James Lawson is the Founder and Chief Information Officer at Intergreatme, a global digital identity platform that can be integrated into a wide range of businesses in less than a day to bring identity verification and secure multi-factor authentication in seconds. In this exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Lawson shares insights into his approach to leadership as CIO of a technology company, scaling a digital business, and overcoming operational challenges in the Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and ID verification space. Excerpt.
Heath: CIO roles in today’s IT environment are quite dynamic. What do you enjoy most about your role?
James: Each day is completely different from the next. I try and plan what I can in the morning, and then spend the rest of my day engaging with executives, development team, support agents, and with our clients.We have a dynamic business, and being a start-up means we are constantly dealing with resource constraints – which isn’t a bad thing, it forces you to focus on the most important tasks at hand.
I enjoy the freedom that I have around exploring new technologies, looking at existing products and looking at how we can optimise not only the code we have, but the products and services we use to run the business.I am also analytical and detail oriented. I build my own reports, interrogate the data, and use it to build data-driven decisions to help optimise the business. This helps to provide recommendations to our customers as to how they can optimise processes where our technology plays a role in their onboarding process, especially where they can achieve greater savings by implementing quick-win solutions.
Heath: Describe your leadership style? How do you lead through change?
James: My main leadership style is through servant leadership. As such, I believe that the technology side of the business is most effective when employees are given the opportunities to make their own choices, and for me to support them in those choices (unless I can see there is an obvious issue with the decision-making process). This also gives each individual a high degree of autonomy, and we have really worked hard to try and build self-managing teams.
This is also really reflected in my attitude towards servicing our customers. That does not mean to say that I am a “yes man” and will implement every product feature that a customer asks for, but that I will hear our customers out, and advise them on the best route forward – and sometimes decision that involves persuading them to cut out a feature, though proven experience in our product domain.
Heath: Can you explain the most difficult part of being a leader?
James: The most difficult part of being a leader is dealing with the decisions no one else is prepared to make. Sometimes, those decisions are not the popular ones. But at the end of the day, the decisions I make in the business are always focused towards the betterment of the company, and the people working inside of it.
Heath: To what do you attribute your success? How has it impacted your enterprise digital goals?
James: I consider myself fortunate that I have been able to move between different industries. I have worked in several non-technical jobs in banking and finance; have lectured at several universities, worked as a journalist, as well as in tech-and-management roles. While some might consider this a more… checked past, I see this as a valuable attribution to my collective knowledge and experience in the workplace.
One of the more innovative solutions I helped design was for a training institute, where we digitised the manual process of getting classroom labs set-up into an automated one. Before setting up a lab, a technician is required to manually copy each image across to the computer, often a symmetric process of copying the image across one-computer at a time. Working with the internal development team I managed (along with 3 other departments), we incorporated BitTorrent into the classrooms and built a Web-UI classroom management solution.
This meant the technician could now do his work remotely, increased the speed at which classroom labs could be setup, but more importantly, if a student had an issue with their lab, a new instance could be deployed in seconds vs. minutes or hours to manually find the correct image on a server and copy it across.
The impact was massive in terms of time and money saved, as well as customer satisfaction.
Heath: Where do you see your business in two years?
James: Intergreatme has two products, an app where people can upload and manage their identity with form-completing services, like renewing their car licence disc; and our Know Your Customer (Self-KYC) solution that handles the remote collection, validation, and verification of personal information to help businesses comply with their regulatory requirements, such as FICA and RICA.
I believe in the next two years that we will see a shift to our coresolution as corporate South Africa comes to grips with regulations like therisk-based KYC approach and the eventual implementation of Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI).
Heath: What are some of the challenges you face from a day-to-day operational perspective?
James: I would say my biggest operational challenge is keeping the focus in the company on the route forward – the identity space can be disrupted in so many ways! It is easy for someone to come up with an idea that is entirely feasible, and easy to implement; but knowing when to show restraint and say no, is one of my biggest daily challenges.
It can also be very tough to motivate the various teams, especially when we are under pressure to deliver product. I am proud to say I was able to refine our internal development process to reduce the stress levels of everyone in the dev. team, while also keeping stakeholders happy. We moved from break-neck development with long hours, and tight deadlines, to a more sensible flow.
