Struggle to Triumph is how Tomide Awe, the senior revenue strategy and operations manager at Twitter, founder of Olori – an African fashion brand that celebrates African culture & heritage whilst empowering women and fellow podcaster describes her life’s journey .
On today’s episode, she shares her educational and professional journey from living in Nigeria, immigrating to the UK for college and now living and working in the US.
If you believe success is a series of never failing – then you will be bowled over by her story.
Paula: [00:00:00] Welcome to chatting with the experts. A podcast for immigrant women from Nigeria, Ghana, other parts of Africa and the Caribbean. Who have relocated to the United States and the United Kingdom. In this podcast, we talk about the struggles and highlight the triumphs experienced while sharing resources and experiences that our fellow immigrant sisters can benefit from. My guest today is Tomide Awe, who lives and works in the United States. And Tomide can you tell us all about yourself and include in that your formal education because I’m so impressed with you.
Tomide: [00:00:39] Thank you so much for having me on this podcast. i’m really glad to be here. So like you said, my name is Tomide Awe and I am a Nigerian and I moved to the us in 2015 for my MBA. I’m currently a senior strategy and ops manager at Twitter. But I’m also an entrepreneur. So I launched my African brand in 2017, and we’re still going till today. So I’ll just take a step back to you know, walk you through how I got to the U S right. So I left Nigeria at the age of 17, I actually did my undergrad in the UK, Lester university. I studied economics, BAC economists there, and I went back to Nigeria actually, or did I. Yes, I went back to Nigeria for my NYSC, for a year. At that time I worked at mobile for, for one year for my NYSC. And then moved back to the UK for my masters. So I did my masters at Wharton business school in finance and economy. After which I went back to Nigeria to work in consulting at Accenture for about three years. And then I realized that I wanted a more formal education in business, like in consulting. You’re already introduced to how to run a business right? And you know making businesses more effective and efficient and all of that. But I wanted to be more formal education there. And so I moved to the US for my MBA. So my MBA was at the Wharton school. So that’s university of Pennsylvania. I was there from 2015 to 2017. And when I graduated, I launched my startup for about nine months before joining Twitter, in the strategy and ops team where I still am today.
Paula: [00:02:32] Fantastic, so Twitter is the main job. And when I say the main job, that’s a corporate job. And tell us about this other startup that you, you launched.
Tomide: [00:02:42] Sure, so the name of the startup is “Olori”. Olori means queen in the yoruba language of Nigeria. And we offer gorgeous African style handbags that celebrate culture and heritage whilst empowering women. So one of the reasons why I decided to launch “Olori” was like I mentioned i’ve been to have lived in different countries since I left from Nigeria at 17. And I remember one of the first things I noticed when I left Nigeria was my perception of Africa as an African was very different from what other people saw Africa, as you know. What the media puts out there is just, you know. You see a child with flies, right? He’s just probably in lack and charity. But I know there’s more to Africa. It’s unfortunate that there are poor people in Africa, but there are poor people everywhere you know? And I think what the media puts out there is heavily skewed. And so seeing, seeing that perception but also seeing the curiosity on the faces of my non-African friends, whenever they saw me wear my African attire. I would say over a period of time from being in the UK to being in the U S that just. It gave me this mission, I would say to showcase the beauty of Africa and pull other people into it in a way that would not mean that they’re taken away from Africa if that, if that makes sense? That they can experience it whilst giving it the respect that it deserves. So that’s what we do at “Olori”. We are showcasing the beauty of Africa through our handbags. We use ase oke fabrics, study with ase oke fabrics to showcase the beauty of Africa and hoping that we can of course expand to other countries in Africa over the years, yeah.
Paula: [00:04:25] I love it, I love it. You’re getting the best of both worlds. So you’re in the tech space with Twitter. Everyone knows Twitter. And you’re also a business woman showcase in Africa through handbags using fabrics natural that occur locally there. I love it. I know you said to me that, you decided because as you said. The media portrays Africa in a very bad light, and that’s one reason I do this podcast too, to showcase that, even though we are immigrants, there’s a lot more to an immigrant woman than just you know? But sometimes people have asked me do you need an interpreter? And I’m like, I only speak English you know. English is, from where I come from, english is the main language. Yes, there are other languages. But we go to school and everything is taught in English. So you know, this is an opportunity to talk more about that.
