Every new skill, passion, interest or activity springs from a source. For Grace Akinosun, a curious mix of writing, reading, artistry and inquisition formed the springboard for her career path.
“Growing up, I discovered that abstract thoughts intrigued me. They broadened my sense of imagination and creativity. More often than not, you’d find me writing sequels to novels I believe should have ended differently than the author’s. Other times, I’m curious about how tiny transistors in radios emit such waves to make voices heard so loud … This is when I wasn’t busy dueling my siblings to a tough drawing exercise or extracting a new delicacy from baked cookies. Oh I was a lot.“ Grace tells us.
Throughout the hour-long engaging conversation, we found there’s so much to Grace than meets the eye. Passion, risks and faith have played pivotal roles in making decisions that have shaped her professional trajectory.
Today, Grace attempts to summarise her passion in a phrase “When business meets technology”. Undoubtedly, she is one of the brightest minds in Nigeria’s technology and marketing communications landscape — as you’d find in this piece — creating a household name in the media landscape and bagging prestigious recognitions such as “Media Excellence Award” by the Future Awards Africa.
Grace Akinosun, works as the Head of Marketing, Communications & Public Relations for Bitmama & Changera. In this exclusive interview, she takes us on an interesting ride that leaves one captivated till the very end, unreservedly sharing her personal hacks for effective team management, self development and how she’s built a thriving career in a competitive space. She also gives insight into what it’s like working in a blockchain company.
Go fetch some popcorn and a drink, this is going to be a joyride. 🙂
Let’s begin with your background. You studied science laboratory technology and petroleum in school, how did you make the transition into Corporate Communications, Marketing and Public Relations?
Grace Akinosun: For me, it wasn’t particularly about Marketing or PR at the onset, a turn of events sort of led me where I am today. When I was in school, I quickly discovered that petroleum was mostly about routine and repetitive processes, which is understandable considering the delicate nature of the industry. However, being a curious individual who had always been thrilled by technology and its possibilities, I knew this line of career wouldn’t suit me in the long run, hence I started exploring my other talents.
Could you delve further into that? Your other talents…?
Grace: Oh certainly. Oratory, reading, writing and creative drawing were skills I harnessed at a younger age. After school, I worked a while as an Elocutionist & Communications Specialist. Then, we would train teachers and newscasters in Delta State on elocution and social graces. It was fun. I did this before getting a job in a Lagos-based Real Estate company.
Yet that wasn’t what I wanted. While on the job, I constantly researched to know my next steps. My first inclination was to start a blog since writing was a skill I had also developed in my formative years, thanks to my inquisitive mindset. While figuring what part of the tech industry my writing skills would be most useful in, I discovered that an organization was already running a tech blog. It was a mixture of emotions for me.
First, seeing an already existing tech platform validated my thoughts but the other part of me was somewhat disappointed that someone had gotten there before me. Nonetheless, I started exploring ways of joining them. I mean, why reinvent the wheel when you could easily become part of a working system and make it better? I subscribed to the platform and a few weeks barely rolled by before they began calling for writers. I immediately applied, knowing for sure that I would get it, and I did get it.
It wasn’t all rosy at first because it meant taking a lesser pay than I earned at my real estate job, but that didn’t bother me, my eyes were on the goal. Leaving “oil money” was the biggest move that ought to break me, since that didn’t happen, every other event is just an incentive.
So much faith and courage you’ve got there. Leaving a good-paying job back then for the nascent world of tech?
Grace: You can say that again. I live by a mantra passed onto me by one of my mentors, “fingers crossed, faith engaged”. Faith has been very crucial in every journey I make. Having scaled through numerous uncertainties, it’s my failsafe. Moreover, nothing just happens, everything happens just.
Did your move pay off?
Grace: Big time. I majored in telling stories about startups and stakeholders in the tech space. It was my foray into tech journalism. I could say to an extent, I discovered my place. In a way, it was very interesting for me, lots of adventure and learning curves. I got to understand the nitty gritty of idea-to-startup, pitching for investment, business valuations, fundraising, cap table, investor relations and so much more. At the time, interests of foreign investors in local startups started picking pace, with a lot of them coming into the scene. This translated into many investor and founder interviews. Most of them were more like exclusive masterclasses for me to learn free of charge. Call it one beautiful perk of being a journalist.
That’s interesting (smiles), so when do we get to the marketing communications & PR part ?
