Women in Tech: Lola Ekugo Talks About Building Industry Ties and Upskilling Outside the Workspace
Having worked with the prominent UK and Nigerian banks, in roles that merge technology with finance before launching her own business, Lola Aworanti-Ekugo is one of the women in Nigeria’s tech space who has experienced the corporate and entrepreneurial side of endeavour.
The career path she initially wanted to follow was Medicine but was offered admission to study Cell Biology and Genetics at the University of Lagos. Her first introduction to technology came through one of the courses she took at UniLag.
“I was not very comfortable with the course I was studying and after some time my father found out about a course called Computer Science Foundation in the United Kingdom,” Lola said. This was the time when the dotnet boom was just gaining ground and taking a computer science course sounded interesting.
As she learnt more about the JAVA programming language and started to use it to develop software that solved problems, she discovered a passion for tech that has taken her through different spaces in the tech industry.
She ventured into the fintech sector in her placement year as a student in the UK.
UK-based South African investment bank, Investec Asset Management, had an opening for a software engineer which she applied for and got.
“I had never really thought of financial services but I went for the job anyway and it was one of the best decisions I made,” she said.
Being one of the female software engineers in the office helped Lola develop a keen focus on delivering whatever the targeted result was.
“When you go into business spaces and you are one of the few females there, you just have to think about the value that you are bringing to the table. It is not about being male or female but about being there for a reason. It is about me delivering on why I am here,” she said.
Moving back to Nigeria was always the end goal for Lola and in 2018, she moved back to the country. At the time, First Bank was looking to fill the role of Head of Digital Innovation. Innovating with technology for banks and financial customers appealed to her, and she took up the role.
One of the most important things to consider while innovating in the fintech space is making sure that the people actually need the product. From her experience, she has seen that “A lot of times, people imagine that this is what the market will like and then they go and develop it. When such products hit the market, people struggle to connect with it and relate it to their daily needs.”
Taking things very seriously, and constantly improving her skills are personal practices that Lola holds herself by. While a lot can be learnt in the workspace, not all skills can be obtained there.
“If you stay in your workspace for a year and don’t catch up on what is going on in the industry, when you eventually want to do something in the industry, you will feel years left behind,” She added.
Being part of groups where she networks and mentors others have made the fintech industry less impenetrable to Lola.
She launched her startup, Transthat, in 2017 after she took a career break from the corporate sector. “I travel a lot, and from experience, I know that a lot of people struggle with getting peer-to-peer help in moving goods from one country to another. That was what birthed the idea of Transthat.”
Transthat ties Lola’s affinity for the fintech sector, travel space, and solving problems together. It makes it easy for people to find those who are travelling and can pick up some extra luggage with them into the country for a fee.
Moving into both the corporate and entrepreneurial endeavours presented an opportunity to test her capacity, especially for making sales. “I did not know I was such a good salesperson until I started trying to make sales when I worked with my startup,” she said.
Creating a structure and ensuring discipline have helped with the stability and growth of her startup. “When you are working for yourself, there is no one chasing you to get in line and get things done. Working for other employers had helped me build discipline that transcended into how I run my own business.”
Building a business from scratch requires setting goals that are attainable and having the discipline to pursue them. As the COVID-19 has shown when it shut down international travels and slowed Transthat down, staying true to pursuing the long term goals and being able to adapt are critical, in Lola’s opinion.
To close this series, here are some personal things about Lola Aworanti-Ekugo. Her favourite colour is green and travelling is one of the things that helps her unwind and refocus.
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