The Renaissance Woman: Alma Oputa’s Journey From Best Graduating Student to Building an Investment Empire
“If I’m in your class, you can never be the best graduating student.” Alma Oputa went viral on Twitter for making this comment about her academic success. But what many don’t know is that Alma is more than a hot brain.
She studied computer science and graduated as the best graduating student in her set. Today, she’s the Managing Director of Avant-Garde Capital, an investment firm providing financial solutions to SMEs, individuals, and tech startups.
In this week’s #CreatorStories, she shares with us her journey, and how she’s leveraging the creator economy as a lifestyle creator.
Let’s get to know Alma.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Alma Oputa, also known as “Alma The Great,” which is what my dad calls me. I’m an investor, and the co-founder and MD of Avant-Garde Capital Limited, an investment firm that offers various investment solutions to SMEs, individuals, and tech startups. In 3 years of building Avant-Garde Capital and providing financial solutions for our clients, we have grown to a firm worth millions of dollars – something I am very proud of. I love God so much and my family and I like to travel.
What was childhood like for you?
Growing up was very easy and a lot of fun. I grew up in a Christian home, full of love and learning. We had a library in my house with various types of books, e.g novels, that my parents bought to make us love reading.
There was no birthday that wasn’t celebrated in my house. My parents threw a party on every birthday for my siblings and me. We are five children and we all got presents for doing well in school. My siblings and I topped the majority of our classes. So there was a celebration for every single achievement, which made growing up so much fun for me.
All of you in your house have hot brains
(laughs) Yes, we do. My parents gave birth to hot brains and they are very intelligent. So it’s not unexpected that their kids would also be extremely intelligent.
Interesting. Tell us about school and your career journey
I wanted to become a Medical doctor for the longest time. My daddy is my mentor and I just wanted to be like him, so when it was time for school, I applied to study Medicine and Surgery at UNILAG but I didn’t get it.
(laughs). Nigerian universities have catchment areas they consider during their admission process, and I didn’t think it’d affect me. I just believed that I’d do very well in the JAMB exam and UTME so there was no need to be worried about the catchment area and cut-off mark.
When UNILAG’s cut-off mark came out, Medicine was the highest in the school. For Yorubas, it was at 250, while others were at 280. I had 270 and I didn’t get the course. They gave me Pharmacology instead.
My daddy was against it and preferred I studied Medicine and Surgery fully. So my plan was to stay at home for a year and try again. I didn’t even remember I had a second choice which was Covenant University. But I wasn’t interested in it because the course I applied for there was Computer Science, and I really wasn’t interested in it.
My dad wasn’t happy with the idea of staying at home for a year so he advised me to go to Covenant University and study Computer Science, till it was time to write the JAMB exam the following year, after which I could switch. I agreed, and that was how I went to Covenant University to study Computer Science.
The following year, I didn’t want to write the JAMB exam again. I was already comfortable in school and was beginning to find my course interesting. There was no need to switch, so I just continued and that was how I graduated.
From Computer science to investor. How did we get here?
After school was a time for me to discover what I wanted to do. By studying Computer Science, everyone assumed I’d be a programmer or get into tech. I tried but it didn’t work for me.
So I tried other things. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked in various departments and industries. I’ve done Research & Development, Entertainment, Fashion, Lifestyle, Communications, Operational Logistics, and Business Development, and now I’m into Finance and Education.
And all of this is because when I stay in a workplace for so long and there’s nothing challenging, I get bored. So I apply for any role in any department, whether I have experience or not.
One time during an interview, a recruiter called me a work prostitute (laughs) because I worked in various departments. I had to explain to him that I like to try new things and I’m very efficient. I can’t stay in an office all day doing tasks. I can finish my task for the day before 10 am and from 10 am till 5 pm, I now have to pretend like I’m working. I didn’t like it. So I just kept looking for something I could do that would interest me enough to do it for long.
Did you find it?
Oh yes. Finance, Fashion, Education. Those are three fields that I don’t think anyone can ever take away from me, and they’ve been with me since I was little. As a child, I loved playing dress up. When my mom got me a children’s sewing machine, I used it to make dresses for my dolls. So fashion has always been with me.
With finance, I’ve always been the money handler. People trust me with their money to help them save or manage expenses. I also save a lot. During my NYSC, I saved my allowance because I was getting pocket money from my dad that could cover all my expenses.
(laughs) Far from that, I’m just really good at managing money and multiplying it. Halfway into my NYSC program, I went to the bank with all the money I saved and asked them what I could do with it.
That was the first time I heard about investments, and that was in 2014. From there I invested in treasury bills and that was how investments for me began. I also invested in my friends’ businesses and they paid me back with interest.
With Education, I just love teaching people. If I understand something and someone near me doesn’t get it, I’d happily teach. This made me volunteer for various state government projects, including Lagos state, that involved training and preparing final year university students for the world of work. With these three, I can say I’m living my purpose here.
So how did Avant-Garde Capital happen?
After my Master’s program in 2020, there was no employment due to the COVID. But I was referred for two jobs, one in a tech startup, and the other as an executive assistant.
I took the job offer in the tech startup, and one of the owners later asked me what I thought about starting an investment company. He said he noticed that I was interested in investments, and I was surprised.
He said he wanted to do that for a while but he needed a partner, who was equally passionate about investments. I agreed and that was how Avant-Garde Capital Limited began.
