‘Three heads in one’: A day in the life of Hussein Ahmed, founder & CEO of Oxygen Bank
- Hussein Ahmed is the CEO of Oxygen, a challenger bank tailored to digital native consumers and to freelancers, independent contractors, and entrepreneurs.
- From walking his dog Oreo, to meeting VCs, to putting out email fires, here’s a typical day in Hussein Ahmed’s life.
There are challenges that come with starting a challenger bank. And as the founder and CEO of one, you’re faced with the task of managing all of them.
Hussein Ahmed is the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based challenger bank, Oxygen. He’s not a stranger to startup chaos — he founded two other companies before starting Oxygen.
Ahmed started the bank after realizing there was a gap in financial services for freelancers and independent contractors — members of what he calls “the hustler generation”. The incentive came from his own personal experience as an independent contractor.
“I was consulting on the side and working out of a WeWork location, and realized quickly that to large banks, I was atypical in that I didn’t have an ordinary 9-5, office-based job,” said Ahmed. “I saw a gap in the marketplace for creatives, freelancers, and contractors. Oxygen was started as a bank for these people, the hustler generation.”
But while the bank may be called Oxygen, Ahmed doesn’t get a lot of time to breathe. With a team spread all over the world, he has to remain present and accounted for at all sorts of hours.
Starting at 7:00 a.m. and ending at 3:00 a.m., here’s a day in Hussein Ahmed’s life:
07:00 a.m.: It’s me, my wife, and our dog Oreo — that’s kind of our household fusion.
So at 7, I wake up and take Oreo out for a quick walk. Then I come home and have breakfast with my wife.
08:00 a.m.: After breakfast, I kickstart the day with meetings. My early meetings are usually with a partner in New York. Today I’m meeting with — not sure I can say his name — let’s call him Mike, one of our partners on the East Coast.
08:30 a.m.: I start catching up on Slack messages from the teams in Europe and San Francisco.
09:00 a.m.: I have a meeting with one of our VCs — this guy’s name is Mark. But while I’m in the meeting, I’m still keeping an eye on Slack, asking how it’s going and checking for fires.
10:00 a.m.: We have our weekly company get-together. And since we’re all together on Zoom calls now and not in a typical conference room, we literally have the whole team on one golden record and we get to use this 90 minute window to share what we’ve been working on with the whole company. That’s almost as good as weekly singles with each member.
11:30 a.m.: I have a marketing meeting to go over designs. Since Oxygen is still at its early stage, I’m kind of the acting CEO/CTO/CMO — three heads in one, you could say. Sam is our in-house video editor and Raza is our videographer. So we three get together and go over designs for new campaigns coming out.
12:30 p.m.: I take my lunch break. Pre-Covid my break would be a walk around the block with Oreo and lunch with someone from the office. Hopefully, I’ll get to do that again.
Now, it’s kind of different. I still take Oreo for a walk. (Fortunately, he’s still around!) But that’s it, basically. Then I come back and have a sandwich with my wife. She works at Amazon Connect, so we try to align our lunch breaks as much as possible so we can have a sandwich together.
And that’s probably my third cup of coffee by then with my lunch.
1:00 p.m.: I kick off the rest of the meetings. It’s another VC meeting — I guess you can tell that we’re fundraising now. And this is a dive-deep meeting. Basically, I’m meeting with Steve, one of our associates at a VC firm. And we spend this hour diving deep into the due diligence process: financials, traction, user acquisition strategy, and so forth.
2:00 p.m.: Fundraising and hiring are two main objectives of my job, so now I have two back-to-back interviews. The interviews are for different roles: one for a data scientist position and one for a customer support position.
3:00 p.m.: Time for a team sync with hiring managers. We have this weekly sync to check in on how our funnels are going hiring-wise. It might be that we found this superstar for a position we’re not hiring for, and then maybe we end up opening a position for them. Or we might say, this funnel isn’t going well, so how can we extend or double the funnels to add more candidates?
5:00 p.m.: I take a half-an-hour break to catch up on emails. At that point there are fires of emails, so I try to make it an hour. And because I was in so many back-to-back meetings, it’s mostly me going “hey, I’m sorry guys, I’m here now!” So I spend this time assessing the situation: figuring out what are the big fires versus the small fires.
6:00 p.m.: I prepare Oreo’s dinner and we go out for a small walk. After that, my wife and I have dinner, too.
6:30 p.m.: We spend about two hours basically in between eating dinner and binge-watching something on Netflix. Right now we’re watching The Crown, I think.
8:30 p.m.: I kick off my second start to the day with an hour nap until 9:30. I avoid coffee towards the end of the day so that I can take a proper nap.
9:30 p.m.: I wake up, make some tea and get ready for the next sprint.
10:00 p.m.: I start kicking off meetings in Europe — that’s like 8 or 9 AM in some of their time zones. The first meeting is with Anton, one of our team leaders there. We catch up on what the current blocks are, what he needs help with, and any new hires coming his way.
11:00 p.m.: I have a meeting with the UX design team. We review and edit designs. We also analyze changes we made to the app and figure out which were misfires and which were good additions.
12:00 a.m.: Now is around the time our engineers in Europe are waking up. So we have a sync with all the teams involved: the iOS team, the Android team, the infrastructure team and the design team.
1:00 a.m.: Another meeting with a VC in Hong Kong. This one lasts until 2 AM.
2:00 a.m.: Around now I usually wind down. I can then spend around half an hour checking emails as a way to doze off, and then I’m asleep by three.
But today is an exception because I happen to have a meeting with another VC in Germany.
3:00 a.m.: And because of back-to-back meetings, night time is a good time to get actual work done. So after my meeting is over, that’s when I start dealing with payments that need to go out and making sure all my emails are answered.
And, I think that’s it. Then it’s just sleep and repeat.