On this episode of MoneyRise, we spoke to Mudia Imasuen, a product designer and podcaster who began his design journey in 2018. Mudia has worked with Sanusi of CoLab in Kaduna and many other big guys in the Nigerian tech space. This is his story.

Hi, can you introduce yourself to us?

Hi, my name is Mudia Imasuen. I am a product designer, podcaster and design educator. 

Tell me about your podcast.

It is called Conversations with Mudia Imasuen. The podcast talks about different areas of life, technology, faith, family, friendships, people’s journey and everything in between.

What inspired you to create the podcast?

I feel like the entire virtual space has polarised conversations and conversations where you almost have to watch what you say, and I wanted to be able to hold in-depth conversations with people and share them on the internet. I wanted a space where we could freely talk about how we feel, our experiences, and maybe, our opinions on topics. I enjoy having conversations a lot. The idea came to me when I was chatting with my friends, and I thought it’d be so cool if we recorded it, so I decided to start the podcast.

How’s that going?

Pretty nice. I’m on a slight hiatus right now. Work has been a lot, and I don’t want to rush my editing. I like my edits to sound a particular way, so I took a short break. I have some unreleased episodes that I’ll get back to in about a month or two when I’m done with the task at hand.

What was growing up like for you?

It was pretty good, actually. My dad is a retired accountant, and my mum is a professor and a HOD at the university. It is a really academic home, and I grew up with a lot of books. Thinking about it now, it could be one of the reasons I started building my library. I grew up knowing there was a room in my house dedicated to books and reading called “The library”. My mom would travel to a few African countries like Tanzania and South Africa and return with books. I remember the first time my mom went to Tanzania and as a child, I was expecting chocolate and toys, but guess what my mom came back with? She came back with two things for me: one was a shirt that said “A friend who loves me got me this shirt from Tanzania”. And the second one was a book on spiders. It had about 200 different species of spiders. I read that book about 20 times because it was pretty interesting. It is how I discovered that scorpions are close relatives of spiders. I’d love to see Marvel explore that in the spiderverse series, by the way. 

My mom is also the kind of person who would go out, and if she sees a book sale, she’d just buy them in bulk. These book sales usually come in baskets and my mom would just buy a ton of them and bring them home. (I actually took about 2 or 3 to put in my personal home library). The books she bought covered a wealth of topics, ranging from what vaccination is, explained with pictures, another one on space and time and some other random ones like Highways Of The World which I kept. Adventure series were there too. It was probably where I saw the first part of Artemis Fowl, before reading the rest of the series on eBooks.

I could literally pick up and read history or Shakespearean books written in English that I could understand and the rest. There were just a ton of books in my house. So yeah, I grew up in a very bookish home. You’d even think I’d graduate from university with a first-class, but that wasn’t the case. I just liked reading books that were interesting. The first class we have in my family is my younger brother. People think I read a lot, but my brother reads even more. I remember when I was in secondary school, in ss3 and he was in primary school or early secondary, but he would always read my own books like my Chemistry and Physics textbook. In summary, my childhood was pretty interesting. There was this whole love and gearing towards knowledge. 

Do you think that sort of influences what you are today?

Oh, yeah. A lot, actually. I’m a very curious person, and I try to get as much information as I can. That has sort of made me really opinionated, so I enjoy arguing a lot. But it also helped me learn to listen. I always tell myself “If you no know this thing, listen to who know”. You could make your point and not back down because someone said something. So that improved my thinking growing up. And because I had parents who were pretty supportive, even when I proved stubborn, it helped my confidence. 

How did you start your career as a product designer?

