Under The Hoodie is a weekly series where we talk to people about their journey into tech. It focuses on the intersection between life and career. UTH Week 20.
In this episode of Under The Hoodie, we speak with Victor Ekwealor, Head of Growth at Dash. A former writer and editor at TechPoint and TechCabal, Victor tells us about how his media career prepared him for a life in tech.
Hi Victor, I already know you, but can you introduce yourself for the sake of people reading?
So my name is Victor Ekwealor. I like to say I work in tech because that's the best way to encapsulate it. For the specifics—I lead Growth at a Fintech company named Dash App. I’m also a mentor and I help a lot of African startups,
I do a lot of things that are interesting, and I like doing hard things. I figured out it’s the shortest route to success.
For someone like you who likes to do a lot of things, what has it been like finding a place for yourself in tech?
It’s been hard. And that’s ironic because I always say that at every time, there is always a company or somewhere that I can work with.
My foundational skills are storytelling and building. I love the process of building a startup’s product strategy—storytelling, story writing, and creativity. It’s really like building something out of nothing and that’s fundamental. Overall, it means that while there are a lot of opportunities, I have to be conscious about picking the ones that align with my goal—which is to constantly learn.
The great thing about tech and entrepreneurship is that iteration is the norm. Things are constantly changing and no one is an expert for too long. That means that the winners are the ones who keep learning, broadening horizons, and becoming better people.
That's how it is in tech. The amount of work you put into learning stuff reflects on your capacity and skill sets.
So, if I understand you, the amount of work you put in always helps you find a place in tech?
I won’t say that categorically. I work insanely hard and I’m always experimenting, but I also realise that it’s not a function of that. There’s opportunity, timing, luck, and a ton of things that are outside of my control.
However, I read something recently that luck does not work on its own. It needs you to put in the work for it to be accelerated. I’ve put in a lot of work in my past, but I also know that whatever success I have is not a function of just hard work.
Also, as someone who does a lot of things and is active in a lot of spaces, how do you define yourself?
I think the need to define yourself is a problem—it puts you in a box. I have shed myself of that need to define myself. On some level, I think it’s a privilege. In the beginning, I referred to myself as a storyteller—that’s my strength, like a superpower. Now, being a storyteller can be translated into a lot of different definitions. You can be a journalist, marketer, UX writer, designer, etc, the variations are endless.
But the older I got, I discovered that it wasn’t about storytelling. It was more about the creative process of bringing something into being. That’s the essence of storytelling— you start on a blank sheet and in a few days, the world is consuming something that never previously existed.
The more I understand this, the less willing I am to be typecast. Outside of coding or doing heavy designs, I can do anything. Being able to create stuff from nothing is one of the most fulfilling things in my life. And coincidentally, the more I do it, the more value I am able to generate for it and the more I get paid.
You mentioned that you started out as a storyteller. What are the different forms that storytelling has taken in your career?
I started out writing, then I did a bit of video—behind and in front of the camera. I also did radio and podcasting. I think I’ve explored all the mediums of creative storytelling there is. I’ve also been in the directional and strategic parts of it. So, yeah, I think I have worked in all the parts.
Our last interviewee who worked in growth had a journeyman career i.e. he worked with many companies. Do you have a similar history?
No, I didn’t. I was at Techpoint for 4+ years. When I started though, I said I was only going to be there for two years, but after every year, I kept saying “one more year”. I feel like the experience I got there spanned many years and many facets. I went from writer to video producer to video presenter to audio producer to audio presenter to business development, to senior editor, to managing editor to launching the company in East Africa. I did everything, literally.
In those four years, the only thing that suffered was my earning potential at the time because I was in one company. But when it comes to experiences, it was one of the best things that happened to me. I got hands-on experience and had the freedom to do everything. I basically set up Techpoint in East Africa single-handedly. It was an intrapreneurship model of sorts. After TechPoint, I moved to TechCabal.
Oh, You moved to the competition?
