My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series documenting people’s career transitions from one industry to another, especially to tech.
Ifeoma B. Nwobu is the COO of Sendstack, a mobility tech startup, in Lagos, Nigeria. But before this tech sis started pitching to investors, she was once the face of Vogue online, a model who walked the runway for top designers like Laquan Smith, Lisa Folawiyo, Lanre Da Silva Ajayi to mention a few at top fashion week events. How did she find her way to tech? Here is Ifeoma Nwobu’s pivot journal.
How it started
I come from a family of creatives, my dad is a phenomenal writer and my mom was a brilliant communicator. As a child, I wanted to be an actor. I loved fashion and music. At some point, I became interested in Academia and teaching generally. I wanted to get a master’s degree and a Ph.D. I still do and will at the right time and this desire stems from my passion to teach people in a structured way. I have always desired to build something people would use, and impact people. However, I got my first job as a full-time model while I was still in secondary school. I had started out being signed to a modelling agency but decided to go on the independent route after one year. I leveraged the opportunity to build a brand and a community. I continued mainstream modelling after I got into the University of Lagos, where I studied political science. At some point, I got a job as an intern at a creative agency where we managed talents and brand projects.
In 2020, I got the opportunity to work with Bidemi Zakariyau, the founder of LSF PR . I handled digital marketing and gained some insights on Public Relations under Bidemi. At the time, I was also running a fashion resale business with my sister and business partner, Onyeka Nwobu. This is when I started to pick interest in e-commerce as a whole. I learned a lot about customer behaviour from the B2C perspective, logistics, business operations, and acquiring the right customers for a business. I also learnt the fundamentals of how to properly brand and market a business as well as build a viable community with those customers.
Initially, I planned to get into tech as an engineer. I was actively learning how to code but eventually quit when I realised it was not exactly my strength. I realised instead that I could scale the knowledge and experience I had gained from learning how to operate a business. I got my first job in Tech in marketing and product growth. It was a startup owned by my now co-founder. We were building an ecommerce platform called Scrader for retail automation. I was super invested in executing that idea, ensuring we hit and exceeded our goals but we realised that we could solve another more integral problem for the businesses we were serving then and decided to pivot to what is now Sendstack today.
I could say my transition into tech was relatively easy. However, the process has taught me a lot. I had to start reading actively instead of just bookmarking. I started reading books on leadership, soft skills, and emotional intelligence. I joined webinars, attended seminars, and sporadically listened to a lot of niched podcasts. A lot of these things I still do because being an entrepreneur and working in tech is a work in progress. I have had to learn quite a lot on the job. Learning something new is always a humbling experience – you may be the most intelligent person around, then you get into something you do not know anything about and you have to be a child again in order to learn. Sometimes, I just dive head-first into a project or field and gain my own experience. But I try to find a balance between what I need to learn from personal experience and what I can avoid through other people’s shared experiences. I also started going to the gym because I realised that physical wellness boosts my mental wellness.
How it’s going
I currently function as COO and head of growth at Sendstack, an intra-city mobility tech startup. My job typically involves overseeing the day-to-day operations of the business, setting goals, managing, and ensuring each path in the business functions smoothly. However, I am still very much involved in other parts of the business. There are some days when marketing has my full attention, other days, it could be customer support. No two days are ever the same. And that is something that comes with building a startup. You have to go with the flow and know how to adapt when necessary.
A typical day involves waking up and just doing what takes priority for that day. One thing that helps me work efficiently though is finding my productive hours and maximizing those hours. However, You don’t want to get to a point where you’re burnt out. I always find a way to infuse rest in my work. This could be as simple as changing my work environment to work in a nice café, or playing music while working and actively taking in the emotions that come with the music. Sometimes, it’s just taking a complete day off.
In retrospect, my transition seems pretty quick but it is cumulative of over 7 years of my life. From modeling to digital marketing, I gained all these digital experiences that eventually built up my running of a business. For example one of the things I learned from freelance modeling for a long time, is navigating negotiations. I negotiated all my deals. Which meant I had to learn the basics and psychology of negotiating. Modeling also helped build my confidence when addressing a crowd, which is something I do a lot now.
I like to say what I do now is one version of what I always wanted to do, which is teaching. With my current path, I’m causing an impact by building something people can use. The difference is that instead of teaching in theory, it is a more practical version. With my function, I get to lead a team, manage people, make mistakes, admit to those mistakes, pitch to investors, and get people to understand what we do and why it is important. There is a lot of learning on the job too. So even though I did not actively seek to be an entrepreneur, I do not take it for granted because, I know that it’s a fundamental part of fulfilling my ultimate purpose here on earth.
Partner with the right people, have a teachable spirit, and be confident.
We do not all have the same drive, incentives, or motivation, and we may not always be the ones to come up with an idea but we can find people with those ideas and key into their visions in ways that make you almost indispensable. It is also important to always maintain a teachable spirit, don’t be ashamed to admit when you don’t know something. Position yourself as a person who has a listening ear and actually listen – it makes you attract the right people who are willing to teach. But never lose sight of the value you have to offer and be confident enough in who you are and what you currently know. The people you’re learning from don’t also have it all figured out. Learn to view the process as an interconnected chain, rather than a hierarchy, where you’re all at the same level, but with different values to exchange.