May-May Ogoigbe looks to become an expert at whatever she commits to doing. Well, that was my first impression of her. Although she did not study marketing or undergo formal training in promoting a business before landing her first official role, she excelled in that niche.
Apart from being the brainchild behind SME Growth Lab Africa, a digital accelerator program providing skilled training to SMEs in Africa, May-May is also an experienced marketing and communications executive, a 2021 Tony Elumelu Foundation Mentor. Currently, she leads the marketing strategy for NPC DataGuard, a Canadian-based IT and cybersecurity firm.
No doubt success does not come cheaply, and for May-May, that has been true. After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Oduduwa University, Ile-Ife in 2013, her expectation as to what next was to become probably a software engineer or one of these astute techies, and probably work for a big tech firm.
Instead, after serving her parents in the company they had newly established and playing makeshift at several roles in the company, May-May got her first official role as a Marketing Communications Manager for Dressmeoutlet, an e-commerce startup at that time in 2016. That was the launch she needed for self-discovery in the marketing and tech space.
“When that IT role did not come, the next career that seemed so interesting was a marketing role. The lady who interviewed me for that role said she feels strongly that I would function better as a marketing professional. At that time my understanding of marketing was mostly offline based. I thought this was going to be me, walking around the streets of Lagos trying to get deals into the business. But I was wrong. This type of marketing (digital) did not require that at all. So I gave it a shot.”May-May Ogoigbe
From there onwards, she has gone ahead to create a sustainable niche for herself and also sought to make an impact by contributing to aiding businesses to grow in Africa
We spoke with May-May Ogoigbe in this instalment of Founders Spotlight, and she shared with us her story, inspiration, and her drive to be part of the few persons making an impact in the tech ecosystem which have problems peculiar to African society.
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May-May Ogoigbe and her passion for tech as a child
As a young lady growing up, May-May was what you would describe as audacious and bold, with a fair sense of what she wanted out of life. However, a keen observation of hers was her passion for tech transmissions, telephones, and computers.
She claims she spent most of her time with computers learning how it functioned, the processes, and all it could do. She was also a jovial sportsperson with a reckoning with sports and stage displays.
“I was a very self-aware kid, I knew what I wanted and the things I was good at. I made sure to take on opportunities that came my way. I was very attracted to sporting activities growing up, participating in soccer, and basketball tournaments. I even took on the sports prefect role in high school.”
The inspiration behind all that she does
Several factors come to play in forming the competencies and drive of any individual. The inspiration for many sometimes, especially Africans, is their background. Having to come from a not-so-wealthy origin can be a motivation to be the best at what they do.
For others, financial independence is a major drive and inspiration giver. However, for May-May Ogoigbe, her inspiration is solely to make an impact in the African entrepreneurship space.
“I just want to make an impact in the way that I can. I want to be a part of the percentage of people that are contributing to the advancement of the world and Africa in particular.”May-May Ogoigbe
“I want to be able to look back at my life maybe when I’m 60 and say that I have impacted lives and contributed to the growth of people. This also works with my immediate circle of friends, I always try to make people around me better and contribute to their growth.”
A tech sis, entrepreneur, or both
Although studying computer science and being the Founder of an SME accelerator that helps businesses and startups scale, May-May Ogoigbe has spent the better part of her life as a marketing professional who has functioned in various industries.
She was a mentor with the Tony Elumelu Foundation to business entrepreneurs, May-May has also trained more than 5,000 people all over Nigeria on hands-on Digital Marketing skills for business growth. She has led training for She Leads Africa, Haptics Nigeria, Mentor Africa Foundation and other renowned organizations. She was the Digital & Communications Manager at Oriflame Sweden. She has spoken at multiple tech events in Nigeria.
She currently is the Marketing Manager for an IT and cybersecurity firm based in Canada. But in all, she has also had a major part of her life dedicated to entrepreneurial ventures. She claims this is due to her versatility.
“I am going to call myself a hybrid professional because I function in different capacities. I work for a tech company and then I am also helping businesses as an entrepreneur”May-May Ogoigbe
She claims people do not have to box themselves into one title when they can be many things. Naturally, people have many interests, and they ought to look into developing these other interests. She claims she is also a sportsperson.
The journey into Marketing
I guess for an average Nigerian, the concept of Marketing is somehow misconstrued to mean something tedious and manual, which entails going from street to street seeking to get clients to buy a product.
For May-May, prior to taking her first role, this was the same idea she had about Marketing.
“Marketing never crossed my mind while I was in university studying computer science. However, when that IT role that I wanted did not come, I went with the first role which came, and it was a marketing role.”May-May Ogoigbe
Although applying for an IT role, which was given to another candidate, she decided to take on the marketing role that was presented to her. Since she was already familiar with social media and its usage from a young age, her creativity came into play. She claims she “has never regretted taking that path since then”.
Balancing roles as a Marketing Manager and Founder of the SME Growth Lab Africa
Being a marketer is already burdensome and takes a lot of creativity. Being a founder of a startup looking at getting partnerships and funding soon is another whole lot of work for anybody, apart from May-May.
“For me, it is simply priorities. I spend most of my weekends working on SME Growth Lab Africa, and I dedicate my weekdays to my professional job. SME Growth Lab Africa is what I do to contribute to the tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem back in Africa, and as a marketing professional, I contribute to the growth of organisations.”May-May Ogoigbe
How has SME Growth Lab Africa fared since its inception?
