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How to transition from campus to working for a startup

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Angela Nzioki, the Head of Client Care & Partnerships at Uhasibu
Angela Nzioki, the Head of Client Care & Partnerships at Uhasibu

This week, we interviewed Angela Nzioki, the Head of Client Care & Partnerships at Uhasibu. Angela got the job out of college after meeting the founder of Uhasibu at Pivot East and has been there ever since.

For those who don’t know, Uhasibu is the award winning online (cloud based) accounting system for SMEs, build specifically for the legislation and workflow present in Kenya today. They are doing some really cool things in the accounting sector and we look forward to witnessing their growth.

This interview is interesting because Angela approaches her career path from a startup perspective. She has identified this niche of companies to work well with her personality. This is a question we should all be asking ourselves – what type of company do I want to work for?

What do you do at Uhasibu?

I run Uhasibu right now and my focus is on business development. In summary I am in charge of looking for new opportunities for business. So sales and marketing, and partnerships. That’s what my focus is. Besides that everything else – accountant, tea girl, HR, everything.

We are looking to bring on a cofounder. I’ve been there from the word go.

I met Michael (founder) at Pivot – I was pitching another product at the time. He asked if I wanted in. Then, he forgot. He sent me a message on LinkedIn. I knew he had won his category in 2015. So we decided to push this together.

So tell me about your career beforehand.

I went to University at Strathmore. I did my course in Business and IT. I found that to be a great fit for me. Before Uhasibu, I was doing an internship in Marketing and PR at the Strathmore Business School. Then, I interned at Kraft Silicon in their marketing department as well. I met Michael at Pivot in my last year of school, so I was basically doing part-time work and school at the same time.

How did that go?

I would recommend doing that for someone who is disciplined and can multitask. And it helps if you are someone who can prioritize what they want to get from their life. As much as my social life died, I was able to maintain life and work, academics.

It worked for me because I was someone who can plan their time and focus – I never skipped any class because of work and vise versa. I never missed any exams or whatever and I studied way unto the night.

It took a lot of discipline. But that’s not something I struggle with. I decide to do something and I do it. I work best under pressure.

So tell me about the Business and IT degree

That’s the challenge that universities should look into – the Business and IT discipline is very broad. It’s a bit of everything. The only people that come out of degree with something substantial are people who took a specific focus and ran with it – maybe they focused on software development and even did a side project in IT. Universities need to decide if they want to keep this together or separate in the long run.

I also think university is to study more on your own rather than to just do lectures. If you say I want value for my money and try to learn everything, you will lose money. Syllabuses barely get covered and you can’t go deep enough.

So for me, I was really good in business and entrepreneurship classes but didn’t focus on software development or networking.

Tell me about the skills set you use on a regular day at work.

The first thing I do in the morning is to check emails and going through all the sign ups for Uhasibu or see who has expressed interest – I put the customers first.

Then, I get in touch with that potential customer and find out if they need training or for us to send someone. Mostly my job is about follow ups. So really good communication is important – either emails or phone calls.

After that, I spend most of my time managing other people. Recently I was told not to be a bottleneck so people don’t become dependent on me. We are at 4 people now in the team.

Then, there is team management and looking for new partnerships. That basically involves finding out who Uhasibu can approach that has synergies with our vision. I try to identify banks and accountants as possible partners and I do some presentations here and there, as well as some applications for funding.

We are fundraising right now. We either want investors or competitions. There are so many out there and when you have a good product, you get good responses. There is a Mastercard competition called the Zambezi prize we are now working on. There is a pitch competition at the end of this month. The ultimate prize is $100,000, which is money we need.

Is there a skill you can’t live without?

Organizational skills. Without planning, you do too many things and don’t deliver on anything specific. I get into the office in the morning and there is a b and c that I need to achieve today. I will do d e and f tomorrow. If I don’t plan, I might spend too much time on one thing and not get to another.

Attention to detail is important – you need to pay attention to what really matters, including the small things.

And generally I need to have amazing customer relations skills. Nobody has an excuse in our company not to treat our customers as best as possible.

What do you look for in job seekers?

Confidence and confidence. I am sure there are guys who are good on paper but the minute they show up to the interview – Oh my god.

It doesn’t even matter what you are talking about – you just need to show confidence. You need to know who you are and that there is a reason you have made it to the interview phase.

I always tell people to be confident in who they are. This is because I need to know you have something to work with.

Guys with a flimsy handshake and who don’t express themselves don’t make it very far.

I don’t look so much into dressing. As a job seeker, it’s important to do background on who you are interviewing with. I never come in with a suit. The job seeker needs to figure out what the organizational culture is and then present themselves that way.

What are the skills you learned that have propelled professional career path?

I don’t know if it’s a specific skill but I figured out that I am good at problem solving, and doing “house cleaning.” I am a bit obsessive so I pay attention to details. So in terms of career path, I realize I am good at building an organization up by identifying what an organization lacks in terms of skills set, what a team really needs, and how they should structure financials, etc.

I would say that I have realized I’m not the best sales person. As much as I would sell if I need to, I wouldn’t jump off a roof to make a sale – and that’s something you need in a salesperson. And I am a straight shooter – I will tell you what we can and cannot do.

I like to say that I’m not good at making money, but I good at spending money to earn money.

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Arielle Sandor
Arielle Sandor is the cofounder and CEO of DumaWorks.com, a leading online an SMS-based job matching platform in East Africa that helps connect job seekers and employers in a fast and simple way.