Recap of #BDxEOGeneralistSpace: How to build a career as a startup generalist

Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

Recap of #BDxEOGeneralistSpace: How to build a career as a startup generalist

Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

Over the weekend, Benjamin Dada and Eloho Omame, co-Founder at FirstCheck Africa co-hosted a Twitter space to discuss the career future of generalists, with Derin Adebayo, a Global Lead at Endeavor Africa and Emy Makakalala, the Chief-of-Staff at Paystack as guests.

It was an interesting and insightful conversation, In this article, you will find a few takeaways I got from the 1-hour Twitter Space.

Usually, people tend to define generalists as “a jack of all trades, master of none”. However, a generalist is someone with broad knowledge across many topics and expertise in a few — unlike a special list.

“Generalists are highly skilled, very intelligent and are able to execute multiple projects efficiently”, Eloho Omame stated. Adding that, “they are well suited to be business leaders and suited in lead roles including being a chief of staff due to their broad interest on how they think about a startup.”

At the early stage of a startup, these generalists help the team to find leverage that will enable them to scale, and in the later stage of a startup, they play a vital management role.

“Your importance at a startup is defined by the value you’re creating”

Derin Adebayo: My first role after university was at Hotels.ng. Due to my accounting degree, I was asked to work in the finance department. I realised that the more value you create for a startup defines your importance.

So while at Hotels.ng, I went beyond my finance roles and lead projects that were of relevance to the startup. If you’re able to understand how a startup creates value, you will know how best to enable the value creation process.

Fundamentally, a generalist needs to understand the specific levers within a startup so that he/she can easily pull and adjust them to ensure growth. I think of generalists with a ‘T-shaped’ view: this implies that they have deep and broad expertise in other startup related functions simultaneously.

Take initiatives and suggest ideas that will enable the startup to grow.

— Benjamin Dada

How can a generalist sustain his/her relevance at startup?

As a startup evolves, there is a high tendency that specialists will be required more than generalists since the startup has clarity to an extent and is focused on scaling. Derin believes that “as a company continues to grow, there is always space for generalists. However, there is an opportunity for the individual to specialise.”

For Emy Makakalala, “after a certain time within a company, it is important to drop the generalist title [but not the skill sets] and find a speciality in an area depending on the path the company is taken.”

In sustaining relevance at a startup, a generalist should pay attention to actively exhibiting relevance on the team: “you can not be reluctant as a generalist at the early stage of a startup and expect to be assigned lead roles when the startup is transitioning or expanding”, Eloho noted.

If you notice a trend in your startup or sector that interests you, Derin advice that you should do the following:

  • Build your clarity
  • Network with other enthusiasts [who are interested in the trend]
  • Get involved in trend
Also Read: Succeeding in tech as a non-technical person: How these 20 pros did it

Book recommendation

  • RANGE: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World — David Epstein