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Hakeem Abogunde: Building Slash, a solution for Africa B2B market

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Hakeem Abogunde, CEO Slash Africa. SLASH is a decentralized B2B marketplace where buyers and sellers meet to facilitate and protect their transactions. Buyers can place orders and make payment into “Slash Account”. Slash will hold the fund until item(s) is delivered. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Hakeem shares his journey into tech entrepreneurship and how he is building the solution for Africa’s B2B marketplace with Slash. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: To start with, could you share your journey into tech entrepreneurship?

Hakeem: Growing up as a kid, I was the type of guy who loved the internet. I spent most of my time reading, studying, and researching information and news on the internet. Most times, I would be on my computer from night till the next morning; that’s how attached I was to the internet space. 

My journey as a tech entrepreneur started in 2005 when I dropped out of school to pursue my career as an entrepreneur. I joined my sister in her wholesale business at Lagos Island. During this period, I witnessed how people traveled from different parts of Nigeria to Lagos just to purchase products and resell them in their various locations.  This journey was usually stressful, time-consuming, and costly. As an internet expert, I began to think of how I could use the internet to connect with these people and stop them from traveling to Lagos. Unfortunately, the internet wasn’t as popular then, and the only functioning platform available was Nairaland. On Nairaland, I would post some of our products and connect with a few people who were online at that time. 

After a few years in the business, I joined a Multi-Level Marketing company where I led a team of over 500 sales reps. In the Multi-Level Marketing company, we usually went offline to meet with customers, sell our products to them, and get paid based on the sales volume. As an internet expert, to increase my team’s sales volume, I started selling the products online using different social media platforms. However, I later realized that most of these platforms were not efficient. It was then that I decided to build my own e-commerce website. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to write code then.

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So, I enrolled in a web programming course online, and as a fast learner, in less than 3 months, I was able to build our own e-commerce site from scratch. That actually increased our sales volume by 10 times. I started falling in love with programming and became a freelancer. I worked as a freelancer, developing mobile and web applications for both individuals and companies for 5 years. After, I decided to build a startup.

 

Alaba: You are currently building a solution for Africa’s B2B market through your venture, Slash Africa. Kindly tell us more and the inspiration behind it?

Hakeem: Slash Africa is a decentralized B2B marketplace that connects African retailers with suppliers globally and enables them to carry out secure transactions without any intermediary. 

I got the inspiration when I was working with my sister in her wholesale business. I discovered a huge economic inequality between suppliers and retailers. For instance, one of the biggest problems Nigeria is currently facing is artificial scarcity perpetuated by most suppliers in other to increase the price of their products. This creates a market environment that heavily favors them, leaving retailers at a disadvantage. Having experienced this myself, I think now is the best time to democratize Africa’s wholesale market. This will give retailers access to varieties of quality products at very competitive prices and also save them more money and time.

 

Alaba: What sets Slash Africa apart from other Africa B2B market solutions, and how are you positioning it to become the go-to solution for Africa’s B2B market?

Hakeem: We are the first decentralized marketplace in Africa. We allow both small and big suppliers to list their products and enable direct interaction between suppliers and retailers, allowing them to define their terms and conditions of transactions without an intermediary. This will increase the level of trust and transparency and also gives everyone equal access to the market. Additionally, by operating on a decentralized fulfillment management system, we make our operation faster and minimize cost.

 

Alaba: What have been Slash Africa’s biggest challenges, and how do you overcome them?

Hakeem: Initially, our intention was to build a platform that enables everyone to create their own independent online store in minutes without coding. But we later realized that most suppliers/sellers, after creating their stores, didn’t have the money and skills to promote their stores. As a result, they didn’t make any sales and they would abandon their store. At that point, we decided to convert it to a marketplace, this enables them not just to create their stores but also connects them with potential customers.

 

Alaba: Raising capital has been one of the major challenges entrepreneurs face. How are you currently fundraising?

