“I’m fortunate to really enjoy what I do for work, and want to have more of an impact on the people I work with.” — Saze Ibraheem, Head of Marketing, ART X Collective.
In November 2019, Jack Dorsey, Twitter ex-CEO and Square CEO, visited Lagos, Nigeria, on the first leg of his African tour. His activities peaked at a town hall at Techpoint Africa’s headquarters. Saze Ibraheem, who moderated the panel session with three other Twitter executives, was consulting for Techpoint Africa.
Saze (short for Osazemen) has spent more than a decade in marketing, focusing on technology, emerging media, and retail. When she isn’t consulting for a business intentional about growth, Saze is creating and converting leads to happy customers or leading marketing strategies.
Interestingly, Saze tried her hands on an extremely challenging project early in her career.
“I like really big, bold, audacious ideas!”
In what she considers her most significant achievement, ten years ago, she and her partner, Lade Ibraheem, organised TEDx Ikoyi, one of the first TEDx events in Nigeria. The event brought a diverse selection of thought leaders in the country together to speak on the theme, The Other Side of The Story, which was inspired by Chimamanda Adichie’s TEDx talk with a similar title. This was instrumental in Saze receiving the Gates Foundation TEDxChange Scholarship and becoming a TEDx Ambassador for Africa.
“We started TEDx Ikoyi because we felt like there’s a lot more to Nigeria than existing negative stereotypical narratives. At that time, you’d Google ‘Nigeria’, and the results you’d see were like…” she scoffs, recollecting the results, and continues, “… I mean, we have great thinkers, visionaries, and artists; we can take good pictures, what is going on here?” she asks with a quizzical look as we sit for a chat at her home in Lagos.
I can say that the event has played a part in shaping the Nigerian narrative. While writing this article, I stumbled on some beautiful pictures from the event on Behance, which a Nigerian photographer captured.
“The event was really affirming. We worked with a number of partners and were able to deliver a tasteful and impactful event that we thought really showed multiple sides of our country. Nigeria is many things, and we felt it was important to show its plurality.”
TEDx Ikoyi was a massive undertaking for Saze; however, she has been part of arguably bigger things. She was part of Hilary Clinton’s US State Department initiative, TechWomen, a professional exchange programme for women-in-tech in emerging regions. This enabled her to spend some time in Silicon Valley, where she built relationships with startups and a strong network of African women in tech.
Where it all started
“I’m so bullish on Lagos; it really has my heart. I love the mix of people here, the energy, the vibrancy.”
Born in Lagos to parents from Edo State, Nigeria, Saze was fortunate to be exposed to books and computers from a very young age, thanks to encouraging parents and an excellent academic environment.
“I am eternally curious. I ask a lot of questions because I am genuinely interested, and I’m excited to learn and understand even more. I think that my love for reading, knowing more, and researching has helped when I go into new sectors. I am exceptional at understanding user behaviour and how they want your product to solve their problem. That’s my special sauce.”
Saze has an economics degree from the University of Manchester and an integrated marketing communications certificate from New York University. She had her eyes set on becoming an engineer but changed her mind in secondary school when her economics teacher, Mr Adewonyi, exposed her to the psychology of decision making within the constraints of demand and supply.
She recalls her creativity and penchant for business and how she could not figure out just what to do with them at the time.
“In hindsight, someone should have told me [that] marketing is how you use creativity to solve business problems, but no one did.”
She adds how marketing as a course was unpopular at the time and that she found it hard to imagine it as a profession. Her creative spirit was as alive as her love for economics, and as an undergraduate, she gave ‘artistic Saze’ room for some expression.
“While at the university, I started a T-shirt line that I sold in Manchester and Lagos stores. I did my first fashion show and art exhibition right after graduating and always did things that brought commerce and creativity together to create community.”
Sleeves up, fingers in the dirt
Her first industry experience was in the UK, with a short internship at the Ford Motor Company and a stint at a financial services firm where she learnt the basics of relationship management and customer service.
Back in Nigeria, her year-long National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) experience after graduation took her to Abuja Technology Village. She calls this an exceptional experience that exposed her to the tangible potential of tech on a large scale in Nigeria.
She entered the world of marketing via operations at MultiChoice, where she was actively involved in market research in different cities and coordinating mobile payments; she also introduced moving customer service to social media. Saze appreciates the creative freedom her boss, Kapa Kaumba, gave her to execute her ideas.
One of her wins was doing the first online campaign to sell decoders which attracted massive sales.
“I found out that a lot of the ideas I was coming up with were marketing-related. Again, at that time, I just thought marketing was maybe, events; it wasn’t very clear.”
Before long, she got the clarity she needed from Donald Etim, the then Head of Marketing, and was convinced she was in the right space. Saze left for New York University to study integrated marketing communications and get more knowledge in the field.
“It was incredible! It gave me [the] vocabulary for a lot of the ideas that I had. I had these hunches, but I didn’t have ways to craft my hypotheses or articulate what I had to say. It gave me that confidence.”
As a product manager and later marketing partnerships manager at online marketplace, Jumia, Saze was involved in sealing partnerships with businesses that have large audiences. If anything stood out for her, it was executing the rebrand from Kasuwa & Sabunta to Jumia in 2012.
In 2016, she joined Facebook as growth manager for Nigeria.
“One of the things I was really proud of doing there was making a case to prolong support for feature phones as they were and continue to be ubiquitous in emerging markets. At the time, we also launched Facebook in Hausa, which really increased accessibility in the region.”
In between, she also founded 4Twenty3 with an initial plan to carve a niche in digital marketing.
Mentioning some of the brands the agency has served, Saze says, “We worked with Jade Osiberu and her team to build out Ndani TV, the digital content marketing platform at GTBank, to create programming, asking questions like ‘What should GTB look and sound like if it was a tv show?’”
Classifieds marketplace, OLX (acquired by Jiji); Techpoint Africa; and Alara Lagos, a luxury retailer, are also on the list.
Up the ladder and still going
Saze usually prefers to help businesses turbo-charge their ideas, but she hasn’t always been a fan of entrepreneurship.
“To be honest with you, I was an accidental entrepreneur. I became one because nobody was doing what I wanted to do. People didn’t really understand digital marketing at the time, so like Nike, I just did it! I’m an extrovert; I like people, I like being in a team, I like brainstorming, and I like community. That’s where I thrive, and I’m very happy to be able to do that now.”
Amidst the global pandemic in July 2020, Saze joined ART X Collective, producers of the annual ART X Lagos fair, to spearhead its marketing efforts. Here, Saze got her “360 moment” because she put her cumulative experience in business, culture, and digital marketing to play.
“One of the things we delivered was our first online-only fair. So, being able to bring all of those different skills and expertise to something I’m very passionate about, which is amplifying and supporting creatives on the continent, was really fulfilling.”
As head of marketing, she manages online and offline campaigns, business development for sponsorships and consulting, and local and international PR, among others. Her workdays involve stakeholder engagement, developing strategy, and team building.
One of her strengths is her ability to manage a team in a way that’s authentic to her. As a leader who doesn’t enjoy micromanagement, she loves to identify exceptional people and provide conducive environments for them to thrive and shine.
To keep up with the constantly moving parts, Saze uses good old-fashioned sticky notes. She listens to audiobooks and podcasts for productivity and has a vast library of physical books. For work, she uses Google’s suite of tools and Asana.
Family and friends are important to her, and for work-life balance, WhatsApp and Calm apps come in handy. And to relax, she watches sci-fi movies, takes luxurious holiday breaks, gets massages, eats, and travels.