In the month of September, on the #AfricaWomenLeader Series we talk with Odunayo, Co-founder of PiggyVest; a leading fin-tech startup helping African millennials save and invest. Odunayo is a technology serial founder and entrepreneur. A young woman leader, making things happen on her own terms. It is my pleasure to chat with Odunayo and we are introduced to who she is, what motivates her as she shares her lessons and experiences.
Odun and i both went to Covenant University, but we never met at school. Soon enough, i got to know who she was and one thing becomes clear as you get to interact, and know or know of Odun, is how she stays true to herself. It is not in anything apparent really. But on an intuitive level, it is my sense that Odun shares herself with the world as much as possible as she is. Without further ado, let's hear from her directly.
Maria: Odun it is great to have you on #GlossyWhitepumps. Thanks for being open to doing this. Let's jump right into it.Who is Odunayo Eweniyi and what inspires you?
Odun: Thanks for having me, Maria. Who am I? I think that at my core, I’m a person who believes that I was put here to make and leave things better than I meet them. So in whatever situation I find myself, I’m aiming for improvement in a way that is just and fair. I am inspired by people whose journeys I can relate to and learn from, but mostly I motivate myself. There are self set standards that I’m trying to meet up with and exceed.
Maria: What’s your story, how did you get to the point where you founded several businesses, and now a co-founder of a successful fin-tech business, all before 30! What led you here?
Odun: Honestly, i can't say it was a deliberate effort. The plan for my life was actually far different at the time I graduated. I was aiming to go for a Masters degree and become a researcher, and eventually a university professor. Yup. But after applying for jobs unsuccessfully, and having my friend (now co-founder) reach out to me to join a tech startup, the trajectory kind of changed.
So, I went from graduating in 2013, to founding PushCV in 2014 to launching four more startups and having them fail, to finally launching PiggyVest in 2016. What led me here? Gut instinct and the unshakeable belief that I could create something of value that made the space I occupied better than i met them.
Maria: I absolutely connect with that conviction. Making spaces you are better. Odun, one thing i find fascinating is that you have founded FOUR other startups! I also know you recently also co-founded a community, Whine and Wine. Tell us, what is it, and why did you start it?
Odun: Wine and Whine as an organization centered around creating a safe space for women to come together in conversation and execution of solutions to issues that affect women as a gender. These issues range from feminism to financial literacy, leadership training, to employability. We find practical solutions to these issues for the women in our community. The goal really is to create a women-focused network that will eventually have physical spaces all over the country where women can learn, relax and more importantly connect with other women. Our instagram page is here.
Maria: That sounds fun, can't wait to see it evolve. Thanks for sharing that! So, tell us, who were pivotal people in your journey to date, and what pivotal experiences do you think shaped you as a leader?
Odun: The most pivotal people on my journey today are the members of my family. My dad and my mom raised us to be fearless, to be ambitious and to speak up for what we believe in. You know, they didn’t just teach us by saying, they taught us by doing. Both of them are university professors - and my mom is also an entrepreneur. Everyday, we watched them make huge sacrifices for their values, my dad would speak up many times and it would sometimes cost him, but he never stopped. My mom would balance being a professor and running her own business so flawlessly, we were in awe of it.
Maria: It's amazing how our families shape our identities, and it is so clear that yours is a strong support system, allowing you to be who you are.
Odun: Yup, they were present and they were nurturing and our home was free of judgement. This allowed us a lot of freedom of thought and expression which is key to who we are today. Outside of my family, the journey I admire the most is Hillary Clinton’s.
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Maria: On the topic of leadership. What does that word mean to you, and who would you consider a leader?
Odun: The definition of leadership to me is constantly evolving, as I pick up tips and tricks along the way.
A leader is a person who is open, continuously learning and recognizes their strengths and weaknesses while steering an organization or a body towards the overarching vision. A leader doesn’t have to be inflexible or unyielding, or know everything.
Maria: Love that. Does not have to know everything. That is one fallacy that has been gobbled up about the perfection of a leader. It is an unattainable goal, and is not at all genuine. Odun if you could back in time to the beginning of your leadership journey, what would you tell yourself, and why did you need to hear that at the time?
Odun: Exactly. Let's see. I’d tell myself to be more open and to be more flexible. In the early days I was very afraid of being seen as weak or not knowledgeable enough. But now, I see that there’s more value in me listening than doing the speaking.
Maria: Amazing, thanks for sharing that! Odun, you're a woman and it is not uncommon that sometimes other people's biases can show up sometimes. What is your go-to response to those awkward situations when people might downplay your authority or competency just because you’re a woman?
Odun: That used to happen but not as much anymore. But I handle it the same as always: bold and unwavering in my ambitions and refusing to cower to anyone.
