So Far So Good! Lessons in Career, Life & Entrepreneurship (For Undergraduates)

When the NESA Expedition 2017 team reached out to me to speak at their August 3rd, 2017 event, my impulse as I do most times was to say no. I decline speaking engagements from the few invitations I get, not for any other reason other than the fact that I think I’m still trying to figure things out and I haven’t really done much to go around sounding like some smart kid with a Midas touch CRUSHING it out there!

Nevertheless, as someone who has been privileged to lead the association as an undergraduate and because of the utmost respect I have for our amiable staff adviser Prof. Saibu other members of the faculty, I could not say no.

After my talk, a few of the students reached out and said they like the simplicity and practicality of what I shared and wondered if there’s any way they could access my talk. I said I would share it as a blog post. So, this is basically me fulfilling that promise.

I hope this talk will be helpful to at least one person that stumbles on this even if you’re not an undergraduate.

Nobody really knows in advance

I have been fortunate to meet and speak to some accomplished people and it’s shocking how different their paths have been. Very few people take a predictable and straight path. A lot of the successful people we know today explored different paths before hitting gold with what they are known for today. Ibunkun Awosika studied Chemistry. Jeff Bezos worked for years on Wall Street before founding Amazon. Comedian Mr. Bean has a Masters in Electrical Engineering. Ray Kroc of McDonalds was a milkshake device salesman. President Ronald Reagan was an okay actor. Even my humble self studied Economics and I’m currently building a financial technology company.

The examples abound. The lesson here is to broaden your scope of career interests. Don’t let your course of study define what you are capable of or what opportunities you expose yourself to. So far you are willing to learn, you can operate in any territory.

This is especially truer now than ever.

It is okay to start without knowing all the answers

While giving his commencement speech at Harvard University, Mark Zuckerberg made a statement I found pretty profound.

“Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started.”

Make the best decisions based on the information you have at the moment, stand by that decision, make regular iterations and just go with the flow.

Personally, If I knew in advance how hard it will be trying to build a business, I probably would have been overwhelmed and would have tried something else. But the truth is that I can’t trade the experience I’m gathering daily and the fulfillment of overcoming new challenges everyday for anything else.

Feed your curiosity

Many of the interesting opportunities I have been fortunate to have so far are due to my curiosity and willingness to always dig deeper. Genuine curiosity about people and ideas usually lead to innovation and new opportunities. The university institution is built on curiosity. Academic research is formal curiosity.

Sometimes, curiosity is not encouraged in our culture but this is the time to feed your curiosity. It not only helps with your studies, it also helps in developing deeper relationships and in making your mind observant of new ideas.

A wise photographer once said “My favorite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities.”

A lot starts with simple curiosity.

Be proactive about your career

Even if you are in your first year, start strategizing on what you want to do after school now. Start getting to know the people and the skills that are relevant in the industry you are interested in.

Say for example, you want to work in finance; start researching on stocks, bonds, investment analysis, you could do a simple equity research on ten blue chip companies in Nigeria and send your report to the CEO or a top executive in a finance company you will like to work, I can bet this makes your application process much easier.

Think of the boost this would give to your CV and your story if you get a job this way. Even if it doesn’t work out immediately, you would have learnt a few things.

Start building your network and life team now

Don’t take your friends for granted. Many people you will meet after graduation will be acquaintances. The type and depth of relationships you build now can determine how things would pan out.

It is not a coincidence that a lot of the greatest companies in the world today were built by relationships and ideas that started in university halls. I don’t know where else you can find this number of amazing young people after graduation.

You can also be intentional about how you choose your friends. You don’t have to stick to just the people you met during matriculation. You can be clear about the type of friends you want and when you find someone that meets such qualities, be conscious about nurturing the relationship.

Get digital skills

Irrespective of what you are studying, you need to develop digital skills. Software is penetrating and disrupting every sector. If you read the news everyday you will see trends like Fintech, Agritech, HealthTech, and other similar buzzwords.

Don’t wait till you graduate to start learning digital skills. I mean everyone doesn’t have to learn to code but skills like social media marketing, graphics design, product management, data analysis, search engine optimization, copy and long form writing will be very important irrespective of the industry you end up working.

Make bold attempts even if naive

I remember a semester in school when I was broke and I was thinking of the things I could do to make some money. I had a friend who was very good at developing websites. This was around 2010/2011. Less than 10% of local governments in Lagos had websites. So I convinced my friend that we should approach the LCDA Chairmen, convince them on why they need a website and build one for them for a few thousands of Naira.

I was going to work on getting all the local governments to agree and he will build the websites when we get the contracts. I spent all my spare time that semester preparing proposals and visiting almost all the LCDA’s in Lagos State.

At the end of the day, guess how many of them gave us the web design contract. Zero, not one. I didn’t make a dime from that attempt but I learnt some key lessons about how such things work in Nigeria.

What I’m saying is, attempt something outside your comfort zone — run for student union office, organize events, raise funds for school projects, write to the VC about something you want to see change in the school.

It’s okay to attempt things and fail. So far you learn from every experience and don’t give up or take it hard on yourself, it most likely will help you develop a thick skin.

You are not your GPA

You definitely should do your best to get a very high GP. I graduated with a 4.46/5.0 CGPA and I was almost depressed that I didn’t make a first class.

I still wish I did, at least for the bragging rights. You also want to get a high enough GP because a low one can just disqualify you from many great opportunities.

It’s however, surprising how many employers don’t ask for GP anymore. I’ve had three jobs post graduation before starting AmplifyPay and not once has my GP ever been asked. I can’t recall using GP as the basis for recruiting any staff in our company today and even if you get a job because of a high GP, your GP will not help you get things done.

Take advantage of your student status

When you are a student, everyone just wants to help you. Once you graduate, no matter your age, you are seen as an adult and you are now in the real world, you are expected to figure things out yourself.

So, take advantage of being a student. Reach out to people and ask for reasonable favors. This is probably one of the few times so many people will feel so obligated to helping you out.

Have fun

This is something I am learning from some of the busiest and most successful people I know. Fun does three things for you. It helps you strengthen your relationships. It helps you take yourself less seriously and it helps you relax.

Hang out with your friends outside class, go for movies, dance — it doesn’t matter how bad you are at it.

Some of my most vivid memories as a student, were times I spent hanging out and having fun with my friends and I honestly wish I did more of those.

I will close by saying stay positive and keep pushing, one day in the future, it will all come together and make sense.

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