SME Growth Lab Africa is a digital accelerator program that runs every quarter of the year, which makes it four quarters. Business owners that are accepted participate in a 4-week business training from expert facilitators. However, in the meantime, it doesn’t offer funding yet.
“The program offers four modules: selling techniques, marketing strategies, financial literacy and management, and legal counselling. Based on research, we have found out that every business needs these four things to build a sustainable business. So these are the training modules we currently offer.
From January 2022 when it was established, the program has trained about 3500 startup and business owners from 30 African countries. We have also been featured in several media platforms and our Facebook community spans above 2600 right now from across several countries in Africa.May-May Ogoigbe
We have partnered with startups like Pennee Africa, Trifft Africa, Mentor Africa Foundation and other businesses. We want to grow our community and become a resource centre for small businesses in Africa.”
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What does May-May do for fun?
All work and no play definitely makes Jack a dull boy, although a goal-getter, May-May is an extroverted personality who loves spending her time outside and trying new things.
“Spending time outside is a love language for me. I love spending time outside a lot except when there is a new series launched on Netflix that I want to binge watch, then you’ll find me inside. I’m also a movie person, I can watch movies for days. But recently, I have found a soothing passion in explorMay-May Ogoigbe
eing landscape and scenic views of nature. I’ve also embarked on a new hobby of trying new restaurants and different delicacies in my city.”
How does she balance work with fun?
Being passionate about what you do can get you obsessively looking at meeting deadlines and overachieving, especially when it concerns people’s lives. However, finding the right balance and sustaining the relationship with the people around you matters too.
For May-May, this is very necessary. Although this could overwhelm people who multitask, she has decided to be intentional in that aspect of life.
“I always try to make time for my family and be there for them always, they are very important to me. If they need support or anything, I make out time for them. But most importantly, I make time for myself. If I don’t feel comfortable working or energetic enough, I take time out to do something fun, recreational, or I just rest, doing nothing.”May-May Ogoigbe
She claims she also takes out time to do due diligence on her work and make sure what she does makes the most impact, not just do them. “I am always learning. For me, learning never ends. It is a continuous effort. I’m either participating in a virtual training session or watching videos of Garyvee or Tedx talks on YouTube”.
Closing the Gender gap in the tech space
There has been a wide clamour for equal representation and exposure to opportunities and funding for all genders in the tech ecosystem. This issue is due to the perceived discrimination against the female gender.
On if she is looking forward to solving the issue of gender imbalance in the ecosystem through her SME Growth Lab Africa, May-May noted that the Growth Lab is already exploiting that option.
“One of the ideas that we are trying to explore right now is cohorts specific to women. This year’s application for COHORT 1 has started and we have received entries already. However, there could be a slight change to subsequent cohorts where they are specifically for women. So yes we are strongly looking at bridging the gender gap.”May-May Ogoigbe
Highs and Lows as a founder
For May-May, her favourite moments are the reviews she gets daily from the impact-driven work they are doing.
“The best moments that I hold dear are the feedback that I get from founders and businesses that participate in the program. I mean having to see people appreciate what we are doing, the skilled facilitators we bring on each moduleMay-May Ogoigbe
s, and then at the end get positive reviews ,? Now that is the fuel that keeps us going.”
However, the worst moments for her are the planning phase, “which can be so overwhelming.” According to May-May, funding from external organizations would solve the problem of having to do so many things by herself and the limited team of two. For her, it would bring about the restructuring of roles and functions.
Founders that inspire her
To remain inspired, even the bravest of individuals need someone to constantly keep them going. A person that can serve as a point of reference for their growth and desire to be who they are.
May- May has quite a few other founders whom she draws her inspiration from.
“I have a couple of them who are very inspiring, people like Odun Eweniyi of Piggyvest, Oluwatosin Olaseinde of Money Africa, Shola Akinlade of PayStack, young individuals who are making significant impact in the tech ecosystem for small businesses. Sometimes I look back and learn from the conversations they have had and pick pieces from their stories.”May-May
For Global accelerators that she looks up to model SME Growth Lab Africa, she names Accelerators like the Y Combinator, Techstars and the Mandela Fellowship. however, SME Growth Lab Africa looks at solving African problems and hence, is taking a different path from the global accelerators
“I can only model SME Growth Lab Africa if I understand the problems that AfricanMay-May Ogoigbe
sbusinesses are facing, and I have been there, so I know the problems, trust me. That’s why Iwe have taken it upon ourselves to try to fix these problems. I want to streamline how SME Growth Lab will function for the African continent. The only thing that is missing right now is the funding to expand, grow our numbers and offer even more support to these small businesses.”
Advice for founders
In her advice to fellow founders, May-May lists out three things.
“The first is to stop overthinking, Overthinking makes you become obsessed with the problem when you can go ahead to do it. Secondly, trust your guts, and be confident in your ability to bring your initiative to life. Lastly, embrace partnerships because they will help you grow, gain awareness and credibility.”May-May
She adds that founders should not be scared to bring out their ideas or fear people stealing their ideas. Also, founders should not be scared to collaborate with people, because “collaborations help them move faster.”
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