Understanding policy, especially from a local regulatory stance. Our business is built around identity, and trust, and ensuring that we not only build a product around these regulations, but also that we employ a best-effort approach to securing our services.
Trueflutter – Matchmaking App for singles of African descent: Interview with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye
Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye
Trueflutter is a matchmaking app built for single Africans on the continent and in diaspora, in search of committed, fulfilling relationships. An online community of Single Africans in search of something real, make genuine and authentic connections. The App takes you beyond surface appearances with the use of audio bios to hear what a person sounds like and what’s important to them even before you connect. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye on his experience growing a Matchmaking brand, successes and challenges in Africa. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself, business and the gap it’s filling?
Dare: My name is Dare Olatoye, I’m the co-founder of Trueflutter which is a matchmaking app for Africans on the continent and in diaspora
Alaba: What’s the inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for Trueflutter?
Dare: My sister got married for the first time when she was 47 years old. She met a great guy and they have a beautiful family. The interesting thing is that the person she married lived just 15 minutes away from her and had also been searching for a partner for many years.
Thinking about that, I realized this was a problem that technology could solve, which is why my brother and I set out to build Trueflutter.
Our vision is to provide a platform where single Africans can easily connect with highly compatible partners.
Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?
Dare: The major challenge people have with online dating is that most of the profiles have sparse or superficial information. Our platform helps you get a much deeper insight into a potential match with the use of Audio Bios and responses to carefully thought out prompts.
Alaba: How long has Trueflutter been in business?
Dare: We launched the MVP in September 2018 and had over 15,000 users sign up. That helped us gain valuable user insight which we built into the current version that was launched in January 2021.
Alaba: What are the key initiatives for the success of the business and great accomplishments?
Dare: To us success simply boils down to assembling a great team at Trueflutter and building a great community around the product. This means the most important thing we can do is listen to our users and ensure our product continues to evolve based on their feedback.
Alaba: Kindly share your most difficult moment in business and what did you learn?
Dare: Our founding team has always been very goal driven and when we set targets, we drive ourselves incredibly hard to achieve them. We had set a goal to launch the new platform on January 8th 2021 and had all our promotional partners ready to go.
However we experienced a serious setback in timelines with our development and ideally should have postponed the launch date, but we literally worked 18 hour days to still meet the timeline.
Unfortunately we launched prematurely, with quite a number of bugs on the platform. We have since resolved these but that premature launch meant we lost many of the early adopters of the platform. The major lesson is that it’s okay to release a product that is not yet perfect, with the caveat that users know it is still on beta (just like what Clubhouse did). Public launch dates should only be set when the platform has been stress tested by thousands of users and you know the user experience will be flawless.
Alaba: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Trueflutter’s growth and/or the user experience?
Dare: I think online dating is one of those few industries that thrived because of the pandemic. We saw an 820% spike in activity on our platform and a 270% increase in organic downloads. Our voice and video call features are also now used by more people with duration of calls at an all time high.
Alaba: What’s your favourite feature of the App so far?
Dare: Hands down it’s the Audio Bio feature, which also lets you reply with a voice note to users you like. People don’t actually realize how much your voice says about you, and when they listen to someone’s audio bio, it helps them easily decide whether or not they want to connect.
Alaba: Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?
Dare: As the primary platform where single Africans on the continent and in diaspora meet.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Dare: I am incredibly proud to see what my peers on the continent are doing. Despite the challenges of funding and infrastructure, we are beating the odds to build incredible products that are solving real problems. And the rest of the world is sitting up to take notice.
Alaba: Finally, what advice would you give entrepreneurs and investors in your industry?
Dare: To entrepreneurs, I would say every challenge is teaching you something. Every investor that walks away from your pitch meeting without investing, does so for a reason and if you find out why, it will make you better prepared for the next pitch.
Every customer that leaves a bad review is communicating a problem that thousands of other users are also experiencing, so you shouldn’t take it personal but embrace the feedback with gratitude.
For investors looking at the online dating space, few people realize how profitable it could be until they start diving into the numbers. But they also need to realize that it’s a long game, and like most consumer tech products, needs to be approached from the perspective of a long term investment. Trueflutter has been very fortunate to attract these kinds of investors.
