I'm pleased to announce the launch of #Conversationswith #AfricanWomenLeader series! In the first week of June, we kick off speaking with Nichole, and many more women in the coming weeks. These women are leaders, trailblazers and they will share their experiences with us in a conversational, down to earth style that connects with who they really are so we can understand their motivations and learn from their experiences.
Meet Nichole Yembra. Her friends call her Khaleesi. I know and have met Nichole, her energy is a force! *phew*. She is a fierce doer, a core INTJ, an operator and a venture capitalist. She is an entrepreneur, dog mom and leader helping multi-million dollar African businesses reach global scale with her work as the founder and Managing Director of Chrysalis Capital. She is exceptionally skilled at what she does and its my pleasure to chat with her today. So, find a comfortable spot and hear her story!
Maria Ro: Nichole! It is amazing to have you here on GlossyWhitePumps, and thanks for taking time to do this! I guess before we go into it, let's meet you. I mean, the core of who you are. So, tell us. Who is Nichole Yembra and what inspires you?
Nichole: I am unpredictable :) You know those computer adaptive tests like GMAT where it gets harder as you get more questions right or easier as you get more wrong? Those tests where you get to something seemingly impossible, it means that you truly know the material inside and out vs when it’s easy and you’re feeling yourself, but it really means your knowledge is basic? That is me.
The more you know about me, the more layered and complicated you see that I am. I am inspired by the human mind and things it creates. I am super fascinated to see people in the top 0.01% of their field who completely redefine the status quo. From Kobe Bryant, Alexander Hamilton, and Serena Williams to Warren Buffett, Beyonce, and Steve Jobs. I am deeply inspired by pace setters.
Maria Ro: I love that you are passionate about consistently being the best at what you do, it comes through so strongly from our interactions and in your work, and your life, people who inspire you. So, tell us, what is your story, how did you get to the point where you now run a successful Venture Capital Business. What led you here?
Nichole: I guess you want the short version? LOL.
Maria Ro: Hahaha short version works.
Nichole: Well, I learned from a young age that I am a generalist. I was always that kid that got intrigued by something, obsessively studied it, perfected it, then got bored and moved on.
I used to read a book a day as a kid and leaned towards authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), Agatha Christie or anyone who had multi dimensional characters solving mysteries repeatedly over a series of books.
Like every other African, my extended family wanted me to be a doctor (I was a whiz at Chemistry even though I hated Physics and Bio), so I decided to go into the business world because it was different from any of them and their expectations.
Maria Ro: It's so funny how African parents back then only understood a few career paths. Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant. Anything else means you're a disappointment. LOL. So tell us how you ended up in Venture Capital?
Nichole: I learned early on that if I am going to go against others’ advice (which I often do lol), I better succeed. I went into Consulting at Ernst & Young in Atlanta to build up my own skillset and was fortunate enough to serve clients like CocaCola and FIFA across twenty two countries including living in Brazil and Thailand. After five years in this role, I realized I had learned all I could from there and set my sights on moving to Africa to try to apply that skillset in a new environment.
In my consulting career, I would always design changes to people and processes and leave others to design technology, but after living in Brazil and seeing that tech is the great equalizer, I wanted to add that to my repertoire. So, I joined a fin-tech parent company and guided us through the worst recession in Nigeria’s history, invested in fourteen of the best startups in the continent in 2016-2017 (cc Flutterwave, Helium Health, and Mines (now Migos), and learned how to solve problems across more emerging markets.
Once again, the universe struck and the latest challenge to tickle my fancy was building a business from the ground up, but for fun, have it be rooted in growing other businesses from the ground up lol. I tell people that I am more of an operator than an investor (so I almost never talk extensively about the VC side of our company), because to me, money is simply a tool. All the money in the world can hide a bad business for a while, but a solid foundation on its way to being an institution realizes they can use a lot less capital to reach their goals.
