Investor is Not a Chieftaincy Title
I made an unpopular statement once at a Lagos Angel Network and Google event in Lagos, and from the look on people’s faces, they did not like what I was insinuating. Many people still don’t talk to me after that day. Yes, I was also making a jibe at some of them, and it was not an innocent statement. I don’t apologize.
The complete statement I made was — “Investor is not a chieftaincy title but an entrepreneurship role just like others.” I also added that I don’t believe in a table with two sides but a round table where everyone is contributing equally. I wasn’t just saying this; I meant it. That is my philosophy, and it has paid off tremendously with entrepreneurs that I have been fortunate to work with closely.
It is the philosophy of our new African entrepreneurship vehicle, which we call “Omni.Africa” (domain not up yet), where we have friends instead of LPs, GPs, and investees. We are all friends going on a journey together to maximize upside and create impact.
In Africa, we believe in titles and respect. I have also seen this phenomenon of “investors” trying to hold power over those they have invested in as a global phenomenon. I sometimes feel that entrepreneurs are equally to blame as they ascribe the power they do not have to many investors. This behavior comes from a scarcity mindset instead of one of abundance. When you feel that money is scarce or do not deserve any, you give power to those you see as benefactors rather than partners.
I am currently on both sides of venture funding. I am a co-founder in a venture-funded company (Infibranches), and I invest personally and
I am also a partner in entities that invest in others. This revelation may come across as confusing to people, but it shouldn’t be because that is what it is supposed to be. Some of the great entrepreneurs I know, like David Velez of Nubank, used to be VC investors. It is effortless for some people to switch between roles.
I believe that learning enough from all sides helps ecosystems develop better builders. Some people decide to focus on one aspect, which is excellent too. Some of the best founders I know also have no plan to invest; they want to keep building. The extreme form of that is Taso Du Val from TopTal. His famous letter to investors is still on their website, and it cracks me up each time I read it.
I am the professional investor’s nightmare on boards as I do everything to favor the founders. Sometimes seemingly to my detriment, but that is fine. I believe that the trust you build with young founders who will likely move on to create even better entities than the current is more important than any temporary financial upside.
A good friend told me something that made me realize that I was doing the right thing. He said it in Warri Pidgin English — “Deals no dey finish.” He meant that there will always be good deals available, and the best way to be in those deals early is to build trust. This belief is why I also never chase deals or have FOMO (fear of missing out). I have decided to choose to be a builder rather than a chief.
Ironically, my nickname is “Big Chief.” Contrary to what people believe, I have NO traditional chieftaincy titles. I have always avoided them with a passion. The nickname is more of a parody of my weight than my status. I am sure my kids will one day laugh at the name as they make jokes already about my weight. They don’t know that they call me Big Chief. Don’t tell them yet!
The name came from a famous old joke I always used to say about a constipated Indian Chief. You can risk reading it here on Reddit — https://www.reddit.com/r/Jokes/comments/2hwb4v/big_chief_no_shit/
Another secret part of me is that I make a lot of stand-up jokes, and I was nearly recruited to be a stand-up comedian in school as I once did a live skit on stage. My colleagues cracked up whenever I said the “Big Chief” joke. The nickname they wanted to give me in school was — “Sinbad,” but Big Chief “sort of” stuck.
The end of that Big Chief joke is apt about investors who lord it over founders — Big Shit, No Chief!