Isis Nyong’o Madison: The journey has to be worth it

African founders have to actively create the environment needed for success - Isis Nyong'o Madison Click To Tweet

Isis Nyong’o Madison is a well-known media and technology leader in Africa who has held leadership roles at Asphalt & Ink, InMobi, Google and MTV. Over the past decade, she has made her mark scaling media and digital businesses across the continent. Isis holds degrees from Stanford University and Harvard Business School and is the CEO and Co-founder of Mums Village – an online start-up dedicated to enriching the lives of current mothers and mums-to-be in urban Kenya. Accolades awarded to her include being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and one of Africa’s most Powerful Women by Forbes. She serves on the boards of two technology companies and can’t hurt to add that her family boasts of greatness with Academy award-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o as her cousin.

We’ve shared her lessons on landing a job in the media industry already, this article focuses on Isis’s start-up experiences and her lessons learned from challenges.


Overcoming challenges faced in the startup field

There are three types of challenges I have observed while working in this industry:

Access to capital

Access to capital is very different in Africa as compared to the US – there are a lot more types and forms of capital that are accessible, especially for technology-driven startups.

Ecosystem Development

Despite having a critical mass of people online now in Africa, unlike more mature markets such as the US, there’s more consumer education and ecosystem building. African founders have to actively create the environment needed for success.

For example, a couple years ago if you had an app, you would have to tell people what an app was, where to go to get it and how to download it. In the US no one has had to do that for the last seven years at least. So that shows us that there’s still a lot more work to do here to just get going, particularly with the consumer.

There’s similar challenges on B2B type businesses where you’re really trying to sell something useful for that particular business and that process is probably a lot longer than at other markets abroad.

Team Building

With regards to finding talent, the dynamics are just a little bit different. To get the talent that you want in a place in the west where every person has many options, you need to sell a more compelling vision or have deeper pockets. Here we just don’t have that depth of talent pool so you have to invest more time in identifying people who are problem solvers and then develop the other skills on the job.

I look for talent in unconventional places and try make the work environment an inviting and enjoyable space to be in. In regards to ecosystem development, I focus on leveraging partnerships as much as possible. From an access to capital standpoint, I think that’s something that is still definitely a work in progress in terms of trying to be more open-minded to the organic ‘zebra’ growth versus the ‘unicorn’ approach.

Isis Nyong'o Madison: I focus on leveraging partnerships as much as possible Click To Tweet

Take the Imposter Syndrome as a sign of growth

“This is something I have dealt with many times. I feel that it is probably just an indication of real challenge and growth where you feel almost not ready for something this is your chance to step up to the plate.

I certainly believe it’s an inner belief that builds up over time, and I usually just internally calibrate and tell myself ‘you know what there are probably people who feel the same way here and if they haven’t felt it here then they’ve probably felt it somewhere else.’”

On balancing life as a working mother…

Isis is a mother to Juno (3) and Sky (18 months) and has been a successful entrepreneur in Nairobi, running both MumsVillage and Asphalt & Ink for close to four years combined.

“You just have to be extremely organized and ensure that you build as much flexibility to your work and life as you can. It’s also about checking in to see if the way you are living your life has the values that you have. People make different choices, there are those who decide to take time off, others who don’t have a choice.

It’s a careful calibration where one might adjust on a week by week or month by month basis. As an entrepreneur, it’s not such a super static thought process as my schedule is more fluid. The reality is though that most mothers don’t really have a choice and they just have to try and do their best to balance it out as there’s no magic formula.”

The MumsVillage Team
The MumsVillage Team

Parting shot…

My mantra in life right now is – ‘the journey has to be worth it’. Ask yourself, how much am I enjoying the journey? Versus looking to the end goal.

This is a shift for me because I’ve been very goal oriented and so I think the journey in itself has to be rewarding as well. Another thing I’d add is, always have a long term view –that’s very much where I’m at right now.

How to land the media job you want: Tips from Isis Nyong’o Madison

isis nyong'o madison media leader
Get inspired and land the media job you want with lessons straight from Isis Nyong'o Madison Click To Tweet

Isis Nyong’o Madison is a well-known media and technology leader in Africa. She has held leadership roles at Asphalt & Ink, InMobi, Google and MTV. Over the past decade, she has made her mark scaling media and digital businesses across the continent. Isis holds degrees from Stanford University and Harvard Business School and is the CEO and Co-founder of Mums Village  an online start-up dedicated to enriching the lives of current mothers and mums-to-be in urban Kenya.

