I understand and appreciate the sacrifice my parents made of leaving the conflict-filled Democratic Republic of the Congo some years ago in hopes to offer my siblings and I a better chance at life, and until this day, I consider that to be the greatest gift they’ve given me. As time has passed, I’ve learned over the years that problems aren’t stop-signs but guidelines instead. Running away from your challenges is the equivalent of turning your back on the opportunity of finding a solution.
Although I’m undoubtedly grateful for my Canadian citizenship, the world-class education and the quality of life amongst many other benefits of growing up in the Western world, the fact remains that it’s just not where I feel I genuinely serve a purpose. Growing up in the west has granted this young African boy the ability not only to dream but to realize those dreams if I put my mind into it. With that said, it would be a blunder on my part if I didn’t utilize that advantage to do my part in helping build an Africa I’m proud of and can call home.
Thus, let’s get straight to it. But, let’s keep in my mind that this isn’t a template for all, just my honest and most conspicuous reasons.
I find this to be accurately common with entrepreneurs; the fact that our perspective when coming across something intriguing is ALWAYS to see it for what it could be and not what it is. We’re problem solvers by nature, and we understand the benefits and see value in solving some of the world’s most significant challenges. We get goosebumps thinking about hows when put in front of a problem, the challenge of problem-solving keeps us up at night pondering on the right codes, strategies, and tactics. For this reason alone, you’ll probably similarly react to this fact; “Africa’s population is the fastest growing in the world. It is expected to increase by roughly 50% over the next 18 years, growing from 1.2 billion people today to over 1.8 billion in 2035.” Some might look at this as a burden, while I can only see it as an ample amount of opportunity.
“The opportunities that everyone cannot see are the real opportunities.”
2. Majority Privilege
For the longest time, I thought white privilege was a thing… I was exposed to it throughout my whole life! Don’t get me wrong here, it is a thing, but it appears to be the case only in the Western world. The fact is, Asian privilege is a thing too, in Asian countries. This statement might sound extremely foolish to some readers, but black privilege is alive and thriving, in majority black countries, which all happen to be in sub-Saharan Africa. Use it to your advantage; the possibilities are endless when you have the support of your people.
3. Wakanda Forever?
Goes without being said — just a subtle yet essential reminder… Wakanda won’t build itself.
“Most African governments aren’t sta…” blah blah. “It’s hard to do business in Africa becau..” go on, let’s hear it! We’ve heard it all before. Do yourself a favour, become antifragile. Allowing myself to be challenged by the hurdles of conducting business in this continent will only make me a better entrepreneur, there’s no other way around it. If it’s too easy, believe me when I say it’s just not worth having… Rome wasn’t built in one day, neither was it easy to complete.
I don’t condone corruption in any shape or form, but I do have this to say to entrepreneurs thinking of starting up in Africa; when raising rounds of capital, always ask for slightly more than you think you need. You’ll need the extra cash because bribery is a common practice here, let’s just say it helps cut the time in half for when in need of some services.
5. It’s Home
When it’s all said and done, it’s home. I was born here, and although my parents’ sacrifice significantly impacted my life, I don’t believe removing a child from his natural habitat should be something young African kids should experience. The challenge is simple, helping economies across Africa — to allow our people to have access to jobs, education, and the quality of life they deserve. We as Africans must innovate at a rapid rate if we hope not to be left behind. It’s time we understand that home is what we make it, and it’s our duty as entrepreneurs to play our role in helping create the Africa of tomorrow.
“Time waits for no one, and it’s certainly not going to wait for us to get this right…”
Founder & CEO, Frihuis
Cycles, Nigeria’s No.1 Bike-Sharing Platform Achieving The United Nations SDG Goal 11 – Damilola Soladoye
The private bike-sharing ecosystem is beginning to gain momentum in Africa, most especially in Nigeria. Although not new to the dense Asian cities and some parts of Europe. Some Nigerian startups are now exploring this new business model. Such startup testing the waters is Cycles, as it’s redefining the way people commute within tertiary institutions, communities and cities. Using an efficient, fun and healthy means of transport, building better people, communities and a greener earth. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online spoke with Damilola Soladoye, the co-founder and CEO of Cycles, to know more about the brand good start and insights into the bike-sharing business in Nigeria. Excerpts.
Alaba: Tell us about Cycles and the gap it’s filling.
Damilola: Cycles is a mobility startup solving last mile transportation inefficiencies in Nigerian and African Universities, Estates and communities with our smart and efficient bicycle sharing system.