Maria: Building proficiency to reach a position of authority on the subject is a key tenet of leadership, how does one go from novice to being recognized as a pioneer. How have you done it, and what is your advice to anyone looking to build skills in an area of passion, or has a big dream while they are still beginners?
Odun: I'll say keep learning. Continue to acquire knowledge. It is what eventually distinguishes you. Look around and identify what additional skills and jobs you can master. Stay on top of changes in your chosen sector. Your aptitude and ability to perform at a higher level and take in information and knowledge is a key factor in the leadership journey. People will look up to you for answers - learn so that you can have them.
Maria: This is such a common theme for during this series. Keep learning. For that African Woman on her leadership journey, who is ambitious and hungry for impact, but struggles with believing that these big goals are possible, what do you say to her?
Odun: They are possible. There is no reason why it is not you who achieves those goals, there’s no reason why your ambition is out of reach. In 2013, I couldn’t have dreamt of the journey in front of me, but it happened. Ask the important questions. Who are you? Why do you need to do this? Once you have good answers to these questions, use them to fuel your journey. And it won’t be easy, but your “Why” always keeps your eyes on your goals.
Maria: Being a leader Is very difficult, I'm certain you have faced challenges. There are times where it might have seemed so rough, quitting was tempting. How have you tackled the rough lows in your leadership journey?
Odun: I think the biggest low for me would be in 2015 when PushCV ran out of money and we had to let almost all staff go. It was probably the lowest point for me on this journey and for a time I took it as a personal failing - letting all those people down. But my support system helped me realize that it was a failing, but it was a business one, not personal. So the first thing I did was learn to separate my identity from my work, and the next thing I did was voraciously learn so that I never repeat old mistakes.
Maria: I love that. "Voraciously learn", that quotes needs to be on a T-Shirt! What is one leadership mistake/pitfall you see is very common from your experience, and how can one avoid it?
Odun: I think that it is confusing control with delegation. Being a successful leader isn’t about being the one everyone always turns to for everything. It means having the awareness to build teams and surround yourself with capable people so you can focus on the vision. The more control you give up, the better.
I struggled with this - and still have some struggle with it. But, I am getting better at ceding control of certain tasks to the incredibly smart people on our team.
Maria: Love the honesty and vulnerability there. Thanks for being open. Odun, women are known to face imposter syndrome much more severely than men, how do you handle it when you feel inadequate, or inexperienced?
Odun: What I’ve done is open myself up to self-criticism. I believe in myself, and one thing that I’ve seen constantly happen to me is that even when I’m unsure, I do it anyway. I would do it afraid rather than not do it. So, I no longer try to silence the critical voice in my head, I embrace it and use it. I think it’s a good thing to be aware of or to feel about myself, because it means that I’m still open to learning. It means that I know that there is always a slight chance of failure, and that’s not such a bad thing, in my opinion.
It also means that I’m not egotistical because the moment I start to think that I’m perfect, I think growth and evolution starts to slow. So, I have welcomed having the courage to be imperfect and sometimes have self-doubt, and recognizing I’m still a work-in-progress.
Maria: That to me, was a perfect statement. The self-awareness, clarity of thought, and insight is so potent. Odun, being a leader is hard. What is your go to activity of rest, and chill? How do you de-stress?
Odun: Watching TV shows, particularly comedies, really helps me melt off the stress. For thirty to forty five minutes, I’m transported to a different world, and my problems just don’t seem as bad.
Maria: What’s your all time favorite book, TV Show and podcast?
Odun: I don’t have a favorite anything because my attention wanders all the time but I do have a couple of books, shows and podcasts that I’m currently enjoying:
Books: Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis, Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart
TV Shows: The Good Fight, The Big Bang Theory, Rick and Morty, Curb Your Enthusiasm - and anything else I can access on Netflix, Prime Video and Apple TV.
Podcasts: Revisionist History, Masters of Scale, The Pitch
Maria: Thanks for those recommendations, packed! We are now at the end, so - what will you leave with us as your parting word, a favorite quote or something you find profound?
Odun: This is one my dad always said to me:
“Aim very high, work very hard, care very deeply”
It’s worked for me so far.
Maria: Odun, it was amazing to have you. Thank you for sharing your self, your story and your journey with us her at #GlossyWhitePumps! I definitely picked a few nuggets from this conversation, than kyou for staying true.
Odun: It is my pleasure, Maria. Before we go, I’d like to spotlight the work we do at Wine and Whine Nigeria. Myself and my partner in this, Dami Odufuwa, started this to create a space where women could feel safe away from the reality of everyday life and it has grown into so much more. We’re working for and with women in different areas from self defense, to sexual health to mental health, to financial stability and professional career building and even some fund-raising for female-focused causes. And of course, we have the all-women parties. It’s a great community. Catch up with what we do here
Reminder: This series is now monthly, to give you lovely readers some time to read each post. I'm excited for October. To get notification on each now released feature, subscribe here.
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See you soon!