Last year in August, Damilola Alabi, joined VestedWorld as our first operations team member. Damilola, known as Dami, joins us as a Chief of Staff, based in Lagos, Nigeria. VestedWorld Managing Partner, Nneka Eze, sat down with Dami to learn more about her background, areas of interest, and her goals for 2023.
Transcript edited for clarity.
Nneka: Well thanks for making the time Dami. We’re going to talk through your journey and why VestedWorld and all of that. So, can you tell us a bit about your journey to get to VestedWorld? Given it’s now been over six months since you joined the team — but prior to Vested World, tell me a bit about your journey.
Damilola: Prior to VestedWorld, I started my journey in communications and marketing. I used to work at Cafe Neo. That was my first job ever. It was a chain of coffee shops with multiple stores here in Lagos and also in Rwanda. It was nice because then, the coffee community was just getting started in Lagos. It was nice to have that community.
Coffee shops are places where entrepreneurs that cannot afford office spaces, go to work. That was the way that I got to know about the startup world because I was able to meet a lot of entrepreneurs across different industries come and work at Cafe Neo. I would also interview the entrepreneurs for the Cafe Neo newsletter.
The company I was working with–the founders also had another company called “Paylater” (now called Carbon). We used to share the same office and I used to see the techie boys and the techie guys on the other end. Started asking “what’s happening in the technology world? What was happening? I’m intrigued with what they’re doing with the coding.”
Learning about tech
From there I learned more about the startup world and what was happening in the tech ecosystem at the time. It was just getting the information. I noticed people left and started their own companies. There were so many things happening in this industry at the time. So I thought to find out more about what’s happening.
I moved into events and I moved into communications, but stayed connected with the ecosystem through Twitter and being on social media. I saw that the tech industry was booming and there was a low entry barrier for people to enter. It was a new industry that was picking up at the time. But I didn’t want to go into coding. I wanted to find a space in the ecosystem where the skills I had before could work for me.
Moving into tech and supporting women founders
I took my time and I knew the right opportunity would come for me to work in tech. That’s how the Wetech opportunity came to happen.
It was an opportunity to work in tech, an industry I am very passionate about. And I have also always been passionate about women and women entrepreneurs. I have mostly worked with female founders or have had a direct line manager that was a women. I have always been a passionate champion of women in the workplace.
Working with Wetech was a very good experience. I was working with female founders who were trying to raise funds and grow their businesses. We hosted meetups and they would share information and introductions to other founders to move things forward for their businesses.
We also had young women who were in secondary school and university, doing programmes and internships, and attending a series of events to help women build and accelerate their careers in technology.
While I was at Wetech, I joined the OnDeck Fellowship to learn more and to meet people in the space and people on the same journey as I was.
There was a Slack with a Jobs channel where people would post jobs. Somebody posted about a “Chief of Staff” role. I had already shared that I was looking for a Chief of Staff and Operations role. I applied and when I got the job, I reached back out to the woman from OnDeck that posted on the group to thank her. We set up a call after that. I had told OnDeck previously that the jobs that they were posting were not ones that related to me–the jobs were in America and Europe, without opportunities for people living in Africa or Nigeria. They said they would try to bring more diverse companies that are hiring. When I read the job description, it felt that the role was for me.
Nneka: I love the The power of networking is just impressive. It’s great to hear about your journey. Another area I would like you to reflect on is what diversity of thought or perspective, you feel you are bringing to VestedWorld and for the broader ecosystem.
Damilola: The investment work that we do is very quantitative, and I think the thing that sets you apart is the story and how you express that story through the things that you do. That’s the thing, even for us, as we invest in companies there may be times we take the story over the numbers at times. What I’m bringing is telling the stories and putting them into the work that we do.
For some of the events we are hosting, ensuring the story is coming through. Showing how people relate in a creative way.
Nneka: You’ve already been six months in your role. So tell me what you were most looking forward to and then now, what you’re looking forward to for the rest of 2023?
