Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Hello, everyone! Welcome to Expert and African, where I sit with African tech specialists and spotlight their journey from newbie to experts. Every week, you get to be inspired by a success story and get motivated for your career journey. On this episode, I had a conversation with Seun Adeola, a graduate of international relations that got into marketing for survival.
After 12 years, he is now an expert in the field. In fact, in 2018, OPPO, the Chinese smartphone manufacturing company, trusted him to make their brand popular in Nigeria. And he delivered. Currently, he leads operations and growth at a fintech company named Shara that's into transaction finance. I'm sure you will have a lot of takeaways from his story, especially if you're considering a career in marketing.
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Oluwanifemi Kolawole: It was a sunny Friday afternoon where Seun Adeola and I were set to meet at the Techpoint Africa office in Ikeja. After a few minutes of setting up, I sat down beside him, which wasn't the best position I should have taken, because post-production, I realized that I was so engrossed in the conversation that I forgot to look at the camera. Well, I've learned my lessons.
Moment after, we were cued in to begin. I started by complimenting his short names compared to my names, which are like 19 characters long.
He acknowledged and appreciated it. And we went on with the conversation.
Seun Adeola has a reputation for growth and brand management.
For context, before his current job, Seun was the public relations and digital marketing manager for OPPO in Nigeria.
His achievement in this role, top the list of his highest achievements so far in his career. For three years, he was able to enter into strategic partnerships with African and international football clubs and players, automobile companies that are multinationals, celebrities, and popular reality shows to position the brand called OPPO before Nigerians.
Currently, Seun is the growth operations lead at Shara, a fintech company that's focused on transaction finance in Africa.
Although, this is his first foray into fintech, Seun describes his experience so far in three words: fun, new, stressful, but despite all, he says, he loves it.
With 12 years of experience in the bag, Seun has worked in banking, insurance, electronics, automobile, mobile phones, and FMCGs, as well as destination marketing. Because of this, he is able to make a comparison between marketing in the tech space and an average traditional agency company.
Seun Adeola: Most marketing jobs are very brand focused. You find yourself discussing things like, oh, what's your share of voice? What's your impressions? And conventions, stuff like that.
It's kind of very ,should I say, superficial. Right? Maybe, maybe not, marketing department, sales department separate. So marketing, will say we are doing our work, sales will need to plug into it. It's always been that kind of divide. But now in tech company, marketing and sales is one, they call all of you growth. So you need to make it work. Now you have new concepts, like unit economics. It means that it needs to make sense.
Like if I'm spending $1. How many dollars did I make in revenue, how many dollars did I make in profit. So stuff like that would typically not happen in your regular brand. Number two is that there you do QPR, Quarterly Performance Review. here, you do Weekly Performance Review. So there's nothing like, oh my targets is $6 million in revenue. And ehnn... I know I've just made 5,000 now, but I'll get there. Uhn Uhn....
Every week, $6 million divided by 12 weeks, that's your weekly target. So you're gonna have to do your reporting per week. If you're falling back, you need to block it quickly. You have to be very agile. Right? So I think the pace was something I struggled with in my first month. I'm like, I didn't understand, why am I doing this every week? But I kinda have gotten used to it now. And you know, your capacity will just adjust.
So your long term goal is many short term steps, right? That's kind of how it is. But in traditional companies, you know, you kinda need a quarter. You do half year review, you do full year review. It's slower. The pace is slower. Also the level of accountability on marketing spend compared to this. And the fact that your decision making is directly proportional to the success of the business. Like if you make a mistake now, the business will feel it. So it's very different from like a large corporation where you have to send to reporting line, global, regional office before it gets back to you.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Despite a certain downside...
Seun Adeola: You could get carried away a lot because you're so invested in work, it could affect your friendships, it could also affect the relationship.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: ... Seun thinks marketing is addictive. Let him help you understand.
Seun Adeola: It's like people who love marketing, who love sales, it's like a drug, you just can't have enough of it. Let's say you do $1 million, you're like, I can do $1.5m, why not? You do everything, you kill yourself, then you get it. And then the next week, you don't, then you're like, 'what do I need to do?' So it keeps you thinking short term. So your long term goal is many short term steps, right? That's kind of how it is.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: In the past 11 months, Seun explained how we had made significant transformation in Shara even though it's been operating in other countries before now.
If anything has helped him, it is growing up to be a vocal child who was always encouraged to speak up. And this has helped him to develop communication and public speaking skills that has helped him in his marketing roles.
He was sincere about his fear and how it drives him to do the most.
Seun Adeola: Being in lack is something I fear so much. So it makes me like overdo everything. It makes my life. It makes me make better financial decisions. Whatever it is. I just don't want to be in the trenches.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: From here on, you'll get to know Seun's story, his motivation, how he got into marketing and how far he has gone.
