This is going to be long and 18+ language will be used. Brace yourself.
In all honesty; if I know what I know now, I would never have started a company. I don’t know what I would have done but definitely not trying to build a Fintech company.
I went in clueless and just to illustrate how clueless I was, I was already building the company before I knew the word Fintech. See, I am not among the lucky chaps that got inspired by Steve Jobs to change the world or anything like that. I was just a naive bomboclat who thought “You know what? These people have this problem. If you give them X, it will make their life better. But how can I give a lot of them X and do it in record time? Oh, let’s go software”. I only started knowing many Fintech products when I started building myself and even when I initially re-joined Twitter in 2018, I played mostly in feminist and agnostic Twitter so imagine my shock to find out there were a lot of amazing companies and a whole ecosystem”
Anyway, I don’t regret that much anymore. My naivety gave me the audacity I much needed to make the first leap and when I found out that building a company wasn’t “build a product, users will rush you, investors will rush you because of that, amazing, amazing”, I was already in “too deep” and I’m typically committed to finishing what I start.
However, I’ve learnt a few things that I believe has made me a far cry from what I used to be and brings me closer to “luck” everyday and can make about any other clueless founder’s journey easier.
First for women, then next for young people and then for about everyone else, you are going to need to be audacious. I struggle with audacity a lot because I hate to be regarded as a fool and if I’m not point blank sure, I don’t want to do a thing. The thing is audacity is attractive; super attractive and not only in a romantic way. I have noticed personally that making bold claims, asks and acts makes others generally curious. Sure, it might get a few people riled up and spiteful but mostly it attracts well wishers. Give yourself a chance every time. Go in, fuck shit up and hope it turns out fine. If it doesn’t, dust your ass and go another day. It’s hard taking huge leaps out of your comfort zone but it is what is needed.
However, when you want to be audacious, do it with tact. Don’t be an asshole. Respectfully let them know.
People are a hack. Hear me. People are a hack and it’s everybody.
I think I’m extremely lucky with my cofounders. While I’m a radical, thoughtful and largely dgaf little wench, my first partner is a pious, analytic and calm bro and the other is a happy, adventurous, non-conforming musician. When I’m at a bar or club, one is probably rubbing his feet as his gisting with his babe “Chioma” and the other is at church, finding his centre. But with the things that matter, like respect, honest communication, pushing each other to step-up, support, laughter and being dedicated to the work; we are the same. Many of my friends like me, constantly fall out with their cofounders and that break up typically sets them light years behind. I think it’s important that if you are going to have a cofounder(s); it should be the ones that compliment you, not just in skills but in the things that would hold you together in the worst days.
One of the mistakes I used to make when I started hiring was hiring with urgency. Hiring just to fill roles. Now, I understand the world isn’t crashing because we aren’t getting anything done immediately, so I hire a bit slower these days. Hiring is now done to fit in with my management style and that would make a good culture fit. A bad hire is a mess. It’s a waste of financial resources, mental bandwidth and productivity; sometimes, for everyone involved. It’s not worth it.
Then man, you gotta pay attention to your investors. More than any stage of building, I think the earliest are when you need the most involved. So yes, don’t be a burden but I think investors who are willing and capable to help beyond money with things like distribution, hiring, intros, and regulation can be game changing. If you get investors, get the ones that believe in you and somewhat care about you. The ones you can share a joke with and the ones that will forgive your mistakes.
Then there’s your friends. Your friends are going to be your compass for sanity. You would probably be not half the friends they are to you. But, if they understand, you shouldn’t let them go. They would also make up your active fans, your intros, your hires, perhaps your customers. Hold those muthafus close and allow them bring you back to earth often.
You also need your peers. Often people try to ‘network’ up, but I’m telling you network in ‘your level’ too. My closest founder friends are in the same phase or slightly above and below from me. Some aren’t founders but C to top level employees at bigger companies. These people have insight for days, share similar struggles and the gists is fire content. Haha.
Generally, I think it helps to find good people and connect with them, then invest in the relationships and not because they are a tool for stepping up.
I have come to realize that knowing puts you in a better position. Everyone makes decisions but the quality of the decisions you make is dependent on the information you have. So, yes fill your head with information. Turn to a sponge. Deeply absorb knowledge about your industry and solution, then knowledge about parallel industries and solutions, then knowledge about every other thing needed to grow a company, regardless of whether that’s what you are leading or not, then as much knowledge about every thing else. Be a learner and just watch how your quality as a person improves. Knowing what to do, who to talk to, how to approach a problem etc would save you time, money and migraine.
I am typically a very guarded person. I have my walls up and I’m very non-intrusive. I’m still these things. I don’t ask questions I think might make a person even slightly uncomfortable and my antennae jumps to attention once I suspect a person is trying to “know me”. It is irrational and I’m at the extreme end of the spectrum but even with people who are less like this, I suspect that it can be hard to have hard, honest, open communication. But that’s the only way to stay accountable. So yes, try your possible best to answer questions honestly, to reach out to others about your dissatisfaction or extreme satisfaction, to share your worries, to explain your incompetence and to listen to them without jumping to defend yourself. Share feedback with concise, non-inflammatory language and spend a few minutes pondering on feedback without explaining your part away. Collaboration is hard without good communication and in this remote world, communication can breed the needed trust and kindred spirit.
No jokes, you need money. But remember that money is just a tool. A tool for motivation and de-risking. Also remember that money isn’t the only tool; so don’t go around burning it unnecessarily. Get creative with your spending and remember that cash flow is king. If you are bootstrapping, let your data guide you to when you can relax on sales and when you should sell like your oxygen depends on it. It’s hard not to always think about money as a founder and I get that, but I propose that you think about motivation and risk instead and always think of what is needed to tackle them. If you think about money, you’ll always think money is the solution to your problem; it’s not always. But if you think about what obstacle is on your front, you can think of ways to tackle it and spend money when it’s the only available option. Yes, be a miser with high taste. Ask for discounts, subscribe to the appropriate package, don’t do things because everyone is doing them and see if anyone would do things free for you. Money is never too much, so watch that dirty bitch.
Processes, templates, systems, documentation are boring and seem like a hang but especially as your team grows bigger, you want to have these things. Once you lay them down and make it a norm; it skyrockets your team’s productivity. It is also allows easy measurement, assessment, onboarding, realignment, communication and collaboration. Although finding the right process or template can take a while, don’t ignore this boring part.
If you’re like me, you probably wonder if you are a quality leader. I’m very interested in the personal progress of my people and their physical and mental health but with the need for speed and growth, I constantly find myself pressuring them unduly. I think that leads and managers can make or break a team and hence a company. I feel like every great company that has grown consistently over decades is a reflection of good leadership. I try not to be hard on myself and instead focus on becoming better, but sometimes, after I have been too harsh with someone and we go off a call, I imagine that they say things like “This bitch doesn’t pay me enough to take this shit” Haha. I’m nowhere near the type of leader I would like to be. I still find myself counting to ten and making a tight fist. Sometimes, I avoid my people because I think I wouldn’t speak to them in the best manner. But I have learned a few things that have made me better; 1. sharing the vision with them till they can see it for themselves and understand exactly where they fit. 2. Explaining where pressure is coming from and sharing little wins with them. 3. Making it a us vs the problem thing rather than me vs you. 4. Being open and accessible to their queries and feedback. 5. Showing love in little ways beyond the regular.
I think there’s still a whole lot for me to learn; things that would move me faster from the clueless founder to the lucky founder — The 10% that didn’t die. I’m enthusiastic to learn those things and get lucky early enough.