Episode 5

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Dante Lex
July 6, 2022
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For this week's episode, we interviewed Dante Lex. Dante is based in Lagos, Nigeria and is founder and CEO of Onboardbase: environment specific configs in sync at scale. Onboardbase secures and keep secrets and app configurations in sync across infrastructures, environments, and teammates.

In this episode, Dante and I discuss:

  • OnDeck and the ODX accelerator
  • How he made a pivot into the current product
  • The importance of speaking with customers and using your own product
  • Why so many great designers and startups are coming out of Lagos
  • And what’s going on at Manchester United.

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Episode Transcript

Matt: Hello, and welcome to Working on Something New the podcast for and about makers and founders. I'm your host, Matt Johnson and I'm myself a founder and product manager.

Thanks for joining us for another episode where we interview a maker about their journey, their project, and their vision for the future. 

Working on Something New is powered by my company. Taskable: unified tasks and calendar for all day productivity. Taskable is productivity software that helps you manage your most valuable resource - your time - by integrating with the tools you already use to bring everything into one place, helping you plan your priorities and time block your calendar. Find us at

For this week's episode, we interviewed Dante Lex. Dante is based in Lagos, Nigeria, and is founder and CEO of Onboardbase. Onboardbase is environment specific configs in sync at scale. They secure and keeps secrets and configurations in sync, across infrastructures, environments, and teammates. In this episode, Dante and I discuss OnDeck and the ODX accelerator, how he made a pivot into the current product, the importance of speaking with customers and using your own product, why so many great designers and startups are coming out of Legos, and what's going on with Manchester United. Let's get going.

Hey Dante. Thanks for joining us today. Could you just give everyone a brief background on, on who you are and, and on what you're working on? 

Dante Lex: Okay. I'm Dante a product designer and a software engineer, right. And I'm doing Onboardbase is a platform to secure and keep secrets, environments, variables in sync at scale, across every stage of development without worrying about security. For instance, right, when engineers join teams, something you need to do is give them involvement in specific variables or conflicts to get the. Now most times you usually do this over communication channel, like slack, email. One. It's not secure, two. It's not good for productivity. It's scattered all across your communication mediums.

Right? So all we did was we made this seamless, easy to use and secure all in one. So you can work with your teammate at scale. And with any cloud infrastructure you use. Or by using Onboardbase and they don't even get to see the secrets. They can just actively work with it. So we kind of decrease the risk you have within your company as a whole.

Matt: Gotcha. And how did you land on this problem? Was it something that you'd seen as a big problem in companies you'd worked for before? What, what led you to start working on Onboardbase? 

Dante Lex: So over the years I've joined teams and I've led teams and something I personally have done and I've seen been done is copy and paste environment variables over Slack to me, or I'm doing it to someone and probably in the middle of the night, a teammate of mine is what six hours ahead of me sends me message: "Hey, Dante, I need to push to production, but I do not have the new environment variables." Right. So. I don't respond until when I wake up, meaning that for that whole six hours, he's not productive in any way. And there's a delay in the pipeline. 

So all this got me thinking that. Okay. So there should be a better way to handle these guys, both collaborative, secure, and seamless to how you work as a team.

And that's where the idea came about. 

Matt: Gotcha. And so how long have you been working on Onboardbase and is it your full-time job these days? 

Dante Lex: Yeah, I'm full time working on Onboardbase. We actually started building our MVP late last year, November, and we had an MVP in December as well, December/January and got customers start using it.

Matt: Gotcha. And, and is it how many people on your team? 

Dante Lex: We currently seven in number. Five, engineers, myself and a QA engineer. 

Matt: Gotcha. Are you bootstrapped or have you raised a little bit of VC? 

Dante Lex: Yeah, we've raised some funding from our accelerators, not necessarily VC. We raised from ODX $125k. And we raised from angels as well, $70k earlier last year.

So that's as much funding that we've raised so far.

Matt: Gotcha. Is this the first time you've, you've raised external funding? And is this your first startup? 

Dante Lex: So I was building Bellissimo before this and I did raise say $35k for Bellissimo. And so it's not my first startup, probably my second startup. And yeah, actually we kind of pivoted from Bellissimo into Onboardbase.

Matt: Gotcha. And how did that pivot take place ? What was Bellissimo and how did it end up becoming Onboardbase? 

