Why is a social media giant concerning itself with luxury brands? This was the top-of-mind question when I sat down to a one-hour chat with Morin Oluwole, Meta’s global luxury director. Oluwole joined Meta 16 years ago on its product team, back when it was only Facebook. On this episode of My Life in Tech, the ex-medical student takes me through her evolution at Meta, from product person to business development expert to the woman driving the company’s efforts to connect luxury brands to their customers. She also shares insight into her recently assumed advisorship role with Ivorian ecommerce startup, ANKA (formerly Afrikrea).

What does a global luxury director at Meta do, exactly?

I work directly with global luxury brands to develop their overall content, creative, innovation, media, and measurement strategy across Meta’s platforms. Our objective is to make sure that when brands communicate, connect, and invest on our platforms, they are able to have the best returns in terms of growth and development of brand equity, and also in terms of driving specific, concrete business results. We work with our partners internally, which include our creative shop teams, measurement teams, innovation teams, or even our product teams, to make sure that when brands invest in advertising, they are able to have the best results, either in terms of brand metrics or sales growth.

Your role is based in Paris. Why?

Seventy percent of global luxury brands are headquartered in Europe; of that number, the majority are [based] between Northern France and Milan, with most of them really being in France. And so, if you look at being present where key decisions and decision makers are, it was a no-brainer: France was the best location to be able to execute and deliver on this job and its objectives.

And how are you handling your French? Are you able to communicate?

I speak French fluently. I’ve lived in Paris for eight years now. When I arrived in Paris, I did not speak one word of French. I spent about three years working during the day and taking French classes at night because it’s absolutely indispensable in the job that I do to be able to communicate and speak with my partners.

You’re not only the first person to assume this role, you were instrumental to having it created. Why did you think the role was vital?

As I grew and developed [at Meta], and as I shifted from the product side to business development, I had a clear passion for luxury. I felt that there was an opportunity for [luxury] brands to succeed on our platforms. Instagram had just joined the Facebook family at the time. I saw an opportunity for us to create a tailored and adapted point of view for collaborating with luxury brands—fashion, beauty, wine and spirits, watches and jewellery, etcetera. And so I worked closely with our VP of global marketing solutions at the time, Carolyn Everson, and her team to develop a business plan around the opportunity for luxury, which ended up, after many discussions and many months—took about a year and a half—being validated; and that’s when I came to Paris in January of 2015 to develop our grower teams and grow our business here.

Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps the chief driver of the launch into the metaverse, and I wonder if that intersects with your work with luxury brands in any way.

We have seen a lot of early excitement from luxury and fashion brands regarding opportunities in the metaverse and this is very important for a number of different reasons. Traditionally, these brands are not necessarily known to be the most forward-leaning when it comes to innovation. But they see the opportunity to really grow and drive their storytelling in this new world. So many of our partners are keen to learn more about how they can use technology like augmented reality, and eventually virtual reality to develop their brands. Now, I will say there’s a lot of experimentation going on right now, which I think is the right thing to do. Experimentation in terms of testing either new functionalities, like augmented reality filters, or looking at avatars to see what makes the most sense from the brand point of view.

You’ve been with Meta for 16 years, right from when it was a startup with an office above a Chinese restaurant. Sixteen years is nearly your entire career. You could have worked in many other places during this time…

The answer is really quite straightforward: I have had incredible opportunities to grow and build my career here, and that’s why I’ve stayed. If there were considerations of growing and evolving—which are completely natural considerations—I was supported by the company at each point. I was supported by my mentors within the company, and I also had the opportunity to build new ideas and build new teams, which is very important because, for me, I’m a builder. I’ve had the fortune of living across four different locations from California to New York to London and now Paris with the company. It’s really been a fortunate opportunity.

You started out studying medicine, but your plans changed during your internship. Tell me about that.

I was born and raised in Nigeria, and it’s kind of the expectation that you either become a lawyer, doctor or engineer. I was actually working at a hospital, doing an internship. My internship was from midnight until 8 AM, and I did that for several months. And it was one of those moments after the internship was completed, I was like, You know what, this is not my passion. This is not what I want to do. So I had to figure out how to build and restart from there. Not at all easy, not at all straightforward, but I think a couple of things that I kept in mind was: one, guidance from mentors. I truly believe in mentorship, and even from an early age I tried to get guidance from people who’ve had more experience than me. 

Tell me about what you do at ANKA. Why were you brought in, in the first place?

ANKA’s objective was really to create this platform providing a straightforward and seamless ecommerce experience, notably for African entrepreneurs and micro-retailers. Moulaye Taboure [the founder] and I connected, and in our exchanges, there was a natural evolution as to what I could bring to support them from an advisorship point of view, especially given my expertise and experience in growth and innovation.

As you probably know, there’s low trust in social commerce in Africa. Will your advisorship at ANKA tackle this? 

That’s exactly what it will address—building an ecommerce platform that is trusted in terms of logistics, in terms of delivery, in terms of ensuring that when you order a product, you’re actually going to get that product, in the designated time frame, and at the location that you’ve listed.

My Life in Tech (MLIT) is a biweekly column that profiles innovators, leaders, and shapers in the African tech ecosystem, with the intention of putting a human face to the startups and innovations they build. A new episode drops every other Wednesday at 3 PM (WAT). If you think your story will interest MLIT readers, please fill out this form.

Last updated: November 9, 2022, 3:30 PM (WAT)

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