We are filling the gap of last mile transportation in communities where multiple transportation options do not exist or are not sufficient.
Alaba: What’s your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Damilola: Currently, we have raised over $5000 dollars in equity free grants majorly from the Fbstart accelerator from Facebook in partnership with Co-creation Hub. Asides this most of our capital has been bootstrapped till date with personal funds from team members.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Damilola: Our major challenge is the pace of adoption by our target community. Most University and estate management have been slow to adopt our solution. This is purely bureaucratic as some tend to see our solution as a direct competition with the already existing means of transportation which they currently have on the ground.
It has been daunting, but we are gradually overcoming these challenges by presenting our solution as a complement to the already existing transport options and also offering our bicycle sharing system at no cost to the community. Instead, the community generates revenue off our system through a revenue share model.
Alaba: How’s your brand making mobility and logistics safe, accessible and affordable?
Damilola: Globally, bicycle sharing is widely adopted in many major cities, communities and Universities all over the world. This is no surprise because cycling is a green, healthy and sustainable means of mobility. It is so because it removes the human factor of having a driver and burning fuel to make it more affordable for the end user.
It is also an accessible system as it is available 24/7 in any community deployed in. To boost safety on our system we are working closely with officials from Institute of Transport Development Policy (ITDP) and Lagos State Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) to ensure compliance with global safety and stand practices
Alaba: How’s your brand different and unique to other brands in the bike-sharing business?
Damilola: At cycles, what makes us unique is our passion for building green and sustainable mobility solutions coupled with a particular focus for providing great user experiences with our technology.
Alaba: What’s the future for Cycles and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Damilola: The future for Cycles is to place Africa on the global mico-mobility map by flooding African communities with sustainable mobility systems. We are taking steps to achieve this daily through partnerships with both local and international organisations to augment our growth.
Alaba: How’s the government supporting startups and SME in your Nigeria?
Damilola: The Government has been supporting startups and SME’s in Nigeria, though I strongly believe more can be done. The future of Nigeria and Africa lies in part in its entrepreneurs and the more government involvement in this sector, the more accelerated growth is bound to occur in the country.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa logistics and mobility ecosystem?
Damilola: The logistics and mobility ecosystem is accelerating at a mammoth pace. Safe to say that with the recent rounds of investments in logistics/mobility-related startups, I believe massive disruption is said to happen in the coming years and more investment is said to be attracted to this sector.
Though a major set back in my opinion would be infrastructure. This has and will always be a major roadblock for any logistics/mobility-related business and Government should begin to intervene appropriately.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Damilola: Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but in general, I derive joy from knowing that I am a change agent on a mission to develop and change my continent even in the little way I can.
Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Damilola: My advice to potential entrepreneurs or investors interested in the African space would be to see Africa as a very daunting and challenging market to penetrate. This might sound cliche, but in comparison to other markets of the world, Africa’s market poses so many challenges from infrastructure, the ecosystem to customers in total.
It takes courage, time and grit to build a business in Africa and every stakeholder involved in this such be aware as this would drive their expectations, timelines and overall outlook of the market in the end.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Damilola: I relax mostly by watching movies and I read motivational books.
Alaba: Please teach us one word in your home language and your favourite local dish?
Damilola: “Siṣẹ”, this means work! My favourite dish is pounded yam and egusi soup.
Alaba: What’s your favourite holiday spot on the continent?
Damilola: My favourite holiday spot on the continent would be the pyramids of Egypt.
Damilola Soladoye and his team.
Damilola Soladoye is a passionate and self-motivated individual interested in technology, mobility and solving societal problems. A first class graduate of Covenant University and alumni of the premier cohort of the Fbstart accelerator program from Facebook in collaboration with Co-creation Hub, Nigeria.
6 Reasons Why Culture Is Important For Startup Growth (Case Study: SmartCodes)
When I was in Harvard Business School, I learnt a lot regarding how to operate profitable businesses by not only making just a business grow and expand in different markets but also to make an impact to your clients and customers. Being in the US as Harvard student for couple of weeks was major shift on my perception about what growth is, and how we Africans are not taking advantage of what we have.
Hence fast forward, I would like to share with the startup community on why culture should be most important part for the growth of your business and why it’s important to let everyone involve on the process.
1. Conduct a proper SWOT analysis within your Industry
I am not a huge fan of questions like “who are your competitors” as I believe everyone has a purpose. If you know whereyou’re going and take an important challenge to venture in new opportunities, you will find yourself focusing more on delivering solutions to your customers and less looking on what others are doing. For us, we have different competitors in different category as our company structured to implement solutions for tech, advertising, products and venture in helping startups and collaborate with other corporate, hence SWOT is important as it will make you see all sort of weakness and threats and use your strength as a checklist to combat them and grow faster.
