Aside from users and regulators, three stakeholders comprise the African startup ecosystem. Those building innovations that will be relevant to the users and pave the way for regulations and those who provide funds to power these innovations.
The three stakeholders are; entrepreneurs (founding startups), talents (working at startups) and investors (funding startups). To show how relevant these categories of people are, we have created web series to cover them; Zero to Scale (ZTS) —for entrepreneurs, Under the Hoodie — for employees and the Investors' Corner.
Recently, we launched the ZTS 2.0, a video series this time, and at a time when there are continued layoffs due to the economic downturn or "restructuring", one of the questions that the host, Hachi Onubedo ensured all of the eight African founders featured in the series answered was about their employees—their hiring process, managing remote and hybrid workplaces and how they are navigating the ongoing brain drain.
I curated the thoughts of the co-founders of Releaf, Kippa, Identity Pass, Nguvu Health, Pivo Africa, Etap, Healthtracka and Famasi on how they hire and manage talents at their companies.
Hiring changes as you grow — Uzoma Ayogu of Releaf
According to Uzoma Ayogu, co-founder and CTO of Releaf, a Nigerian agritech startup, "hiring changes as you grow".
"In the early stages, we focus on good talent, speed of learning, attitude and connection to the mission. The reason for that is if you just hire for experience with a lack of commitment to the company's mission, it will be difficult to navigate with such an individual," he says.
For instance, Releaf's first employee, Deji Jayeoba, who is currently the company's vice president for growth, joined the company as a software engineer, but he has worked across all the teams in the company building skills and insights that are relevant to the overall growth of the company.
"When you become to scale up, you will need a more experienced person to run the team—people who have built skills over time in specific areas. So, basically, it is getting the right people in the right seats at the right time and being able to keep them there—increasingly, that becomes a challenge," Uzoma added. "You need to take care of your people; your people will take care of your customers; and your customers will take care of your profits."
Managing employees in a hybrid workplace — Ijeoma Akwiwu of Pivo Africa
Like many companies post-COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria-based neobank for trade in Africa, Pivo Africa runs a hybrid work operation majorly to ensure the productivity of its employees. During the first five days of the month, Pivo employees are required to work on-site and are left to choose whether to work from home or at the office for the rest of the month.
"Commuting to work eats into your productivity level," Ijeoma Akwiwu, Pivo Africa's co-founder and COO, says. "Smart work over hard work is one of our company values, we are not interested in micromanaging. At the start of the week, we set goals across every team in the company, what's important to us is that every individual delivers their tasks at the set timeline, regardless of when they do the work."
However, Ms Akwiwu said the disadvantage of this hybrid operation is "working from an office fosters interpersonal relationships amongst teammates, helping them to read each other better—remote or hybrid work environment can't achieve this effectively".
Etap hires two types of people — Ibraheem Babalola, CEO and founder of ETAP
"We hire two types of people—fresh people with a lot of potentials who are willing to learn and upskill and we also hire really experienced people. We also look at culture fit and individuals that are up starters; that wait to be told what to do," Ibraheem said. "Also, we ensure that there is a hiring manager for every hiring role"
The Etap hiring system is such that the founder cannot impose a new hire on the managers, he can only recommend but the autonomy is left to the manager. Ibraheem also says that the company is working on a programme that gives temporary employment to experienced Africans that relocate to other countries, while they are trying to settle down.
100% character, 40% skilled and 90% hunger to learn — co-founder and CTO of Identity Pass
At Identity Pass, a Nigerian startup that is providing identity verification across 30 African nations, Obi Ebuka David, its co-founder and CTO says that some of the interviewing processes require assessments, especially for engineering roles. In the end, the company's hiring model is built around "measuring the emotional feel of the individual."
However, Obi said that the company looks out for key qualities during the process. "We rather go for someone with 100% on character, 35-40% on skill and 80-90% hunger or willingness to grow,' he stated. "For character, an ownership attitude is key and the individual should also be keen on solving problems. Experience is also vital, especially for senior roles."
Find your hiring rhythm; we poach! — Kennedy Ekezie-Joseph, CEO at Kippa
"For most of our roles, we poach," Kennedy Ekezie-Joseph, CEO at Kippa. "Every company needs to find a hiring rhythm."
According to Kennedy, he and his co-founders believe that the team they build at the company will define how the company will grow. "We keep that at the back of our mind when talking to candidates," he added. "However, we are not afraid to admit when we make hiring mistakes."
Some of the things Kippa avoids are; "hiring people who are too junior or too senior," Kennedy stated. "The risk with 'too junior hires' is that they require too much hand-holding, which will task our in-house bandwidth. Meanwhile, 'too senior' may risk building processes that the organisation is not ready for."
According to Kennedy, while hiring at Kippa they try to avoid "credentialism". "It is very hard, all of us say it but we fall for it, it is appealing when people have fancy company and status on their resumes," he said. "We try to look beyond that, personality and culture fit matters to us."
Working with GenZs — Adeola Ayoola, CEO Famasi
Following the horrible workplace experiences that Famasi co-founders had, they set out to create a better environment when they started Famasi in 2021. "We work with a couple of entry-level talents and have had to provide internal and external training opportunities to upskill them," Adeola said.
To manage these talents which are mostly young people, she disclosed that they have had to hire mid-level and senior-level talents to serve as team leads. "There is the importance of the Gen Z energy, it comes with breaking the norms and experimenting with various ideas," she added.
Communication is key — Juliet Odumosu of Nguvu Health
Nguvu Health runs a fully remote team. According to Juliet, communication and periodic provisions of incentives help in "keeping [the team's] alive". With a team across different states in Nigeria, "we try to organise physical hangouts to provide the team an opportunity to meet with each other," She also said it is important to balance setting multiple meetings and allowing people time to do their work.
"We cannot be completely remote" — Ifeoluwa Dare-Johnson of Healthtracka
"In the beginning, there is a lot to figure out so you cannot run a completely remote team," Ifeoluwa Dare-Johnson, co-founder and CEO at HealthTtacka says. "Due to the nature of our operations, we work from Mondays to Sundays, however, we run shifts. All of these cannot be achieved without a team that is not passionate about healthcare."
Editor's Note: These interviews were slightly edited for clarity.