count grew 4X in the same period. 

On Mobile Payments 

Mobile Payments sank to 5.8M in December 2018 from its November figure of 10.9M – nearly 50%. This in addition to Web’s transaction value spike in November 2018 I find interesting. Could there be a correlation? 

Growth across all e-payment channels

I’ld say we are making progress. Transaction count and value as at Q4 2018 show that we are running at nearly 2X the numbers we were working with in Q1 2017. I wonder though, how can we effectively incentivise customers and merchants to drive an increase in POS transactions?

Categories
Uncategorized

The Future of work in Lagos is r-e-m-o-t-e

About two weeks ago, I ran a Twitter poll. The goal was simple — confirm if I was the only one that had spent 24 hours/every work-week shuttling Ogudu and Lekki Phase 1 despite setting out around 5:20 am everyday and leaving Lekki as late as 10:30pm sometimes. The results were interesting.

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When do you leave for work?

43% of respondents said they set out for work before 6am. One of my friends in the US could simply not understand this. His question was “when do they sleep?”

80% said they needed 1–2 hours to get to work on an average day. 7% informed that they’d still need 1–2 hours to get to work even without rush hour traffic — this means that regardless of traffic, a bunch still live pretty far from their office. Another question my US friend asked was “Do they live in Ogun state?” The answer I told him was “Yes, actually!”

This friend’s total commute in a week is about 2–3 hours.

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About getting to work

60% found the distance between home and the office so stressful that they had to move and 50% said they’d be worried if there wasn’t traffic! Moving to the island for me was common sense.

The days were flying by and I was waking up with a headache nearly everyday.

The stats also revealed that 66% of respondents worked on the island. This came as no surprise. The evidence is in the To and Fro lanes of 3MB. The question is “Do we all have to be in the office everyday?”

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When do you leave work?

A staggering 70% believed that closing at 4pm instead of 5pm would make all the difference. We also had 71% say they’d rather leave work once it was 5pm instead of staying till really late when the traffic had cleared up — this reinforces the fact that people want to have a life outside work. How will this happen when 65% get home between 8pm-10pm? Sterling Bank Plc may be the only major employer doing something about this with their Flexi-time and Flexi-place rules. A quote from The Guardian article sums up Abubakar Suleiman’s expectations,

“… described the pilot stage as highly successful, expressed his optimism that the initiative will enhance productivity of staff, promote bonding among family members, reduce the stress of waking very early and spend long hours in traffic to get to the office early, improve the well-being of staff and ultimately promote work life and balance among the workforce.”

It’s time to go remote!

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According to this CNBC article, 70% of professionals work remotely at least once every week and 53% work remotely at least half of the week. This feedback was from 18,000 employees spread across 96 international companies.

In the Twitter poll, 73% said they believed that their jobs could be done remotely. For software engineers and sales professionals who currently enjoy this option, apart from not having to spend half of their weekend on the road, they are able to commit to more than one employer — some international. This eventually translates to more opportunities, varied experience and of course more money in their pockets. Some cogent advantages for employers are reduced admin costs, reduced employee turnover, recruiting better (many have bowed out of a recruitment process because of distance). You are also able to recruit more talented employees (on a need basis) without having to compete with the bigger companies that can actually afford them.

Presence ≠ Productivity

The major concern I have had employers express is how to measure work done. In other words, they do not trust that remote workers will submit deliverables when due if they do not monitor them physically. This makes me think that a vast majority of Nigerian employers recognise presence over productivity. We have to change this if we are ever going to achieve work-life balance. With claims that Lagos state houses ~20m people, it’s time to work out smarter ways of achieving productivity.

What can we do to get there?

While this feedback was from a relatively small sample, the majority share the same sentiments — working at a preferred time and location as long as the job gets done.

Depending on what the measure of productivity is — it shouldn’t always be number of hours worked by the way, information available here and here give great ideas on managing remote teams.

Also, replicating the SeedspaceWorkstation and Cranium One models across Lagos will go a long way especially for instances where employees need to hold frequent standups or client meetings.

If we are ever going to truly disrupt anything, we need to start with the way we work. Who created “8–5” anyway?

I’ld love to hear your thoughts!

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The Data Advantage: A proposed solution for KYC in Nigeria

Major efforts are often dedicated to ensuring seamless KYC and authentication processes especially for financial institutions that are looking to transform to digital. Bankers are naturally shrewd and always erring on the side of caution. There’s also the endless battle between the Control team-notorious for saying “No” to every request and the Product Innovation team-always wanting to play with new toys. Current trends in customer behaviour inform that they want more convenient solutions. Studies also show that security is priority for them as well and rightly so. 2016 data from The Nigeria Electronic Fraud Forum (NeFF) Report recorded 19,531 e-fraud cases, an 82% increase from 10,743 recorded in 2015. Customers however do not want it to be so obvious that it disturbs their experience.