I don’t think that TechPoint and TechCabal are competition. There’s too much work to do. Although there’s more ground being covered now, at the time, I didn’t see them as competing. We could have fifty of both and there still wouldn’t be any competition. Even till now, there’s a lot of tech activity happening outside Lagos that no one is covering.
So, what kind of work did you do at TechCabal?
I joined TechCabal as a Managing Editor. That was the official title but it was everything. When I left, I hired 3 people to do the work I had been doing for one year. It was an insane amount of work, but I’m mighty proud of the work I did there.
After TechCabal, I moved to Spleet, did that for 7-8 months, and then moved to Dash.
How did your work in media prepare you for your work in Growth?
When I got into tech journalism, I realised that there is some sort of cognitive bias. It’s like a bubble effect between people that write about an industry and the people that operate in that industry. The realities of the tech journalist writing about a startup and the founder/co-founder building the startups are not the same. And it’s weird because unless you build a startup, you can never know. A good analogue is women’s rights. I’m a big advocate for it, but no matter how deeply I feel about it, how much I advocate for it, I’ll never fully understand the deep realities of women's struggles.
It took me less than a year in tech journalism to catch on to the fact that you can't be outside and be writing inside. The bubble effect also means you can’t really get in, and will always be an outsider. But I tried to wiggle in, get context and build relationships.
In 2016, I started helping startups. It came from a place of trying to understand how they operate. That was how I started doing entrepreneurship support. It started with storytelling and marketing and evolved to strategy. It was mostly free, but every once in a while, some people would pay something.
For me, it was a good learning curve. By 2018, I was already thinking about growth and brainstorming about problems. I’d offer to help with stuff and experiment with startups. Sometimes it would fail, and we’d move on to the next project. It was fun for me, a curiosity trip of sorts. It also helped my writing.
I think the media is an incubator, especially in tech. People are more open to sharing their stories with you when they know you want to help them share it. And it’s not just in tech. If you’re looking to break into any industry, you should start a blog about it. It’ll help you learn faster and meet people in that industry.
So far in Growth Marketing, what are the most important things that have helped you?
I don’t think of what I do as Growth Marketing— that’s just one aspect of the job. I think about my job as being the operational CEO. Growth is an intersection of product and marketing. Growth starts at the code level, before you even market anything.
The easiest way to dummify growth is that I’m a driver, helping the startup get to a northstar. If I wake up in the morning and there’s a truck blocking our office doors which can affect our bottomline, I’ll roll up my sleeves and push it out of the way.
In Silicon Valley companies, a growth team will have a digital marketer, product marketer, fullstack person, data analyst, product design etc. They have at least 6 or 7 people. That gives you perspective that it is less about marketing and more about getting the startup to a north star which can be increasing users, increasing retention etc.
By virtue of tech, it means there’s a lot of marketing involved, as growing the user base is one of the most important metrics for digital products. But sometimes, you grow so much that you have as much input as you have churn which doesn’t make sense as it's a waste of resources. At that point, as a growth person, you have to take your focus from growing to improving retention.
Thinking of it from just marketing can be limiting. Sometimes, it’s your onboarding flow that is bad. It might be the load time of your product, or the size of your app—problems that exist on the product level. So, as a growth person, you’re a director of the product or startup to a large extent.
Do you have any advice or final words for people looking to go into growth?
I don’t like giving advice because I think there’s a lot of ego that goes into it, especially when it’s given without context.
The only advice I give to people without context is to be open-minded and keep learning. Learning is not just Udemy courses or nanodegrees, it is helping people and getting your hands dirty. Growth, especially in the African ecosystem, needs contextually relevant solutions.
I see a lot of marketing people trying to layer solutions from abroad. It is not going anywhere in Africa; you just end up spending money and getting vanity metrics. The critical part is understanding the fundamentals, then taking what you know and applying it to proffer a solution
Keep an open mind, learn, help people and work hard, because the hard work always compounds. It does!