On How I Work, we talk to some of the smartest people across various industries in Africa who share their stories, productivity hacks, and tools for getting things done. This week, Charles Isidi talks to us about his career journey, his hacks for staying productive, and how he takes a break.
- Current role: Strategy and Partnerships Lead, Triift Africa and Cirkle Labs.
- Location: Abuja, Nigeria.
- Current computer: Macbook Pro.
- Current mobile device: Infinix Note 7 Pro.Describe how you work in one word: Regimented.
Tell us briefly how you started and how you got where you are today.
My journey goes as far back as the university, where I joined my church fellowship’s media and publications team. There I wrote and edited some articles early on for many of our publications as early as 2010. I led the media team for two successive years as the editor-in-chief and started my journey in design as well. I had this little HP Notebook 10-inch computer my mother bought me in my second year on which I would fight with CorelDRAW files for the longest periods.
When you tinker with things for a while, you just know your way around, and this is the story of my journey with design. I learnt, experimented, got a good number of projects, executed on people’s budgets, made mistakes, corrected them, and everything in between. By my third year, I didn’t quite like school, and my grades were in the pit, so I focused on creative writing and design, which was the only thing that was working for me. It was an “all eggs in one basket” decision, and I chose to give it everything I had. And by the time I was done with university, I had handled some big publishing projects and was well underway to full independence from my parents.
I moved to Lagos in December of 2015 and got a job at ADE Digital, a digital advertising agency. The experience I picked up at ADE Digital is responsible for a lot of my professional career growth. In three years, I went from content and social media executive to head of content and media. I worked with teams on digital projects for world-class brands and strategic industry leaders. I was hugely instrumental in creating and deploying media conversations, digital campaigns, and brand strategy development at ADE Digital.
I needed an opportunity to streamline my agency experience into leading growth for a startup, and that came with Thrive Agric — an agricultural technology startup connecting smallholder farmers in Nigeria to finance, data-driven advisory, and premium markets for their produce. I jumped at the opportunity, and in over 21 months leading growth at Thrive Agric, I increased subscriber numbers by over 1450% while simultaneously driving up active subscriptions. My work at Thrive Agric covered subscriber growth, media, communications, partnerships, and all things in between that drive a rich and pleasurable experience across platforms. You can read about my Thrive Agric Journey here.
I love to birth ideas and see them through to execution. Among these are the annual Lagos and Abuja Street Stores, an event where we distribute food, clothes, and other items in impoverished communities. I manage growth, design, and strategy for Triift Africa, a small business helping small businesses go from hustle to portfolio by providing microloans and training that allows enterprises in Nigeria to scale. I also lead the team at Cirkle Labs, inspiring progress in education, employment, and enterprise using the tools of creativity, collaboration, and community.
What does your job entail?
My job typically entails building and maintaining pleasurable touch points for users (customers) that enhance their experience. I love to put the users at the heart of my process; brands are nothing without them anyways.
There is also brand experience design, storytelling that involves maintaining a steady stream of engaging conversations for brands across owned, paid, and earned media channels, product design, analytics, building customer support structures, digital advertising and growth marketing across platforms, and customer experience design.
Some detail might help. I develop and implement cohesive brand communication by leveraging actionable, data-driven insights that drive deepened customer understanding. This informs product development and marketing strategy. I oversee the implementation of the developed marketing strategy, and this includes digital campaigns, events, digital marketing, PR, and other initiatives that drive a positive share of voice digitally and offline.
I work with cross-functional teams like technology, user experience design, product design, data analytics, and creative teams to define and implement marketing, customer acquisition, and retention objectives that drive strategy and execution. I also oversee the customer acquisition pipeline, ensuring that all the pieces work together to grow brands by the relevant metrics.
I love to explore, so you’d constantly find me neck-deep analysing the competitive environment for changes and opportunities, finding new growth channels, and consumer trends to help brands grow.
Walk us through a typical workday.
Thanks to COVID-19, there’s no such thing as a typical workday. I kick off the day with a podcast from my favourites, read something I’d earlier saved on my pocket app, go for a morning run to collect what matters most for the day. I love a to-do list, so the marker of an unproductive day is when I do not have one and just decide to wing it. A schedule helps me set a tempo for the day.
I typically make sure all the moving parts for media and communications, customer service, subscriber growth, and management of digital assets are working smoothly. I hate meetings where an email would suffice, so I usually schedule all my appointments for very early or very late. So you’d find me working with other teams, aligning expectations and outcomes here and there, making progress on projects, and updating key stakeholders and partners.
I have found that there’s a strange productivity boost when I wake up at 3 a.m. and get some work done while setting the pace for others till about 7 a.m. My intense focus at this time is unmatched as there are not a lot of things fighting for my attention.
My day is over by 6 p.m.; if I am honest with myself, I am not productive afterwards. Late at night I start filling up my to-do lists for the next day, closing out on tasks, scheduling meetings, and all the other time fillers. I catch a movie with my wife while having dinner, gist, and tweet into the night, and then rinse and repeat.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you do without?
