Skip to content

Five lessons from two-time unicorn co-founder

Serial entrepreneur returns to Velocity to meet next generation of founders

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji is driven by a sense of purpose. 

His interest in startups may have arisen by chance, but the steps on the path of success, including co-founding unicorns Andela and Flutterwave, have been intentional. 

“I was just drawn into the world of startups,” Aboyeji said during a fireside chat at Velocity downtown Kitchener. “I got introduced to Velocity by a friend, and as it turned out I had the energy and talent for entrepreneurship.

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji.

During the fireside chat, moderated by Akash Vaswani, general partner of Velocity Fund, Aboyeji recounted his path from when he worked at Velocity startup Bookneto, to what he is doing now as CEO of venture capital firm Future Africa, which aims to turn Africa’s biggest challenges into global business opportunities.

Here are five key takeaways: 

1. Find a mentor. 

Aboyeji said mentors are crucial to his story and finding one was something he wished he had leveraged fully from the start. But finding one is just the first step. 

“Figure out what you need to learn, have self-awareness, and ask clear questions, it’s not just soaking up the lessons but also applying it where it makes sense,” he said. “Define clearly what you need and build deep relationships through vulnerability. People who ask questions get ahead faster and that includes asking your peers.” 

2. Even successful founders have something to learn. 

Aboyeji said that early on at Velocity he learned how to pivot ideas and plans, learning what works and what doesn’t. Going into Y Combinator, already having one successful company under his belt, he was keenly aware of his gaps in knowledge.  

“I became hyper aware of what I didn’t know and that if I was going to build another successful company, I still had things to learn,” he said. “I couldn’t just be good enough. I had to be head and shoulders above everyone else.”

Akash Vaswani on the left and Iyinoluwa Aboyeji on the right. In between them is a screen with the Velocity logo and on either side is a banner with the Velocity logo. They are sitting in front of a group of attendees.
Aboyeji and Akash Vaswani (L), general partner of Velocity Fund, speak to next generation of founders at Velocity.

3. It’s your customers’ opinion that matters. 

Building a successful product means having a deep understanding of your customer. There are lots of opinions out there, but the customers’ opinion is the most important one, Aboyeji said. 

“Get to the location where you are building,” he said. “There was a seismic shift for me to build a company and a product in the place where my customers were, and we could also build better iterations.” 

4. How bad is the worst-case scenario? 

Aboyeji said experience has helped him foster a hopeful mindset. 

“I try not to operate out of fear because whatever the worst outcome is, it’s never that bad and that mindset has worked to my advantage,” he said. “I look at risk differently and try not to operate from a place of fear. The only fear that I have is that I don’t finish the work I set out to do. Failure is great but you can learn more from successes.” 

5. Be a mission-driven founder. 

As a partner of a VC fund, Aboyeji said he looks for certain qualities in founders that have a positive correlation with running a successful startup. 

“Overall, founders need to have a deep sense of mission,” he said. “They have to believe in that mission so deeply that they are ready to run into and through walls. Without that, they can’t succeed.”