Prudence Ramotso: The South African entrepreneur who turned her love for shoes into a brand
Prudence Ramotso, Founder and CEO of PRUDENT (Source: Prudence Ramotso)
Prudence Ramotso is a South African young lady who is passionate about fashion and envisioned a different kind of a brand that cares about customers and offer high quality products services. She decided to follow her dreams by creating the brand PRUDENT. A brand with designs inspired by African names, Prudent Shoes is a South African Shoe Brand established in 2019 and manufactured by one of the best and finest stylish shoe makers in Italy. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Prudence shares her entrepreneurship journey, the gap her brand is filling in the industry and the future. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your brand?
Prudence: My name is Prudence Ramotso, I was born and raised in the Vaal (Sebokeng). I love shoes and fashion , I am ambitious and goal driven. I realized there was a gap in the South African female footwear when I was shopping around for shoes back in 2016, my entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t let this to rest. After my research in 2019 PRUDENT shoes was born, we offer what was missing in the market which is good quality shoes at affordable prices and shoes that have characters from the African names that are engraved on the outsoles.
Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and start Prudent?
Prudence: The rate of unemployment in South Africa increases daily and knowing that I have the ability to make a difference and create jobs in the future inspires me everyday. I took my love and passion for shoes and turned it into a brand that fills the gap in the female footwear industry. It started in my bedroom on my cell phone. I left my full time job as a financial advisor for an insurance company and gave birth to PRUDENT shoes in 2019 and I never looked back again.
Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?
Prudence: Our shoes are made of high quality material and attention to details (better workmanship). Our insoles are glued and stitched on, with our unique style names engraved on the outsoles. Like the brand name says PRUDENT, you take prudent steps when walking in our shoes, which means taking careful and calculated steps you think for the future.
The market response is very good, customers are happy with the quality and saying the shoes make them comfortable. Most customers say the shoes speak to them laughing.
Alaba: Any challenges so far since you launched early this year?
Prudence: The challenges we have is reaching a big scale of the market and getting the brand out there.
Alaba: In what way do you think the South African government can support entrepreneurs?
Prudence: Government must encourage localism, encouraging customers to “buy local” is a pillar of regional development strategies. There are products that are not manufactured in South Africa due to lack of suppliers, however they are South African brands and they make us a competitive country. Also, the government should give small businesses a real advantage in procurement policies and the process must be clear, protective and accessible to all small businesses.
Alaba: Where do you see your brand in 5 years?
Prudence: I see my brand growing and being the trusted female footwear brand in South Africa and in 10 year recognized globally. Also, as a brand helping fight the high rate of unemployment.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Prudence: Being an African entrepreneur feels amazing at the same time is hard and exciting. We are 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies as Africa and the ease of doing business in Africa is improving to an extent that a good number of countries including South Africa, Ghana, Mauritius and Tunisia now outperform China, India, Brazil and Russia, we can say our future is bright as AFRICAN entrepreneurs.
Alaba: A little piece of advice to young and budding entrepreneurs out there?
Prudence: Believe in yourself and your dreams, it is true your network is your networth. Be persistent and never give up, start where you are with what you have and go for it. If you can imagine it , you can do it!
Babusi Nyoni, the Zimbabwean Powering Africa’s Digital Health Economy with Sila Health
Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. Sila Health provides last-mile health care access across Africa using chat platforms and machine learning, creating comprehensive datasets to advance regional healthcare. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Babusi shared the Sila Health journey and the vision to provide healthcare access to Africa’s most economically vulnerable. Excerpt.
How It Started
I started Sila Health in 2019 as an AI-powered health service after my mother fell ill in the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. Complications related to a relatively manageable condition (megaloblastic anemia) had gone misdiagnosed several times in the city’s under-resourced public health institutions, nearly costing her life until she sought private care.
Unfortunately her story is one of many across Africa where doctor-patient ratios are an average 1:5000 and low income levels mean quality healthcare is out of reach for many even as the continent’s internet growth and mobile payment adoption rates continue to outstrip the world. I saw an opportunity to connect millions of uninsured patients to healthcare providers on existing chat apps while helping them manage and find information on easily treatable conditions instantly on our platform just as my mother does.