In 3 years of building Avant-Garde Capital and providing financial solutions for our clients, we have grown to a firm worth millions of dollars – something I am very proud of.
So with your love for fashion, when did you decide to start a fashion design company?
I’d say it was an inspiration from God. I first started doing it personally by looking for outfits inspo online and recreating the outfits I liked.
When I wore them out, I received compliments and people wanted to know where I got them from. A colleague at work even asked me to consider making it a business. But I wasn’t thinking of that and wanted to keep it personal.
One day, I received bad news at work that spurred me into making the decision to start my own thing; and that is how my fashion company began. From there, things just kicked off.
What was the bad news?
My boss wanted to start employing Youth Corpers so he could pay less salary, then reduce the salaries of the other employees in the company. Rather than employ experienced people, he wanted cheap labor.
As I heard it, I just knew it wasn’t going to work for me, especially because I was living in Egbeda then and working in Lekki. We all know that to get to the office early, you have to leave as early as 5 a.m. in Lagos. I’d usually get home around 11 pm and it was just a lot. So immediately he said it, I just said I’d resign. I didn’t plan it or think about it. It was instant. I packed my things and went home to start my fashion design company.
Businesswoman! How did the first few years go?
I started in September of 2016 and it was hectic but it still worked. I leveraged the internet to showcase my designs and get clients. I also got lots of clients through referrals. I’d collect fabrics from Lekki’s “big girls” and sew them so well, and still deliver on time.
I would go meet them at the comfort of their houses, and also deliver their sewn outfits to their doorsteps. That timely delivery and the fact that almost all the time, there was no need for adjustments really helped me to push my brand. This year makes it 7 years and I’ve never done an online ad to advertise my business. It’s just been referrals and social media.
Were you studying while running the business?
Yes. Two years after the business began, I went back to school to do a Master’s program (MBA). It was not very easy to combine both, because I had to shuffle a lot between my factory in Lagos and my room in school (Ogun State) to meet up with both work and school deadlines. But one thing about life is that as long as you’re a disciplined person, you can get a couple of things done at the same time.
Another advantage for me is that I can multitask well. I was shuffling school and also going to the workshop to check on the progress of work. In fact, the entire driving I did during my MBA alone, I had never done in my entire life.
I also did a lot of late nights to catch up with school work, read for tests and assignments, prepare for presentations, and make up for the times when I was busy working at the factory. It wasn’t easy but I had to get it done.
That’s so impressive. Well done!
Let’s talk about your undergraduate days. You graduated as the Best Graduating Student. Did you face any challenges that almost affected your school work?
In school, I was a social butterfly. I attended social events, meetings, and everything else. I had a boyfriend too. So my hands were really full.
However, I wouldn’t say I had a challenge. I believe in making things easier for yourself. For example, in my school, I didn’t have to worry about lights, water, room state, or food.
Everything was easy to reach and get. In this state, the only thing you have to do is focus and read. It’s easier to get first class because they’ve made the resources needed readily available for you.
Of course, there were times when I didn’t get the score I wanted in tests and assignments but that meant I had to put in extra effort to prepare for the exam so I could maintain my grades.
Even my relationship was more helpful than a distraction. We used to read together, ask each other questions, and prepare for exams together. It was a calm relationship that helped me be better.
So yeah, there weren’t any challenges that affected my schoolwork. None that I can remember.
Everybody get their own..
(laughs) Yes o.
Let’s talk about you as a lifestyle creator. We see you document your life and travel journey. How did that begin?
Why would I want to live and die in Nigeria? No nah (laughs).
Knowing that there are so many countries out there inspires me to want to see what other things are out there and explore as much as I can.
I would rather spend on experiences than material things. I can spend millions to learn and have new knowledge/experiences but not all material things. That’s why traveling and documenting my life is so important to me.
It opens up my mind. I’ve realized that when I travel, I’m a totally different human being. I can do the most daring things and not be scared of anything. It also teaches me a lot as I can see how other people live, their culture, and how their minds are wired.
With documenting, I like to look back at how far I’ve come. It inspires me to do more. I also believe that being able to document your life and work can inspire other people.
So as you move forward in life, you can always look back and see your journey through the years.
Interesting. And what’s your favorite country so far?
United Arab Emirates, Dubai to be precise. I love the liveliness and gorgeousness of the city. I’ve been there twice and it’s just the best place for me.
Given your vast experience and intelligence, what books would you say have helped you on your journey?
Ego is the Enemy. It teaches you a lot about character. Some things we think are confidence are actually ego, and there’s good ego and bad ego. So I’d totally recommend it.
Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant. It’s a good book for people who want to know the concept of money and how to make it work for you.
Generally books on how to sell, how to influence people, and how to motivate people too. Some are Radical Candor, The E-Myth, Endless Referrals, etc.
Thank you. Finally, what advice would you give to people inspired by you?
The number one factor in my own life is God. I don’t think I would have ever achieved anything without God by my side. You have to have values. Be a disciplined human being. Make sure your life is guided by the values you choose for yourself.
Be open to learning. You can never stop learning. I have mentors and people I look up to. Be careful and selective when choosing your mentors; at least 70% of their lives should be a reflection of what you want for yourself.
Finally, believe in yourself and in your capabilities. As long as you continue to learn and develop your skills, you are unstoppable and the sky will only be a starting point for you.