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‘Every organisation will benefit from having diverse leadership in terms of gender’

By Tobi Awodipe
17 September 2022   |   4:20 am
Nkiru Amadi-Emina is an entrepreneur with over 10 years’ experience in business development and ICT across public and private sectors. Passionate about technology and its ability to transform industries, Nkiru is currently the co-founder/CEO of Pivo Technology Limited.

Nkiru Amadi-Emina is an entrepreneur with over 10 years’ experience in business development and ICT across public and private sectors. Passionate about technology and its ability to transform industries, Nkiru is currently the co-founder/CEO of Pivo Technology Limited.

Under her leadership, Pivo has grown to over $2,500,000 in transaction volume, with employees across two global offices and six-figure annual revenue.

Prior to building and launching Pivo to fix access to financial services for supply chain SMEs, she worked as the Head of Port Operations for Kobo360. She joined Kobo360 in an acquisition deal, which saw her start-up, Jalo, being bought by the company. Armed with a degree in Computer Science/Information Technology from Igbinedion University Okada and an MSc in Business Analytics from the University of Bath, Nkiru also serves as a mentor for the Tony Elumelu Foundation.

In this interview, she tells TOBI AWODIPE about her interest in financial technology, which started very early in life; why there are fewer women at the helm of affairs; why start-ups fail amongst other issues.

Tell us about your growing up years, how much influence would you say it had on the person you are today?
I had a very privileged background. I believe my parents were keen on providing a balanced outlook on life, while also ensuring we had all the best life could offer. I would also say my parents were very big on independence and driving self-sufficiency for us.

I attended a boarding school in Jos and went to high school in Canada for a year, so that was a key driver of this. These experiences, in addition to having two older brothers, made me tough and able to stand/speak up for myself, which is a trait that has definitely helped me in my career.

You describe yourself as a serial entrepreneur, could you take us through your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I would say my entrepreneurial journey started from primary school. Growing up when I played make believe, I’d always pretend to be a business mogul hiring and firing my toys and my younger sister; I think she probably bore the brunt of this firing. I always wanted to own a huge company and I told my dad about this and he suggested I study Computer Science, because that would give me the opportunity to build things.

My first stint into entrepreneurship started just after university, where I built an IT consulting outfit and what we were doing at the time (still doing) was consulting for the government and building software aimed at driving operational efficiency across government institutions.

My second stint was building Jalo, a logistics start-up focused on providing on-demand delivery at a touch of a button, which I sold two years after launching it. Now, here I am, building my third company, Pivo and I am looking forward to the different heights that Pivo will attain.

When would you say your interest in technology started and how are you intertwining it with business and finance?
I studied Computer Science at Igbinedion University, so I’ll say my interest in technology started just before I went to university. That’s because my original dream was to be a doctor like my father, but I guess he saw where the world was going and advised me to study Computer Science.

Maybe a year before I graduated, I built a payment solution that allowed you to make transfers from your account to someone else’s using bluetooth and QR codes. Dwolla, a US-based company that facilitated electronic money transfers between bank accounts, inspired me. This was back when, if you wanted to make a deposit, you had to go to the bank, and I wanted to replicate that here. But I was still a student and never developed it beyond my hostel room. That whole experience kindled my interest in financial technology.

With time, both as an employee and running my own businesses, I began to encounter challenges that could be mitigated by financial technology. And that’s how Pivo came to be.

In your role as CEO of Pivo Technology, how are you scaling start-ups and helping SMEs grow?
Pivo works with SMEs vendors within supply chains; including businesses like suppliers, wholesale distributors, freight carriers and so on. One challenge they have in common is cash flow, because they often have to use their own funds to fill orders but end up not getting payments on time.

What we have done is to build products to not only give them a steady source of working capital, but also help them manage their payments and budgets better. With that stability, it is easier for them to plan and scale their businesses. So far, we’ve worked with over 300 SMEs and before the end of the year we expect to increase that number by 500 percent.

