There’s a new wave of competent, experienced and innovative women leading the way in the Nigerian Tech space. Adibeli Nduk-Agwu, Vice-President Marketing and Content Operations at iROKO Partners is one of them. She talks about why important it is for women to work hard, speak up and take credit for the good work they do. I hope you’re inspired by her! read the interview after the cut:
What is your professional background and how did you come about working at iROKOtv?It’s been quite the journey. My career started in media, then took a detour via peacekeeping and management consulting. By the time I met iROKOtv CEO Jason Njoku, I knew I wanted to do something very real: not write or strategize about it, but actually implement. iROKOtv was perfect: nothing requires more action than a start-up. And I also loved the concept of iROKOtv because it was about taking an African product and making it accessible to the world.
How would you say you’ve been able to build and solidify the brand across regions and continents?
Content came first at iROKOtv – historically it’s been about taking the greatest Nollywood has to offer and ‘setting the content free’ by making it easily accessible to anyone around the globe. We’ve experimented a lot over the years, but great Nollywood content has always remained at the core of our brand, regardless of region, continent or channel of distribution.
What fueled your interest in technology, and how do you think more women should be encouraged to embrace STEM careers?
I stumbled upon tech as a fabulous means to an end: putting great content into the hands of viewers around the globe. The details of the tech side of our business challenge me every day and I’m constantly learning. The key is to not be afraid of it. Keep asking questions (even if they seem stupid), keep improving your understanding. I’ll never be an engineer or developer, but it’s paramount that I understand and appreciate their work, achievements and challenges in order to collaborate effectively.
As for women embracing STEM, it all goes back to not limiting women (or men) based on preconceived categories. We need to make sure students know they can be great at anything regardless of gender. Seeing women in STEM careers is crucial for that. But it’s as important to let women know they can be engineers, developers and physicists, as it is to tell men that they can be nurses or kindergarten teachers.
There have been an increasing number of innovations that are bringing technology closer to people; how will this impact iROKOtv?
We strive to be at the forefront of some of these innovations. No one has figured out how to bring awesome entertainment experiences to the African mass markets via mobile phones yet. Networks are unreliable. Phones are basic. Data is expensive. Companies like iROKOtv need to continuously innovate to ensure poor infrastructure does not prevent African users from having access to the best movies. For this reason we have shut down our website in Africa and are focusing solely on the best possible mobile experience.
You moved from the West to Nigeria, 3 years go. What made you decide to take the big leap?
It wasn’t that big a leap in my case. I left Germany at 16 to pursue my education abroad. Since then I had traveled the world from Caracas to Kabul. Where Africa is concerned. I had worked in Accra and Joburg before I came to Nigeria in 2012. Originally, I just wanted to check the living-in-Lagos-box and be part of what appeared to be a city where things happen fast, especially within consumer internet. But I quickly fell in love with the glorious madness that is this city.
You work with Jason Njoku – entrepreneur extraordinaire – I imagine it’s a fast-paced environment; what are some of the lessons you’ve learned working with him?
Working with Jason has been equally tough and rewarding. He is extremely demanding: if something can be done today, then it MUST be done today. As a start-up, you have no time to waste. And I’ve learned that most things can indeed be done today! Strip them down to the essentials, and get them done. For me the greatest lesson has been: be bold! In completely new areas of business, like VOD in Nigeria, no amount of research or feasibility studies can tell you what you’ll learn from just committing and doing it!
In this article, you say it’s okay to be a strong female leader. Are you ever concerned of being tagged “bossy” or “aggressive?”
I cannot recall a time when I was not being called those words. I’ve come to love and embrace them. For now, I think women who are seen as strong will unfortunately continue to face these terms until society catches up and replaces them with words like “ambitious”, “determined” and “good at her job”.
You are the Head of Growth at iROKOtv; what are some of the challenges you face in attracting and retaining top-notch talent?
The talent I’ve seen in Nigeria has been impressive: really smart, creative and hard working individuals, some home-grown, some returnees, some foreigners. But of course there’s competition for the top brains. As a start-up, we don’t compete with corporate perks and pay. But those who have got what it takes, will rise so much faster and have so much more freedom and responsibility at a start-up. We’ve got people in our team who’ve gone from doing phone support to managing large teams in a matter of months. So I think believing in people, training them and then allowing top talent to rise through the ranks is key in keeping the best people around.
How would you say the new media and technology have impacted your business operations at iROKOtv?
Since iROKOtv itself is new media, we have always been very open to exploring new types of consumer engagement and acquisition. YouTube and social media form the core of our consumer channels. That said, we also know that traditional ways of engagement still matter. So we also go old-school and pick up the telephone to call up our customers to ensure they are having a good experience. We’re available 24/7 for in-person live support. We want our customers to know that we are real people, who will be there in case they encounter an issue. So it’s a mix of new and traditional channels that make up the whole of our operations.
What advice would you give young women starting out their careers in the corporate world?
Work hard. Speak up. Recognize the good work you do. And take credit for it. If you are doing great work, learn to say so. A lot of women struggle to appraise themselves positively. They’ll write a novel about their weaknesses, but blush when they are forced to say one good thing. That must end. If you are kicking ass, don’t hide it.
As new generation women, we’ve heard about leaning in, we’ve learned to become more assertive, we’ve learned to put ourselves first. Some might argue that we are raising a generation of egocentric women, would you agree?
I don’t think putting one’s career first, hurts anyone. Certainly not the child. So many have been raised to believe that being a wife and mother is defined and measured by self sacrifice. I resent that. Yes, you’ll need to sacrifice certain things: sleep, stain-free clothing, me-time. But sacrificing a career, if you want one? Why?! I truly believe that an unhappy mother makes for an unhappy child. So if a career makes you happy, have one. It’ll make you a happier, more balanced person and thus mother, partner and friend.
How do you create balance – being a mother, wife and careerist?
I’m not always successful, but I think balance is important to preserve basic sanity. I try and set clear rules. There’ll be times when I will switch off my phone for a weekend, so I can be present 100% with my family and friends. I try to create routines from which I don’t waver, be it my Saturday yoga classes, putting my daughter to bed at night or reading for pleasure before I go to sleep.
What 3 favourite books would you recommend?
“The Thing Around Your Neck” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
“How to Be a Woman” (Caitlin Moran)
“Life of Pie” (Yann Martel)
If you could, what would you tell your younger self?
Sleep in on weekends, you’ll regret it later on if you don’t…