Maria Ro: Gosh! Your professional experience is so impressive, i also really like how deliberate you've been, taking stock at key points in your career, and using that to inform what you want to do next. I love that you are in the driver seat on the steering wheel of what is your career, your story. So, now let's transition into what an average day in your role at Chrysalis role looks like. Can you walk us through your average day?
Nichole: Whew! I wake up at 4:52am (even with this damn lockdown lol) to work out. Once I’m done and ready for the day, I check my emails and organize my day. I easily have eight to twelve meetings per day between calls or in person meetings (pre- Rona), and also have to go over things in my review queue.
These meetings range from Limited Partners for the fund to clients to potential or existing portfolio companies. It includes chatting with people about their business problems or giving interviews :) I usually never spend more than six-eight weeks in any city (haven’t done that in seriously ten years), so lots of catching flights and not feelings lol.
When in Lagos, I play with my dog Dro and cook a bunch of new recipes. I am obsessed with Chopped and Top Chef. I also hang out with my father and the Chryaslis team. The most comprehensive part of my job is interacting with people which is really tough for me as a deep introvert, but I push through.
Maria Ro: I love Dro! Guys - i literally could not keep dro out of what ought to be a "professional" head shot collage LOL. #teamdro.
You know, what's so fascinating Nichole? You actually do come across as an extrovert but it makes sense that you're actually an introvert who needs a lot of time to recharge. I can relate to that. Let's transition into leadership. What does leadership mean to you and who would you consider a leader?
Nichole: Leadership is the willingness to do whatever has to be done for the greater good. A leader puts the collective good above self and inspires others to be the best version of themselves. I mentioned some of my favorite leaders above already, but I’ll add two more here.
Lebron James is a leader because of who he is both on and off the court and has inspired so many in his position to step up and care for their community. I was in the inaugural Obama Foundation Leadership class so of course my forever President Barack is a leader because he is always cool no matter what (I will never be that restrained, so I continue to be in awe lol).
Maria Ro: Time trivia for you - if you had a two way ticket on a time machine, and you could go back to the beginning of your leadership journey to tell yourself something, what would you tell yourself, and why did you need to hear that at the time?
Nichole: I don’t even need to go back, I can tell myself now LOL. I need to be more patient with those I’m trying to lead. Not to sound pretentious or cocky, but I’ve learned that my brain moves faster than the average person and things that seem logical to me aren’t readily apparent to others. So, I need to be more patient with others and help them reach the end goal with me or see if they can help alter the direction because they’re carried along.
A leader puts the collective good above self and inspires others to be the best version of themselves.
Maria Ro: Lol, toss the time machine! I like your response, i think it also just spotlights that whatever we needed to hear, we probably still need to hear. And there isn't a one point in time that fixes anything. Thanks for answering that, now moving on to being a woman in leadership in Africa.
How do you handle other people’s biases on you, as a woman in authority? What is your go-to response to those awkward situations when people might downplay your authority or competency just because you’re a woman?
Nichole: Girl! I’m not going to lie and say that I handle it as gracefully as Michelle Obama. I don’t. My first defense mechanism has been to be F-ing Fantastic at what I do; I give them zero room to criticize my work. Then, we have to deal with the fact that my race or gender is their hangup. My go to response ranges from (and i’m not proud of this lol), damsel in distress to Sasha Fierce (in your face demanding respect).
There are times/rooms where the men need to feel like they are in charge and so, I guide them to agree with what I want by framing my idea as questions or saying I’m elaborating on what they already said, etc. Other times, I hit them with the data about what I’ve done and ask them to put some respek on my name.
It depends on the crowd, but honestly my mood. Most people have advised me to use the damsel more often;I was actually told that I should ‘mummy’ grown ass men threatened by my authority which is tough for me as (1) i’m only a dog mom and (2) this was a work setting.
But, I’ve found myself educating people about their biases more. Showing them how they wouldn’t challenge this if it were from a man or explaining my personality type to them. I need them to change not just how they treat me, but other women in authority in the future.