Dante Lex: Okay. So Bellissimo was a software subscription management for teams. We started with a very small market which was other startups, but we began to slowly realize that our cost to acquire customers was a whole lot more than what we actually making. And startups don't really care that much about managing subscriptions becu use most of them get things for free.

So it's not a huge pain and they are not also always willing to pay for such. So we began to kind of rethink what we are doing. And we spoke to the customers we had at the time to find a pain points that resonates with them and also resonated with us. And that's how Onboardbase actually came about.

So it was a pain I felt for so long and I'm getting reassured by current customers . 

Matt: Gotcha. And how hard is that to do a pivot like that? I mean, you raised a bit of money. You'd been working on it for a certain period of time. How did you make that decision that you wanted to do a pivot and start working on a new concept?

Dante Lex: Well everything was pointing to, at the end of the day we want to build a very successful and very good business. And you have to start thinking of how you are acquiring customers. How is the problem you are solving? Is it a huge pain? Is it a vitamin, or is it nice to have ?

And all this kind of factored into it and the investors we had at the time, or currently, still have, are amazing. And they are always in support of what we're trying to do. And something I do a lot is talk to them. I tell them how we are thinking about things, what issues we are currently facing.

And most of the time they recommend things that we should begin to do. And they kind of supported how we wanted to begin to look at a different sector completely. That is also very niche to us. 

Matt: Gotcha. And so you spend a lot of time talking with your investors. What does that look like?

Are they the ones sort of calling you up and asking you, like, how are things going? Are you sort of leaning on them? Which way does it generally go?

Dante Lex: Well I have all my investors, almost all my investors on WhatsApp and I just kind of chat them up. Very amazing people. Also technical. And we just kind of brainstorm about things. Sometimes things are just happening and I'm like, "Hey what do you think about this? This is how we are kind of looking at things." And they're like, oh, okay. This makes sense.

And they actually go to the extent of actually giving very quick feedback and how we should maybe think about it first before actually attacking the problem. So they are the investors we have are more like friends rather than investors. Our relationship actually started off as friends. 

Matt: That's nice. So most of them you said are technical have most of them done a startup before? Or are they sort of familiar with startups? 

Dante Lex: A couple of them have a couple of them have built a startup and actually still building their own products. 


Matt: That's, that's a good resource. Cool. Switching gears a bit. You did ODX with Onboardbase, but you also had done OnDeck beforehand yourself. 

Dante Lex: Yeah, personally, I was part of On Deck five.

 OnDeck went really well. So ODX was a no brainer for me. I just had to pitch and, and we got it. 

Matt: Could you talk a little bit about what the process is of going through OnDeck and what are the benefits you get as an OnDeck alumnus? 

Dante Lex: The biggest thing for me at OnDeck is the people, right? The community is awesome and they have tons of resources. And something I've always noticed is everyone is always willing to help and take some time out to actually bring someone your idea, give a bit of feedback. So the whole process went through a normal cohort. I was kind of used to it already. So we provided peer feedback. We drilled ourselves and encouraged ourselves. You see some teammates also colleagues doing amazing things and you're like, "oh, wow." but it's all encouraging, seeing someone who is also at your stage doing very well and kind of learning. Right. So the whole goal was the learning process.

And I made lifelong friends there, which I will not forget. And they are always a resource. I have people who are OnDeck that I message to run things by, especially maybe I'm thinking of fundraising or sales, I just send them a message to kind of get their thoughts and they are willing to provide very actionable feedback.

Matt: So you're based in Nigeria. One thing I noticed when I was hiring product designers is there's just a ton of great product designers based in Nigeria, including yourself. Why is that? Why is Nigeria such a hotspot for product design? 

Dante Lex: I wouldn't know, but I think Nigeria are some of the most talented people in the world. We have the privilege of working with a whole lot of them. In fact, most of my friends I started up with are in some big company now, or are founders themeselves..

So talent is amazing. And I think we have a very good attention to detail as well? Yeah. think that kind of helps us a lot with design . 

Matt: Yeah I found that real interesting, when we were hiring product designers, just so many, so many applicants from, from Nigeria and then also, being in Pioneer, a lot of the African companies are all based in, in Nigeria. So would you say that Nigeria is the hotspot of tech and startups in Africa? Is that like the place to be? 