2. Use your SWOT results to review your company vision
After sitting with your team and review all the SWOT results, it’s very important now to strategically review your vision, mission and purpose that will inspire everyone to deliver and know why they should workup in the morning and execute their task. This was one of the great exercises we did at Smart Codes and we involved everyone from our top managers to the supporting teams’ even drivers to security team, and collectively we awesomely re-define our purpose. The major key question to everyone was on defining our WHY which was the light to our PURPOSE. As a result, we find our main purpose was to make a mark in their project we touch and help our client’s grow.
3. Train your dragons
During the SWOT process, you must measure the culture from strength to weakness and immediately invest more on your weak holes so as to train the team to be better than themselves. There is no better investment than training and empowering your existing team vs trying to hire the new one which they won’t really understand your purpose at one place unless your growth need new wings and hence add one to grow faster.
Even at SC, after strategically knowing our focus was to expand in other African markets, we immediately started collaborating with top talented experts in different African markets. We inspired our teamthat, with this digital age of transformation, you can do anything it’s just you need to plan and have courage to execute it. I remember we once invited Stanbic’s CIO, Mussa Ally to come and we did amazing workshop with our team on how they can grow their career. This was not just for Smart Codes but most importantly was for their own career growth. This was done to train them to think BIG by eating an elephant in bit by bit instead of thinking or eating chips-mayai which no-one will get a wow factor from you as a person.
We have also worked closely with great minds like Max Ngari – one of the top creative people in Africa who won many awards such as the Cannes Lions awards.
4. Break your Vision into objective goals
The major learning here is, knowing how to eat an Elephant. You need to break down this elephant goal into small tasks and assign each team member to deal with a few tasks. For example, at Smart Codes we don’t have KPIs but we have objective goals plan at which each team members knows what part are they executing, hence it has helped to have smooth execution and objectives which define timelines. That has been a success for us, as it works better that, just calling them KPIs.
5. Show your client and partners your vision and purpose
Showing it’s not an easy task, but I remember one of my Professors who was teaching us about the implementation of “Diffusion of innovations”. This shows the baby steps of implementing anything new, you would 1st need to know your “Innovators” – People who will be willing to listen and then “Early Adopters” – which are more of opinion leaders, which are those around your Industry ecosystem. Surprisingly when we implemented our new VISION at Smart Codes, everyone got it and mostly we have seen people starting to add our key purpose “Making a Mark” in their hashtags, and “UNTIL ITS DONE” which is our infinity journey.
6. Share your small wins with everyone
The major thing most people have is selfishness, most of people are fearing to share their ideas and success because of competitors will know theirs moves, rather than looking at the mirror of sharing skills and opinions to help other grow the same way they did. Sharing most of the things we do at Smart Codes have been a major key growth from our team, as we know, only by sharing and open doors for outsiders to comment it’s a two way learning, and it has been an incredible growth within our team and we have even seen it via our Innovation wing at SmartLab.
I remember one of or my classmate was inspiring using a phone brand called “ONE-PLUS” and when we asked, She says that brand helped to push her dreams because all the time she switch the phone-on its pop a message says “NEVER SETTLE” then I get that this A1 culture have been a major shift of growth at OnePlus’ fanbase. Let’s share our success and failures so others can learn and also collect opinions from outsiders that will only impacting our growth.
I never thought culture was a very big thing, but as Strive Masiyiwa says “believe you me” until you practice it,its when you will see the results. And it’s important to impact your life with adding more books in your reading list and try to implement those learnings in your real life to measure growth results.Lastly, reading is the only way you can get a chance to learn new skills, as we all know “you can only give the output of what you know” and knowledge is collectively inputs and output of your interest.
I am looking forward to share more and please also share your growth list via the comment section below, so we can all learn from you as well and collectively we can MAKE A MARK across our African ecosystem.
Edwin Bruno is the Founder and CEO at SmartCodes
Coverdor: An insurtech providing digital insurance experience targeted at millennial and emerging generation
Seun Ayegbusi is the Founder and CEO at Coverdor, a Lagos based and Nigeria’s first fully digital insurance platform, providing insurance when you need it the most, entirely online. Seun and his team believe insurance is not just a fancy product, but A FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT everyone deserves, especially in Nigeria and Africa where the level of risks and uncertainties we face is really high. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Seun shed more light on his brand tend to simplify the insurance experience and create easy accessibility to social benefiting insurance products in every emerging market they serve. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about Coverdor and the gap it’s filling.
