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An interview with (Andreata Muforo) of TLCOM Capital

1) Tell us about your career journey so far
I am currently a Partner at TLcom Capital, a venture capital firm investing in startups building tech-enabled solutions for Sub-Saharan Africa. Our offices are in Nairobi, Lagos, and London and our portfolio includes companies such as Andela, Kobo360 and uLesson. As part of my role at TLcom, I also serve on the boards of our portfolio companies: Ajua, Autochek, Okra, Illara Health, and Twiga Foods. I also mentor entrepreneurs and co-host TLcom’s Africa Tech Female Founder Summit.

My career path has centered around four themes that I’m passionate about – entrepreneurship, investing, Africa, and private sector development and I’ve been privileged to have a range of diverse experiences before joining TLcom. I say I have sat at the same table but in different chairs – as a principal investor into African funds, as an advisor to entrepreneurs, and now as an investor and board advisor to entrepreneurs.

Previously, I worked as a Transaction Manager at Horizon Africa Capital, an M&A firm in Nairobi where I structured and advised on deals and capital-raising transactions across a range of sectors including ICT, financial services, and real estate. I’ve also spent time as an Investment Officer in the private sector department of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Tunisia, working on project finance transactions and evaluating the AfDB’s investments into private equity funds. Also at the AfDB, I worked directly with Dr. Donald Kaberuka, the former President of the AfDB, and his advisors to support them on issues of corporate and strategic significance to the Bank.

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In terms of my educational background, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Economics from Grinnell College in Iowa, USA, and also hold an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business.

2) Whilst you’ve had a great amount of success in your career, you’ve also achieved this whilst being a family woman. What advice would you give to women looking to travel the same path?

The advice I can share with women who are looking to pursue both a professional career and raise a family is the following:
It is possible to do both effectively, however, the key is having a strong support structure which can include – a supportive spouse, extended family, nanny, childcare facilities, work colleagues, etc. I leverage on these structures significantly, especially my husband.

There are trade-offs that come with pursuing a full-time career while raising a family. Make sure you understand them and intentionally navigate around them. As we juggle life, it’s important to remember that there are rubber balls that can bounce back easier, and glass balls that crash and are harder to put back together if they fall. Children are glass balls, so if you decide to pursue a full-time career ensure, where possible, that your support ecosystem is resilient to help care for the children.

Making the decision on how to navigate full-time employment and your family life is personal and there is no right or wrong answer. But once you make your decision, be comfortable with it and structure yourself to fulfill the position well. Personally, when I make long-term decisions, I try to envision my 60 or 70-year-old self and ask myself if I think I would be proud then of the choice I am making now. Once you are more conscious of your long-term goals, I believe you will have more clarity on how to navigate the now.

3) In light of this year’s theme for International Women’s Month (#ChooseToChallenge), is gender bias still an issue you encounter at this stage of your career and if so, how do you handle this?

As a partner at a VC firm, encountering negative reactions from entrepreneurs is fairly limited given my decision-making role and ability to allocate capital. Also, at TLcom, our team has a good gender balance and the landscape for our current investors is fairly balanced which also helps.

However, I have faced challenges as a board member, especially on male-dominated boards. In such cases, I focus on ensuring I show up fully for myself, this means possessing a certain level of self-assurance that allows me to avoid internalizing other people’s negative reactions. When you understand your worth, you’re able to protect yourself against negative opinions. I’ve also found that you prove your value over time through the contributions you make. Most times, once people see the value you provide, it changes their interactions with you.
In terms of my approach to dealing with negative reactions, I assess issues on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, I’ve found it best to address the situation directly whereas in other situations, I haven’t responded or I’ve called on male and/or female allies and they’ve given me the support I needed. Ultimately, it’s about applying wisdom to each case and taking the best approach for that situation.

4) Allyship plays a key role in resolving society’s inequalities but as women, what responsibilities do we have to provide the right support to each other?

It’s critical for women to empower each other as nobody understands our experiences like other women. Personally, I’ve always been privileged to have supportive women in my career and that’s inspired me to give back through mentoring young women in the finance & tech sectors. It’s also the reason why I’m especially proud of our Africa Tech Female Founder Summit at TLcom, which ran for its second successive year in 2020.
Through the event, we brought together female tech founders from across the continent to experience the benefits of connecting, learning from, and being a resource to each other. It’s about playing our part to level the playing field and through the Summit, we’ve been able to build a network for Africa’s most thoughtful and innovative female founders. This has been vital in enabling them to access strategic and operational support as they push to achieve massive value generation.

5) Currently, you act as a mentor as part of the Endeavor network. What are the main pieces of advice you share with young women beginning their careers?

Pursue your dreams. The world’s views and treatment of women is improving for the better. Do the inner work to become comfortable in your own skin, to know who you are and the value you bring. It’s vital to have a strong sense of self before the world starts diminishing you. If you are already beaten by how you see yourself, you’re essentially starting on the back foot.

Secondly, hone your skill sets. Make sure you are technically competent and continue to enhance yourself. Unfortunately, the biases in our world remain but when you’re competent, it definitely helps. Also, find mentors and coaches you can be authentic with and who will support you along the journey. Having a strong female network is critical to climbing up the career ladder and as you rise to the top, make sure you give back and bring other women along with you.

6) Your position and status in the male-dominated world of tech are an inspiration for many women however, who are some of the women that inspire you?

Omobola Johnson – we work alongside each other at TLcom and I’m inspired by how she has managed to successfully navigate her family and career. She’s also had three separate careers (management consultant, minister, and venture capitalist) in her lifetime, which has all had a major impact on Africa. She’s an example of the fact you don’t need to stay boxed in and you can influence in a number of different spheres in your lifetime.

Sheryl Sandberg – I met her whilst I was studying at Stanford, and have read her book (Lean In) and listened to her speeches. I am motivated by her drive to bring more women to the table and participate in different professional spaces. Whilst she’s had personal challenges, she perseveres and comes across as strong, resilient, and most importantly, authentic.

Lastly, I would say Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She is a true embodiment of the internal self-assurance I believe every woman should have. She has great strength and aura about her and always gives the impression that she’s determined to execute whatever task she is faced with to the highest standard.

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