Dante Lex: Yeah, honestly, Nigeria is the Silicon Valley of Africa, especially Lagos. There are tons of hustlers with amazing ideas, no short of execution. Maybe funding might not be there for a lot of them, but they always find a way. We always find a way. So it's kind of our thing in Nigeria. 

Matt: Gotcha. A lot of people try to move to, you know, San Francisco or Silicon Valley, no matter where they're based. Do you think there's ever a reason to need to move to San Francisco or, or Silicon Valley ? Or can you build a unicorn out of Lagos these days?

Dante Lex: Yeah, you can. We have three unicorns out of Lagos already. Flutterwave, Andela, and Opay. We have a couple, so you can build a unicorn out of Africa and Lagos. Moving outside the country sometime maybe a business decision or personal decision. I don't think relocation influences how big your company can grow. There's a huge, huge market in almost everywhere you go. And Nigeria is no short of that market. In fact, Nigeria is actively growing on that scale. 

Matt: Yeah. Like I said, being a Pioneer, you just see so many amazing companies coming out , of Africa and that's one of the great things I think about Pioneer is. They're shining a light on places, outside of San Francisco. So yeah, it's really cool to see, not just in Africa, but in, Eastern Europe and all those different places. 

I was just talking to Mike from Ethi and he goes out to San Francisco all the time and he loves being there. And I kind of see the, the draw of that. And I was just in San Francisco for the Pioneer summit. Like that was really exciting and fun to be there.

But it's fun to visit though. I don't think you necessarily need to be there these days. 

So, looking back at Onboardbase, what's your big vision for your startup? Like where do you see it in five years and 10 years? What does the future look like? 

Dante Lex: Well, personally, I see Onboardbase as where product development starts and continues while kind of improving work and usage experience of developers through a secure and centralized environment across every stage of development. For example, so Teams are hiring engineer, devs and contractors a whole lot. Especially in these times of remote, they need a secure workspace that kind of suits and is simple for to how you work as a team.

Because sometimes the contractors set up, the junior team set up, and the senior team set are kind of very different, right? So you need to either hand hold or copy and paste a whole lot of things. But, yeah, that's not seamless and it's also not secure because when things begin to change hand a lot, you can't tell where it's been stopped, right?

Yeah. So that's kind of how we see Onboardbase to kind of centralize these things and make it similar to how work you don't need to change how you work as a team. 

Matt: So if you, if you can look back on sort of your entire journey as a founder, what would you say is the biggest mistake you made or, or the thing that you could go wish you could go back and change?

Dante Lex: Biggest mistake was I would say I I'm a product person, so tend to focus a whole on products. Before customers. So it's something I'm still actively learning more. I think you should begin with speaking to your customers or solving a problem before actually building a product.

And there are several ways to go about it. Honestly. There's no one size fits all. I wish I had known that previously, and learnt it. It's still something I'm actively learning. So I'm very conscious of it these days. Before we build feature. Like, no, we have to talk the customers first. We're not gonna push this until we talk to them because something you end up realizing you build a ton of of features that they are not actively using. In fact, the users do not need it. Meanwhile, the things that they need, you actually kind of push them back because you are building things that you feel are cool or nice.

 Build exactly what they need. Just make what they need as seamless to use as possible. 

Matt: Yeah. I, I feel that same pain. I think like builders wanna build something. And so that process of not building things and just listening and, and exploring is really tough. And then also once you've built something that you think is cool that you like but no one's using it's like, how do you cut off this feature? Because we worked so hard on it. It's so cool. And I like it, but no one's touched it in months. So we gotta, get rid of it. I find that extraordinarily hard as well. I just wanna sit down and, you know, work on cool products. But you gotta get the input from the users first.

Dante Lex: Yeah. Something that helped us at Onboardbase is that we don't write a single line of code without using Onboardbase across our pipeline. Meaning that we are actively using it so we know what we actively use. We try as much as possible to refrain from actually building nice to haves.

Matt: Yeah. And I think that's, so important when you're building a product is, is to dog food it, or use it yourself. If you're not using it every day, then it's hard to identify those pain points and it's harder to discover bugs and, and all that sort of stuff like actually using the product yourself, I think is a huge, huge benefit.