Tomide: [00:05:16] Yeah, that is unnecessary
Paula: [00:05:20] So, I love the idea about, of, you know, your entrepreneurship. Tell us about Twitter, what made you go into Twitter? What made you, I mean, what did you, you know, what, what pushed you in that direction? Because you in finance and now Twitter, as far as I know, it’s not, it’s not a financial company in anyway.
Tomide: [00:05:40] I wouldn’t It wasn’t planned to be honest. I like I said I was in consulting before and before then you know. I did my study, my master’s in finance and economics. So I was very heavily into finance. And I knew at that point in time, I was even looking at investment banking. I actually started the CFA qualification as well as done the first two. That’s the “Chartered Financial Analyst” qualification. So I’ve passed through the first two levels, because I wanted to go into investment banking. So when I was actually leaving Accenture. One of my goals for coming to the U S was to go into investment banking and to actually just switch careers. While I was doing my MBA, I did my internship in investment banking and realized that I hated it, I hated finance, like I loved the intellectual challenge of finance. Which is why I continue to do it in my educational, like, pack. But in terms of working, I did not want to see finance. But the good thing about finance, it taught me how to be very analytical. So the skill that it gave me, I loved and I wanted to still take into my job. So I realized that while I didn’t want to go back into consulting, as I knew it. I wanted to do the consulting work, but within a single entity. And so that’s when I started looking for roles that would allow me do that. So my role today, the strategy and ops. Which is pretty much doing consulting in house, for leads. So how did I get twitter in particular? Sometimes I tell people it was a miracle. Cause at the time like I said. I graduated in 2017 and I didn’t have a job for nine month, it wasn’t by choice. It was because I couldn’t find any company that would want to spit in hours an international students. So there was no company that wanted to file my H1B visa. So I was working on my startup because I had to keep staying right? And I applied everywhere and, at that time I was actually speaking to ExxonMobil in Nigeria as well, and I had gotten the verbal offer I was just waiting for, for the final documentation. But they were taking so much time. But Exxon was my dream job at that time, so I was ready to go back. But then Twitter called me out of the blue and said you know, they had received, I don’t know whether it was my school that had sent them my resume or something. But the person just said he had my resume in front of them and they wanted me to apply for this role. And I did, and funny enough it was the easiest interview I had ever done. I got the job and I got the job right at, you know a few weeks before I would have had to leave the country because I didn’t have a job, you know? So I, I say it was a miracle because it was. I never thought about tech as such, because I didn’t know much about it. You know, coming from Nigeria, you have to enter oil company do you get? That was, that was what it was. And it was so great that twitter reached out to me, it was the role that I wanted. It was, it’s a fantastic place to work. And it was better than the dream that I had, really.
Paula: [00:09:02] Who said miracles don’t happen? I believe in miracles. So you got yours?
Tomide: [00:09:07] Yeah, I did.
Paula: [00:09:09] Oh, that’s that’s fantastic. So, I see you had mentioned that the transition was hard though coming from, I guess from Nigeria and you didn’t come here directly. When I say that in terms of you left Nigeria, went to the UK, studied there, went back. Then came subsequently at some point to, to the United States. And you mentioned the transition was hard. What was, so can you point out what was difficult about it? And I know I’ve heard your miracle, so I definitely to hear a little bit about the difficulties. Only because you know. I believe in celebrating, but I know behind every success, there’s a story.