Hakeem: Raising funds as a local founder is very difficult if you don’t have any investor connections. Most African investors are not helping the situation either. Imagine this: because an African investor doesn’t know you, they won’t want to have anything to do with you. They also like to copy the US model. Technology in Africa is still at a very early stage, and the level of adoption is still very low compared to the US.  Without local experience, getting people to adopt your solution will be very difficult, and this is where local founders have the advantage. So far, we have been funding our project through bootstrapping and support from families and friends.

 

Alaba: Can you tell us your impression of the current entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in Africa? How have you seen it transform in the last 5 years?

Hakeem: In the last 5 years, the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in Africa has been growing rapidly. I see a lot of young entrepreneurs solving problems by leveraging modern technologies. But we need to work more in the area of getting people to adopt these solutions, and that is where local expertise is needed.

 

Alaba: What are Slash Africa’s priorities/plans for the year, and where do you see this venture in the next 5 years?

Hakeem: This year, our priorities involve raising funds, strengthening our team, scaling in Nigeria and reaching $1 million in monthly sales. In the next 5 years, we are projecting Slash Africa to hit $200 million in monthly sales and become the largest B2B marketplace in Africa.

 

Alaba: What is your advice to budding entrepreneurs aspiring to go into tech?

Hakeem: My advice to entrepreneurs aspiring to go into tech is to come with the pure intention to solve a problem and not just for the money. Because when you prioritize money, you won’t have the drive to build the business, and eventually, you will fail. Secondly, you also need to love the people you are building the project for because this will also be your driving force.

Afripreneur

Omar Ngom: Creating an elite group of chefs in Senegal

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Omar Ngom is a Senegalese entrepreneur, founder of Sama Chef, the first school that trains chefs in Senegal. Located in the residential district of Mermoz, Sama Chef is an institution that marks a turning point in the training of Senegalese chefs.

Head chef of the restaurant “Séku bi, Il Pappagallo Dakar”, Omar stands out for his innovative approach. He collaborates with renowned international chefs, which allows him to offer unique masterclasses, transcending culinary boundaries. This revolutionary method elevates Senegalese cuisine by fusing it with international influences.

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With several years of experience acquired in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and France, including as chef of the famous Italian restaurant “Il Pappagallo Hotel Sekubi”, Omar Ngom took the initiative to create this school of excellence in his native Senegal. His motivation stems from the observation of a growing demand for chefs in the restaurant sector in Senegal.

Sama Chef’s mission is to create an international school of professional training in the culinary and catering sector: the ultimate goal is to create an elite group of chefs, kitchen assistants, waiters, and waiters who are in turn able to pass on the know-how they have acquired. 

A shortcoming that he decided to fill by providing a solution in order to prepare Senegal to be established in the gastronomic pantheon. Omar Ngom’s prowess quickly attracted the attention of renowned media outlets such as Le Monde newspaper, Reporter Gourmet, Italian TV channel and other media outlets. By opening this school of excellence, he has not only blazed a new trail for culinary education in Senegal, but he has also erected a pillar for the influence of Senegalese cuisine on a global scale.

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Vanessa Toh: Building Payroll Management System For French Companies

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Vanessa Toh, Founder at Payeline (Image: Supplied).

PayeLine is a self-employed company created in 2023 by the entrepreneur Vanessa Toh and specialized in administrative and payroll management for French VSEs and SMEs. It is an innovative company that helps you facilitate the day-to-day management of your business.

With a professional degree in payroll and personnel administration and 13 years of experience in French and foreign payroll, Vanessa decided to put her skills at the service of companies as a freelance payroll and personnel administration consultant. Its aim is to facilitate the day-to-day management of companies so that they are free to focus on the essentials of their activities.

Indeed, the growth of a company can be profoundly disrupted by the constant changes around legal obligations and the complexity of payroll management. With Payeline, the founder offers these VSEs and SMEs customizable solutions that can be adapted to the specific needs of their company.