Seun Adeola: When I was very young, I started out as a semi-professional cyclist, So I always had dreams of being part of like the tour de France, tour de Dakar. I used to cycle alot, I trained with the Nigerian Cycling Federation, but then I think one of the coaches there told my parents let this boy focus on school. Cycling is not something that will really become big in Nigeria. So it kinda just fizzled out into being a hobby. Also I always wanted to be an ambassador because there was one man, like a family friend, and he was an ambassador, he used to travel a lot. I just thought I wanted that life for myself. So I studied International Relations and Diplomacy.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: By the way, he had a funny story from way back while he was in secondary school.
Seun Adeola: In school, I created a political party with my friends, because I was in boarding school to revolt against... we were eating a lot of beans, right. So we demanded for spaghetti corned beef, we wanted more Jollof rice and the school refused to give us. I was the dinning hall prefect. So I'm like nobody's eating. So, we let the food spoil for a couple of times. before they now said, 'students what do you people want?' Then they eventually gave us what we wanted.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Maybe you're curious about what happened to his cycling hobby.
Seun Adeola: Uh, I still cycle sometimes, not a real bicycle. I used the elliptic cycle in the gym. But I don't think it's like before. I could cycle for hours before, but now after like 15 minutes, I'm tired maybe 30 plus.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: What about his ambassador dream?
Seun Adeola: We will get there. We didn't throw it away. There are three parts to that, you can be what you call a career diplomat, which means you will go and start from Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You will line up, level seven ,level eight, you line up till level 16. Then the second one, which is political appointees. You lose an election, and they compensate you with ambassadorship. And the third one is, uh, you can join the core diplomatic by being a Subject matter expert. So when it comes to like marketing, I've done destination marketing, and that's why I kinda took that job.
Because I've worked with governments like different African countries, even Europe. Now you can be an Abike Dabiri for your country, but with ambassadorial training. Right. You can also be an Okonjo Iweala sort of, right. So there are different ways to it. The dream is still there, but for now, let's do this.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Interestingly, Seun has an entrepreneurship side, something he would definitely do if he was not doing marketing. Spoiler alert. Seun might be passionate about marketing, but his love lies with the hospitality business.
Seun Adeola: From school now, we just used to organize parties. So I think we went for one party one day, the party was very dead. We were like, 'shey make we help them?' So we kinda help them. The party was lit. So people were like, who are these guys? So, they used to invite us to parties if the party wants to die, we help them. They were like, why don't you just start making money from this thing? You know? Then we started organizing parties. We started doing collaborations with brands, partnered with brands, sponsorships, we started getting big. We're like, whoa, we need to register this. We started running it like a proper company. It's called The Party Company.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: These are his thoughts about transitioning into marketing. Heads up, Seun had to learn the hard way.
Seun Adeola: First thing that happened was that my parents stopped any form of support. It just stopped, no heads up, nothing. it just stopped. So anyway, I had saved some money. I was managing that, then the money finished. I remember I used to play football manager at home. I'll just be on the bed. I'll play overnight then I'll sleep during the day. I realized that, man, I need to eat oo. So I was forbidden from eating in the house. I was idle now. They said 'okay maybe because you're still eating, that's why you're idle.'
So I started thinking of what to do to make money. So I'll go to Nairaland, I'll read stuff. Then I read somewhere that you can sell cars to make money. So I went to some car dealers around Barracks and Stadium, in Surulere. And then I told them I'm here to sell cars. They laughed at me. They now told me that, okay, if I can sell a car, they'll give me like 50,000 naira. That year, it was quite a lot. So I took pictures of the cars. The first car I sold, I sold it for 350,000 naira. The owner of the car sold the car for 300,000, I added 50,000. Then the person gave me twenty, Then I just realized that wait, you can actually do something for yourself, you don't have to rely on people. 'Cause it felt so good. That 70,000 naira was like the sweetest thing that happened to me.. So I wanted that to continue, so I kept on doing that and I realized that it seemed like I knew how to convince people. While I was doing that, I'll go and teach and then do personal shopping for my friends. My first job, I learnt of a company .
I learnt of a company and I went there, they said, they're not employing. So I said, OK, you know what? I want to work here for free. It was an advertising company. So I started, I resumed the first day
I was doing everything. I didn't mind. But I was learning. I will sit down in their meetings, I was just listening. So whenever they give somebody, like maybe you're my boss, they give you something to do. I'll do it on my own, then I'll come and show him, so he'll correct me. One day, we're in one meeting and they were brainstorming ideas for copywriting and the ideas were really poor. So I just said something, and they were like, yeah that makes sense. And they used it, and the client liked it, That was how they gave me a job, actually. Then I saw a job ad on Twitter, I applied, went for the interview and got the job. That job was in a marketing company. That time, digital marketing wasn't a thing like that. I read this book, Malcom Gladwell called Outliers that says that if you do 10,000 hours of anything, you've attained mastery. I did my 10,000 hours. It was supposed to take me like four years. I think I did it in two and a half or so. I was like, I want to become a master. That was it from there. And yeah, I worked there for four years, I left, I was tired of agency life. So I kind of put myself out there on like social media, like Twitter, for instance, I know we're there on the platform to laugh and play, but the person you are laughing with is good at something. Right? So, uh, one of the things I do is I kind of network in all directions. upward, downwards sideways. I won't say, oh, this person is an intern, I don't want to talk to the person. No. People try to network upward only. Right? So I do a mix of both. At least if I need something, I know someone, if I don't know someone, I can ask you and then you help you find someone.
