Eloho Omame is an entrepreneur & investor with a personal mission to advance equity, capital and leadership for women in Africa through technology & entrepreneurship. She is a Co-Founder of FirstCheck Africa and was the founding Managing Director of Endeavor Nigeria. She shares about her work at FirstCheck Africa, where she is driving a conversation about women’s representation, ambition, ownership and power, and leading a charge to get more capital into the hands of Africa’s female entrepreneurs.
I’m inspired by people all around me, women especially. Our strength and resilience blow me away every day. But because I am a woman, I also understand that these qualities aren’t without their pressures and costs. We work hard, we love hard, we play hard. I am inspired every day by simple observations and interactions with women; I don’t even know many of them. I love the way wise women think, the way ambitious women work, the way smart women articulate themselves.
In making decisions, I’m constantly weighing my options and questioning whether a line of action is most likely to drive the most significant impact per unit of effort. I find this to be a good decision-making rule-of-thumb. It’s important to me to use relatively low effort or fewer resources to drive outsize outcomes. I am constantly trying to optimise lots of areas of my life for that. That drives a lot of my choices.
Most Memorable Milestone
My favourite milestone at the moment is the launch of FirstCheck Africa. This is particularly special to me because of the way the idea came to life. FirstCheck Africa’s origin story is interesting. I was at home on a visit from Odunayo Eweniyi, my co-founder at FirstCheck Africa, who is also the Co-founder of Piggyvest, a financial management platform. We were having a wide-ranging conversation about the technology ecosystem and all the work that still needs to be done to help more women succeed in the space. We both realised that we had similar ideas and wanted to see FirstCheck Africa come to light.
I remember talking about what we should call the company, and we both said, almost simultaneously, ‘FirstCheck’. The name came about from the simple theory that we can make a huge difference by being early believers for women by writing their ‘first checks’ and being their champions, and giving them the resources and access to kickstart their tech ventures.
There are two significant lessons I have learned over the years. The first is centred around me as an individual. I have learned to be intentional about who I want to be. I try to have a clear view of my goals with any projects I am involved with, and I try to be careful about the commitments I make. It’s challenging to bring your entire self to things when you’re not interested, and I hate to let people down.
The second relates to how I spend my time. I try to guard my time pretty judiciously. With email and social apps, it’s hard sometimes to focus on just one thing, but time is the single most precious asset any of us have. Building things like wealth, knowledge or health over the long-term is ultimately about creating leverage on our time. I always want to do things in ways that are most impactful in the shortest time frames, for myself and for the people and causes I care about. That sounds easy, but it’s super hard, and it forces you to create simple constraints around how you make decisions. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and I’m learning to keep myself accountable for how each hour is spent. There’s time for work and time for leisure; time for friends and family. That awareness of how finite our time is, also means that I choose carefully what I do and who I do it with. I don’t always get that exactly right, to be fair, but I’ve gotten much better as I’ve become more mission-aligned in my career.
What sets me apart? I think I tend to be outspoken. Not necessarily constantly feeling bold, but generally the one that’s going to speak up when something isn’t working. It’s interesting because outspoken women are never really popular. A fairly common quote comes to mind when I think about this: ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’. Even as a little girl, I tended to challenge the status quo, especially when something seemed unfair. I hate the idea of complicity in silence. As you might imagine, I got called everything from “talkative” to “bossy” as a child. But as I grew older, I understood that those things are just part of the cultural toolkit that silences girls and women every day.
When I’m in a discussion, I tend to be the one thinking about the hard questions, and if I can’t ask them, I get really uncomfortable. I’m a disruptive thinker. There’s an important role for that in teams and organisations, so it’s a part of my personality that I’m pretty proud of. It also means that I am quite honest. It’s important to have quality on a team, especially at the early stages of projects when you’re trying to figure things out.
On Women Empowerment
I often remember a quote that says, ‘women in power and women with money are two uncomfortable ideas in our society‘, by Candace Bushnell. I connect with it on an emotional level because it speaks to the issues I care about. Society generally has well-defined roles for women and boundaries of acceptability for our success. When a woman becomes too wealthy or too powerful, it upsets the system. Unfortunately, still too many of us respond by playing small, minimising our ambition and our success. I understand the instinct to avoid judgment, but playing small doesn’t serve the world, as they say. I want to be part of helping more women take strategic leadership positions and build wealth. We won’t have a balanced society until women have significantly more wealth and power.
Creating Equal Opportunities for Women
Our mission at First-check Africa is to advance equity, capital and leadership for African women through technology and entrepreneurship. We believe strongly in increasing women’s financial power, and we want to do that by helping women own more assets and wealth. If you think the gender income gap is atrocious, you should look at the gender wealth gap. Women in Africa own about 30% of the financial assets that our male counterparts do. Wealth is being created at an unprecedented rate globally through technology-driven entrepreneurship. African women can build unique technology products and ventures, and FirstCheck Africa wants to be a part of helping them make their mark on the world.
In Africa, about one in four people who work in tech are women, and on the funding side, just 2% of founder-CEOs who are successfully raising capital are women. The numbers are tiny, and with the pandemic, they’ve moved in the wrong direction. Female-led ventures raised 30% less money in 2020 than they did the year before. This trend is consistent all over the world. Women are massively under-estimated and under-represented in tech and venture capital.
Recently, the World Economic Forum published a report on the outcome of the pandemic on women. The pandemic has extended the estimated time to close the gender inequality gap from one hundred years to one hundred and thirty-six years. That’s a whole additional generation of women. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all hands on deck.
Every day, I find more clarity on what I want out of life. You have to try a few things to know what you like, what you’re good at, what serves you and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, there’s a strong narrative that suggests that to be ambitious and successful is to have a clear and consistent vision from very early on. I think that’s wrong. Most of us are just figuring it out as we go, and that’s perfectly okay. People should be willing to try things and unafraid to fail and make mistakes. The judgement that we fear is far less enduring than the regret of missed opportunities. Perfection doesn’t exist.
I try not to give advice; I prefer to share my experiences openly and to let people take any and all that works for them and discard the rest. If I were to suggest one fail-safe piece of advice to a young woman reading this, though, I’d say take the time to find out who you are. Accept her, love her, be kind to her, help her. Everything else will fall in its place. You are under no obligation to remain the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even a day ago. You are here to create yourself continuously.
Eloho Omame is an Entrepreneur & Investor with a strong desire to help advance Equity, Capital and Wealth for women in Africa through Technology & Entrepreneurship. She is a Co-Founder at FirstCheck Africa, a Founder at Mustard Seeds and a former Managing Director at Endeavor.