The spate of fraudulent SIM swaps has done nothing to assuage regulation’s paranoia. A way to curb this may be giving telcos access to a view-only option of NIBSS’s BVN portal. Properly using this along with the already existing SIM registration database may help bring down current fraud stats as early as Q2, 2019. This method not only allows telcos verify customers by face, but also allows them confirm that their BVN has not been blacklisted. Fingerprint verification can also be be added to the process, much like verifying image and signature at the bank. This plays out as a 2FA, confirming that the individual was indeed physically present. Utilising this option will however mean that SIM swap operations will no longer be available at “under bridge” for obvious reasons.

Customer Care in banks often have the added responsibility of authenticating in such a way that a fraudster is not given free access and the real account holder is not irritated by the process. Existing processes are either poorly thought through or not properly executed. I once had an agent “authenticate” me for over 3 minutes after I was on hold for 6 waiting to have someone hotlist my retracted card. I have also had someone in a branch refuse to hotlist my stolen debit card until she saw my mother. What exactly is the cost of security?

Banks also need to be smarter in scaling the hurdle of KYC during onboarding. I have never seen the need of carrying out independent KYC processes across banks and all other OFIs. This is needlessly repetitive and backend verification processes often prove cumbersome, manual and time-wasting. Customer data which currently reside in silos can be consolidated into one central database so that when a customer walks into another bank, the process flow becomes: verify that the BVN provided is not blacklisted, confirm that provided telephone number is not flagged, authenticate with image and fingerprint and then create account. This ultimately means that I can walk into a bank without any document and have an account opened.

For the truly adventurous, translating this to digital banking could mean asking the customer to put his thumb and index finger on his phone’s fingerprint sensor, the result of which is scanned against the existing (BVN) database checking for suspicious activity and up-to-date information. A green light means that the customer is setup and allowed transactions up to N500k, agreed upon authentication methods could allow him perform more. Prompts of an expired ID would mean that a tier-2 account is opened with the customer needing to upload a more recent National ID. Undetectable ID and utility bill will result in a tier-1 account opened with the customer allowed to upload pending documents on that app. Once verified, these can be synced to the central database so that the customer does not have to do this again. Document verification can be maker-checker with the collecting bank performing first-level verification and a regulatory body authorising the upload and sync to the central system upon due diligence.

KPMG in an article here proposes a blockchain utility bill which can be implemented within a large conglomerate, nationally or internationally. Much like these other ideas, this means that the onboarding process will shed unnecessary weight and totally eliminate the need for customers to repeatedly provide the same documentation across providers. A prototype has already passed the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s test scenarios.

In the case of transaction monitoring, a more intelligent system hinged on customer data needs to be created. This may be as simple as setting better rules. For example, rules that block accounts that transact at midnight to 6am Nigerian time do not consider that midnight in Lagos is 5pm in Vancouver and 8am in China. The 24 hour cycle is different for every customer so it will be better to perform this function on a per customer basis. An alternative may be working with your customer’s location (after requesting permission just as Uber or Taxify would) in a bid to provide a more personalised experience.

Rule setting by current transaction pattern is important as well. For example, a customer that usually performs cheque withdrawals twice every month suddenly performing a self-recharge of N30,000 via USSD should raise an eyebrow even if it occurs 3pm on a Wednesday. Also, accounts owned by private university students for example are likely to receive heavy periodic credits. Let’s face it, their tuition costs an arm and a leg and the system should be able to account for this to avoid needless PNDs.

As with all things truly disruptive though, tangible investment will be required in terms of funds, effort and expertise to have these systems set up and customised to Nigerian realities. The best time to start is now and refining and scaling the process could mean generating another income stream for us as a country. We have a problem however, we prefer the “fire-brigade” approach.

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Leveraging on AI to improve Customer Service

For financial institutions to thrive in the current economic clime, customer service delivery must adequately align with customer demands and expectations. Beyond seeking lightning fast responses and resolution of complaints, customers are beginning to tend towards banks and payment solutions that incorporate AI into their CS process to ensure excellence in service delivery to customers and also enable them (the organization) make the ultimate switch to cognitive banking.

With the massive influx of MVPs and product lines in the financial services space in the past 2 years, it is becoming glaringly apparent that beefing up CS staff strength in proportion to the volume of interactions received will not be sustainable in the long run as running that model means that companies must be ready to build stadiums to accommodate their growing staff strength at some point. 

