Every problem is an opportunity


By Melissa Andrada

Meet Iyinoluwa Aboyeji who goes by ‘E’.

E is the CEO and cofounder of Fora, a startup based in Lagos whose purpose is to make university more accessible to millions of young people in Nigeria. He’s 22 years old, but has both the heart and hustle of folks far greater than his age.

We spent an afternoon gorging on croaker fish, jolloff rice and pepper soup at Terra Kulture, and of course discussing what it means to start something in Nigeria. This is just a snap shot of our conversation.

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur in Nigeria?

“For most people in Nigeria, entrepreneurship is not a choice. It’s a necessity to put food on the table.”

Coming from SF and NYC, where entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Jack Dorsey are often perceived as our generation’s new rock stars, this struck me.

The Nigerian entrepreneur is the woman exchanging currency for better rates than the banks, the hawker selling water in jerry cans to homes without running water. They’ve identified a clear market need, but the problem is scale. From the lack of a stable banking system to the absence of an investment community to government regulations to the fear of getting robbed, the barriers to starting up a business that scales are high.

“Part of what I want to do is change the way entrepreneurship is perceived in Nigeria. To view is it as the first choice, not the last.”

How can you start a business that scales with so many social, political and economic barriers?

“It’s pretty tough. The key thing to learn in a society with a lot of problems is there are tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities. Outside of Nigeria, it’s important to look at the problems around you as opportunities.”

What problem are you solving?

“I started Fora because there was huge challenge in the education system that I felt like I had the experience, will and drive to solve. The big problem is in the lack of quality education that can scale. To give you an idea what the issues are, there’s 1.7 million who write entrance exams, but universities in Nigeria are only able to take less than half a million of them. This basically means that 20% of the kids who apply to university who should be in school aren’t in school. For me, we came here to solve this question: how can we scale quality education using technology quickly?”

This is a series of conversations and essays about entrepreneurship in Lagos, you can also read about them on Medium.

Melissa Andrada (@themelissard) heads up Kitchen from Wolff Olins, a school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world. 

Notes on Nigeria


By Melissa Andrada

Email scams. Oil production. Political corruption. Danger.

When people think of Nigeria this is often what comes to mind.

For me, it makes me think of people. My parents who emigrated from the Philippines to work in Kano during the ‘80s, my high school guidance counsellor Mr. Labi in Seattle who helped me get into uni, my friend Wunmi who is starting up her own home design company for Africa.

Nigeria and I have a special relationship. I was born there almost 29 years ago, but I only spent a year there before moving over to the States.

Nigeria is a country that is under the radar - highly misunderstood by the Western world. When I asked my friend for travel tips on Lagos, he said, “I wish I could say that it’s awesome you’re going, but it’s the country that I’ve felt the most unsafe in.”

The challenge is in part what attracts - the opportunity to explore a place people know very little about.

I’m particularly curious to know how entrepreneurs are building businesses in a country not known for innovation. I’m interested in understanding how people are solving problems despite the political, social and economic barriers. I’m keen to understand how innovation can flourish in unexpected places.

Thanks to the Wolff Olins Travel Grant, I’ll be returning to my birth country after nearly 30 years. 

For ten days in February, I’ll be learning, teaching and co-creating in Lagos. My main purpose is to learn as much as I can from the entrepreneurs, innovators and change makers in the city. Since one of the best ways to learn is to teach, I’ll be partnering with social innovation centers ccHub and Fate Foundation to teach entrepreneurs about the power of brand to drive business. I’ll also be collaborating with friends at Fora, a startup focused on making higher education content more affordable to young Africans.

My hope is to paint a more intimate and nuanced picture of what’s happening on the ground in Nigeria.

Look out for video and photo updates on this blog.

Melissa Andrada (@themelissard) heads up our new venture Kitchen, a school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world.


Take a branding class with Wolff Olins

Do you have a hard time defining the vision behind your visionary idea —to customers, investors, or even to your mum? Is your elevator pitch standing a bit too awkwardly in the elevator?

Take a class with Wolff Olins’ lead strategist Melissa Andrada on how to use brand to nail your pitch.

This interactive session will equip you with the thinking and tools to take your brand to the next level. We’ll highlight key learnings directly from our clients and share tried-and-tested tools to help you build your own brand.

By the end of the class, you’ll be able to:

- create a compelling vision for your brand that brings in customers, attracts investors and inspires employees

- use your brand to drive impact across all parts of your business - from your Facebook page to your product offer to your office space

Sign up for the class here

Make enemies, not just friends

By Melissa Andrada 

"I want to engage in a meaningful conversation with people that dislike ‘branding, and what it stands for."