I’m someone who has tried out a bunch of stuff. Initially, I was learning data science which graduated to playing around with machine learning models with tensor flow, but not for production. It was just for practice. I did a lot of courses on that, and then I dipped a full arm into web for a bit — frontend development, specifically. As I said, I was doing a lot of stuff, and design happens to be just one of them. The CEO of CoLab, Sanusi, had asked if I’d heard of Figma and I decided to check it out and saw that it was a design software. I used to play around a lot on Photoshop before, so I thought I would take it up, too. Then I started exploring. And amongst all of the things I was doing, it was the one I loved the most, even though it wasn’t the easiest. Thankfully, during that same period, I had Tunji (4C & Dear Des!gner) on my contact list. We had worked together before on TEDxArkilla when I served in Sokoto and that was how we got acquainted. He saw that I posted a lot of things on design and he reached out to me, recommending a design course by Henry Ikoh. It was a Design 101 senpai course that teaches you the basics of design and that made me realise that there was an academic path to understanding design. And that just kicked me into the world of learning design. The more I learned, the more interested I became. I started taking courses on Coursera around design. There was one course that the University of Minnesota offered on Coursera. It was a pretty interesting one on interface design and it just became a beautiful journey from there. I started learning and teaching and building a design community here in Kaduna with CoLab. CoLab was really essential to my growth. When I was learning design, I had people who supported me in my learning journey. These were people I was learning Machine learning with, and when I was transitioning to design, they showed interest in what I was doing. When I had meetups, they would show up. They were not designers, but they still showed up for my meetups. It just became pretty chill. One thing that happened during that period when I was doing multiple things was that I knew that I had to settle down and do one thing, but I was struggling with it because I felt  it is expected that you have to put your hands on different things and see how you can be a generalist across the whole tech world. Then one day, I randomly saw a Russian proverb somewhere that said, “a man chasing two rabbits will go hungry”. So I decided to just focus on product design and nothing else. I was not going to do frontend or motion or graphics, I just wanted to focus on product design and it’s been great so far.

Of all the other things, why product design?

I think it just appealed to me being more. I like the fact that it’s one of those areas that allows me to go all out when having conversations with people — users/customers. I understood design from a very user-centric point of view. To be a great product designer, you need to know how to talk to people and understand them. 

It was the branch of Design that at every point in time, reminds me that the things I build are actually for people. I remember one time that Sanusi wanted us to do a project and we had to go to the field and get insights. It was a medical project, so we had to actually talk to people in the field. My friend, Damilade, and I were flatmates then and although he is a data scientist, we agreed to do the research together. So we spoke to people, got insights, recorded and jotted things down. This made me realise that when you talk to people, the kind of solutions you come up with are usually pretty interesting and helpful. This product design dey sweet me die, I no go lie. It gives me the opportunity to create something useful and beautiful that impacts the lives of people. I’m very experimental in my approach to design, so it was that one thing that gave me the freedom to express myself and my essence in everything I’m doing. 

How has your life changed since you became a designer?

I think I feel a bit more fulfilled being able to create stuff. There’s also the part where I’ve been able to meet more people because of design. I’ve made friends with people I’ve worked with, including clients from different countries, because of the work I’ve done for them. I’ve made tons of friends in the design and tech space. We’ve formed a close-knit community, just by working together. I love designers in the Nigerian tech space that I now know and am friends with because we do great work and we’re all just lit. 

For me, one of the things I appreciate most is having really great friends and one of the ways I was able to do that was by  sticking to product design. 

On the part of finances, that has also improved. I’ve been able to increase my income and work with people from different parts of the world which is pretty cool. I think why I enjoy working with people from different parts of the world is that apart from context switching, there’s the cultural difference. It’s like working with someone from Nigeria and then working with someone in Europe. I once worked with a company that had a lot of Russians which was pretty interesting. I also worked with people who were very US-based. The cultural differences make it cool.

What has your career progression been like?

I professionally started designing in 2018. I started by doing a few freelance projects. The major ones I remember were in fintech, but there was one interesting and notable product I worked on in my early days. It was something called Transparency IT. Basically, it’s a platform for tracking court cases on financial crimes. It was quite an interesting project to work on based on the research and the people we had to talk to. From there, I did a bit more freelance work in the tech space, and then I moved into fintech where I worked for a bit. I worked with Payant which had other products within it; one was called Dot which was like a digital bank. Another one was MyFlex which was simply agency banking. Then I worked a bit  for a digital agency. During the pandemic, I travelled. At that time, a lot of things shut down, but I was with my friend in Rwanda which was a really lucky thing for me because there was always light. So despite the pandemic, I had  constant power supply which came in really handy. By the second month of the pandemic, people realised it was serious and began building stuff. I was introduced to a bunch of people and about two different projects from different clients. Through them, I was able to get a ton of other projects. The one I did with KadunaConnect on Twitter was a platform called Welkom-u that helped with immigration to Canada. Then I did another one with Caleb & Praise called TravelWahoo that helped with business travels for companies. It’s like an enterprise relation, basically. Then I designed a bunch of applications around workplace productivity called Workwise. There was also a government gig that we did for FCCPC that helped with company mergers. So it was pretty interesting. It was a pandemic, but we were getting jobs. It taught me how to work with a team, refined my process, learned how to avoid scope creep, and improved on how to write PRDs and articulate my design decisions. 