What companies need to start looking at is a solution that allows them rapidly conclude monotonous and repetitive tasks, provide cognitive banking services, and do so for up to a thousand customers simultaneously.

Consolidating the efforts of physical agents with AI and ML to support scaling ambitions will be the future of CS. With the present focus on financial services, AI will enable institutions effectively handle increasing interaction volumes, cater to dynamic customer needs and explore options that revolve around predicting the best value propositions for customers.

The need for human operators cannot be underplayed as some customers will still prefer the traditional methods of communication (email, telephone, SMS, walk-in etc) over chatbots to have their issues resolved. Over-reliance on AI is never a good idea and so the ideal mix of human intervention and AI must be concocted very carefully. Measures must be put in place to ensure that calls which can no longer be handled by AI are escalated to human operators. In handling email interactions, human operators will need to proofread responses drafted by AI until the system becomes foolproof. This will undoubtedly take some time as it will need to be trained with Nigerian/specific country peculiarities and contexts to ensure usability and relevance.

Added benefits to the financial services company that adopts AI will include reduced time and effort spent on training agents as AI requires one-off training, winning points on brand perception and maintaining consistent performance levels instead of the inevitable fluctuations that occur when a new set of agents are hurriedly recruited. Adopting AI also significantly lowers interaction abandonment rates, improves capacity for handling high traffic periods and ultimately ensures 24 hour real time support.

To properly launch into intuitive/cognitive banking services, AI will need to learn from transaction patterns, existing tickets logged on the organization’s CRM system, conversation histories, help content uploaded etc and leverage on these to provide spot-on recommendations for customers (after ensuring that their initial complaints/enquiries have been sorted out) 

To optimally drive these initiatives, special attention needs to be placed on the data which AI will be feeding off. This is because the more specific, detailed and viable the data, the more intelligent the system becomes. If properly executed, we may well be on our way to breaking ground in mimicking the human thought process in providing financial services.

*AI=artificial intelligence

*CS-customer service

*ML=machine learning

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Managing customers according to type

“Customer is king”

“The customer is always right”

These two are probably the most popular phrases that companies incorporate as slogans especially during Customer Service Week. This seems fair enough as without these customers, they’ld be out of business. 

I work in FinTech and trust me when I say that this industry demands that you put your money where your mouth is. Here, the surefire way your customers take you seriously is when the efficacy of your customer service/complaints resolution team is second only to that of your Tech team. I believe that the best way to deliver on the customer service bit of this is by dealing with customers according to the stratum which you conclude that they belong to within the first 20 seconds of conversing with them. Remember that it’s not just about solving their problems, it’s also about how you go on about it.

In the next part of this post, I talk about the customer categories I have come up with so far and a little bit about how some highlighted traits help in better managing them and ensuring that their funds are safeguarded in the long run.

THE KNOW IT ALL

This customer thinks he knows all about bank processes and resolution timeframes but his info usually falls short of being accurate. He might have garnered his info through assumptions, misinterpretation or misinformation. It is also not uncommon for this customer to expect less stringency with documentation, I mean it’s a Digital Bank afterall. This customer usually does not mind being corrected as long as these corrections are not made in a rude or aggressive manner. 

THE ONE WHO ACTUALLY KNOWS IT ALL

These customers are extremely knowledgeable and are not shy to let you in on this within the first 30 seconds of speaking with them. They usually want exact details and specifics. They are very inquisitive. I’ve learnt that it’s best to treat them as “adults” as they are quick to take offence if they perceive that they are being babied or if you turn overly apologetic. You also have to be careful not to overpromise as they often come across as intimidating. 

THE ONE WHO KNOWS A BIGWIG

Sometimes you wonder why this customer bothers with contacting customer service for resolution. He usually dwells on naming the higher-ups that are close friends instead of stating exactly what his complaint is. In dealing with them, it’s best to “just respect yourself”

THE ONE WHO SHARES TOO MUCH INFORMATION

It is not uncommon for this class of customers to volunteer their PINs, PANs, CVVs, passwords, OTPs etc when speaking with their bank. This occurs especially when they are reporting failed login, dispense error and card functionality issues. It is pertinent that this customer is properly educated on the dangers of divulging his details over virtual channels. You may also want to advise him to visit a branch when unsure of what info to give online or on a call. If not properly educated, they easily get themselves into the next category.

THE ONE WHO ENTERTAINS FRAUDSTERS BEFORE THINKING TO CALL HIS BANK

If you remember this message, “Dear customer, your ATM card has been deactivated due to BVN. Call Mr John on 080XXX” then you know this category. It’s quite fascinating how easily this SMS gets them to call these fraudulent individuals and provide their card details only for them to turn around and contact their bank 5 minutes later. Needless to say, these calls end in card hotlists. Fortunately, measures such as Card Control and periodic email and SMS blasts advising on non-disclosure of banking credentials seem to be reining in this group somewhat. 