Maria Ro: It's so clear that you have to know your onions, and that's really the first line of defense, but building proficiency is hard, it is also important as a leader. In your opinion, how does one go from novice to expert. How have you done it, and what is your advice to anyone looking to build skills in an area of passion, while they are still beginners?
Nichole: I’d say, know what motivates you and hang onto that. I have a bit of a cheat code because I’m naturally obsessive about perfecting skills. I’m seriously a Jane of all trades and master of a lot lol.
If you are truly passionate about something, I would say to read/research all you can and just get to working daily! You also have to become long term greedy in knowing that it may take several years before you are recognized as that expert (and compensated as such).
I took a 65% pay cut when I moved to Nigeria to beef up my tech company building skills. Four years later and i’m still not back to where I was “salary” wise, but I'm significantly wealthier in terms of equity which is for the future.
I read, studied, and dived in knowing it would take years before it all fully paid off.
Maria: 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?
Nichole: Move forward with the confidence of a mediocre white man. As inspiring as Barack and his presidency was to me, low-key, X and what he has done is the true kick in the ass I needed. X has no business holding one of the most powerful positions in the free world and his incompetence is causing hundreds of thousands to lose their lives, and his presidency will have generational impact in the courts.
Maria Ro: If you don't know who X is, take a wild guess. Your guess trumps mine. *shrug*
Nichole: If someone like that can boldly think he is doing an amazing job, why on earth are you doubting yourself? Get ALL your dreams and coins!
Maria Ro: 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. Can you share one of such experiences with us, and how you tackled the rough lows in your leadership journey?
Nichole: With the combination of my personality and being a black woman in leadership, I almost always play the bad cop. When you’re someone who deeply cares about the greater good, it takes a mental toll always being seen as the bad guy when trying to lead people.
I remember when I launched an accelerator focused on female tech founders and was trying to emphasize how women got less than 0.2% of VC funding and black women weren’t even statistically representative so they would have to work like mad and be disciplined. Some of the teams we were working with wanted me to be softer, hold their hands more, do so much for them, yet, that isn’t what the world will do.
Investors will smile in your face then never respond to an email again! I tried to prepare them for the harsh reality and was villainized for it. That is until they went out in the real world to get capital and realized that everything I said was true. Many have reached back out to me in some capacity since then. Even though I always get that “redemption,” it’s tough not to let people stumble.
Maria Ro: Nichole, Being a leader can be tough and support systems and coping mechanisms are important to stay centered. What is your go to activity of rest, and chill? How do you de-stress? What will we catch you doing on a lazy Friday night?
Nichole: Every Friday night, I order pizza and watch TV alone. I genuinely love being by myself and it gives me the energy to be with others. I also am most at peace in the sky, so I love traveling to destress. When I’m overwhelmed with work, I will take fifteen-thirty minutes and book a trip and instantly feel better.
Maria: Let's go down memory lane, what is one common leadership mistake from your experience, and how can one avoid it?
Nichole: Assuming that there is a right or wrong leadership style. We must adapt to the people, situation, and factor in who we are as well. An army general might not make the best non profit leader. The Pope can likely not lead Amazon. Read the room, look at your goals, be kind to yourself, and adapt your style to where you want people to follow.
What will you leave with us as your parting word, a favorite quote or something you find profound?
“Living well is the best revenge”
--this is from my mother and father and it has helped me walk away from painful situations.
Maria Ro: That quote needs to be on a T-shirt.
Nichole: People will not always appreciate your efforts or will try to screw you over, etc. You living well is a better f you than trying to get even or stooping to their level.
Maria Ro: Yes, agreed! And any final words for entrepreneurs building businesses and need Chrysalis's expertise?
I won’t settle for anything less than world domination, so if you are intrinsically motivated and want to build the next generation of African companies, hit me up!
(I said build oh, not just come to be handheld please LOL).
Maria Ro: Lol! That's it folks. It was so amazing to have you, Nichole!
Nichole: This was fun, thanks for having me :)
Stay updated for the next post on June 5th!
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Remember to share this at least one young woman leader you know! See you next week, same time!
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