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    Fractional Executives: Executive Search CEO Shares How Top Companies in Africa Are Accessing Top Talent for Less

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    In the heart of the booming startup scene in Africa, a new approach to hiring is gaining traction: fractional executives. Imagine having access to a seasoned CMO or a CFO, but only for the days you need them and at a fraction of the cost. This is the promise of the fractional executive model, and Angel Jones, a leader in the field and CEO of an executive search firm HomecomingEX, believes it could be a game-changer for African entrepreneurs. In this interview with Launch Base Africa, she explores this innovative hiring strategy, its benefits and challenges, and why fractional executives might just be the secret weapon for Africa’s next generation of businesses.

    Launch Base Africa: First things first, HomecomingEX used to be Insights by Experts. Can you explain the transition?

    Angel Jones: We had our typical executive search business and then we launched a whole new business called Insights by Experts (InbyEX) selling the fractional and hourly option. And then we realized very quickly the brand confusion wasn’t working. So we, we merged the entities to become HomecomingEX, which is for executives and experts and expertise and you name it. And our proposition is: permanent, fractional and hourly talent. So, you know, talent for an hour or forever in any way you need it. The new platform streamlines our offerings — talent for any timeframe a company needs.

    LaunchBase Africa: Could you elaborate on fractional executives? Many people might not be familiar with the concept.

    Angel Jones: Many executives, and even a growing number of middle managers, are now seeking what they call a “portfolio career.” This concept involves a career structure that breaks free from the traditional five-day workweek with a single company. Instead, it allows for involvement with 2 or 3 companies simultaneously, each with distinct roles held consistently. This arrangement is becoming increasingly desirable for candidates.

    On the other hand, particularly within rapidly expanding ventures across Africa, there exists a demand for top-tier executives like Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), but on a part-time basis due to budget constraints. These companies may not be able to afford a full-time CMO but can allocate resources for a portion of their time and cost. Hence, the emergence of fractional chief marketing officers: professionals who commit to a business consistently, perhaps dedicating two days a week, such as Mondays and Thursdays, while dividing the remainder of their time across other endeavors, possibly serving as a fractional CMO for another company on Wednesdays and Tuesdays, and participating in board activities on Fridays.

    This approach offers numerous ventures access to elite talent at a reduced expenditure. Whether it’s a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), a CMO, or even a senior management position, the expertise and knowledge residing within such individuals can be invaluable to a business. Even if their physical presence is only required once or twice a week, or perhaps even less frequently, a fractional executive can impart a wealth of information and strategic intelligence that can be operationalized by the full-time staff. For instance, we’ve successfully placed a fractional Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in a business, with their involvement limited to one day a week.

    LaunchBase Africa: That’s a fascinating concept, especially for the African startup ecosystem. Is there increasing interest in fractional executives among African companies? 

    The concept holds significant potential, yet its adoption remains gradual. Consider the scenario where a top cybersecurity expert based in New York could serve as the head of cybersecurity for a fintech company in Nairobi, remotely. This highlights the flexibility enabled by remote access, expanding opportunities beyond physical presence. This trend is gaining traction particularly among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), business-to-business enterprises (B2B enterprises), and tech firms. There’s significant demand not only for Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) but across various executive positions.

    Occasionally, we even facilitate placements for what we term a “CEO whisperer” — an exceptionally competent right-hand person whom the CEO can heavily rely on. This role proves invaluable, especially in situations where the founders are overwhelmed, attempting to manage every aspect of the business. We often advise such founders to focus on their strengths, such as being a brand ambassador or spearheading sales efforts, while delegating operational or financial responsibilities to fractional executives. This strategic delegation enables them to scale their business effectively.

    Additionally, many HR directors are seeking assistance in implementing systems, establishing performance metrics, and refining recruitment processes, you also need fractional executives there.

    LaunchBase Africa: While it’s gaining traction, which industries seem to be the most demanding for this type of talent?

    So far, we’ve seen the most demand in fintech, e-commerce, and mobility tech ventures that just secured Series A funding and need to scale. Fintech is probably the leader, which makes sense. We’ve also done some work in agritech and edu-tech, but technology is the primary driver generally. 

    Launch Base Africa: Absolutely! Given the gradual uptake you mentioned earlier, what, in your experience, do you perceive as the primary challenges African companies encounter that drive them towards fractional executive roles?

    Angel: In the fintech sector and when expanding into new markets, compliance and regulatory hurdles loom large. Having access to fractional experts in regulatory affairs or legal counsel proves invaluable in navigating these complexities. Furthermore, marketing and sales pose significant challenges during the scaling process, along with the need for highly skilled tech personnel. Generally, the primary obstacles appear to stem from scaling into new markets while grappling with regulatory requirements and optimizing sales and business development strategies. Additionally, funding constraints have become more pronounced especially this year., further complicating matters.

    LaunchBase Africa: Across the four major tech hubs in Africa — South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Egypt — have you observed interest in fractional executive roles?

    We’ve definitely seen the most interest coming from Kenya, which is no surprise considering their strong tech hub, particularly Nairobi. Cape Town follows closely. In Egypt, we’ve had some placements in the health tech space, specifically e-health.