What would be your top productivity tip? What's the thing that keeps you most productive and, something that you you think can help other people stay productive, especially founders. 

Dante Lex: Personally I advise people to build things that keep them up at night. Build products that actually keep you up at night because it'll keep you constantly motivated. And your actively looking to change to innovate within that space. I say don't build within spaces you don't know much about. The dev space is very personal to me. So it's something I can easily understand how to continuously innovate in it. 

And try and take a lot of breaks. I can tell you that the product will go on all you need to do is take several breaks. Sometimes I have a migraine because I actually love what I'm doing. So I'm putting in more hours into it, but I make mental notes to actually take break.

And I also advise that I should try and keep things as simple as possible, right? So when I say life is simple, what people don't understand is simple, does not mean easy. Simple. Doesn't easy. The process to achieving simple is complicated.

 So, just keep things simple. 

Matt: Yeah. I think, I think that's great advice. Especially the taking breaks things, I just posted a blog about hustle culture about like hustle culture and toxic productivity. And there's all these stats that, people who take their vacation time are actually more fulfilled and they're actually more productive.

And that actually after a certain number of hours, 55 hours a week, that you're actually not being more productive. And I think what I find is when I step away from, from work and, go for a walk. I bring my notepad with me. And I'm not trying to think about work, but you get five, 10 minutes in your walk and all of a sudden you have all these ideas. You wouldn't have those ideas sitting at your desk. You need to step away. You need to sort of clear your mind a bit.

And so it's hard to do, I think, as a founder you feel like you need to be your desk all the time, because if you're not there, you're not working. But that time away can actually make you more productive. 

Dante Lex: You're clear in your head. That's something interesting we are experimenting with. So. Onboardbase sits right where you work and how you work. So we can know how many hours you actually spent working, how many hours servers have been running. So we are looking at a way to kind of encourage our employees to reduce the amount of time they have their servers running.

At least we know, okay, we are taking breaks. Because sometimes you see servers running for days. I'm like, dude, what? So something we are kind of experimenting with. Hopefully we can also push it out to teams to also try it out. 

Matt: That's cool. Yeah, there's, there's a little feature in my car that when you've been driving for too long, it'll say, your ignition's been on for two hours.

It's like, kind of like encouraging you to take a break. So it's like the, the work version of that. You haven't, you haven't stepped away from your computer for 12 hours. Maybe it's time to, go have a sandwich or something. 

Cool. Anything, I should have asked you that. I didn't ask you? Any thing that you really wanna share. If you could do my job for me and, and interview yourself 

Dante Lex: Like I mentioned before, Onboardbase is just one step in the whole Working collaboratively with contractors and engineers. Something we are beginning to invest in a lot in is remote development. So remote development , it sits right within our roadmap of how we want to help teams remote, productive, and secure with teammates. Remote development, I see it as the future of how teams work. So all those times its working on my local machine, it's not working live. You don't want to be hearing things after I push some code, right.

 So I think that's what remote development is going to solve. And that's how we are thinking of the next thing for Onboardbase.

Matt: Awesome. How, how can everyone find you? What's your Twitter handle? How can people find Onboardbase? 

Dante Lex: Oh my personal Twitter handle is @dantelex and for Onboardbase ( it's @onboardbase. So you can easily find those on Twitter. We are very active on twitter and I'm personally, I'm very active. 

Matt: And I noticed you're a United supporter. So you're alwaystweeting about United . 

Dante Lex: I try these days not to talk about United. 

Matt: Yeah. You have enough stress in your life. You could, just let that one slide for a little bit.

 Well, I'm an Arsenal supporter, so we're just marginally marginally better this season than you. So we'll be all be back soon.

Cool, Dante, thank you very much for taking the time. It was great hearing more about Onboardbase and the whole story. Can't thank you enough for for joining me. 

Dante Lex: Sure. I'm glad to have had this chat. It was a breath of fresh air. 

Matt: Awesome talk soon.

That's all for this week. Thanks Dante for joining us. If you enjoyed the episode, please be sure to give us a follow or review on your favorite podcasting app. You can also follow me on Twitter @mattcrail or @wosnpod. You can find all the episodes of the podcast at 

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Matthew Johnson
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Matt is the co-founder and CEO of Taskable, and an internet tinkerer.

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