THE (POTENTIAL) FRAUDSTER

This post will become a Long Form if we dwell on this. Just know that when your gut tells you something is off, something usually is.

THE ONE WHO WANTS RESOLUTION NOW

This customer is usually this way out of desperation, delayed resolution or sheer impatience. Most times, it is the thought that someone is doing something differently or going above and beyond for them that helps.

THE ONE WHO JUST WANTS COMPANY

Although rare, this does happen. It dawns on you 3 minutes into the conversation that this customer doesn’t have any enquiry or complaint. The dicey part is gently saying your goodbyes as these interactions always create an impression. Besides, cross-selling and upselling never hurt anyone. 

Always one for intelligent conversation, I’m definitely the customer that actually knows it all. 

What kind of customer are you? Let’s discuss in the Comments section.

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Knowing oneself: a critical factor in success

I remember one of my classmates then in Secondary School, let’s call him Ben. He was an extremely playful person; Infact, it seemed like Ben only played. Some people who hung around him only played too. But when the term’s results came out, he always passed with flying colours while they never did. Even I was surprised at how he always managed to excel until a friend of mine pointed out that people that flocked around him played at the same tempo that he did…………..forgetting that there is the place of burning the midnight oil.

In the university too, I realised that a number of people never read during the day. Why? They realised that nothing ever stuck when they read at that time so they never bothered. But during the night, they dedicated their time into the wee hours of the morning reading and they gained much more than they ever would have reading during the day for two weeks. I for example usually read during the night save for the occasional daytime use of the library.

Some like me have also realised that some students only need to be present for lessons/lectures to ace their exams. I don’t know how they do it. They just seem to casually stroll in, listen to the lectures and when all is said and done, the exams are moin-moin to them. I believe these people have been gifted with the ability to easily grasp concepts and contents of each lecture, hence are able to easily pass their exams without so much extra work.

Meanwhile, some need to go through their notes and extra reference materials a couple of times to be able to understand what has gone on through the semester. Students in these aforementioned categories especially when they are friends need to be extremely careful. This is because the “stroller” when influenced by the “extreme reader” has nothing to lose. But when as an extreme reader, you play hard at the same rate your stroller friend does and you don’t take reading serious because your stroller friend doesn’t, you can be sure that your semester results will be a mess at the end of the day. Some in school then read for multiple hours each day, but when their results came out, said results were nothing to write home about.

I remember the story of a guy then in UNILAG who read straight for 16 hours or over a day or so. Let’s just summarise the story to be that he slumped. Thank God for the multiple attempts made to save his life. It’s not just about reading, it’s about reading at the right time and with the right strategy. I know of someone for example who can’t read for more than 30 minutes at anytime. This is because at the end of that period he loses interest and can’t grasp anything. So what he does is read for 30 minutes, take a brief break to do some homework or so and then he comes back fresh. It is extremely wasteful when he is made to read for 4 hours for example. This is because his mind goes blank after the first 30 minutes. You need to know yourself to make the most of your time.This is not only applicable to reading. It cuts across various segments of everyday life.

Let me quickly give another analogy.

Have you ever been in an exam hall where after the first 20-30 minutes of an exam, some students begin to ask for extra answer booklets while you haven’t left the 3rd page of yours? Or worse, some raise their hands, submit their booklets and walk out.

A complex sets in. You begin to feel that they are way ahead.

You need to understand that people are structured in different ways.

For example, I usually read through the questions, started from the ones that I knew the exact details of and worked downwards. While working on those, I pondered on how I’ld best answer the upcoming questions, jotted down valuable points that came to mind while answering something else entirely. In other words, I tried to work as efficiently and fast as possible. And once I was done to the best of my knowledge, I got up, submitted and I was out. It was common for me to finish exams in half or two-third the time. It would now be silly for someone who knows that he usually remembers valuable points towards the end of the time allocated for the exam to allow early submissions put undue pressure on him to submit his script prematurely.

In a French exam I did in JSS, after 10 minutes, someone got up and submitted. Some thought she was a genius, eventually we realised that she didn’t know anything. She just shaded at random and went to submit.

Do not be fazed by early submissions.

It was Socrates who said “know thyself.” Some people say “work smart, not hard” and I tend to agree with them. And as my boss would say,

I want to see productivity and results, not just activities.

Even in the office and on the home front, when you know your strengths, weaknesses and the best way for you to carry out certain assignments, you are bound to achieve more with less stress attached.