Opting for Payeline means choosing to alleviate the pressure related to compliance and legality with regulations. You benefit from efficient management in the calculation of payroll and a significant time saving to focus on the most important thing: your growth.

Payeline offers, among other things, Payroll & Declarations, Administrative Management, Payroll Auditing and intervenes within companies for missions to replace payroll managers who are absent or in the process of being recruited, as well as for interim management. Many large companies have already placed their trust in him, including Groupe Bertrand, Aviv groupe, Doctolib, Back market.

Passionate about innovation and an entrepreneur at heart, Vanessa attaches great importance to the well-being of each customer and makes it a point of honor to offer offers adapted to each need for optimal comfort.

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Exclusive with Techbeaver CEO, Shina Arogundade

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Shina Arogundade is the CEO and Co-founder of Techbeaver, a dynamic development shop with a venture studio. With the primary focus to assist businesses in the development of their products, which include websites and mobile apps for both Android and iOS platforms. In this Interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Shina shares how Techbeaver is providing comprehensive support in product strategy and design, offering end-to-end solutions for companies that require efficient and rapid product development, especially non-technical companies and more. Excerpt.

 

Techbeaver and Its Solutions:

We craft seamless, responsive, and customer-centric products, and we consider this careful planning and mapping process to be the foundation of our building phase. As part of our venture studio, we have a talented pool of developers. In utilizing our depth of talent and engaging with the day-to-day challenges we observe, we have also embarked on creating internal products and appointing operators to oversee their management. 

Currently, we have two internal products, with our most prominent one being MyItura, a revolutionary health tech app that caters to a wide range of healthcare needs. Think of it as Shopify for healthcare providers. Our second internal product is still in stealth mode and is one we are confident will have a major impact once we go to market. 

Inspiration Behind Techbeaver:

Techbeaver was born out of a personal experience that I encountered. In my previous venture, we faced significant challenges in the development of our products. Customers and investors expressed dissatisfaction, prompting me to seek assistance from my lifelong friends and former roommates, Michael and Deolu, who both possess exceptional development skills.

However, it quickly became clear that their expertise came at a significant cost, especially considering their geographical locations (Deolu in the UK and Michael in the Netherlands). We collectively decided to explore alternative solutions, which ultimately led us to establish Techbeaver. 

Our vision was to establish a company where Deolu and Michael, as senior developers, could mentor and guide junior and mid-level developers. This not only allowed us to deliver high-quality products to our clients but also presented an invaluable opportunity for our junior developers to learn and grow by adhering to global standards. In 2022, Techbeaver officially came into existence.

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Thoughts on Digital Transformation:

Innovation has been a constant driving force for humanity. We continuously strive to discover new ways of doing things, seeking improvement, simplicity, and recognition for our achievements. This desire for progress has led us through various ages, from the stone age to the modern age, and now into the technology age, where concepts like blockchain and AI are becoming increasingly relevant. 

Back then we talked about inventions; now inventions are over and we’re talking about innovations in areas such as machine learning, AI, ChatGPT, generative AI, and many others. However, it is important to acknowledge that technology adoption remains very low, especially within Nigeria. Before speaking into the impact of AI and related technologies on other parts of the world, it is important for us as Nigerians to recognize and address our own low adoption rates. There is much work to be done in terms of driving technology adoption within our society. 

It is often discussed how AI may lead to job losses and reshape industries, but just as humans have proven their ability to adapt and survive, I am confident that we will adapt to these changes as well. Our greatest asset as individuals lies within our minds and our capacity to think critically, learn new skills, and embrace new trends. We are witnessing people of all ages, even the elderly, engaging with technologies like ChatGPT and actively pursuing knowledge in these areas. 

People will learn, companies will adapt, and organizations will utilize the latest technologies to build what suits them best. However, we need to focus on driving technology adoption and providing access to the internet and computer literacy for all, including children who currently lack these resources. It is only by actively pursuing adoption that we can fully explore how technology can positively impact our society.

Business Outcomes Startups can Expect by Leveraging Techbeaver’s Solutions.