    Nigeria’s interest has been more sporadic, with pockets of demand in mobility and micro-financing. It could be frustrating sometimes because we have many fantastic, knowledgeable individuals ready to help. 

    Launch Base Africa: the integration of fractional executives into startups raises critical considerations around company culture and legal compliance, particularly concerning confidentiality and safeguarding trade secrets. Do you perceive these issues as significant challenges when implementing this model within African startups?

    Angel Jones: Not necessarily. Fractional executives sign clear NDAs. We ensure they don’t work for competing businesses or even in the same industry. Everyone is very careful about maintaining confidentiality. There have been no problems to date, and we have a good system in place for signing and enforcing NDAs. We haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever of any leaks or issues, as it were, in that sphere. 

    Launch Base Africa: Could you share a compelling example of how fractional executives have supported an African startup and the specific impact they’ve had on the company’s growth and success?

    Sure, there’s Zapper, a South African e-wallet company with over three years of establishment. We provided them with a fractional Chief Marketing Officer who has significantly enhanced their business month after month. This executive dedicates Mondays and Thursdays to the company, bringing invaluable expertise in segmentation, messaging, marketing strategy, and analytics oversight. His strategic input and meticulous evaluation have brought about considerable improvements, much to the delight of Zapper’s leadership. It’s safe to say he’s been a game-changer.

    Additionally, there’s Jibu is a pan-African social enterprise scaling a network of self-sustaining franchises that provide safe drinking water to their communities. We facilitated the placement of a fractional Chief Financial Officer for them. Despite being a heavyweight in his field, this CFO would typically command a substantial salary if employed full-time. However, through the fractional arrangement, Jibu gains access to his strong systems thinking, financial controls, and innovative pricing strategies without the burden of a full-time commitment. These examples illustrate the tangible benefits that fractional executives can bring to African startups.

    Launch Base Africa: What diversity of talents and executive roles comprised the pool you mentioned? You referenced Chief Marketing Officers and Chief Financial Officers. Are there any others?

    Angel Jones: Indeed, we’ve encountered a significant demand for HR directors and individuals leading capital raising efforts. Often, entrepreneurs find themselves preoccupied with attracting additional capital to their businesses. They seek professionals capable of overseeing fundraising, marketing, and HR operations concurrently. Initially, operations primarily focus on establishing systems, although fractional roles in this area are not as commonly sought after. Moreover, Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) are in high demand across various functions, although fractional options are often considered secondary.

    Launch Base Africa: When it comes to sourcing fractional executives, do you encounter any challenges, or is the process relatively smooth? Additionally, what criteria do you use for selecting these executives?

    There’s so much strong talent — experienced Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. They’ve been there, done that, and have the experience, not just consultants in ivory towers. They’ve been in the trenches and have a proven track record. Finding fractional executives isn’t the frustration. We have a pool of hot talent ready. So, our job as an executive search firm is to leverage our database of 20,000 carefully screened top professionals, with access to thousands more depending on the specific need.

    LaunchBase Africa: Now, considering the perspective of fractional executives, they may perceive themselves as engaging in short-term arrangements. How are the contracts structured with companies? Are they typically long-term agreements, ensuring job stability? Moreover, does this career path hold appeal for individuals seeking such flexibility and variety in their professional endeavors?

    Angel Jones: Certainly, the contractual arrangements vary. Sometimes, we hold the contract with the client and directly compensate the executive. Other times, the contract is directly between the executive and the employer, with careful consideration of tax regulations and other legalities. Each situation is handled individually. Many executives are drawn to this setup because they may not wish to assume the full-time risk of joining a rapidly growing startup, yet they find themselves uninspired in a stagnant corporate environment. When we match them with the right opportunities, they appreciate the flexibility and stimulation. However, I always caution individuals about managing their expectations, emphasizing that building a robust portfolio career takes time and patience; it’s not an overnight process.

    LaunchBase Africa: And lastly, I’m sure you conducted some research before establishing the business. What are your insights into the future of the fractional executive model in Africa?

    Absolutely. This is where Africa’s potential shines. The youth boom, the entrepreneurship spirit, the need for job creation — all can be stimulated. Imagine if these entrepreneurs had access to top minds, at an affordable price! It would be a game changer. Africa, I believe, stands to benefit the most from fractional talent sharing. Think about it — one person sharing a half-hour story about a mistake, a lesson learned the hard way. A startup could learn that lesson in just 30 minutes from the right person, instead of spending a year and a half figuring it out themselves. That’s game-changing.

    LaunchBase Africa: Thank you for your time, Angel. Wishing you tremendous success at HomecomingEX!

    Angel: Thanks. Thanks for having me. 

    Charles Rapulu Udoh is a Lagos-based lawyer, who has several years of experience working in Africa’s burgeoning tech startup industry. He has closed multi-million dollar deals bordering on venture capital, private equity, intellectual property (trademark, patent or design, etc.), mergers and acquisitions, in countries such as in the Delaware, New York, UK, Singapore, British Virgin Islands, South Africa, Nigeria etc. He’s also a corporate governance and cross-border data privacy and tax expert. As an award-winning writer and researcher, he is passionate about telling the African startup story, and is one of the continent’s pioneers in this regard.

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