Tomide: [00:09:45] You know, I think mine there’s a lot of it. I’d say just speaking about the transition itself. I spent comparatively about five years in the UK and then moving to the US. I assumed that, you know, I’ve already been out of my. Lived away from my parents, from my family cause I went to the UK, not having any family there. So I said, I’ve already done this. So I’m used to this I can do it again. But the US, I think I was, I had a massive culture shock. I did not expect the culture to be so different, and I was in Philadelphia again I didn’t have family and I had to start. I’m an introvert. So I had to start meeting people at fresh, which is very stressful for me. And I remember that the, first three months I would just like cry. You know cry in my, my room wipe my tears, go for my lectures, come back cry again. So I think the biggest thing for me was the culture shock, and just understanding all the dynamics and having to be so politically correct, like being scared of offending people by you know. Funny enough there was a there was a lecture that I. It was a small group lecture and I think I had used the word”, simple minded”, like I was trying to say, let’s just simplify things, but, you know I translated it very literally as in, or maybe people like me are quite simple minded. And then they were like, “Oh my God, why would you use that word”? And I’m like, I’m sorry. Like, you know they explained it and I realized that, you know it was not the right word to use. But ideally it’s for someone that has spoken English for so long, like all my life. That was my first time of knowing that “simple-minded” putting it together like that was not right. So just that fear of using the wrong words you know, offending people you know, culturally. It was a lot for me in addition to just not being around family. So that was one trans transition. But the other part of it that I would say was I mean. It looks like I’ve achieved quite a bit, and I’m grateful for that. But, I’m the youngest child in my family, and I came, I was that child that my parents didn’t think was going to succeed.
Paula: [00:12:04] really?
Tomide: [00:12:05] It was always like. Oh yeah, it was. Infact my sister was here over the weekend and she like. Look, I can’t believe how great you are right now, because I was that child that failed all her exams, like my siblings will have to go to my parents and beg them before they saw my results, you know. When I was going to school, my parents just wanted me to get an undergraduate degree, like that was it. Like if you can just do this for us we’ll be happy, transitioning all the way to being able to go for my MBA at Wharton. I think it took a lot of persistence, it took a lot of failure along the way and believing in myself. Even getting to Wharton as well. I was like I hope they’re not going to find out that I shouldn’t be here you know. Like just that imposter syndrome and having to make sure that I graduate you know. Like I think that’s something that I’ve carried with me. I still carry with me today knowing where I’ve come from and you know. Going from a place of failure to a place of believing in myself that I deserve to be here because you know, I’ve earned it. Yeah, so there’s a lot to unpack there. But I would say my transitional phase was around culture shock kind of just policing my words, policing the way I believe I interact with people and also policing my belief in myself.
Paula: [00:13:31] I am so happy you shared that because a lot of people sometimes need to hear that. That, you know, failure sometimes as part of success. And when you see, a successful person, something you need to stop and ask them instead of being jealous of them, but ask them you know their story. Because many of us have had hardships to get to where we are. But it’s those hardships that make us who we are, it’s those hardships that give us a sense sometimes of direction, sense of empathy you know. Where we can see a fellow human being and say, you know what but for the grace of God, that could be me, or that was me a year or two ago. And so I see where you are and I can help you because you don’t need to stay there. So I think sometimes it’s the failure that makes us be the person that the world needs. Because every body has a purpose in life, I believe that fully and if it is just because of you know your struggles earlier on in life that now you’re here and you can talk to someone that in itself can change, not just with one life, but many lives. So I’m very happy that you shared that. Tomide it, it touches my heart to hear that because I consider you a success, that’s one of the questions I have. But I consider you a success, and I consider you even more of a success when I hear your story now. I didn’t know that part you know, I didn’t know that you had your struggles. And I know being that I lived in Nigeria that academic failure in Nigeria it’s like almost a taboo you know. And the good thing is you know, when we come abroad we realize that there’s support for everyone and many people you know. Probably it’s not the academics that’s gonna make them. But there’s something special and they all have a purpose. So I’m really happy that you shared that.
Tomide: [00:15:18] Thank you.
Paula: [00:15:20] I’m very proud of you too.
Tomide: [00:15:22] Thank you.