Seun: Coverdor is an AI-powered digital insurance distribution platform focused on insurance coverage for everyday items like smartphone, laptops etc against mechanical, liquid, accidental damages and theft. Coverdor also enables service providers (retail stores and ecommerce websites) cross-sell add-on gadget insurance on every consumer gadgets sold at their online or offline point of sale.
We discovered that although insurance was created for the fundamental good of society in indemnifying against risks and uncertainties, however the industry lacks the technology and innovation to connect to the retail market segment (the millennial demographic) who are more risk-prone and expects to interact with insurers and insurance products the exact way they interact with any online business who offers them convenience when shopping online.
Hence, Coverdor is filling the gap of complex, paper-based, delayed and manual processes experienced in the conventional insurance system to deliver a completely digital insurance experience for the average upward-mobile millennial offering innovative insurance products that fit their lifestyle.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Seun: Our startup capital was in excess of $20,000 and was sourced through savings committed from founders and funds raised from family and friends.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Seun: Talking about challenges we encountered while innovating within the insurance industry can’t be over stretched, one of which is compliance with NAICOM’s regulation, which I must say is the biggest challenge we have faced however, working closely with our partner insurance company has helped us and is constantly helping us to navigate this issue.
Alaba: How is your startup different from other financial startups?
Seun: Coverdor is a lot different from any other fintech startup as the category of financial services sector we operate in differs from the categories other fintech startups operate within, especially within the payment, lending, asset management categories. However, Coverdor on the other hand is an insurance technology startup focused on insurance digitization, direct-to-customer distribution and cross-selling distribution. We also differ from other insurtech categories that focus on insurance price comparison.
Alaba: What’s the future for your startup and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Seun: The future of Coverdor is to become a full fledged digital insurance company, providing new and innovative insurance products that fits the lifestyle and meet the needs of Nigerian millennials. Also in the next 2-3 years we plan to launch a dedicated technology arm of Coverdor that will focus on core insurance solutions using emerging technologies to redefine core operational areas of insurance business, while advancing the digital transformation of the insurance industry in Nigeria.
Alaba: How can governments provide the best support for startups in Africa?
Seun: The government can do a lot in supporting startups in Africa, however, top on the list will be creating enabling policies to foster growth for startup across all sectors of the economy.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa InsurTech ecosystem?
Seun: The insurtech ecosystem in Africa is beginning to gain momentum as we witnessing different startups innovating across different points of the insurance value chain, however, to speed up the development, ecosystem players must become deliberate and intentional about fast-tracking development. Incumbent Insurers should set up digital transformation units that will foster partnerships with insurtechs looking to innovate alongside incumbent insurers. Furthermore, we need insurtech-focused accelerators to bolster insurtech startup growth, when these things are done, then the African Insurtech ecosystem will experience similar growth as seen in the US, Europe and Asia.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Seun: I feel proud to be an African entrepreneur, being part of the people bringing solutions to the many problems Africans are facing in Africa. Also being able to team up with other entrepreneurs to create jobs and contribute to the economy is a great way to live one’s life.
Alaba: What advice would you give prospecting entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa.
Seun: I will like to tell them that “nothing moves until you move”. There is never a better time to push yourself and kickstart that idea or pet project of yours, work hard to turn it into a great product or service. Three things I think will pull you through are “passion” for what you do or build, “tenacity” to see it succeed and “hope” that you will succeed as well.
Alaba: How do you and partners relax and what books do you read?
Seun: All work and no play makes Seun a dull boy, however when I need to relax I hang out with my family, family happy hour does it for me. Then as for books, I read lots of business and personal development books. Top on my list is “My Vision: challenges in the race for excellence” by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Alaba: Please teach us one word in your home language and your favorite local dish?
Seun: Has a Yoruba man, I will like to teach you a Yoruba word that says “elubo” translated in English as yam flour.
My favourite local dish as a proud Ondo man is “iyan and efo elegusi with eja kika” translated as pounded yam with melon and vegetable soup with stock fish.
Seun Ayegbusi is a Nigerian-born tech entrepreneur, business development and digital product development expert, and a serial innovator with extensive knowledge of the African emerging markets. A graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University, and an alumnus of London Academy Business School. With over six years of experience in the private sector and the tech startup scene and a passion to tackle one of Africa’s most stubborn social development issues birthed the startup – Coverdor.
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