The first 20

Members of the FLWD team — illustrated by penzu

It’s been almost six years since we launched this gorgeous outfit known as Flutterwave Design. In that time, we’ve grown from having one designer (me) in 2017 to over twenty rockstars pimping this massive butterfly defining how millions of people accept and pay money across the world. It continues to be one heck of a ride.

The work we do is exciting and tough at the same time, which explains why it is fitting for the kind of people who end up on the team. I’ve been aligned with the idea that we ought to share more about the work we do — and our people, but I’ve never quite gotten around to doing much of that. The obvious reason is that there’s a lot of work to do, but I’ve decided now is as good a time as any to share more.

Timeline showing the number of designers and products per year

It’s Still Early Days

When you think about the potential growth of Flutterwave and the scale the company will operate at in the coming years, it becomes clear that we’re still a pretty small design team. 20 might seem like a lot today, but it’s not — The design team currently serves cross-functional teams which include 3 retail product teams, 6 business product teams, marketing team, people team, and the user ops teams. What does this look like in practice?

  • You need a content designer when you’re working on a product or sometimes, marketing campaigns.
  • A brand designer needs to work on marketing assets, icon, illustrations, etc for that product.
  • In some cases, a micro-site is needed for that feature or product. Guess who does that? Yeah, you’re right — Web designer.
  • Product designers? Well, they design the products.

This team could easily double in size within the next twenty months, given how fast we’re growing as a company. The way I tend to think about it is that these twenty designers are the foundational hires. They’re the ones who will set the tone for what Flutterwave Design will represent for a long time to come.

Our current process

Overview of our hiring process

I recognize that having a design team of twenty people is kind of a remarkable feat, given the ongoing talent war in our industry globally. For anyone wondering, we had to develop and hone a system that has allowed us to effectively hire good talent. Here’s what that system looks like today;

  1. Invitation emails to candidates
  2. Introductory call
  3. Portfolio review and critique
  4. Culture fit interview with the people team
  5. Employment offer

To be clear, it’s still hard to find good talent, and that’s something startups have to deal with at the moment.

We almost never post a design job publicly unless we’ve exhausted all internal referral options. Flutterwave is a well-known company and attracts hundreds and sometimes thousands of applications for each job posting. I’ll be totally dishonest if I say we can efficiently sift through and assess every single application in the time frame we’re usually working with. We’re just not at that stage yet where we can allocate that much time to it. What typically happens when we have an opening is to throw it open to the team to make recommendations on people they think will be a good fit. It’s often people they have had a working relationship with; people they can vouch for that embody our team’s core values. Here’s a list of our core values;

  1. Ownership and Responsibility
  2. Friendship
  3. Quality Always
  4. Iteration
  5. Collaboration
  6. Growth

I find that this is useful for maintaining the standard for the quality and nature of talent we bring on. Currently, we are a team of twenty product, content, and brand designers, and this is literally how we’ve hired almost everybody; through referrals.

I’ll be the first to admit that this approach isn’t perfect. Sometimes, the recommended candidates could still end up falling short of our expectations in terms of technical ability and culture fit. The fact that a candidate is recommended by a team member doesn’t trump our goal to only hire people who tick all the boxes for what we look out for in a team member. The mission comes first.

For the interview phase itself, we try to get things to move along pretty quickly if we can help it. After a prospective candidate successfully enters the pool, the first thing we do is send them a technical assessment. They’re to solve a problem case we send to them and share with us to review. Then we set up a call for them to walk us through their solution and their guiding thoughts. The conversation often goes in such a way that they get to field questions on related and unrelated design topics. There will be at least two design team members on that call, especially a rep or team lead for the product team the candidate would potentially join. After this stage, we can already tell if the candidate is a good fit, in terms of their technical ability, at least. If yes, then we send them over to the People team for their culture fit interview, and if they progress, they get to speak with someone from business leadership. Usually, if they get to the management stage, they tend to receive an offer to join the team. We try to keep this process under 5 weeks.

On the subject of cultural and technical fit, it is pretty important to us that a candidate we’ve determined to be a technical fit also possesses the right blend of character traits that embody our team values (both at the design team level and at the company level). For context, a very good designer who is rather abrasive or isn’t a good collaborator, for example, will almost certainly not improve or contribute to the collaborative culture within the team, A value I’ve learned to be very important over time, especially as a team that’s remote. These qualitative traits are not easy to assess, but if you pay attention to a candidate’s responses to scenario questions, their work history, and their general assumptions and ideologies gleaned from their experience, goals, and their notions about work, you start to get a sense of it. We assess this to some degree in the design stages of the interviews, but the People team interviews dig deeper in that regard.

The Next 20 Designers

I don’t think that we are quite done building our foundational design team for the company. I realize that, depending on how much scale we are able to achieve as a company, we may or may not need another 20 designers soon. It is more likely that we will. For the next 20 and beyond, I know we will have to think differently about how we currently hire talent.

As I write this, Flutterwave is now operational in more than 15 countries, but the design team is 100% filled with Nigerians. The drawback this poses is going to be increasingly obvious because it means we are subconsciously designing a global product with a perspective that is overwhelmingly Nigerian. To be fair, we actually put in the work to get the right nuances for foreign markets even now (team members occasionally travel to go and conduct user research and talk to customers in different locations, for example), but we realize that we could do more. The next 20 hires are going to be about bringing on designers who not only tick all the aforementioned boxes but also come with nuanced perspectives for the new markets we’re building for.

It’s making us tweak our process. What we are doing now is difficult because we don’t have a wide network of designers that extends to all the markets we’re growing to. In order to have a wider network, we started putting out job postings, which also brought up very interesting things. We put out a job posting recently for product designers in South Africa and, interestingly, we got a lot of applications from Nigerians who live in South Africa, which was a bit of a tricky situation because those weren’t our target applicants. What we wanted were actual South Africans, people who understand cultural contexts and will be able to interpret and bring that into our product design processes.

This made it clear that both location and skill-based filters are a necessary addition to our hiring process. With this in place, we would be able to focus our efforts on assessing and potentially interviewing candidates that are the right fit. Exciting times lie ahead!

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