The pandemic lockdown was like a training period for all of us and my collaboration game took a beating and was shaped during that period. After that, I joined Printivo where I worked for a bit before officially joining BlocHq as a product designer and then transitioned into a Lead Product Designer. 

I had a short-term contract with a blockchain company where I designed interesting products. One of them was to help with day-to-day payments with bitcoin and USDT. Something as simple as buying a cup of coffee and paying with BTC or SATS, using the bitcoin lightning network. I worked on two other projects for them. Both of them actually had to do with automated trading, but the first one I designed now became a form of “Paystack” for the other products. It became a checkout solution for the other product that also does automated trading. And that has basically been my career progression so far. This year, I applied to join Toptal and I got in and I currently freelance for clients there. I think design pays. It paid off for me, and I know it paid off for many others.

What’s your relationship with money now, compared to when you started out in design?

If I’m being really honest, nothing much has changed, except that I have more money now because I’m better at what I do and I have more exposure, collaborating with different types of clients. I have always seen money as something that should be used to meet your needs. It should be a tool that solves problems for you while also helping you buy time and comfort. I also sort of have very free hands when it comes to money, but I make sure that I save what I need first before spending in bulk. So I put away money in savings and spend whatever is left of that. I also don’t really work with a tight budget. However, if I have a range in mind and the commodity goes above that range, I don’t buy it. If it’s within that range, I do not haggle, mostly because it is not my sort of thing and it can be a waste of time. That side of me didn’t really change. I realised this when one day at home, my younger brother was arguing that I have always been this way. That I only seem to spend more now because I have more, but I have never been frugal since the beginning of time.

For investment, I’m still learning the ropes. I’m trying to fully understand the things I put my money into, but my savings game is pretty tight. I’m good at that. Investing is still something I’m just trying my hands around. I have done a few things here and there, which Agriculture is one of. But I’m waiting for the perfect time when I can settle to learn the ropes of investing.

Do you use Rise?

Oh, yeah. My friend, Sanni, invited me to Rise. I used his code to create an account and that’s how I started.

What has your experience been using Rise?

I don’t have a lot there and I’m still trying to get the hang of it, but I usually log into the app to look at things and make sense of what is going on. However, one thing I appreciate so far is that it takes away the burden of me selecting stocks to invest in and has categories I can put my money in. That’s pretty great. It sort of says “hey, you don’t need to be an expert when it comes to stocks investments, because we put it in the right place for you.” That’s kind of reassuring to me, but I still need to understand the app a bit more before I go all in and move the bulk of my savings to Rise.

What’s the next milestone you’re looking to achieve in your career and finances?

Doubling my income will be great, so I can save more. I also want to do more impactful and quality work, while reducing my workload, however, that requires dedication and time. You need to take it step by step and be deliberate, which only works when you have a feasible amount of workload. It’s more like reducing your workload, and putting deliberate effort into the rest. I think that’s it for me.

What was that moment you knew your life had changed financially?

More or less, last year. My salary got a bit higher when I started doing contracts with foreign companies, but I really can’t point to one moment in particular even though I got a new car recently. Before then, I already knew I was good to go, especially when I started doing stuff for my parents, family and friends without breaking a sweat. I was able to be myself in terms of how freely I gave, my family was satisfied, my close friends were good, I, too, was satisfied and at the end of the month, I was not broke.

What are your thoughts on black tax?

I don’t see it as black tax, I see it as helping my family. That’s not black tax to me. It has never been that for me because I understand the sacrifices they made to get me to this stage. They are also one of the most supportive parents anyone could ask for, judging based on what I hear people say about their own parents on social media. When I told them I was moving to Kaduna, they were very okay with that and even went on to support me with 300k. These are two civil servants who didn’t have everything, but they gave their blessings and said I could go on and explore the world. Although I occasionally have fights with my parents where we argue on differences in ideologies, if they need half of my wealth today to do something important for the family, they can have it. It’s not black tax, it’s family. Na all of us get the money.

What financial and career advice would you give young people who want to go into design like you?

The only financial advice I can give is for them to invest in themselves. Careerwise, consistency and discipline will get you there. When you are consistent in your skill and are disciplined about your approach to work, it will take you far. Anyone who is skilled never goes hungry. There are a lot of ways to get money: you can invest or do other things, but if you want to be an Independent Contributor (IC), you must build on your skill. Once you invest in that skill, you go put body. It’s near impossible for you to go hungry

Thank you for agreeing to do it with us.

My pleasure Gee.