Grace: (chuckles) We’re almost there. Working as a startup journalist or aficionado as we called it then, meant getting a lot of pitches from emerging businesses and founders who wanted press leverage. But I realised one story could only get one’s business so far, you need to get your public relations right to have a solid stamp in the media. I transitioned from journalism to public relations consulting because the demand for that started trooping in.
This ignited my career path in Marketing, Communications and PR. I went professional and started taking courses in these fields. Glad I did because today, they fit perfectly with my adventurous and inquisitive mind. I executed some projects along the way for SMEs & Startups. I also met interesting minds with whom we co-executed projects for companies like Microsoft for Startups, Meta, Ingressive Capital, the premium gelateria, Hans & Rene, and many more. My resume is a long and interesting one. You’d find more context on my website.
My big break happened when I was referred by an acquaintance to create a corporate communications strategy for a multinational conglomerate. It entailed different business verticals, retail, agriculture, marine logistics to name a few. This is one of the biggest projects I have had to execute in the course of my career. I’d say colour me surprised that it happened, but eh, life has a way of rewarding diligence. It took me seven months to successfully deliver and after this, the rest as they say, is history.
You wear many hats, how do you successfully combine your multifaceted skills and personality?
Grace: It’s tricky because sometimes it can be quite overwhelming. As a creative person, I get easily tired of routines and rigid processes since I’m always looking for new ways to achieve “the impossible”. One thing that has helped my being multifaceted is proper time management and knowing when to pause, or stop. If I’m doing a particular task, I like to finish it within a particular time-frame and move on to other things. Another helpful trait I have developed overtime is enforcing self discipline. Such that even when I’m multitasking, it doesn’t feel like it anymore. It took me a while to get here and right now people are beginning to understand and accept me for who I am.
In your words, “When business meets technology” is a phrase that sums you up. Why is this?
Grace: I have always been a business-oriented person with an entrepreneurial spirit. And thankfully I had liberal parents who gave us the liberty to explore our potential without imposing restrictions on us. They’re the best gifts my siblings and I were blessed to have growing up.
My interest in business at a tender age spurred me to study related books of Napoleon Hill, and others like the Richest man in Babylon, E-Myth Series, Built to Last, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Startup Nation, Autobiographies and Memoirs of Successful business leaders. Oh I mustn’t forget Robert Kiyosaki’s books.
Hence, creativity and business pretty much summed me up. However, I have modified the quote to “When creativity meets technology…”.
I must say, it’s been a ride attempting to capture myself in a single definition. It’s still an ongoing process. But I believe I’m getting closer. Like I said earlier, I am a lot.
However, if I’m unable to find the right words or phrases in English to fully capture my essence, I’ll simply be Grace. You know, just like Oprah is Oprah without any titles attached. Pretty cool, if you ask me.
Indeed it is. How has working at Bitmama influenced your career?
Grace: To an extent, working here has influenced my approach to work. Having worked in both corporate and startup environments, Bitmama has helped me to balance working in a semi-structured environment. I’ve realized that we don’t have to be totally coordinated before we get things done. Although I still maintain a strong belief that structure works. For instance I head the Marketing department at Bitmama Inc., with a seven-man team who work tooth and nail on two core products — Bitmama and Changera — to make an indelible impact in highly competitive industries (Blockchain & Fintech).
My being deliberate about putting structures in place has allowed us to build highly efficient processes, run on semi-autopilot and successfully scale both products pari-passu. Today, Bitmama is one of the fastest growing blockchain companies in Africa with thousands of users across West and East African markets. Things would have gone awry without having such structures. Overall, it’s been a dynamic learning curve for me and I’m grateful for a company such as Bitmama Inc. To sum up my learning in a sentence I’d say “it’s not about getting the right process at all times, it’s about optimising for the right results’ ‘.
As the Head of Marketing at Bitmama you supervise both male and female in your line of work. Do you experience any resistance from men?
Grace: Hmm… this is such a never ending discussion in the workplace environment. (chuckles….) Well first things first, there’s barely an organisation where the resistance doesn’t occur. Be it a boss-subordinate relationship or colleague-to-colleague scenario. And the entire patriarchy concept isn’t particular to just one organisation. It’s a global disease that is ravaging many organisations, which is quite unfortunate. Here in Africa, it’s being reinforced by our cultural background which encourages male dominance.
