Trellick

Joining Wave

In my previous post, I talked about the process of looking for my next role. Now I want to talk about where I ended up: Wave Mobile Money

What Wave Does

Wave is building a payment network for sub-Saharan Africa—imagine something like Venmo for sending money to people, but without any bank accounts (a minority of people there have them). They're the biggest mobile money player in Senegal, and they're quickly expanding into nearby countries.

I'll get better at telling Wave's story as time goes on, but for now I'd recommend this investor's in-depth look at the company and Wave's CTO on how they're working to improve the world.

How Wave Fit My Goals

In my job search, I was looking for a few things:

First, I wanted learn new things about the world. What kinds of technology products are most useful outside of the familiar "Global North" circumstances? I've been a fan of Rest of World's reporting on this, and I was eager to get more direct experience. At Wave, I'll be building things that have to work well in those environments, dealing with technical issues like the unreliable networks of rural Ethiopia, and social context issues that I don't even know about yet.

Second, I wanted to get better at leading engineers on remote teams, at a company that had been doing it for a while. Out of all the remote-first companies I was considering, Wave seemed to be the most committed & supportive. While they certainly have offices and even a majority of people on the ground in the countries where they operate, many key executives and engineers work remotely most of the year and meet up in Africa regularly.

Third, I wanted my work to contribute to a mission that I thought was worthwhile. To be honest, I never thought a "fintech" company would fit the bill. But as I learned more about the ways that an entirely cash-based lifestyle costs people time and helps keep them in poverty in these countries, and I spoke with people who'd worked in the region, I was convinced.

Fourth, I wanted to experience and learn from a different company culture. I spent a lot of time interviewing Wavers about their experiences, and comparing what they told me to Chelsea Troy's writing about inclusion. In the backgrounds of the people I spoke with, what they told me, and the structure of the recruiting process, I saw the least fewest red flags out of any company I spoke with. No company's perfect, but Wave seemed further along than most. (And I also identified with the company's values, particularly "We don’t wait—we live our fullest lives now.").

Finally, the compensation had to make sense. On one hand, Wave's base salary was the lowest of any of my options. This is partly because they're one of the few companies that I've come across in tech that have standard compensation by level, which helps avoid some bias effects (if you're curious, they give salary ranges in their remote career listings). And on the other hand, their equity offer value seemed significantly better than the others', and they had a very thorough set of benefits.

Concerns and Questions

As a well-off white guy from Europe, it'd be reckless for me to get into this business in these particular countries without considering the moral hazards of the situation.

First and foremost, can I engage in this work without doing a colonialism, or playing the part of the white savior?

While I'm only at the start of my learning on this, I feel that a key litmus test is the level of involvement and agency that locals have in the business. Our work should create more value for local people than is exported. Another success condition for me is that local Wave alumni end up in a better position financially and skill-wise to start their own things. If we're successful, I hope we'll see a "Wave Mafia" emerging in the countries where we operate as time goes on.

Also, in the course of this work, how can I steer away from the pathological outcomes described in Seeing Like A State? In the course of building these systems that involve people, how do we minimize the amount of local context that's being flattened, and how do we limit the amount of visibility & controls that could be abused in the future?

Both of these are tricky issues that I made a point of discussing with executives during my interviews, to see if they were coming from the right place.

Making the Final Decision

Because I'd sought out companies that were doing interesting things, I had a really hard time making the final decision. (Without naming names, the other roles involved developing resilient communication tech.)

In the final few days, two questions helped seal my decision:

Onward

I made the decision last Tuesday, signed my contract on Thursday, and started this Monday. In a few days I'll be on my first trip to Senegal, to get to know coworkers and to start meeting the people that we're building for!

It's likely that I've gotten some of this wrong, and I'm sure there will be surprises along the way. But for now, it's time to dive in—I'm excited to start learning!

(Of course I have to mention that Wave is looking for engineers, managers, SREs and more. If this sounds intriguing, get in touch!)