My favourite app is the Bible app; my notes, plans, and highlights are quite something. Google Keep is next. It helps me save the random thoughts I have; I also keep my to-do lists on Keep because it is easy to tick items off the list as I complete them. Third is Pocket, where I save articles and dedicate special times at the end of the day to read them. I’ve set a maximum Twitter usage of one hour on my phone because I spend a ridiculous amount of screen time just scrolling on Twitter. Do you see those apps where the money is? I likely can’t go a day without checking my investment portfolios on Rise and Bamboo. I have also judiciously logged my finance on an app called Wallet for the past three years, and it helps me follow my money.
For Gadgets, that’s my phone. With a great battery that lasts for two full days, nothing proves more useful. For digital tools, it has to be Google Analytics. I am always looking to see what’s making a difference with the team’s marketing efforts, so you’d often catch me looking through reports. Also, I love Mixmax; it’s a calendaring tool that helps me schedule meetings and see what availability is like.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
It has to be Google Alerts which I use to effortlessly track conversations about a brand and other related industry news. The daily roundups mean I can spot opportunities and new discussions to grow the brand. This is closely followed by starting a new document on Google Docs by typing sheets.new or docs.new and others, it almost feels god-like.
What tasks do you dislike but still have to do?
Reconciliations for advertising budgets; anything finance-related or basic log keeping and stock taking wears me out. I hate meetings too, and preparing for them gives me anxiety, especially when I do not know what to expect; However, there’s no running away from them.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Google Keep. Most of the time, I always have a notepad dedicated to tracking progress and updating what needs to be done as they come up.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I love going on a run or taking long walks to clear my head. Sometimes, I binge watch a series, but I hate time wasters, so I spend a lot of time reading reviews and gathering opinions on movies before I watch them. I sometimes play Sudoku, read articles, listen to a podcast episode I bookmarked, watch a YouTube video on something interesting — recently I’ve been studying the global airline industry and why plane crashes happen. And nothing trumps sleep.
Besides work, what do you spend time doing? What do you enjoy?
Mentoring. I recently started a Content Marketing Fellowship with 25 young professionals, and it’s exciting showing content marketers the ropes, pointing them to resources, and getting them hands-on experience to increase their workplace value.
I also enjoy reading and listening to music, always a favourite rabbit hole of discovery to go on. I love volunteering for social causes as well. I love cooking, especially for people who appreciate it no matter how badly it turns out; no one is ever too old to have their culinary skills validated.
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to? What do you recommend?
I am currently reading some books concurrently;
- No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings
- Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things x Ben Horowitz
- 12 Rules for Life x Jordan Peterson. (my second time actually)
For movies, I am currently watching The Crown Season 4, soon to start Queen’s Gambit. I am thinking of rewatching Lord of the Rings and Hobbits, Pirates of the Caribbean and all Chronicles of Narnia movies.
I am currently listening to podcasts by Brian Houston, Jordan Peterson and Bill Johnson.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I will share four because I am generous. My father would say “Be a spoon”. He explained it as “Be globally relevant, be useful in whatever sphere you find yourself, do not become an ornament to some, a tool to others and an artefact to some others”. My dad is one to call you a local champion and always wants us to aspire for more with our lives, “there’s always more” he says.
Second is from a more prominent figure in my career journey; Samson Aligba. He’d tell me “Choose restraint when possible, be careful what you say and who you say it to even when you are rightfully angry because a dismantling here might be a convergence somewhere else.”
The third is something O.O. Nwoye said to me once “Fire forges steel, give it your best in the most honourable way possible”.
Fourth is an Igbo proverb that says “Onye Ji Onye na’ani ji onwe ya” it loosely translates to ‘if you must hold someone down to a mud fight, you must yourself stay in the mud to keep them down”. This has put me on a path to empowering people when you hold people down, you hold yourself.
With what you know now, what one advice would you give to your younger self?
On a lighter note, “Don’t avoid Siestas, get all the sleep you can now, you may never get guilt-free sleep back ever in your lifetime.”. It will be keep exploring, keep learning, keep experimenting, take a chance on every single idea no matter how foolish, do not try to over polish things until they look too good to be useful, just keep stretching yourself beyond imaginable limits, you can!
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
It’s two problems. Small Business Finance in Africa and reinventing insurance as we know it.
Who would you like to answer these questions?
Mudia Imasuen, Product Designer at Printivo; Charles Njoku, User Experience Designer at Software Business Solutions Consulting (SBSC); Kachie Ibejih, a Visual Designer; Yemisi Ajeojo, Head of Programs and Operations at Cirkle Labs; Fu’ad Lawal, Head Of Content at Big Cabal Media; Mohini Ufeli, Media Manager at Paystack and Lade Tawak, User Experience Researcher at Google.
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