Musty Mustapha easily comes to mind when you think of high-achieving tech founders in Africa. The Kuda co-founder stands out in an industry that has glamorised the college dropout stories of founders like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, seemingly as a benchmark for success. He graduated from university with a first-class degree and a distinction in his undergraduate and postgraduate studies, respectively.
On this week’s How I Work, Musty talks about his experiences and achievements over the years, what being a bank’s CTO entails, and how he finds balance and stays productive.
- Current role: Chief Technology Officer
- Location: Lagos, Nigeria.
- Current computer: MacBook Pro
- Current mobile device: iPhone XS Max
- Describe how you work in one word: Productively
Tell us briefly how you started and how you got where you are today
I studied computer science at the University of Ilorin, where I made a first class before getting a distinction at the University of Lagos during my postgraduate studies. While at UNILAG, I worked with a software company called CBC emea, building internal tools for the company and supporting enterprise applications for its clients. I had a stint at Keystone Bank for a couple of weeks before I proceeded to First Bank, where I was fortunate enough to build a lot of banking applications. I wrote the first version of First Bank inter-bank transfer services and maintained it till I left the bank. When I left First Bank, I joined Stanbic IBTC, where I was for four years. It was there I met my co-founder and started Kuda, and then I had to resign to face Kuda squarely. I assumed responsibility at Stanbic and oversaw teams of software developers, cross-functional software developers, and teams generally.
What does your job entail?
I serve as both chief technology officer and co-founder. As CTO, I am responsible for formulating the strategy for the businesses’ technology. As the company’s chief architect, I design our solutions and software, assign responsibilities to our team members, sometimes, I do code review. I still support some of the applications and give directions because I was involved in their development from the beginning. Also, I take meetings, liaise with external service providers, and make decisions bordering about technologies and the people involved with them.
As a co-founder, the business also comes under my purview, so I’m involved in activities beyond technology: the operations, finance, HR, and any strategic decision that the company needs to take.
Walk us through a typical workday.
To be honest, since we started the journey, there has been no typical workday because every day is unique. But generally, I say my morning prayer after I wake up, after which I do some mild exercises. I check out our dashboard, which monitors services, to make sure everything is running fine. Then I check emails and my calendar to confirm which meetings I’m taking. I take meetings with the engineers, support, and customer services to chart a course for the day. Then for the rest of the day, even though I dislike them, I attend more meetings, as well as responding to emails or designing new systems if they are required for the day.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you do without?
On my phone, that’ll be Slack and iMessage. On my computer, Outlook and Google Workspace.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
I don’t like repetitive work, so I delegate any routine task that can’t be automated.
What task(s) do you dislike but still do?
Meetings. Unfortunately, I have to keep having them. Sometimes if you’re not careful, you can be having a meeting to plan a meeting. Typically what I do is ask someone to represent me, when possible, and then I make a decision based on the feedback I receive. When this is not an option, I attend the meeting.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Mostly, I keep mental notes, but if something has to be executed and is not in my calendar, I put it down on the iPhone note or Reminders app.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I sleep. That’s the primary thing. Then I play with my kids and play some PlayStation games.
Besides work, what do you spend time doing? What do you enjoy?
I’m fortunate enough to be doing what I enjoy, so I have removed the line between work and play. Even if I’m not working, I’m either surfing the Internet or doing research. I’m also an academic and I have research papers that I work on continuously, though I have applied the brakes in that area due to my heavy workload at Kuda. However, I might return to academics after Kuda.
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to? What do you recommend?
I’m reading Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian. It’s a book that I’ll highly recommend to people who want to understand how things have evolved, how things are, and how they will be.
I’m subscribed to a lot of podcasts. I listen to BANK 2.0 by Brett King, who has been credited with pioneering digital banks; he’s one of the people who have documented their journey in the digital banking terrain.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I gained admission to two universities, so I had to choose between studying chemical engineering and computer science. I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to computers and the Internet early, and I was interested in knowing how they worked. But deep down, I wanted to study chemical engineering because my favourite subjects in secondary school were chemistry and mathematics. But following my uncle’s advice to study computer science has had the most significant impact on my life.
With what you know now, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d tell my younger self to believe and listen to his gut more often, rather than going for the obvious and more comfortable route. I could have started a company while at the University of Ilorin after creating a computer-based testing system. I reached out to the vice-chancellor, who invited us for a presentation, and everything was going smoothly, but I couldn’t continue because I was juggling academics and the project. I was already on the path to graduating with a first class, and needed to be careful not to engage in activities that would affect my academics; the first class was important to me at the time.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
We recently upgraded to our internally built core banking application; there’s no bank in the country that has done this. The application has helped us tremendously in terms of service delivery to our customers. However, we’re trying to scale our customer service significantly and also automate a lot of our internal processes to make sure that we can serve our customers fully.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
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