How these African female founders navigate co-founder relationships

Research shows that 65% of all startups will fail because of co-founder tension, these African female founders; Juliet Odumosu and Ijeoma Akwiwu, talk about how they manage co-founder relationships.

How these African female founders navigate co-founder relationships
L-R: Ijeoma Akwiwu of Pivo Africa & Juliet Odumosu of Nguvu Health

Having an idea and being able to execute it is excellent! However, getting co-founder(s)—and a founding team, is also important. Having a co-founder serves as a validation to some investors, it shows that aside from you, someone else also believes in your idea and is willing to work with you.

Most of the successful companies around the world and in Africa are led by co-founders, who are often friends or colleagues who have worked together for some time.

"I think there are three main reasons you really want a co-founder when you're starting a company. The first is productivity, you can get a lot more work done if you have someone to divide the work up with," Harj Taggar, a partner at Y Combinator, wrote. "The second reason is moral support. Startups are an incredibly intense and taxing journey. And it's great to have someone you can lean on for support during tough times."

Taggar added that "having a co-founder is pattern matching to success. If you look at a list of the most successful startups in history, think of Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, they all had co-founders when they started."

Despite the immense benefits of having a co-founder, research shows that 65% of all startups will fail because of co-founder tension. "About half of the issues that we resolve for founders immediately after fundraising has to do with co-founders’ relationship—and this is a critical issue," Moe Odele, founding partner of Vazi Legal, a renowned African tech law firm, told Benjamindada.com.

In Zero To Scale 2.0, our web series that focuses on the journeys of African founders and their startups from day zero until the day they achieve scale, two female founders—Juliet Odumosu of Nguvu Health and Ijeoma Akwiwu of Pivo Africa—talk about how they have been able to navigate co-founder relationships. "Every day is not smooth," Ms Akwiwu, said. Let's dive in.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Joshua Koya, Juliet's friend reached out to her with an idea to build Nguvu Health, a teletherapy platform for Africans. Aside from being a co-founder, she is currently the chief marketing officer of the company.  

"Aside from getting the right co-founder(s), in terms of expertise and experience, there is the need to be compatible with the individual(s)—especially when it comes to handling disagreements," Juliet said. "Personalities also matter; this deals with co-founders co-habiting and building together as a team."

According to her, this understanding has enabled her to sustain her friendship with her co-founders, outside of work.

Juliet Odumosu on building Nguvu Health

Pivo Africa was co-founded in 2021 by two friends—Nkiru Amadi-Emina and Ijeoma Akwiwu. They met each other at Ijeoma's birthday party about eight years ago before ending up with the idea to build the fintech company; prior to co-founding Pivo, the duo built a logistics company, SourcePro. In fact, the challenges they faced at SourcePro led them to build Pivo, a digital bank for trade in Africa.

Pivo Africa's co-founders, Nkiru Amadi-Emina and Ijeoma Akwiwu

"To be truthful, every day is not smooth. In the early days of Pivo, we set up rules—dos and don'ts on how we can engage each other. For instance, when there is an issue at work, it is not me versus you but us versus the issue," Ijeoma, who is the COO at Pivo, said. "When communicating with each other, we ensure we do it respectfully. At the end of the day, what is important is how we will be able to solve problems to serve our company's objectives."

After bootstrapping for almost a year, Pivo Africa secured a $2 million seed fund to expand its product offerings to African supply chain SMEs. Last year, Pivo participated in the Y Combinator 2022 summer batch. The company was also part of the ODX accelerator programme where it’s entitled to $125,000 for a 7% equity stake.

Ijeoma Akwiwu talks about Pivo Africa

Editor's Note: This article is part of our series for the 2023 women's month.

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