Speaking at Black Ops’ Operators Happy Hour event in Lagos, experts highlighted the importance of operators in the Nigerian tech ecosystem.
When you think of what drives Nigerian startups, what naturally comes to mind are the engineering and product teams. But tech isn’t everything. Enter operators who are responsible for the overall functionality of startups. Think of sales and marketing, human resources (HR), finance, customer service, customer experience, operations, etc. Since they work behind the scenes, the spotlight is barely on them. The role of these operators in the Nigerian tech ecosystem was a major talking point at the Operators Happy Hour event organised by Black Ops, a community for African operators, on October 19th, 2023, in Lagos.
Speaking during a panel discussion moderated by Gerald Black, partner Black Ops, Uwem Uwemakpan, head of investments at Launch Africa Ventures said founders must bring operators into the business from the get-go. “It is the foundation of the business. As you are thinking about driving the vision, you must also think about who else can help you in this journey. You need people on your team who can pick up these things in your absence and run the business,” he said.
The operator’s job lies at the intersection of strategy, operations, and technical depth. If anything, a clear understanding of how businesses work and expertise are critical to the role. Hence, for early-stage founders, hiring the right and seasoned operators may come at a high cost. But, another panelist, Babajide Duroshola, General Manager, M-Kopa, opined that founders should hire based on their financial strength. He said, “I’d use a simple example. When you have a child and want to hire a nanny, you get the one you can afford. And as you start to grow, you then hire experienced ones. That is the way businesses should run.”
For Ololade Odunsi, Portfolio Talent Lead at Founders Factory Africa, operators are the engine of every startup. However, they are often left behind in innovation. “In most startups, the technology is there for customers to use, but as HR, you are doing payroll and building reports on Excel sheets. It is a problem. Still, it is important operators can build efficiency in that semi-manual environment,” she noted.
One consensus from the panel is the need to support operators considering their essential place in the ecosystem. More than ever, there is a greater need for operators who can keep costs under control, manage risks, and achieve profitability. While the founders hold the vision for the business, it is ultimately up to them to allow operators freely and do whatever is needed to ensure business growth, Launch Africa’s Uwem said.