Paula: [00:15:25] I’m about to wrap up, I was going to ask you if you considered yourself a success. I think you said it, but maybe I want to ask the question again, directly so that you can say it, because somebody needs to hear what you’re saying. Somebody needs to hear that hey I am an entrepreneur. I am totally an entrepreneur. I have a business in which I am showcasing the positives of Africa, but I’m also, I’m working in one of the top tech companies and many years ago, I didn’t think I could do that, but look at me now. And so if I’m like that, so can you.
Tomide: [00:15:58] Yes.
Paula: [00:15:59] I’m going to ask you the question, but you can say, tell me they, do you consider yourself a success?
Tomide: [00:16:07] I, I don’t see success as a static point because then if you attain success, then what else is there to, to aspire towards. But I do believe that success is a journey and I am on that journey. I believe that I look at everything that has been put in front of me, all the resources that have been put in front of me and the opportunities that have been, you know, put in front of me as well. I believe that I have made the best use of those, which means that I continue to be on the path of success. So I would say that I’m on the path of success and I have no regrets at all, you know. If, if I had to change my past and say, you know, maybe I should have passed all my exams and all that I would not change that, I liked the fact that I failed and it’s something that actually gives me a lot of. I’ll say a lot of freedom even in this entrepreneurship journey, because I feel so much that as a result of my failures, I’ve passed right? And so I look forward to failure because that’s the only way that I learn, that’s the only way I can actually reach the goal posts that I want to get at. So I do strongly believe that, you know. You should never write yourself off the off, you know, that it doesn’t work today, doesn’t mean it will not work tomorrow, it does, it’s also not a reflection on who you are. Like you said, every single person has value and it could be that you, even if you’re not academically oriented, you might be creatively oriented. There is value, and it’s all about finding yourself, understanding what your strengths are, and really focusing on those and honestly, understanding what your weaknesses are as well, and working to be better, you know. So my success, I would say I’m on the journey to success, and I believe that everybody can be on that journey as well, and you have to believe in yourself.
Paula: [00:18:07] Excellent answer, I love it, I love it. All right, so, we know that you work with Twitter, we know about you have an amazing business. Show case in Africa. So if someone is to get in contact with you online, or offline, how do they find you?
Tomide: [00:18:28] The quickest way to do it will be on Instagram. If you follow me on Instagram, it’s my first name,and my last name “Tomide Awe”, that has the links to my business, it has links to, I mentioned earlier that I might be. I’m starting the podcast soon. So like, if you want to know anything about me, that’s the best place to, to reach out. And you can send me a message by DM as well always happy to interract.
Paula: [00:18:54] Lovely, I told you to do a shameless plug for your podcast, do that just now. What is the name of the podcast?
Tomide: [00:19:03] The name of my podcast is going to be “Starting up”. And it’s really focusing on the entrepreneurial journey of, of women and focused on e-commerce as well. So when you, when I was starting my business. While looking for resources and information, I saw that a lot of it was targeted towards venture capital, so people that were raising funds, not necessarily people that are bootstrapping. And so this is a resource point for people that are bootstrapping their e-commerce companies to actually just, you know, unveil what actually goes on in the background. You know, it’s not a rosy journey and it’s not all about money, so this is just taking people through that journey and giving them the resources that they will need to succeed as bootstrapped e-commerce entrepreneurs.
Paula: [00:19:53] Awesome, awesome, and so folks that was, Tomide Awe an amazing young woman, I said so at the beginning. And I’m going to conclude here that she has impressed me beyond measure. And so for my listeners, if you have enjoyed what you just heard, especially from my amazing guests, Tomide Awe. Please head over to Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere you listen to podcasts and please click subscribe. If you’re an immigrant woman from Nigeria, from Ghana, on the African continent or the Caribbean, and have found these stories interesting, intriguing, and or whatever other adjective you like, please let us know in your reviews. If you’d like to be a guest on my show, “Chatting with the experts”. Please head over to www.Chattingwiththeexperts.com/contact us. Let’s chat. Thank you Tomide I’ve enjoyed talking with you.
Tomide: [00:20:52] Thank you. This is great.