Today we help thousands of Africans and their governments affordably bridge health gaps at scale and we are connecting the continent’s growing telemedicine industry to its first billion customers.
Africa’s digital health infrastructure is not built to scale as millions struggle with accessing basic health and medical care through traditional methods. Currently online health advice is inaccessible to most of the region’s inhabitants as many online health-solutions are data-heavy and are not built with the context of the African user in mind while players in the healthcare ecosystem lack the real-time data insights needed to contain the spread of preventable diseases.
Additionally, Africa’s telemedicine industry is growing at a slower rate than its global counterparts. Many surveyed telemedicine platforms struggle with recruiting quality patients due to the high costs of acquisition. Existing patient management platforms lack the features needed to provide comprehensive and scalable patient aftercare.
The Sila Health user-facing product is a chatbot that enables individuals in low income countries with limited access to healthcare and the internet to instantly obtain health advice that can help them significantly improve their health. If the automated interaction proves insufficient a user can make an appointment with a trained healthcare services provider via phone. Our services require very little internet data, therefore are accessible to our target group and our integrated COVID-19 module that helps people see if they show symptoms of being infected with the COVID-19 virus.
Our chatbot is accessible via Facebook chat, WhatsApp and SMS. These platforms are very popular among our target groups and are accessible on the lowest data plan tiers. By having our product accessible via these platforms the user is able to have access to medical information with very little internet data costs. Other medical chatbots require expensive app-downloads and are generally inaccessible to users with low-incomes. Our product is built for low to middle income households first, and for that reason has gained significant popularity with a 5/5 star rating and over 50% month over month growth.
Sila Trends, our data product, enables NGOs and governments to obtain real-time data on reported symptoms in the areas they preside over. Where currently health data is hard and expensive to access, our tool enables our clients to:
- Quickly recognize breakouts of infectious diseases, which is crucial for a quick and informed response.
- Follow general health trends real-time to better evaluate health policy. Understand what works and what doesn’t.
- Predict the future demand for health equipment and medication by locale.
Lifeline, our data product, helps telemedicine platforms struggling with acquiring quality users by handling the triage process on WhatsApp, Messenger and SMS and referring only high-intent users to partners. Lifeline provides doctors with critical context on a patient’s history including their profile, reported symptoms and triage result. We also provide environmental context on common symptoms in the patient’s location powered by our analytics product, Sila Trends. This saves your practice time and money. Lifeline helps practices across Africa achieve the following
- Increase practice revenue by 12%
- Reduce administrative costs by 30%
- Increase quality of care by 5% through improving outcomes.
Prepaid Cover Product
HealthPass is a prepaid product that allows Africans living in the diaspora to pay for and provide world-class healthcare for their loved ones back home. Smarter than medical aid, fulfilled by verified healthcare practitioners, HealthPass members enjoy pharmacy perks, free delivery and more; all from less than the price of a Netflix subscription.
- Guaranteed medical & dental cover, members can explore a world of benefits with the HealthPass network of verified providers.
- A virtual pharmacy wallet that enables sponsors to automatically manage and pay for prescribed medications at no extra cost.
- Free country-wide prescription delivery for all members with medicine delivered directly to each doorstep.
B I O G R A P H Y
Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. He uses emerging technology to develop sustainable solutions for communities in the global South. He founded Sila Health after identifying an opportunity for artificial intelligence to fill the institutional voids created by poor healthcare systems in developing economies. Babusi has a strong passion for new ideas that will change the lives of those around him and is a firm believer that African innovation will shape the technological zeitgeist worldwide.
Other Current Responsibilities;
His is an Innovation Consultant to UNHCR (Switzerland); helps drive innovation to assist and protect millions of refugees, returnees, internally displaced and stateless people. Technology Advisory Board Member at Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (UK); He advises the UK-based global foundation on Artificial Intelligence implementation at scale. Technology Advisory Board Member at UNDP Africa Leading the 4th Industrial Revolution Technical Advisory Group(UK); he provides technical advice and guidance for the Africa Leading 4IR portfolio of activities.