Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Isis Nyong'o - Madison
I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I met Isis. I’ve always heard of Isis, the corporate force who has accomplished what most can only dream of and has therefore earned a lot of recognition for it. Isis, however, is great and really easy to talk to.

Isis is married and has a 1 year old daughter, who she’s rushing home to at the time of our interview, it is really very sweet the way she lights up when she talks about her young family. She describes herself as a passionate entrepreneur, and I believe her. She went to High School both in the United States of America and in Kenya before going to Stanford University to study, wait for it, Biology! At this point, my interest is peaked as I try to understand how she converted a degree in Biology into a vibrant career in sales and marketing.

Responding to questions at #SLAxIntel event
In her own words, the American market is extremely different from the Kenyan market in that they recognize that what you learn in university is not what you actually practice in reality. She therefore was able to get a job based on the fact that she was smart, hardworking, able to critically analyze any situation, make decisions and most importantly she was ready to learn. She worked in the USA for about two and a half years before relocating back to Kenya and joining a then upcoming job site, MyJobsEye.

After about a year and a half, she left MyJobsEye to go study her graduate degree from Harvard. Here she made a lot of networks and gained invaluable knowledge from the people she interacted with. “Networking is what you do daily. It’s a lot of practice and confidence. Push yourself and go out there,” says Isis.

At Harvard, she heard that MTV was planning to go into Africa and this peaked her interest. Isis admits that she “hustled” for this job. She sent countless emails which went unresponded before she finally gave the man a call. The lesson here, of course, is if you want something, go for it and be persistent. Although MTV was a bit hesitant to give her the role, mostly because she had no experience in sales, she got the job. She led MTV Network’s commercial entry into Africa as a founding member of the team.

After a couple of years, Isis got an offer from Google who were also planning their strategic entry into Africa. One of the perks of this job was that she’d be able to relocate back to Kenya as Google planned to have offices in Nairobi. At Google, she specialized in mobile and local content partnerships. She then became the Vice President and Managing Director of the African operations of inMobi, the world’s largest independent mobile advertising network.

At this point I’m curious to know why she decided to get involved in the She Leads Africa (SLA) event. Isis sums it up in one word, she is simply impressed. The founders of SLA, Afua and Yasmine, have taken charge of their lives and decided to tackle a pertinent issue on the African continent and they are making things happen. “You HAVE GOT TO BE proactive to be successful in anything you want to do,” says Isis.

L-R: Afua, Isis, Agatha, Terryanne, Yasmine
Isis is now a co-principal at Ashpalt & Ink, a firm which provides strategic advisory services to corporations, investors, start-ups, governments and nonprofit organizations operating in Africa. The firm was formed out of the recognition that Africa’s rapidly changing landscape necessitates new approaches, insights and partnerships.

Having the experience that she has, I ask her what the pros and cons of venturing out into business are. She says that one of the greatest advantages is getting to decide what is most valuable to her and having the freedom to set her own agenda. On the flip side, there are less resources and less developed teams in business and also, every second spent on other activities, regardless of their personal value, are counted as a loss to the business!

To the people considering business she offers some nuggets of wisdom. Firstly, think and decide whether entrepreneurship is truly for you. What is your motivation for doing business, passion or pure profit? If you are not passionate about what it is you want to do, chances of success are slim. If you are in employment thinking of making the big move, she advices calculated risks. That is, the awareness that you simply do not have resources to prevent all catastrophes and still allow for innovation.

Her final piece of advice, and quite honestly, my personal favorite, THERE IS NEVER A RIGHT TIME. “If you don’t pursue your business idea now, 2 – 3 years from now, you will regret it!” – Isis Nyong’o Madison during the fireside session with Terryanne Chebet.
Fireside Chat with Terryanne Chebet

I was curious to know what she does for fun, you know, after a long day of being absolutely awesome. She loves engaging in sporting activities which keep her fit, and there are results to show, trust me. She loves to travel, hang out with her family and this year she made a commitment to try something new EVERY WEEK. I thought that was quite ambitious and she admits that initially, she felt like it was ambitious too. Her husband convinced her and Isis is loving it.
I learnt so much from Isis. She is humble, passionate and a go-getter and she really is beautiful, both inside and out!!

-Gakii Biriri

Isis and Gakii during the interview


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