Accolades awarded to her include being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and one of Africa’s most Powerful Women by Forbes. Isis serves on the boards of two technology companies and it can’t hurt to add that her family boasts of greatness with Academy award winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o as her cousin.

As someone with great experience in media and technology – all the while ensuring career longevity, below are some takeaways we can learn from her as she tells us how she got to where she is now.

Network, network, network and be persistent

“I networked incredibly hard to get into MTV in 2005. They were just getting ready to launch in Africa right as I was graduating from Harvard Business School -I was very excited about media at the time and absolutely obsessed with working there. I didn’t know if they had any vacancies but I did everything I possibly could to find myself space there as it was logical to me that they would need to put a team together.

The person leading the MTV Africa venture was Nigerian so I reached into my network asking every single Nigerian I knew if they knew this guy. None of them did but with more digging I got the phone numbers I needed that finally connected me to him. This took about six months to get to him and get him to hire me as their first sales person.

Today, I wouldn’t recommend spamming a potential employer with too many emails and cold calling them but you should do your best to get noticed. For example, attend events that they host, engage with them online and meet employees to better understand what it’s like to work there. Never give up on something that you feel is right for you but also use your judgement on optimal approach.”

Some key points to help with landing the job you want:

1. Network

Again, this is very important and is a skill that young people should have. There are more forums to network nowadays and a lot of networking opportunities as well.

The reality, particularly here in Kenya, is that people feel like only certain people get jobs because they have access to certain networks. There is some truth to that but not to say that one cannot build their own networks no matter where you are starting from. Your networks don’t just happen to you, you build on your alumni institution, your church, and many other avenues. That’s something I became very good at over time and it’s something that is important not just for jobs but for business in general.

The importance of your network in landing the job you want in the media is very real Click To Tweet
2. Throw your hat in the ring

When applying for jobs in big companies, I think there’s a view that you can’t just apply on their website and expect your CV to be reviewed. I applied to Google at a time when they had 1,000 people at least applying per week and every single CV was screened.

Also, particularly for women, there’s a lot of research that shows that women will go through an entire list of requirements and if they do not have one of those things that the company is looking for, they won’t apply. Yet men tend to apply regardless of meeting all the requirements or not. I think that women definitely need to have a much more controlled view of this and apply for the job they want despite missing one or two requirements. The only way to ensure you don’t get a job is to not apply.

3. Preparation matters – a lot.

Ensure you have an engaging, updated LinkedIn profile as that is where your professional visibility matters and be mindful of everything you put online. Typos in CV’s and any other communications are inexcusable and reflect a cavalier attitude which makes it easy for employers to pass on.

When you reach the interview stage, do thorough research in preparation for it. You can never over prepare -you should definitely never walk into an interview unprepared as you’ll be wasting everyone’s time including your own. Understand what the role is, what you think they’re looking for, what questions they are likely to ask you, what questions you’ll ask them and find out what’s happening in that industry that you want to join. There’s no excuse not to be prepared.

How to ensure career longevity

“If one finds their life passion, it becomes much easier to have career longevity. Things fall into place when you find your passion. There’s always more you want to do and there’s more opportunities that find their way back to you.

If one finds their life passion, it becomes much easier to have career longevity Click To Tweet

For those who are unfortunately stuck in a career path that’s not for them, make it a mission to find a way to get out of that situation instead of trying to create a long-term career.”

Finally, what matters more between education and experience? It depends on the individual

“Education and experience are both very important and I do think that I vacillate myself on whether one matters more than the other. A good education gives you a foundation to build knowledge, working in teams, critical thinking skills and the discipline of simply showing up. There’s a lot of things that matter later in life that showing up at school, participating, learning, doing homework, doing all these again and again and again assists…all of this matters a lot during our career.

“I have interacted with ‘seasoned’ professionals who have 10 years of experience in a field but if you can’t problem solve and only do the things that you’ve been trained to do, then it’s hard to get to the next level. So you can see why it may just depend on the individual on which one is better but I’m an advocate for both of them.”