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Once upon a time in Africa, buying and selling US stocks was as difficult as winning a presidential election as a female candidate in America. But, a random meeting between two people at different stages in their careers unlocked the opportunity for Africans in two markets to become global investors.
With a 12.3% uptick in new users in 2022, 50,000+ active investors, and 750,000 unique trades – the operator behind connecting Africans to the global economy is Yanmo Omorogbe, Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Bamboo, a leading investment startup in Africa.
We go behind the scenes to unlock how one of the continent’s most prominent investment platforms allows Africans to build wealth.
The COO connecting Africans to the global economy
In a world where CEO/Founder personalities are outsized – CEOs routinely dominate the headlines, but little is documented about the dynamic between CEO and COO roles. When executed well, the CEO can focus on big-picture goals, and the COO executes.
Yanmo: Richmond, the CEO, and I play to our strengths and avoid overlapping roles. The great thing about our relationship is that we focus on areas we enjoy working on – Richmond focuses on tech and product improvement. At the same time, I keep the finances in check and ensure teams focus on critical priorities.
Richmond excels at providing big-picture direction for the company. I take that vision and turn it into measurable, time-bound activities.
To be crowned COO is to master operational excellence and ensure the CEO’s big picture vision is executed to the T. Yanmo is no exception.
Yanmo: I see my role as a shepherd, which translates to many meetings. I act as a thought partner, helping teams solve their problems. I monitor operations and work with legal and finance to ensure we hit our goals. Sometimes, it’s easy to lose focus, so I make sure the team stays focused on our vision.
The origin story of how CEOs and COOs meet is embedded in the company’s history. Mark Zuckerberg famously met Sheryl Sandberg at a dinner party. Legend has it that he wasn’t looking to hire a COO but considered Sandberg a “perfect fit” for the role. Drawing parallels – Yanmo and Richmond met through mutual friends and had a shared problem while trying to invest personally.
Richmond informed Yanmo of his goal to build Bamboo, and Yanmo was interested in the platform as a user.
Yanmo: Richmond and I had known each other for a while through a mutual friend at Helium Health, where he worked. I wanted to invest in US stocks but found it challenging. Richmond mentioned he was working on a solution to simplify the process. I told him I would be his first user. Over time, we discussed his project, and he sought my input on several aspects.
Yanmo worked as an investment associate at a Private Equity company, with employee perks and an attractive annual bonus. Richmond offered her the COO position, and in Shonda Rhimes style – she said yes.
Leaving a role that most finance folks will kill for, for the risky world of startups, I asked Yanmo if there was a specific moment when she decided to take Richmond’s offer.
Yanmo: When he asked, there wasn’t a big “aha” moment. I always ask myself, “Why not?” and weigh the risks. If the answer doesn’t faze me, I make my move. So when Richmond asked, I quit my job in two weeks to co-found Bamboo with him. I was considering business school then, so this seemed like an excellent opportunity to gain real business experience and save hundreds of thousands of dollars in school fees.
Building successful consumer-focused apps in Africa requires discipline and tenacity. Bamboo has experienced phenomenal growth since its 2020 inception. Yanmo attributes this success to its customer-centric approach.
Yanmo: Our users are our top priority. We listen to their needs to build trust. Our customer experience sets us apart. Every interaction with our brand is excellent, from high-quality ads to educational materials. Working with superstar artist Falz and actress Temi Otedola was fantastic; they aligned perfectly with our brand. We’re witnessing a lot of brand engagement since signing these two as our ambassadors.
Expanding across Africa is essential to growth and validating the success of a startup. But, the process could be slow due to regulatory requirements. Sometimes it takes 12-18 months to expand into new markets. Bamboo expanded into Ghana, its first international expansion to kick off its goals to drive investment culture across Africa.
Yanmo: We started our expansion in Ghana because of its proximity and the opportunity to learn. The market dynamics differ from Nigeria, so we’ll apply these lessons to our next expansion to South Africa and Kenya soon. These are important markets for us because they are large and serve as great hubs. With Nigeria in the West, Kenya in the East, and South Africa in the South, we’ll also look for a North African hub.
Bamboo faced the underside of regulation when Nigeria’s Central Bank froze its accounts. She and Richmond got together to quickly solve this issue and get their accounts back up again before it impacted internal operations.
Yanmo: I remember the moment it happened. My initial reaction was disbelief. We immediately rallied together to determine the impact on payroll and external financial commitments. We immediately notified staff and got our legal team to work on reversing the freeze. This was one of the moments that defined us as a company and deepened our commitment to our employees and users.
Okay. So, if Bamboo didn’t exist in Yanmo’s world. What industry will she be dominating?
Yanmo: If I weren’t at Bamboo, I’d probably still be working in Private Equity because I enjoyed it. However, being COO of Bamboo has changed me and taught me so much. Now I enjoy operations and people management, things I hadn’t considered before.
Celebrating milestones in the ecosystem is essential for well-being. Some folks sail, some splurge – Yanmo sleeps.
Yanmo: After reaching a significant milestone, my priority is catching up on sleep. I might also go out for drinks with friends to unwind. I’d probably treat myself to a trip if the milestone involves money. I love spending money on travel.
Bamboo’s North Star.
Yanmo: Our big-picture goal is to build a company that enables Africans to invest in anything from anywhere. We aim to expand into more countries and acquire more assets. That’s the dream.
Final thoughts: Need I say more?
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