‘Physical Meetings Were Not That Important’: In Conversation With Utiva CEO
What does it feel like to go fully remote during the global pandemic? We spoke with Utiva founder, Eyitayo Ogunmola, about their recruitment process, effective remote work tools and what they look for in candidates.
- What does your company specialize in?
Utiva is your one-stop-shop for everything Tech Education, from Data Science to Artificial Intelligence, Product Design, Product Management, Growth Hack and Programming. We help recent graduates and professionals transition into new roles or upskill in their current roles by learning premium and in-demand skills through our instructor-led live classes.
- What needs did you focus on when you founded the company?
We focused on bridging the job market skill gap for Universities in Africa. As someone that struggled for 2 years after University before getting my first job, I have a firsthand experience of what being unemployed in Nigeria feels like.
I founded Utiva to address this wicked problem and over the past 3 years, we have helped over 5000+ folks transition into new roles in the tech space.
- What is your contribution to the industry?
Today, we are building 15 technology schools where we are helping young people learn premium skills that fast-growing companies are hiring for. We have built 6 of these schools into the biggest in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, I would say that our biggest contribution to the industry is our approach towards changing the narrative about education being a non-profit social venture.
We strongly advocate that tech-ed leaders begin to see their companies as businesses rather than initiatives and also adopt profitable business models that could help them achieve scale and globalize the impact we are all working hard to achieve.
- How did you decide to go remote?
Like everyone else, the global pandemic forced us to explore remote work full-time.
Personally, I have been working with my team remotely from the UK and US for the past 2 years and we had been developing that capacity internally without being really aware.
When the need arose to take all our learning programs online, we only had to do some little restructuring internally to reinforce our capacity to handle it. Thanks to my extremely agile team, we trained almost 700 folks during the 3 months of lockdown alone.
- How many of your workers are working remotely?
Currently, my entire team works remotely! Interestingly, we just activated 100% remote work last week.
Before then we used to convene at the office on Mondays only to set the tone for the week, examine our rallying cries and discuss what each person is doing to move the Utiva train forward. Then we work for home for the rest of the week.
After careful assessment of our capacity, we decided to go fully remote this August.
- Is it difficult to set up a remote business?
To a great extent, yes. Discipline is something that we don’t find much in young people today, perhaps due to the effect of technology and social media.
To successfully run a remote business, you need to build a team of mini-entrepreneurs who believe in the vision of your business and are willing to all in their capacity to get sh*t done without excuses.
- How do you deal with workplace isolation? Do you have regular meetings with employees (virtual or physical)?
Yes we have regular meetings with my employees because it is very vital for our team building and collaboration.
In fact, 50% of working hours are spent in several zoom meetings where we are constantly defining the direction of Utiva as a business.
We are however trying to cut down meeting times so that my team can focus more on execution.
- Which remote work tools helped you increase productivity?
This may come as a surprise but we use a Google sheet for our morning standups. Every day, we populate the sheet with the work that we plan to do and check them as either done or in progress.
This way everyone gets to see what everyone is working on and support each other. The entire google suite has proven to be super helpful in fostering collaboration.
Like I mentioned earlier, we do a lot of zoom meetings too. So the Zoom App comes in handy too.
- How do you facilitate communication across time zones?
Today, I am the only one that works in a different timezone – 5-hours behind the Nigerian time. Hence, my days usually start as early as 4 AM and I am working till about 12 NOON my time. At this time, it is usually evening in Nigeria so I get to spend the rest of my afternoon doing my own stuff.
- What things do you wish you knew before working remotely?
I wish I knew that a lot of the physical meetings we used to summon were actually not that important.
Looking back now at the time I used to spend navigating Lagos traffic on my way to meetings, I can only imagine how much productivity I left on the table.
- Do you hire international/foreign workers? Are they full-time employees or independent contractors?
We have a couple of distributed knowledge experts working with us across the UK and the middle-east
Most of them freelance with us, however, we like to call them Utiva faculty because they work with us committedly towards the common goal of bridging the skill gap
- What obstacles does your company face when hiring remote workers? How long does it take to fill a position?
Today, we are a medium-sized team of about 25 staff. We do not do a lot of hiring at the moment.
- Are there any positions that are hard to fill? Are you looking for new talents now?
Yes we are. We are looking to hire five more young and energetic people to drive our work in some remote regions.
- What does your recruitment process look like?
Usually, we go smart-people hunting on LinkedIn. We look out for people that have shown leadership potentials in various capacities and we have conversations with them about joining the team.
90% of these folks are usually happy to become a part of what we’re doing.
- What do you notice first in a CV?
I look first for an embedded link to a LinkedIn profile. Before I read about the work that you have done, I want to get a sense/feel of the kind of person that you are and how you are telling your story.
I am a person of vibe and I want to be able to get into your mind through your digital content before I have a conversation with you.
- Tips for your prospective employees?
There is a time to build and a time to reap the fruits of your hard work. Make sure you don’t spend the wrong time doing the wrong thing. Also, get yourself a mentor who really cares about you and make sure you do a lot of volunteering that will help you develop the capacity you need to stand out in your industry.