My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series documenting people’s career transitions from one industry to another, especially to tech.

Segun Adeyemo always thought his golden goose was in the creative industry. But a leap of faith into the corporate world helped him find personal growth, and now he’s helping companies grow. Here is Segun Adeyemo’s pivot journal.

How it started

I used to watch my mother a lot while growing up. And one of the things I admired about her was that she was a fashionista. Her set probably invented the whole Alte movement people are now recreating. And so, I became naturally fashion-conscious. 

As I grew older, people kept telling me I would do well on TV. So I started auditioning for shows like Shuga and Tinsel until I luckily stumbled into a modelling agent. He told me he could get me jobs, and that was it — I ventured into fashion, starting as a model.

But modelling was hard, especially in Nigeria. It’s more challenging when you are not extremely tall. Some designers will tell you there’s a specific height for their clothes. It’s not a bad thing; brands have their aesthetics. However, it was tiring since I wanted to work with major designers. I worked with big-name designers, but they were few. Lagos Fashion Week would have about 16 shows, and I’d walk for only one or two. So, I decided to try out fashion marketing.

Epiphany

While I was modelling, I used to get a lot of castings. And rather than hoard them, I often shared them to model groups. So, even if I didn’t get the job, these other models will get it. That’s what made me go into fashion marketing. I believed I could start earning commissions from linking models to gigs. It looked more sustainable than waiting endlessly for brands to give me modelling gigs. I was wrong.

I wasn’t making a lot of money from this endeavour. Instead, I was giving out a lot of free stuff. I also had temporary engagements with brands such as the Arise Fashion Week. But I needed something sustainable. I decided to get into the corporate world.

I studied banking and finance and had little experience with banks. And I worked at First Bank for about four months and ran away. The same happened with a loan company. I walked away from Access Bank (during the assessment stage) after seeing their terms and conditions. So, if I would return to the corporate world, I needed to do something that made me happy. That’s why I decided to take the marketing route.

Segun Adeyemo, founder of SAVA Global

Transition

Fitting into the corporate world wasn’t easy. I didn’t usually conform to the regular patterns. I’d attend interviews with piercings and didn’t understand why people wore suits and ties. It’s one of the reasons I believe marketing was the best fit for me. That was the only place my personality could find expression and yield results.

One thing I’ve realised about the corporate world is that your work ethic speaks louder than your skill. So if you’re not very professional, it’d be very difficult for you to work with, people, get them to assist you or even teach you. It’s one trait I’m glad I learned during my stint at First Bank.

For the most part, I learned on the job. I took a lot of digital marketing courses but I was very selective. Many “resources” on the internet are not very useful. Google’s Digital Skills gave me a very good start. I also took another course from NorthWestern University via Coursera on advertising and integrated marketing communications. E-Marketing Institute and Hubspot Academy also helped me a lot.

Learning can be fun. However, it was difficult to get people to experiment with my ideas. Social media was my entry point into digital marketing. But at the time I started, it was very hard to convince people to put an advertising budget behind their social media posts. Also, firms were treating social media as another corporate comms channel, so there wasn’t much room to be creative. I got away with a few things, though.

It was also not easy to explain to people that social media was the only thing I was supposed to work on. You’d have to do website management, design, write newsletters and even do SEO. In short, you have to be the entire digital marketing department. And when you get burnt out, they’d say it’s “just social media.”

That’s not all. The salaries were ridiculous when I started. Seeing what my contemporaries were earning was not encouraging.

Things started to turn around when I met Muyiwa Folorunsho (yes, it’s the same one you’re thinking). He was building LandLagos then. The day I met him, he wanted to give me an offer immediately. I was surprised he didn’t want to go through multiple interview stages before hiring me. He was the first person to be impressed by my fashion background after checking my résumé. People had told me about his quickness to fire workers, so it was surprising that I still had my job with him after months. It’s difficult to please him, so working with him stretched me. But he understood my ideas and trusted me with important work. He gave me a brand to conceptualise, and I built it from scratch. And yes, the pay was much better.

How it’s going

After leaving his company, I worked with Kuda. I grew user acquisition at Kuda from 1 million+ to 4 million+. Then, I became a growth consultant. Today, I’m a founder at SAVA Global, a growth marketing agency, and I’d say this is the best time of my life. It’s not because I don’t face challenges, but I’ve learnt so much in the last year that I’m immensely grateful. I’ll tell you a bit about that.

Being a startup founder is challenging. It’s even more difficult when you’re an African startup founder. I was in denial of this reality at first. But now that I have come to terms with it, I’m enjoying my work better. There’s a reason why many resilient startup founders don’t give up: it gets interesting. There’s this adrenaline rush that comes with taking risks, encountering problems and tackling them.

In a way, it feels like I came full circle. I started as a fashion boy seeking growth. Now, my company creates tailor-made strategies and frameworks to help companies grow exponentially. I think it will take a while for most people to understand SAVA’s unique proposition. But I’m fine with that. There’s only a handful of people across the world doing what my brand does. I know this because we have already started putting our footprints in Rwanda, the US and Nigeria. So I’m in it for the long run.

Career hack

Confidence. Confidence is often mistaken for pride. But you can’t go around correcting people’s perspective. I’m very smart, creative and diligent. And being confident in these traits has helped me speed up my growth.

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