FIRST CLASS: How Funke Olotu Made Her Way To Pinterest’s $25,000 Creators Program

Solomon Elusoji  
Updated September 3, 2022
Funke Olotu
Funke Olotu

Funke Olotu was born in Kaduna on October 20, 1998. Her childhood was marked by frequent family relocations. Growing up, she spent time in Akure, Benin-city and Abuja. She struggled to make life-long friends but learnt how to adapt to different circumstances. In secondary school, she experienced bullying but fought to reclaim her sense of self-worth. “That was very chaotic for me to deal with as a child,” she says. Funke studied microbiology at Elizade University in Ondo State but always found herself gravitating towards the creative arts – from dance to fashion to blogging. After NYSC, she found a job as a content writer and social media manager. But her journey to the Pinterest creators program wasn’t a smooth one.

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You studied microbiology. Why?

My mum was a nurse when I was growing up. For some reason, I just wanted to be like my mum. At first the option was to study nursing but I was too young for nursing school. I finished WAEC at 14. But we felt microbiology was close to nursing. It was in my first year I discovered that was not my calling. I picked up acting in my first year. That gave me so much joy. I would leave my classes and go for acting rehearsals. I didn’t care about microbiology and my grades. I didn’t drop out because I felt my dad was paying too much money, about a million naira. When I had the audacity to tell them, I was already in my third year. And I didn’t want to write WAEC again. So I decided to have the life I want, regardless of the course of study. I never saw myself in a lab coat doing the same thing every day. It wasn’t for me. I wanted to work with my talents. Although I didn’t know how, I knew I wanted something different.

I started blogging in my third year. It wasn’t great. But slowly I started finding my community and writing for other websites. I started doing social media management. And I started taking Whatsapp classes – TBA Tribe. I took SEO classes and media content creation. The first one was free, but the others were paid. I used my pocket money to pay. And I started reading a lot. And I enjoyed it. My writing got better and engagement on my blog posts soared. There was just this amazing community that was forming. I got my first job offer 9 to 5 when I was in my fourth year. But it was in Lagos and I was living in Abuja. My dad didn’t let me move. I completed my youth service at National Hospital. I was a freelance writer at this point. I always made time for what I loved. I felt like Nigeria is not a place where success is guaranteed even if you are hard working. So you need to be willing to go the extra mile.

Did you have a big break?

When I was still serving, someone sent me a job opening for a content writer. Hints magazine. It was a 9 to 5. I applied and got the job a month before NYSC ended. But then some of us got a call that we were being let go. So, for two months, after NYSC ended, I started fashion school because I didn’t just want to sit still. Then I got a call back that they were going to employ me as a content creator specialising in fashion. So I went there to shoot. On the second day, I realised their social media was not great. And that their eroticas could be better. So I was employed again that day as a content writer and social media manager. That was a big break that made me realise there was a path in being a creative that would just work for me.

You now work at Pennee.

It has been one of the highlights of my career and one of the best companies I’ve worked at as a creative. Before I got my job at Pennee, there were a lot of highs and lows with the actual work and how people treat creatives. I’ve been in a space where we are just at the office and they are sacking two people on the spot. Moving from that to having the security that Pennee gives is just amazing. Work at Pennee has been interesting. I started as a content and media manager. What we do is help small businesses grow by giving them a credit account. I’m currently head of marketing. We tell stories of small business owners. When you have a credit partner as a business, your business is open to more possibilities and growth. 

And then you moved to the UK for your Masters. How do you juggle your MSC with having a full time job in Nigeria?

When I came, I struggled. But for the most part, I’ve been able to succeed because of my time management skills. I create schedules and priroitise and don’t allow myself to feel overwhelmed. Also, I love what I do. The exchange rate is crazy, but I genuinely enjoy what I do and the people I work with. So that just gives me the right push and drive. Also, I’ve grown a lot just working at Pennee. 

Tell me about your work with Pinterest?

I’m part of their creator fund. I think we are the second cohort. They position you and give you the right tools. We have these weekly sessions where they teach you more on how to use Pinterest, and we have deliverables. It’s just amazing because Pinterest is a platform I’ve been using since I started blogging. It’s a platform I admire so much because it does not contain a lot of negativity. You can just go there as an escape. 

That looks like a big break.

It is.

How did you get in?

I used to post about Pinterest and some people started following me because of that. When they had the US cohort of this program, someone shared with me they would do a UK cohort. So when that came out, I decided to apply. I actually applied on my phone and hoped for the best. Then I got an email that they wanted to do a 15-minute call and it was during that call they told us. That’s the most money I’ve also made as a creative.

How did that make you feel?

As a creative person that grew up in Nigeria, sometimes you doubt yourself because the economy is not positioned in a way you are being appreciated fully. And if you are someone who isn’t just working for money, it can be very draining. 

Have you made any major mistakes in your career?

Staying in places that were emotionally draining because I wanted to learn. I felt like I needed to be there to learn and gather experience. I worked in a company where they sacked people on the spot because the company could not afford to pay them anymore. And they had just been employed two months ago. And in that company, our work was being talked down. So that’s one of the things that affected me and my self-identity as a creative person. Also I went to another one where my direct lead made life difficult for me. He constantly picked on me even when I was doing well. I left within a year. But I wished I didn’t stay up to the point where I was crying in Ubers. I would advise my younger self not to stay anywhere she’s not appreciated. Because I’m thirsty for knowledge and success does not mean I have to endure. Things can fall on your laps; you don’t have to hustle too much.

How much of a relief was it leaving Nigeria?

It was a lot. Since October 20 happened, which was my birthday, it’s as if I was sleepwalking and someone just woke me up. As a Nigerian, you know Nigeria is bad but after the October 20 shootings, it became clearer to me. I didn’t feel relieved. If I had felt safe, I wouldn’t want to leave Nigeria. Even after my university and NYSC, my dad was very big on me and my siblings leaving Nigeria. I wasn’t really pursuing it because I had made a life here, my friends were here, I love the culture and I’m happy. I was happy to travel when I needed to. So I didn’t see the need to leave until the October 20 shootings. That completely shattered and demoralised me. I couldn’t celebrate my birthday the next year. I did feel some type of relief but it’s a bitter-sweet type of relief. I’m making a decision I feel I didn’t have to make. 

Do you want to return?

If Nigeria should get better today, I’m coming tomorrow. Even before Nigeria gets better, I want to visit. I miss Nigeria so much. I intend to relocate back to Nigeria if there’s a wave of hope, if something gives, if my safety is guaranteed. If it’s safe, I’ll return.

How do you think young people can make Nigeria a better country?

It’s a tricky question because a lot of young people in Nigeria feel very powerless. But I think what we can do is to get our voter card and register to vote. There’s a lot of ups and downs that come with politics – but that’s something we can influence. There’s also the learning aspect. A lot of us don’t know our history. We can pay more attention to politics.

First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.