Andela is venture-backed startup that builds distributed engineering teams with Africa’s top software engineers. With nearly 2,000 employees across offices in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda, Egypt, and the United States, Andela is building a global footprint. At the forefront of this movement is Seni Sulyman, the VP of Global Operations at Andela. In this first edition of How I Work, he gives us a sneak peek into his daily work routines and habits, the gadgets and apps he uses to get things done, and what he spends his time doing when he’s not working.
Current role: Vice President of Global Operations at Andela.
Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Current computer: Macbook Pro 13-inch
Current mobile device: Pink iPhone 6s, which my coworker gave me when I lost my iPhone 10 earlier this year. I refuse to buy an iPhone 10S/X and will wait until the next device arrives
Describe how you work in one word: #Efficiently
Tell us briefly about how you started out your career and how you got where you are today
I started out my career as a Management Consultant at Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm. I’d say that what got me to where I am today is a combination of luck and determination.
I’ve had a fairly clear picture of what I’d like to do long-term, which is to build businesses that are technology-enabled, highly customer-centric, and great places to work.
To get here, I’ve taken a step at a time in my career, going from learning how businesses operate and drive success (Bain), to immersing myself in Silicon Valley while creating and implementing strategy within a technology company (HP), to learning how to operate within the Nigerian context (CardinalStone), to understanding the challenges of building a company from scratch (Konga), to successfully building a new business from scratch (new jet airline at Bristow), and finally to scaling a high growth tech startup through leading high performance teams (Andela). Each of these has been a building block on top of the previous one.
I’ve also been very lucky to work in organisations and teams where I’ve had the opportunity to create and learn.
Walk us through a recent workday
Each workday varies wildly, as you can imagine. On a recent “typical” day, I fired off and replied to several emails in the morning, had 2 meetings with members of my team in the late morning, reviewed 2-3 documents and provided feedback on direction and content, and then convened a cross-functional group of teammates as part of a company-wide project I’m leading.
Somewhere in between, I had lunch. In the early evening, I had 2 other meetings with team members to provide guidance on their work, and then I sent a few more emails and left the office around 7 pm.
After dinner at home with my wife, we both did another 2 hours of work together (separately, but in the same space) and then spent the rest of the night catching up on how our workdays went, before heading to bed around 1 am.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
My top apps are Gmail, Slack, Trello, Zoom, Google Chrome, Google Drive (sheets, docs & slides), Google Calendar, Google Maps, Twitter, Instagram, and banking Apps (GTB & Diamond Bank – I still don’t use the Access app yet). Gadgets I can’t live without are my Macbook, iPhone and AirPods.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
I’m constantly looking for shortcuts in all my work and even personal life, to save time and increase bandwidth/leverage. One of my favourite hacks is that I wear the same outfit to work every day. I have a stack of black tee shirts from MUJI, black jeans from Levi’s, and black sneakers from Onitsuka. I wear them almost every single day.
I typically wear something different on weekends, though quite often I forget and just grab my black outfit again. But my wife helps keep me in check on weekends.
What task do you not like to do but have to do?
I absolutely hate doing things that are repetitive. If I could, I’d automate my shower. So that I can just walk in, press a button, and everything happens without any effort.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I am obsessed with my calendar and to-do lists. I use Google calendar and Trello. If I agree to watch a movie, it goes into my calendar. If I agree to have a phone call with someone (aside from friends & family), it goes into my calendar. When I plan a haircut, it goes into my calendar. Dinners with friends, colleagues or professional contacts, calendar! Most of my meetings at work are scheduled. If I need to review a document, it goes into both my calendar and my Trello checklist.
This practice allows me to know how much time I’ve “dedicated” to things vs. how much “open” time I have. And it determines how many things I can do spontaneously. It also minimizes scheduling conflicts, missed meetings, missed deadlines, etc. I think people highly underestimate and underinvest in calendars and schedules.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I sleep, read (mostly management, leadership and human psychology), hang out with my wife or friends, watch Netflix, take long walks (mostly when I’m outside Lagos), and sometimes avoid other people.
What do you enjoy or spend time doing besides work?
The same as above. And I also really enjoy breaking down business models, advising executives and entrepreneurs, mentoring professionals, and dreaming about new bold ideas that can change our world.
What are you currently reading, watching or listening to, or what do you recommend?
I just finished reading “High Output Management” by Andy Grove. I’m about to start reading a multi-part series from the Harvard Business Review on effective leadership and management. I have one more episode of Black Mirror left (on Netflix), and I most recently listened to Beyoncé’s Lion King album because my wife is the biggest Beyoncé fan on the planet.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My really good friend and mentor, Yomi Jemibewon, told me that most of the challenges I face at work and in business will be people related. He said that if I can figure out people, then I’ll be able to achieve a lot. I’ve taken that to heart and he’s been 110% correct based on my experiences both in Nigeria and abroad.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
The problem of not being able to have a single day of seamless or effortless experiences in Lagos. Every morning in Lagos feels like preparation for battle or stress. There are too many people who live a lower quality of life, regardless of their income level, because too many things don’t work the way they’re supposed to.
To solve these things, we need a massive overhaul of society – from education to training, regulation, law enforcement and governance, which would involve tens of millions of Nigerians. I don’t yet know how you solve that, but it’s something I’m constantly thinking about.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Shola Akinlade at Paystack.
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Nigerian startups raised $377m in 2019, more than twice what they did in 2018. Find out more when you download the full report.