In terms of business outcomes for companies that work with us, there are two key aspects to consider: the technology side and the non-technology side.

On the technology side, our team of developers works on multiple projects across various sectors, such as finance, healthcare, advertising, food, and ride-hailing. This diverse experience allows us to bring valuable ideas and expertise to our clients. We have the ability to build faster and more reliable systems by leveraging new technologies and creating state-of-the-art solutions. 

Additionally, our experience working with companies both within and outside Nigeria, including the US and Kenya, gives us valuable knowledge of different demographics, local laws, and market dynamics. This knowledge enables us to tailor our products to specific regions and advise companies on the best strategies for technology adoption and scaling.

On the non-technology side, our experience allows us to assist companies in the most cost-effective ways to build reliable systems. We also provide guidance on financing, product strategy, and product marketing.

One of the notable advantages of working with Techbeaver is our speed of delivery. We pride ourselves in our ability to meet deadlines and complete projects efficiently. Whether we commit to a three-month or six-month timeline, we consistently deliver high-quality solutions within the agreed-upon timeframe. We have successfully completed web apps in as little as 3-6 months, depending on the complexity of the project. Our clients can rely on us to be a fast and reliable team.

Biggest Challenges with Startups in Nigeria:

Startups in Nigeria face several significant challenges, including finance, market dynamics, and talent acquisition.

Finance is a common issue for startups in Nigeria. It can be difficult to secure the right funding and navigate equity arrangements. Understanding how to structure equity and debt arrangements and finding investors who are genuinely interested in supporting startups can be a complex and time-consuming process.

The market presents another major challenge. Many businesses struggle to enter the market successfully, and their initial expectations may not align with the reality of customer demand. Product strategy plays an important role in addressing market challenges, as startups need to build products that meet the specific needs of their target audience. Additionally, what works in one part of Nigeria may not work in another, and expanding to other countries may require unique approaches.

Talent acquisition is another challenge. Startups need to find the right individuals who possess the necessary skills, take initiative, aren’t just about their salaries but are driven to contribute to the company’s growth. It can be challenging to find talent that aligns with the startup’s goals, values, and company culture.

The reason I have been able to navigate through these challenges is as a result of the amazing communities I belong to – who are constantly rooting for me. It is important for startups to tap into supportive communities. Building strong networks and seeking guidance from experienced individuals who genuinely want to see you succeed can be invaluable. 

Why it is Critical for Businesses to Think like a Startup?

The question on the difference between a startup and an SME has been thrown at me a couple of times. The distinction between these two lies in their growth aspirations. Startups are built for rapid scale and aim to achieve in a few years what might take an SME several decades. Startups seek to quickly grow their customer base, attract investments, and expand their reach. By thinking like a startup, businesses can set themselves on the path of rapid growth and impact.

In Nigeria, we need more companies that think like startups. Scaling businesses at a faster pace allows for greater economic impact. Just as the music, entertainment, and creative industries have contributed significantly to the economy, the technology sector also has immense potential for growth and impact. By building startups that operate globally, earning revenue from outside Nigeria, and bringing those funds back to the country, we can add substantial value to our economy.

Thinking like a startup involves building products and services that cater to a global market, adapting to different regions’ needs, and creating solutions that improve the lives of millions. It requires a mindset focused on scale and continuous innovation. If businesses embrace this mindset, they can position themselves for sustainable growth and become key players in their respective industries.

Techbeaver in the Next 5 Years.

When we started Techbeaver, our goal was to build a Nigerian company with global relevance. We aspired to create products that would be used globally and have a positive impact on people’s lives. Over the next five years, we will continue to support businesses in building relevant and seamless products that make their operations easier and more efficient.

In addition to our client-focused work, we are passionate about our internal products. These products align with our values and have a positive influence on our immediate environment. Our aim is to build products that will remain relevant for years to come, regardless of the sector they operate in or the specific challenges they address.

This is where I see Techbeaver in the next 5 years.

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