So I wanna talk to somebody who's in that field. What's this field like? What matters most? How do you measure success here? I do that. I do a lot of research. I stalk competitors a lot. I want to see what they're doing. I want to know what they're up to. I want to understand them. YouTube is your friend, whatever you're looking for, someone has made a video about it. Don't be shy to ask questions. I'm not afraid to be ignorant. I know I'm a subject matter expert. but I'm not a field expert, so I need your help to apply what I know here. Right. So your new colleagues are less defensive when they feel like you're vulnerable towards them.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Let's see how an average day goes for him.
Seun Adeola: I like to start from the night before. I kind of plan my day before I go to bed. Then I start the day with stand up session with my team. You always have to be in sync. I do quite some ops work until like 12 noon. Then after 12 noon then I get into my actual work. I try to stop working by six, like deliberately. Even if I have some extra work to do, I always stop working by six, I go to the gym or I go and watch Netflix.
Maybe later by 9, 10, if I have extra work, I just do some work, till like 12, it depends. But I always try to have a start and stop time for work.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Now, this is what leading operations and growth looks like for Seun at Shara,
Seun Adeola: It varies. Right? I work with data sometimes. Other times I'm out on the field. I go to the field a lot. So when I say field, I'm talking about the markets, 'cause we do SME financing. So we have we have customers in Oke Arin, Idumota, Ebute Ero, Alaba, Ladipo. So I go to those places, I will kind have to wear like my company uniform and everything. I go there. It's a different orientation. I'm not speaking English, speaking Yoruba, speaking pidgin, speaking small small Igbo. Right. So I'm out there in the field, but you don't want go to the field before doing ops work. I'm not doing my growth from the office every day. In the trenches, that's where my customers are. I'm very close to the customers. When everybody's talking about their brilliant ideas, I'm telling them the mind of the customer, like I know you want to do this, but here's what the customer really needs. So even though that's nice, let's prioritize this. While I'm driving between places, I'm on calls. Uh, speaking to my team, I'm speaking to my supervisors in different regions. It's a very fluid structure. So I won't say it's very regimented. The only thing I have that is regimented is meetings. That's all. That's already scheduled. So I know what I'm doing every day. That's it.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: You should pay attention here. If you're considering going into marketing.
Seun Adeola: Well, I think specializations first. For marketing, you have above-the-line, below-the-line, through-the-line. Above-the-line is out of home, radio, TV; below-the-line is activation, experiential and all of that; through-the-line is your digital PR. Pick a specialization. Pause there for a while, maybe four years. Right? Become that good. While you're doing that, you're picking what you call knowledge in the other aspects., you don't need to be great at everything. You need to be strong at one thing and have a good working knowledge of others. Right. Then, when you now take that to tech you can apply that. So if you want to start your career in marketing, I won't encourage you to start in tech. You'll be quite restricted. I would encourage you to go to an agency. If you have the right attitude, you'll learn, you try your hands on different things. You'll also be under the tutelage of people who are a lot more experienced. Your actions have little impacts on outcome. So you can make mistakes there. If you make mistake in a startup that's bootstrapped, the whole thing goes down, you know? And it's also good for your confidence. You need to be quite good with different types of sheets, you need data appreciation skills. You also need teamwork and collaborative skills, you need to develop that and also be very detailed. You need to be able to articulate your points. Sometimes you're upset, you should also have like emotional balance, so you're gonna be a buffer a lot. And because marketing and sales, they are in the firing line, you need have a tough core and spine.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: At some point, I asked Seun, who would you advise not to go into marketing? And he answered quite frankly.
Seun Adeola: Someone that is too lazy to develop themselves, to ask questions, to research, Yeah. So anybody who is like you're too mentally lazy, don't bother. Right? There's a drive you need to have. So that passion is very important. That's all! Anybody can do it.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Seun Adeola relaxes by watching movies or clubbing, which he rarely does these days.
On his bucket list is a plan to drive across three countries in Europe, and document the whole experience. In his head it's all planned out, but it is quite expensive, so he's open to having sponsors for his plan.
Thank you for listening to Expert and African. I'd like to know your thoughts in the comment section. Don't forget to like subscribe and click on the notification bell, so you get notified every time a new episode is released. This episode is proudly sponsored by the Techpoint African business team. You can reach out to me, at [email protected]