Ben Brookbanks, one of the participants on our online branding course, recently posted this comment. It struck a cord with me.

I believe that brand can be a force for good. That it can be used as a tool to create value for society, not just shareholders. At the same time, I know that the world is full of brand skeptics (even inside my office). And I welcome the challenge.  

In a company meeting, our London office managing director Ije Nwokorie told everyone to “connect with enemies and strangers, not just friends and family.” The world can often feel like an echo chamber – particularly now that almost everything digital can be filtered and personalised to our preferences. 

But if we’re going to create better brands and businesses, we have to step outside of our comfort zones and surround ourselves with people who challenge our assumptions. 

Real social progress happens through critical and meaningful conversation with those who think differently than us.

I recently listened to this brilliant TED NPR edit by Margaret Heffernan, former CEO of five businesses, on how good conflict is central to progress. In this talk, Margaret describes how a cancer researcher named Alice Stewart collaborated with a statistician named George Kneale whose job it was to prove her wrong. Because of their critical collaboration, Alice had the academic confidence to prove to the medical establishment that x-raying pregnant women led to higher rates of childhood cancers. For George and Alice, conflict meant thinking together for a better world.

Let’s use conflict for good. Let’s find our George Kneale equivalent. Let’s go beyond just talking to strangers on the bus or at the store, let’s be as open as possible and connect with people who think about the world and live completely different than us.

Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist passionate about creating businesses that inspire people, do good and make money.

ney. Follow her @themellissard 

The secret power of brands


By Robert Jones, Melissa Andrada and the MOOC team

We are delighted to announce the launch of our first MOOC, ‘The Secret Power of Brands’ which begins on 14 October on Future Learn.

Produced by the expert team at Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia in association with Wolff Olins, The Secret Power of Brands will give anyone with a deep interest in brand the chance to learn from the experts in a convenient, on-demand way.

If you’re starting out on a career in branding, or if you work in a related area – like strategy, marketing, innovation or organisational development – or even if you just have an interest in branding, then this course is for you. The course will reveal the secret powers behind brands - the most potent commercial and cultural force on the planet.

You’ll learn directly from practitioners at companies like Virgin and Google, and watch brand experts in action. You’ll get a rich mixture of powerful theory and practical tools. With branding changing so rapidly, you’ll get the very latest insights and methods from the converging worlds of technology, design and brand.

The course ends by setting up the next stage of your journey. We’ll be opening up the many topics in branding that still need research. And you’ll learn how to define your own personal brand, and plan the next steps in your life in branding.

We hope you enjoy it. 


Robert Jones is head of new thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting professor at The University of East Anglia. Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist at Wolff Olins. 

Vulnerability = Creativity

By Melissa Andrada 

The world struggles with vulnerability. We see it as a weakness – something to be avoided.

But for TED Talk speaker, researcher and storyteller Brene Brown, “vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.”

When Brown receives invitations to speak, she’s often asked to “focus on innovation, creativity and change but perhaps hold off on that vulnerability or shame stuff.”

But ‘vulnerability and shame stuff’ is what enables us to be creative – the courage to take risks, make mistakes, fail.

The most creative innovation doesn’t happen through the pursuit of bulletproof certainty, but the acceptance of constant ambiguity.

The next time you hold a brainstorm, prototype a product, develop your company culture, think about how you can foster an environment of vulnerability. 

Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist passionate about the intersection between brand, technology and social impact. Follow her @themelissard

Rethinking the digital experience in Education


By Melissa Andrada

Television. Music. Mobile. Education is the next frontier of technological disruption.

The need to evolve has led universities to use digital technology to re-think how education is delivered. We’re seeing a gold rush of universities racing to digitise their campuses to offer free online courses to the world.

However, quantity doesn’t equal quality. Few universities are making the most of this new medium. Most mass online open courses (MOOCs) consist of a ‘talking head’ in a front of white board. It’s no wonder completion rates are less than 10%.

Yet online education has the potential to be so much more. Technology enables us to create learning that encourages:

Active Participation

Learning shouldn’t just be about listening and watching, but also, doing and making. Education resources, like Codeacademy, start by throwing people into the content headfirst. With Codeacademy, you can begin coding right away without evening signing in or watching an instructional video.

