When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Lexi Novitske: I’m not a morning person, so I always set my alarm for 6.30am, knowing I’m going to hit the snooze and be up by 7 am. I listen to my flash briefings from BBC and NPR while sipping my coffee, and eventually get to my 3×5 note card with daily priorities that I’ve drafted the night before. The first line reads don’t hit that snooze button again – get out of bed!
TG: What gives you energy?
am curious about the world, about innovation and I’ve sought out a great deal
of it. I grew up in a small, cow-filled town in Northeastern Oregon that had
more cows than people – a long way from the megacity of Lagos, Nigeria, where I
currently live (although both share the same problems of consistent electricity
and running water!) Since leaving home I’ve explored over 75 countries, and the
innovation culture that is growing in many of the most dynamic emerging
markets. I found Lagos to be the place that inspired me the most – hustle is synonymous with Lagos and
entrepreneurs are now applying this hustle to build Africa’s fastest growing
tech scene. It’s been a wild (and certainly not an easy) ride, and every day
I’m excited to learn more and do my part in building what I believe will be the
World’s next great tech ecosystem.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
LN: Time management is difficult in Lagos. Unpredictable traffic means that a journey that takes 20 minutes can turn into 2 hours of stop-and-go. Erratic Internet connectivity means remote server connectivity is unreliable, and power outages often interrupt those important Zoom meetings. I manage all this disruption by scheduling meetings near my office on maximum 2 days per week, carrying a large remote battery (which can power my Macbook twice), and CloudCover, a modem device that enables me to switch between the best quality networks, no matter where I am on the continent. Given the environments where I invest, my other ‘hack’ is more of a personality trait – I ask a ton of questions to everybody. What is your family like, what are your life goals, what are the last couple of search terms in your browser, what is your number one priority when you get your paycheck (and how much of that goes to mobile data expenses). It not only helps me relate better and reduce barriers with whoever I might be talking to, but it also helps me understand consumer behavior.
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
LN: When I was a kid we had a lot of photography books in the house from far-off destinations. I particularly remember a book on Africa – it had cliché safari scenes and tribespeople in their huts. But, toward the back of the book were scenes from Johannesburg and other metropolitan African cities. It inspired in me wanderlust for Africa and many years later I travelled the continent and decided to make Lagos my home 6 years ago.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
LN: I don’t feel attached to my phone – maybe because I have had the experience of being offline at many points through my travel – both work and play. My phone is a tool I use for efficiency, but less of a social tool. I’m able to turn it off when I’m managing my work, and it does not come to bed with me. Anyway, my dog wouldn’t allow it!
TG: How do you deal with email?
LN: I make an effort to respond personally to every entrepreneur who emails me, and give polite, timely feedback. I feel that part of my role is to really help early-stage entrepreneurs craft their business model and their story. I can help them by providing my views – hopefully it will mean better companies in the market for me to invest in. However, sometimes I do take advantage of convenient power or Internet outages to ignore email for large blocks of time (usually midday) to get the real work done!
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
LN: I schedule a time slot on Mindmeet to either tap somebody’s knowledge in a space I want to understand better, or dedicate my own time to share what I know on investing in Africa. Mindmeet allows me to donate (or book) 15, 30, or 60 minutes of time for a virtual conversation. The proceeds go to my charity of choice. Mindmeet is founded by a Nigerian and Nigerian-American – they’re headed for great things.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
LN: I am an introvert and do find long days of meeting or networking leave me drained of energy – usually a good yoga or kite surfing session fixes me. Also, helping my 60-year-old mom understand how to use Uber may bring me of the brink of burn-out!
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
LN: I had been working in Nigeria for three years at a private equity firm and decided to resign and set up (what has now become) Singularity Investments. I had built a relationship with a successful businessman who was willing to back me as my Principal and visa and financial sponsor. Long story short, we had a disagreement and he rescinded his offer. I was in Nigeria, without a job, without a visa, and without a house – but I knew I believed in the mission to invest in Africa technology and continued to build a pipeline of deals and an investment thesis. I learned two great lessons from that experience – working in Nigeria on your own is not easy and sometimes requires projecting strength that you may not feel you have (a skill relevant for many circumstances no matter where you’re located), and having a Principal or partner with complimentary skills and a wealth of knowledge about doing business in Nigeria was more valuable than the financial sponsorship that came with it. I humbly re-approached the investor, sharing my pipeline of deals and my investment thesis. Over several months of rekindling the relationship I proposed a new structure that would suit both of us, and we proceeded to launch Singularity Investments.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
LN: My grandfather worked for IBM throughout his career. Even when he retired, and before he passed away, he had a plaque sitting above his study desk that said “THINK.” It’s simple, but I believe we don’t take enough time in a world of hustle and competition, or trying to fit in, to really sit back and reflect about what it is that we want, what are the steps to get there, what do we believe or understand that others do not, and how will that manifest itself in a different, better world, and what is our role in building that world.
Lexi Novitske is the principal investment officer at Singularity Investments, where she oversees investments in Africa-based, early-stage companies.