Damilola: I was really excited to work with you [Nneka] and Lavanya [former VestedWorld Principal]. I used to go to people’s websites and check for women on the team. I was excited about the experience and backgrounds of the women on the team. I wanted to see people that looked like me making their way in this industry with the experience and expertise you had.
I wanted to see what the gender aspect looked like as there is a conversation about women not being funded. I wanted to understand where the problem was coming from and what is VestedWorld doing differently to champion female founders. When I joined I could see how that played out in the pipeline that comes, how we look at deals with a gender lens and how we are passionate about that.
One of the things I am looking forward to now is understanding better how things have changed in the ecosystem since COVID-19 with so many sectors and businesses coming up especially as we move into the seed and pre-seed stage. I am also looking to see how we approach portfolio construction/diversifying our portfolio compared to what we see.
VestedWorld invests in some businesses that other VCs don’t invest in, such as agribusinesses and consumer products. I am looking forward to see areas that we might invest in like beauty.
Nneka: I am definitely looking forward to that in 2023. It’s been a discussion we have been having and we are rolling out a number of areas to focus further. What’s been surprising or challenging about your experience so far?
Damilola: A lot is surprising! A lot! The numbers. I should have taken more notes when I was doing math classes. It was a question of how to even process all of the numbers. Sometimes looking at the numbers, my brain shuts off. It’s linked to this–there is so much happening in the world, I am getting exposed to people that understand the numbers, and seeing the special skills that different people have and the ability to process all this information. It speaks to the uniqueness of being human. Seeing that is one of the things that’s been very exciting. The challenge is the quantitative side of things.
The other challenging thing is that I wish we could invest in all these businesses and tell them “take this money and go and succeed, go forth into the world”. But there is a process to these things and they have to make sense.
Nneka: I know you are not in an investing role but I definitely want to hear, what are those investment themes that you’re really excited about areas that you feel like we should try to invest into?
Damilola: Two areas would be beauty and food. I’m a big beauty person–beauty products and all that, self care–so I’m really excited about the beauty space. In terms of consumer goods, I love food–I’m always eating and all my money goes to food. I know we do more agriculture but I wanted to see the end product in terms of food. I know we have looked at some companies, and I would like to see some food businesses in the portfolio.
Nneka: I completely agree on both fronts. I am excited about businesses is that space. So, we’ll try to find the right ones to invest into. Final question: what are you currently reading that might be interesting to others?
Damilola: Stripped: An African Woman’s Guide to Building Generational Wealth was written by ‘Solape Akinpelu, the founder of HerVest. My friend works there and she gifted it to me. I started reading it and it is really impactful. I need to get my money together.
Nneka: That’s awesome. I saw when she launched the book and I know it was really helpful for me to do some finance reading before I got into finance. So I definitely hear you on that. Anything else to share with the world about being the Chief of Staff at VestedWorld.
Damilola: It’s a rollercoaster of different things. One of the things when I wanted to move into a Chief of Staff role, I didn’t know what it entailed. I had a number of areas I was passionate about, cross-functional roles. When I came in I said “yes, this is a really good challenge”.
I like that in VestedWorld I have the opportunity to express myself and say this is what I want to do, this is how I want to do it, and there is that space to grow. There is space to share even “silly ideas”, there is always space here and an openness to be and do you. There is room to try different things. We have different team members with different ways to do things, and I am taking some of the things I do from different people.
Also, the team is spread across three different countries and it’s smooth, and everything just comes together. It’s amazing and something I haven’t seen before. I am really excited about joining the team.
People should be jealous about me being in this role at VestedWorld. People should be really jealous.
Nneka: I’m sure plenty of people are. Thank you so much for sharing a bit about your experience and perspectives and areas of excitement for 2023. And yeah, really looking forward to this year to come.
Damilola: I am excited. Thank you for taking the time.
Nneka: Thank you, Dami.