Fun Adventure

Learning doesn’t have to be a dull chore. Organisations like TED set the bar high for video talks. Along with the RSA Animates, they’ve elevated the lecture to an art. They create highly curated visual stories that move both the mind and the heart. They inspire us to fall into a rabbit hole, going from video to video, hyperlink to hyperlink.

Lifelong Learning

Learning shouldn’t stop when you’re 18 or 22. Education startups, like FutureLearn, are re-inventing learning for life. They will offer free online courses from top universities whenever and wherever you like. For FutureLearn, the classroom can be a lecture hall, a mobile phone, a museum, an airport. They are building an experience that welcomes everyone to learn, regardless of age, location or background.

My ambition is to put these principles into practice – to use technology to make learning sing. This summer Robert Jones, Head of New Thinking and professor at the University of East Anglia, and I will be co-creating a course on branding for FutureLearn. Our challenge and opportunity will not just be using the medium, but making the most of it.


Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist passionate about the intersection between brand, technology and social impact. In her spare time, she teaches entrepreneurs and startups how to build better businesses at General Assembly. @themelissard

Image via Code Academy and the New York Times

The Quiet Leader


By Melissa Andrada

Rosa Parks. Bill Gates. Warren Buffett.

What do these three popular figures have in common? All three are introverts – quiet leaders who have had a tremendous impact on the world.

A quiet leader sounds like an oxymoron. However, Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, would argue that quiet leaders have always existed – and often are more effective than extroverted leaders.

Introverted leaders tend to be more reflective and considered. “Ghandi said his shyness stopped him from saying something stupid.” They listen more and lead by consensus. In work places where employees are more proactive, quiet leaders are often more successful in empowering people to take initiative and make ideas happen. This is especially important as more companies try to foster entrepreneurialism.

Cain’s work on quiet leadership has many takeaways whether you fall into the introvert, extrovert or ambivert camp. Two that stood out to me:

Rethink brainstorms. The loudest person in the room doesn’t always have the best ideas. Enable people to brainstorm in solitude first, then come together to share their ideas as a group.

Redesign your workspace. We’re encouraged to work in open floor plans, but the best thinking often happens alone. Design a flexible workspace that allow for periods of quiet contemplation.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for extroverted leaders, but that we should recognise leadership takes many different forms.

Melissa Andrada is an ambivert and strategist passionate about creating businesses that inspire people, do good and make money.

Image via The Next Web


What makes you special?

By Melissa Andrada

You’re an entrepreneur. You’ve identified a gap in the market and come up with a product with huge potential for growth. The problem? You’re not the only one. 

If everyone is trying to solve the same problem, then what’s going to make you stand out and be different? This is a tricky question for startups to answer, as you do not have the same history and heritage to draw from as the Nikes, GEs and Microsofts of the world. It’s a future-facing question that requires you to think about the principles that make your business special and unique.

Your principles should come out of your purpose – your reason for being. They should be equally inspiring and strategic. They should get you up in the morning, but also act as a guiding compass that drives decision-making. They should define your product experience, company culture, and communications. 

Skillshare is a great example of a startup that has created set of principles that clearly define what makes them different. There are many wonderful startups that are trying to re-think education, from the Khan Academy to Coursera to the School of Life. What makes Skillshare different from its competitors is its commitment to principles that include “everyone is a teacher”, “teaching isn’t what you think it is”, and “learning by doing.” 

Startups in other industries could learn from Skillshare’s example. I recently was on vacation in San Francisco where rideshare services are all the rage. Lyft. Uber. Hailo. Without googling them, I’m unclear on the differences between these businesses. I know that one has a pink moustache on its cars, but that’s the extent of my knowledge.

The issue of differentiation goes beyond transportation; it can also be applied to startups in crowdfunding (Indiegogo v. Kickstarter), ecommerce (Gilt v. Myhabit v. Rue La La), travel (Kayak v. Hipmunk). The list goes on.

You might be first to market, but defining what makes you special becomes especially important as your industry becomes more complex and competitive. 

Where failure is the rule, not the exception, it’s important to start thinking about this question now rather than later.

For more tips for startups, check out “Brand: What’s missing from your startup strategy” by Wolff Olins MD Sam Wilson.

Melissa Andrada is a strategist passionate about creating businesses that inspire people, do good, and make money. In her spare time, she teaches classes on branding for startups at General Assembly. @themelissard

Image via Skillshare

Go outside and play


Yesterday I took a field trip to the Barnard Park Adventure Playground…the best thinking often happens outside of the office. 

 ”Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” - Robert Wieder

Melissa Andrada is a strategist at Wolff Olins London.