I’ve been in organizations where assertive and outspoken women aren’t as appreciated. I believe any company that isn’t deliberately wading off displays of gender bias in the workplace, no matter how subtle they appear, isn’t ready for the workplace revolution and wouldn’t thrive in the long run.
My approach is usually that of exceptionality. It’s pretty simple. Be yourself, but be extremely good at what you do, make it look so easy that people think just anyone can do it, until they realise they really can’t fit into your shoes. Then, you will earn your respect and acknowledgement, patriarchy or not. Whenever I sense such male ego, what works for me is, less talking, more action. Excellence trumps gender biases everytime because you can’t hide excellent outcomes.
What can organisations do about the patriarchy situation?
Grace: Sadly, the male ego wouldn’t just disappear. In fact, it may remain for longer than we envisaged since it’s influenced by a plethora of factors ranging from culture, background, to religion and mindset. This means we have a long journey ahead of us.
While we can’t clean it up in a day, I’m seeing that the awareness is becoming more prominent. People are starting to understand, and even men are joining the fight to bridge this patriarchy gap and reduce the bias against women.
However, I choose to not brood over this, because I believe talking without taking the necessary action glorifies its existence. And whatever is glorified only ends up magnified. Let’s all just stick with being excellent, we’ll be fine, I hope.
What makes Bitmama stand out from other blockchain companies?
Grace: A ha! The million-dollar question. When you look at Bitmama, what do you see?
First, the company brings a dynamic feel into the scene that isn’t as seen with other companies in the same space.
Let’s double back a bit. Bitmama is a woman-founded company. That there, is a unique factor that the blockchain industry sparingly witnesses, especially the African blockchain landscape. It gives an undertone that Bitmama’s a company passionate about changing the status quo. And this change isn’t only reflective in its leadership, it trickles down to other core aspects such as the team, its features and more. For instance, Bitmama is the first in the Nigerian market to create integrated use cases of crypto that directly impacts day-to-day life of the average person with the launch of BCPL and physical crypto cards.
Also, I see Bitmama as a platform that incubates, just as mother earth does. It’s a safe space for people to grow and thrive.
What makes Bitmama stand out is the whole nomenclature and dynamism of the team that makes up the company. The way we carry ourselves internally and externally. It’s a culture that not every company has and the fact that the CEO is always willing to take a chance and explore the blue ocean is one of the reasons that drew me to work here.
We are also 100% remote and most fintech companies won’t try that. Being unreserved about taking a chance has made us one of the most innovative companies in this industry. Hence, I’m very bullish about the company and what we can attain in the future. So, cheers to taking chances (raises invisible glass).
Cheers to that.. Might we ask what your fondest work memory is?
Grace: Wow… oh boy! I didn’t calculate this one.. (smiles)
Well, I have had several fond memories of work. The ones that stood out occured when we travelled to East Africa earlier in the year. While there, we got to see ourselves in a more knitted manner.
You know, there’s a certain awkwardness that accompanies the thought of having to live with your colleagues. Thankfully, that awkwardness didn’t translate into real life. The experience was relaxing and felt like a mini-vacation.
One time, I recall Ruth cooking Jollof rice, and everyone else was helping out. I had to battle with frying chicken and defending myself against hot oil splatters. Painful as those were, the joy of us being together was so mesmerising that it outweighed the oil stings my skin had to endure. Overall, it was a special bonding moment for us.
Also whenever we attend physical events, it’s thrilling to see more team members in-person. Meeting other colleagues while chilling and cracking jokes are memories I cherish.
Mind you, the fun isn’t entirely lost online. My favourite online banter is with Goodness. At some point, he gave me a Netflix pass because he claimed “I was too serious with life”. Chai! Goodness!
Nana Afua & I equally developed a beautiful online rapport before we met for the first time in Rwanda. Another fond memory is convos with Rasheed who’s very spontaneous with technical assistance. On one special occasion, he sent some USDT to me as a gift. I’ve also had some surprise USDT influx from our CEO. You know it’s a smooth feeling to always receive coins. Ha ha, I need to backup these particular memories in my 120TB SSD.
I believe what makes work most memorable are my team members. Their desire for excellence is evident and makes it easier for me to lead them.
When these beautiful events culminate, they stick to the heart and leave a long trail of warm experiences you’re never tired of reminiscing over.