Tomi Davies is one of the most influential people in the Nigerian and African technology community. His investment and mentorship efforts over the years have impacted several startups both locally and globally. Although now retired, Tomi Davies still spends a lot of his time travelling around the world imparting knowledge through his speaking engagements and workshops.
Tomi Davies recently stopped by at the Techpoint office and shared how he worked with us.
Current roles: President, Africa Business Angel Network; co-founder, Lagos Angel Network; collaborator-in-chief of technology services company, TechnoVision
Location(s): 30,000 – 65,000 feet (I live on a plane)
Current computer: MacBook Air
Current mobile device: iPhone 7
Describe how you work in one word: Questioning
Tell us briefly how you started out and how you got where you are today
I started out as what was then called a systems engineer in IBM writing microcode for the PCjr. At the same time, I taught COBOL and FORTRAN programming languages. This was in the mid-eighties. So, I came to Nigeria, I did my youth service at Elf Aquitaine. After finishing youth service they made me the head of data processing.
Then my Dad died so I left the country, went to the UK, and got headhunted by Marks & Spencer where I became the head of IT Research. Then, they wouldn’t let me sell on the Internet so I resigned and joined Ernst & Young as the eCommerce practice partner. I was with Ernst & Young for a number of years, then they sold the management consultancy to Capgemini, so I ended up taking my team, which was then running the incubation program for Ernst & Young, and moved to Sapient. There we built direct.gov.uk for the UK government, built Opodo, and a few other interesting things.
Then I came to Nigeria and worked in Abuja on projects like the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), and a number of other interesting things. Eventually, I was told I wasn’t wanted in Abuja anymore so I moved to Ghana for a short while where I worked with SW Global for a while and then eventually came back to do one or two interesting things like trying to deploy a data network in Lagos for Mobitel.
And then I started building my portfolio on startups, so primarily now I just focus on identifying and investing in quality startups from Nigeria and I also spend a lot of time helping other cities build their own angel networks while being president of the African Business Angel Network.
Walk us through a typical workday
I don’t have a typical day. Usually, I get ready for the airport and jump on a plane, or I get ready to speak at an engagement. At other times, I provide advisory services or I’m visiting to learn. I have a learning day when I discover new things, I have workshop days when I’m imparting knowledge, I have speaking days — again imparting knowledge, then I have travel days.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you do without?
WhatsApp is my number one weapon of choice. Twitter is number two, the iPhone Calendar is number three, and TripIt is number four.
What is your favourite shortcut or hack?
The last thing I do before going to bed is take a hot shower so I sleep well and I’m recharged for the next day. In fact, no matter where I am in the world, I cannot sleep without taking a hot shower.
What task(s) do you dislike but still do?
I’m actually at the stage where most of the tasks I do are things I enjoy. Over the years, I have delegated anything I don’t enjoy. But probably, what I don’t like that I still have to do is discipline — in terms of people that work with me.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
That’s the easiest thing. I’ve got too many productivity tools not to do so. Notes, Reminder, Evernote, Google Drive, Medium — because I write — Microsoft Teams, Voice Memos, Google Sheets, DropBox, OneDrive, Fiverr, and Upwork — because I use virtual teams to get stuff done, that’s how I scale.
How do you recharge or take a break?
That’s easy. Twice a year we have a place in southern Spain called Marbella where the Mrs and I go with no phone and no electronics for five days
Besides work, what do you spend time doing? What do you enjoy?
I sail. So, I’m a certified dayscaper by the Royal Yachting Association in the UK. I do race sailing, that’s how I met Larry Ellison of Oracle; he’s got this beautiful boat called Sayonara.
I walk a lot. I usually walk from Sabo, Yaba to Paga. I call myself a Yaba area father, and you cannot be an area father if you don’t know who’s in Yaba.
Also, mentoring using WhatsApp Groups. I actually have an annual mentoring programme that people apply for online and it gets delivered online.
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to? What do you recommend?
Currently, I’m trying to finish A Fatherless People: The Secret Story of How the Nigerians Missed the Road to the Promised Land by Dele Ogun. It is the best-researched book on Nigeria I have come across. You start to get an understanding of how Nigeria ended up the way it is.
I’m also rereading The Inevitable.
For music, I’m on Amazon Prime and I love my Jazz. My favourite jazz artist is Stanley Clarke. There’s also Billy Cobham. That’s what I listen to.
Watching: Currently, nothing, but I’m a Marvel comic fan so for anything like the Avengers, I’m in. But generally, I’m not big on TV, in fact, I’m notorious for not doing TV.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I ever received was that, “You can be anything you want.”
This was given to me in Anthony Village in 1979 by His Eminence Adejobi who, at that time, was the head of The Church of The Lord (Aladura). I had been a very problematic child and my dad had brought me to him for prayers, and he said to me, “Look, you’re so brilliant, you just think of whatever you want to be and you can become that.”
And the thought that came to me at the time was that I wanted to be a consultant that was flying all over the world.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
The problem I’m still trying to solve is that of funding for every African entrepreneur’s great idea. Every single idea should have the potential to get funding. I think this can be done by making sure that people whose ideas have succeeded commercially give back to society by nurturing the next generation.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Andrew Alli, Victor Asemota, Idris Bello, Tayo Oviosu, Kola Aina, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, and Bosun Tijani.
I write about media, technology and internet culture. Reach me on Twitter @okikesam