MSc in IBusiness - Innovation Through ICT '14
Nubi Kay was planning just one year away from Nigeria and tech start-ups when he arrived at Smurfit School in 2013, but a Leaders of Tomorrow Award and jobs at Accenture and Stripe kept him in Dublin. He’s now back working with Nigerian – and other African – start-ups through Stripe’s recent US$200m acquisition, Paystack.
About Nubi Kay
Tell us a bit about your educational and career background
My name is Kayode Nubi, but I’m generally called Nubi Kay. I’m from Nigeria and I moved to Ireland in 2013 to study in Smurfit Business School on the back of being involved in a tech start-up in Nigeria. I had done my undergrad in electrical engineering at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Turkey and then did a Master’s in IBusiness - Innovation Through ICT (now MSc Digital Innovation) in UCD.
The plan was to spend one year here doing the Master’s and to then go back to Nigeria to work on another start-up. But while I was at UCD I won Accenture’s Leaders of Tomorrow Award for developing a smartphone app. That landed me a six-month internship with Accenture and then I got a full-time role there for two-and-a-half years in the Financial Services Division working as a Project Manager and a Business Analyst. I was mainly working on projects with bank clients.
I got exposed to fintech there because of Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab and I thought it sounded interesting. I knew because of my first start-up how hard it was to integrate payments online and so I got to learn about Stripe. I subsequently joined Stripe in 2016 and I’ve been there for almost five years.
I joined Stripe as a product specialist, supporting customers, including helping start-ups get up and running. I did that for about a year and then moved into a Programme Manager position, which I did for another year. Then I moved into a sales role as I wanted to explore other parts of the organisation. That allowed me the opportunity to get back to my roots and deal with start-ups. So I was working with CEOs, CTOs and Heads of Finance in start-ups to figure out how to better leverage Stripe to help them with their growth and scaling up. I did that for about six months.
What is your current role?
In the last couple of months I’ve just moved into a new role on the Paystack side. Stripe acquired Paystack, a Nigerian payments company, for around US$200m last year. It’s part of Stripe’s expansion strategy into Africa. I’ve been seconded to the Paystack side as Start-up Programmes Lead. My job will be to explore how Paystack can better work and support start-ups in Africa in their growth. It’ll involve talking to founders and the start-up ecosystem stakeholders, like investors, accelerators and incubators, and developing programmes to make things easier for these companies and their founders.
Once the world opens up there’ll be a lot of travel back to Africa. We’re in Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana right now and we have plans to launch in three more countries over the next few months and that will require me to be on the ground engaging with start-ups.
What motivates you?
I’m very motivated by helping to enable growth, progress and success in people, whether it’s individuals with their careers or working with start-ups and businesses and seeing them leverage technology and optimise their processes and get tangible growth as a result.
About 18 months ago a colleague of mine in Stripe and I started a community fund, HoaQ.club, to invest in early stage start-ups and it’s been phenomenal. We started it as an experiment and before the end of this year we’ll be deploying about a million dollars in African start-ups and founders. That gives me energy – playing the role of facilitating partnerships, knowledge transfer and anything that leads to tangible growth and development.
Who are the main people who have inspired you?
There are a few people. My dad is one. He’s a Pastor and a Professor in Nigeria and he’s somebody who’s dedicated to a life of service and lifting up people around him: as a Pastor he feeds your soul and as a Professor he feeds your mind. He could have gone and done anything he wanted to do professionally and looked to make a lot of money but he put himself in a position of service to his congregation as well as his students.
It was great to see that example not too far off.
My grandma is another influence. I guess my dad got the influence from my grandma so I got it from her.
And my wife is another big influence. She’s definitely one of those go-getters. I’ve seen how she’s evolved as a person, from an athlete who got so many accolades and then going from an undergrad to doing a Master’s and now a PhD in so short a period that we've known each other. She's done all these gracefully while parenting our two wonderful daughters, Kike and Ire.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I have a coach kind of style. I want to be in the trenches with you but at the same time give you the room so you can grow yourself. My style is really hands on and engaging but trying to ensure there are results. As a coach or a mentor I’d be asking what’s the goal and what’s the plan, and then checking in regularly to see what progress has been made, what the blockers are and how I can help to unblock those.
So I won’t be telling people what to do, but looking at what needs to be done and helping them to work towards the goal or outcome.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
I’m only getting started. There are things I’m proud and privileged to have been able to achieve but I haven’t scratched the surface yet.
Is ongoing learning important?
It’s very important. I’m a big believer that you never stop learning. And that’s beyond the school walls. I like to consume knowledge in many different ways, whether it’s from listening to podcasts, reading articles or interacting with people who are on the same level or have gone before you or are behind you. There’s always something to learn from those interactions. I’m definitely one for continuous learning.
What’s your best piece of career advice?
The biggest one is to start with what you have and where you are. I think it’s important not to push things back to when you have a certain amount of money or everything is perfect to start things. Even though what you want is not what you have right now, just start building towards that.
When we started the fund it was just several of our friends putting together €1,000 each into our first deal and we just did that again and again and again. You start with what you have.
Do you have career or business aspirations for the future?
I try to keep an open mind and focus on what looks like success or fulfilment for me. And that for me is enabling others to be successful. I try not to think about roles or titles but think more about how I scale the level of enablement that is possible.
How has your degree benefited your career and/or personal life?
My degree at UCD made me a better manager and entrepreneur. It provided me the knowledge and skills to work cross-functionally and think critically through problems to come up with solutions that are both feasible but also scalable.
What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD Smurfit School?
Running into my wife-to-be on the Smurfit campus while she was canvassing for votes to run for student representative. It happened to be on the same day as the Smurfit Ball. I later ran into her on the day the votes were being counted. She didn’t win the seat but I often joke that she got the better prize, me.
What are your main interests outside work?
Faith – I am music and word minister at the Kings Arena Church, Dublin.
Family – spending time with my wife, Nana and our daughters, Kike and Ire.
Travel – I love to visit new and old places to make and relive memories.
Food – I love to cook and also eat out.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you
I started a band in college (Turkey) and composed original music that outlived my stay at the institution.
What piece of technology can you not live without?
My smartphone – communication, payment and resource all in one.
What is your pet hate?
When people are unkind.
Who’s your favourite writer and what’s your favourite book?
The writer is Malcom Gladwell and the book is Stubborn Attachments by Tyler Cowen.
And what is your favourite musician?
What is your favourite place in the world to visit and why?
Istanbul because it’s the best of both worlds – Europe and Asia.
Where is home and why?
Home is where the heart is – a little bit of Ireland and Nigeria.
What are your insider tips for visitors to Nigeria?
Be open minded and try new things. It helps to have a local friend while exploring.
Name three things on your bucket list
- Climb Kilimanjaro
- Hot air balloon in Cappadocia
- Dinner with Jay-Z
What charities or causes are closest to your heart?
- Habitat for Humanity
- Girls in STEM