You used to run a start-up a few years ago, how was that experience for you?
It was a rewarding experience, because I successfully ran Jalo, a logistics start-up for a couple of years and sold it to Kobo360. I was able to raise funds, expand the business and work with platforms like Jumia and Konga.

That whole process was invaluable, because even though it was not the first business I started, it was my first full experience with the tech start-up ecosystem. A lot of the lessons from that time have influenced how I currently run Pivo.

As someone experienced in building start-ups, what would you say are the major factors that hinder them from growth and longevity?
Statistics show us that 45 per cent of businesses fail within the first five years. Things like lack of proper research; inadequate financing, poor planning and management are some of the reasons why businesses fail. Start-ups are no different; the same basic business principles apply.

One thing I’d emphasise is, not planning for the long term. The greater number of start-ups are less than 10 years old and it’s easy to run on passion and vim for one or two years. But it’s easy to burnout, especially during tough times.

What solutions would you proffer, especially for young women looking to start out?
For young women, I would say, ‘Dare to do it.’ There are studies that show that women tend to want everything to be 100 per cent before they take a step forward. If you have a solid idea and a plan, a market for your solution, you’re set. You might not have all the skills needed but you can start with a small team.

Being able to raise some money from close sources also helps before you begin to look externally for funding. It might sound like a cliché, but do it afraid.

What challenges do you face in the course of running Pivo and how do you work around them?
I think our major challenge has been keeping up with how quickly the business is growing. Our software development team is constantly working on new products, updates and features to stay ahead of our customers’ needs. We’re also creating new business relationships to open more credit lines.

You recently got into Y Combinator, how much impact would you say this would have for you?
A huge impact, really. We were recently at Y Combinator Demo day, which allowed us to present to top investors. YC has also given us access to resources and expertise that we would not find anywhere else. Then, there’s just the validation that comes from being selected; the credibility it gives to the business.

What are some mistakes you’ve made in your career?
I would not say I have made any mistakes necessarily, because everything has served to bring me to where I am right now.
In your opinion, why do we tend to see fewer women at the helm of affairs and how can this be corrected?

A good start will be creating early-career programmes for women in place to prepare them for management. Also having company policies that ensure women do not lose their career progress while trying to balance family and work will help.

Education will also help, especially in a society like ours where people don’t think women are capable of holding high positions. Every organisation will benefit from having diverse leadership in terms of gender. We only need to look at the countries and organisations with a high percentage of women at the helm of affairs and judge for ourselves.

How important is mentoring for personal and career growth to women?
Mentoring is very important. We tend to look at it as something that comes from someone higher up or older or more experienced, but that is not the case at all. You can have peer mentors and you can equally learn from people who are either younger than you either age-wise or career-wise.

Being able to tap into a wide network of people who are excelling in their fields at different stages is really important. Sometimes, you don’t even need to meet them in person; you can read or watch their interviews, buy their books or attend events where they’re speaking.

Tell us something you did/do that has turned your career around positively?
Read; I read a lot. I enjoy fiction, non-fiction, historical fiction, the bible, biographies and random articles. I truly enjoy reading. I think reading helps not just open me to new worlds and possibilities, but also helps expand my mind and the way I think about the world around me.

Life at this level can be hectic and stressful. How do you disengage and relax?
I try to go to the gym at least three times a week. I travel, read novels and watch movies. I also spend time with family and friends. Thankfully, Pivo has two founders; Ijeoma Akwiwu who is also the COO and myself. That way, when either of us gets overwhelmed or stressed, we can rely on the other person to keep an eye on things while we take a break to recharge.

Where do you receive inspiration, how do you stay motivated when things aren’t going the way you want them to?
I remind myself that I went into this with my eyes open. I knew it was not always going to be smooth sailing and what I’m dealing with is just one of many challenges I’ll have to face. I also look at what I have achieved and use it to motivate myself.

If you weren’t doing what you do presently, what would you have done and why?
I would have most likely been a doctor. It was my childhood dream to build the best and biggest medical centre in Nigeria. If I didn’t become a doctor then I would have been a Formula 1 driver.

Where do you see yourself a decade from now?
Very content on a remote island, drinking coconut water.