Fola Olutunji-David has been immersed in the African tech space for over a decade. During this time, he has acquired a wealth of experience working with large organisations in both the private and public sector. However, his interest in startups led him down a slightly different career path. Now at Google, Fola has taken up the herculean task of equipping startups in Africa with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed.
On this week’s How I Work, Fola takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of his daily activities, how he manages his time and stays productive.
Current role: Head of Startup Success and Services, Launchpad Africa, Google
Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Current computer: MacBook Pro 13″
Current mobile device: Pixel 3XL
Describe how you work in one word: Productive
Tell us briefly about how you started out and how you got where you are today
I started my career doing IT Infrastructure at Stanbic Bank in Lagos in 2007. Post-merger with IBTC Chartered Bank, I joined the Integration then Service Delivery teams and had the privilege of travelling to more than 20 of the newly formed bank’s branches within Nigeria. This experience did two things to me — it allowed me see what existed in Nigeria outside of Lagos and Abuja, and it created a passion/tolerance for travelling for work.
I worked with the bank for two years then moved to set up a tech shop, helping physical businesses create an online presence, and also built a fairly successful Enterprise resource planning (ERP). I did that for a year and joined CardinalStone Partners as their Head of IT, helping them launch Nigeria’s first online trading platform and asset management portal in 2010.
I took some time off for school in 2011-2013, then joined a finance and investment firm in Mauritius in 2013 helping them better understand their data and building automated risk models.
I moved to Nigeria and worked briefly with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in 2014 before becoming a project lead for SET IT. Working for SET IT, I designed and led a massive project that covered e-learning for 76 tertiary institutions around Nigeria — while also moving back to the UK to complete a second MSc.
I first got interested in startups from running UCL’s summer accelerator and I moved back to Nigeria to pursue this. I joined Venture Garden Group in late 2015 as a VP of business development for a bit before joining forces with the good folks of Ventures Platform in Abuja to start their accelerator and fund — investing in 23 startups in a 15-month period. I joined Google in late 2017.
Walk us through a recent workday
I’m super big on work-life balance and productive work. I think people are paid to work not to show up to work, so I am either working or I am not — no need to mark attendance.
Most mornings I wake up twice — the first time around 6:15 a.m. (out of habit to turn off the AC) and the second time at 7:30 a.m. I check my phone’s notifications the first time I wake up but only reply to very urgent personal messages, and then I respond to others after 8 a.m.
I am usually dressed for work by 8 a.m. when I start working from home till about 9 a.m. Unless I absolutely cannot help it I don’t take meetings (in person or online) before 10 a.m., so I work on my lists and respond to emails. On most days, I get to work between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. with two lists — a to-do list (with usually around 10-15 things) and a must-do list (with a maximum of three things).
Over the day I take some meetings and give myself two to three breaks for social media, mainly for community engagement. I skip breakfast but have lunch and dinner.
Though I leave work between 4-6 p.m. on most days, I stay back till 11 p.m. if I get in the zone/have things to finish. I watch a show or catch up on social media most nights before I go to bed — mainly Twitter to see what happened that day. I am nocturnal, so I typically go to bed around 1-2 a.m.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
Apps: Maps, Gmail, WhatsApp, Uber/Taxify, and Twitter. Gadget: Mobile phone. Tool: Passport (Nigerian)
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
I don’t have notifications on my phone, so I don’t get distracted; I am able to focus more, and only check for notifications every two hours. I also wear kaftans on most days, they make it easy to ‘suck belle’, so I’ve saved gym money :).
What tasks don’t you like but have to do?
Taking meetings that can be emails. I usually create an agenda for most meetings, and if I don’t have one or get one, I ask before the meeting. Sometimes we agree there’s no need to meet; on those days, I am overwhelmed with joy!
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I use my calendar app to schedule most of my day, and then I use lists that I write on paper for actual tasks; as I said earlier, I have a to-do and a must-do list. Most days, I finish my must-do list, but I don’t finish my to-do list. Sometimes I end up doing more than I wrote down, which is a confusing feeling because there are still things I wrote on the list but did not do :).
How do you recharge or take a break?
I play football two times a week, it’s like therapy for me! Also, proper sleep when my body sends signals.
What do you enjoy or spend time doing besides work?
Spending time with my wife and daughter, listening to music, and regularly defeating friends on FIFA.
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?
Music: African Giant Album – Burna Boy, everything from MI. Watching: Money Heist. Reading: The Laws of Human Nature (Robert Greene), Hexavian Laws of Business (Eizu Uwaoma).
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Mark Essien once spoke about all of us not being special, and how our talents will be wasted if we don’t work hard. That got me.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
Unemployment. My master’s thesis was on how to solve this, and I obsess over it every few months. Anyone with ideas should hit me up @folasanwo.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Juliet Ehimuan, Kola Aina, and Dr Ola Orekunrin-Brown.
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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.