January 2019, I got an email inviting me to speak at Silicon Valley… I did a crazy dance and screamed like a baby! It was a super big deal. I was invited to speak in the capital of tech entrepreneurship and venture capital. To educate them about African Startups, and why Lagos was the Silicon Valley of Africa. Investors spoke to me and I was mind blown. I didn’t believe it until I saw the flyer. I knew I deserved it but it still felt good to be acknowledged.
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This flyer made me walk back to every single action I took that got me recognized enough, to get this email and call. I’ll share 3 core bits with you. Nothing motivational, just actionable steps you can take, that’ll change your life.
This is one of my biggest mantras in life. Truth is, you cannot determine what will be valuable to people but here’s what you can do – listen, pay attention, be willing to help, and take action. I am well vast in Branding and Communications, and I love creators. Tech creators intrigued me even more. This led me to learn as much as I could about them. I saw that most tech creators, actually, creators in general, are focused on creating their product but are too involved in it to care about the business side of things e.g. their customers, marketing plan, presenting the product in a way that their customer will truly appreciate it.
Most of them were Steve Woz and they needed a Steve Jobs. Someone who understood the product enough to be able to mediate the communication between them and their customers. I decided to be their Steve Jobs by offering advice, giving a lending hand, connecting them to other people who could help their businesses succeed. After a while, whenever international accelerators, investors, etc came into Lagos, they’ll contact me from LinkedIn or via emails and say “XXX said we should contact you” or “We found you are an active leader in the Lagos Startup Ecosystem” or “XXX said you helped with this”. The thing is, when you add value to someone, they talk about it, you become part of their story and that story travels far. Stanbic IBTC & Founder Institute curated a Startup Ecosystem Canvas and I was listed as an Active Entrepreneur Leader to further buttress this.
Be Part Of A Community
If you are unsure about where to start, start in a community. I didn’t just sit in my house waiting for creators and entrepreneurs to come to me, I went to them in communities they were part of. I helped out within those communities. I was not a passive member, I was active. Active doing the work that mattered – impacting lives. Fun fact, my husband, Uwem Uwemakpan, introduced me to the concept of community and I have run with it, in a way that he didn’t even see coming. You impact lives by solving people’s problems to the best of your ability. The major key here is to “Give First”.
Don’t join a community only thinking about what you’ll get, think about what you can offer. Think about how you can help. The “networking” craze has been on the rise. People are so focused on talking about themselves and distributing cards like souvenirs, but they are not building relationships. Most of those cards end up in the trash, because the person was unmemorable. Be memorable, focus on quality over quantity. Meet 4 people and engage in meaningful conversations. Ask them about themselves and as the conversation progresses, figure out how you can help them. It could be a connection email, a recommendation, an idea, a reassuring statement, it’s often the little things that count. Be memorable.
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Be Worth Advocating For
A friend of mine once said, You either have a sit at the table or you are on the menu. This stuck with me because, no one has a sit at the table all the time, we are all always shuffling between the two worlds. What do I mean? You are either the decision maker speaking for someone or someone is speaking for you. Be worth speaking for. When you are not in the room, decisions are made. Will your name ever come up in those discussions? If your name comes up, will the person be able to make a case for you? I was definitely not in the room when someone in California said “I think Blessing should be one of our speakers” but the work I had done, gave the person a foundation to work with. The person could say “Blessing has done x, x, x and impacted x, x , x. She’s the best person for this slot”. Be worth advocating for.
Finally, if you condense everything I have shared into two words, it’ll be this – Be prepared for that opportunity you want. So when it finally comes, you won’t miss it. The Startup Conference was amazing. A lot of businesses have enjoyed an influx of investments in Lagos. More international VCs are coming to Africa to invest in our ideas because according to HBR, Africa has an emerging tech ecosystem and a rising economy. If you are a Startup, be consistent and position yourself for investment. If you are a founder, be prepared and show up. If you are an investor, there’s a huge opportunity in Africa, don’t miss out on it.
Featured Image Source: Blessing Abeng
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