Ibukun Akinnowo: Building and Scaling in the Business Industry
At the beginning of my career, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to do it well, whatever I was working on. I wanted to do impactful work that would matter and solve large-scale problems for people.
I went to a Catholic boarding school, so there was always a specific time and schedule for everything. It was initially difficult for me to adjust to what I thought to be a prison, but I’ve now realized that having a plan makes you more organized and efficient.
My career started at the University of Lagos, where I was studying for my bachelor’s degree. In my second year, I started writing, editing, and working as a virtual assistant to professionals.
So when I completed my degree, I decided to register my company (Independent Personal Assistant) which provided skilled virtual assistance to C-level professionals in Nigeria, the US, and the UK. I was running my clients’ lives so they could focus on what mattered to them.
I’ve always believed that I would be successful. I got this quiet self-assuredness from my mom.
She’s deceased now, but she was a very confident, enterprising woman, and that rubbed off on me. So I always thought if my mum could do so and so, I could definitely do it too because I am my mother’s child.
My Driving Force
I have always wanted to solve large-scale problems and do the best I can no matter the role or position. I have served in different capacities in my career so far, and my mantra is to help people and processes work better than they already do. When I make career decisions, small or big, it’s always after I’ve filtered it through my mantra. So on days when I don’t have the zeal to work, I remind myself that my work is essential and it will help make someone’s life easier or better.
The first memorable milestone for me was founding my company. At the time, I was getting a bachelor’s degree in music; I was a voice major and played the violin and piano as minor instruments. In my first year, I was convinced I was going to be a famous musician and even recorded a song with a friend of mine.
But by my second year, I wanted to try something more “profitable.” I didn’t want to make mainstream music, my sound is more indie/alternative, and I didn’t want to change my sound to appeal to more people.
I thought, “What else do I do well?” and picked up writing for money. I used to write short stories for my enjoyment during prep in secondary school. I garnered a small readership in my class at the time too. That is how I started writing for money through university. After a while, I expanded my product offerings to include editing, project management, calendar management, and other virtual assisting services.
So, founding a business right after university with no prior experience or education in business management was a significant milestone for me. Another milestone I remember was getting local and international clients for my business. As a first-time founder, I was able to land clients in Nigeria, the United States, and the United Kingdom. That was a massive feat for me.
Other milestones include working at reputable organizations like Paystack and Kuda Bank, occupying senior positions, and impacting many.
Building, scaling, and maintaining a career requires continuous effort. The first lesson I learned was asking questions. No matter how silly you think, the questions are, always ask questions. You shouldn’t be afraid of being the most stupid person in the room. There are different reasons for you to ask questions;
– for clarification
– to improve knowledge
– to provoke thinking about solving a problem
– to get what you want
No one can read your mind and give you what you want. You have to vocalize and be confident enough to ask for it. The worst answer you’ll get is a ‘no,’ and the best solution you’ll get is a ‘yes.’
Another important lesson I’ve learned is to always improve myself and the quality of my work. There’s always a better and more efficient way to do most things. So, I always seek to improve myself by reading and learning more about my industry.
That way, I can hold valuable conversations with people in the industry and learn new ways to improve my work. That mindset is one of the reasons I am where I am today career-wise.
On Women Empowerment
It’s important to create a level playing field for all women because women make up about half of the world’s population. It’s only fitting that we are accorded a seat at the table and have a say in how the world’s systems are run. It just makes sense.
I help empower other women by directly having one-on-one conversations with women who want to get into tech and are unsure about how.
I have conversations with them to get a sense of their strengths and goals. That way, when I find opportunities that match, I recommend them for those positions.
If I had the power to, I would hire more women, and get more women in positions of power, in politics and across many industries. When I ran my business,
women made up 80% of IPA’s workforce.
At some point, I hope to set up a scholarship scheme for women to learn and gain relevant skills they need to get into whatever industry they want. I am now also looking to invest in women-run companies. I am signed to FirstCheck Africa is a fund that invests in women-led early-stage businesses. I am excited by what the FirstCheck founders are doing. Women are over-mentored and under-financed. I want to make more money, so I can put my money where my mouth is (figuratively speaking).
Furthermore, I advocate for more women to be hired at my current job and other jobs I have had in the past. If we hire more women into influential positions where I work, that is a win for the ecosystem.
And it also means there will be more women in the tech industry.
My Spark is how hard I work and how driven I am to help tech companies solve big problems.
My mission statement to help people and processes work better than they already do drives me to take on the projects that I do and the companies I apply to work at.
Finding Her Spark
Take up space and be extremely good at whatever you’re doing. Always record your achievements and speak unapologetically about them.
Also, do not shy away from the spotlight because by being more visible, you’re encouraging the next generation of women also to take up space and achieve their
aspirations without fear.