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.
How the Founders of Odiggo are transforming the MENA auto industry using tech and linked end-to-end ecosystem
Odiggo Founders (L-R); Ahmed Omar and Ahmed Nasser (Source: Ahmed Omar)
Odiggo was founded with the aim to close Egypt’s and the MENA informal and highly fragmented car repair process. Which makes it ripe with fraud and inefficiency gap by providing an online platform that links customers with established car parts vendors and car repair service providers. To date, Odiggo has earned 1.2M USD in GMV and grown its user base to 50K monthly active users. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Odiggo’s Founder and CEO, Ahmed Omar shared their journey, impact, challenges and the future for Odiggo. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you tell me about the Odiggo journey and what sparked the interest?
Ahmed: We started off as e-commerce platform, bootstrapping our way up with no funds, until COVID-19 hit, we did not see it as a threat as much as we saw it as an opportunity, so we went to spare parts dealers and service providers that had to close down due to the pandemic, and allowed them to re-enable their online stores and channels to advertise their products. Then we connected them with service providers so customers can find those products and services delivered at their convenience at their own homes.
With one customer and has grown from the onset when we spotted a gap in the market to make people’s lives easier by simplifying car parts and services shopping. It’s a huge market need. let me explain what we mean with a huge market need, there is some number that can show you how big it is. MENA region Market size is crossing the 60 Billion USD, with a global market size of more than 1.9 Trillion USD as one of the top 10 revenue generating industries.
We are building a digital experience that is transforming the automotive and the after-sale industry, by connecting car owners with a safe ecosystem of car parts suppliers and service providers nearby to ensure convenience and network effect. Users can now find all their car needs in one single place, all their car parts and services. So we made it very easy for them to find what they are looking for.
Alaba: What competitive advantages allow Odiggo to deliver on its value proposition?
Ahmed: Team; we believe we are onboarding top notch talent with very high potential that can drive Odiggo’s innovation and growth in the past few months and this is what we will always have an exceptional team, delivering exceptional results, products and growth.
Technology/product; building scalable tech is what is making us grow very fast, everything we do is very scalable yet will be extremely hard for competitors to go at our speed.
Growth/Expansion; how fast we expand is just thrilling to watch, we built the company with a scalability mindset, yes takes more time to build such things but once you decide to open markets it just flies.
We recently had two of the top Executives of Agility Logistics Company that built it to a Billion Dollar Company, alongside, Essa Al Saleh – CEO & Chairman of Volta Trucks the next tesla for trucks joined on Odiggo’s board alongside side a billion dollar team coming from Jumia, Mackensey, Careem, Deloitte, Hyundai the next generation digital automotive support ecosystem to change the way car owners do their car parts and services shopping.
Alaba: What have been the biggest challenges?
Ahmed: There is a huge market need. Our biggest challenge is coping with that huge market need, as operations of serving that huge market need, so we do as much as we can to automate most of our operations.
Alaba: What are the biggest achievements Odiggo has had?
Ahmed: OUR GREAT TEAM, that got us the great results we reached. We’ve achieved 7 Figures ARR (Annual recurring revenue). Getting consumers to let us know how we changed their lives and how we made it easier for them motivates us.
Alaba: How is your company funded?
Ahmed: It started with a few angel investors coming from private equity firms and tech companies in the region. Latest 2 rounds were backed by Agitero AC (Switzerland VC), that’s led by Essa Al-Saleh, Chairman & CEO of leading electric trucks company Volta Trucks and former CEO of the Billion-dollar logistics company Agility.
Alaba: Kindly share the impact of Covid-19 on your business and survival strategy?
Ahmed: It was a positive impact, we did our highest day every when the lockdown happened in Egypt, and after 3 days we doubled that number. At that time, we recognized that we are in a space that has a huge market need. We are not selling a ” want ” it’s a ” NEED “. COVID-19 made people go for e-commerce more than ever before.
Alaba: What parts of the business will drive growth in the future?
Ahmed: There are multiple growth triggers that will drive growth of the company in the future. The core of this growth is understanding the customer behavior and helping them have a better experience and work on their repeatability. However, introducing more services will help customers to come back, in this case customers will have 3x of their retention.
Global infrastructure; allowing customers to buy from any merchant onboard worldwide is something that we are working on to make sure merchants that are on boarded on Odiggo is not only selling locally but also internationally.
Horizontal Expansion; not only cars, expanding into other vehicle types to support more businesses and car owners who generate income from driving their own commercial trucks or vehicles, motorcycles etc.
Car connection; understanding and reading the car data, will allow us to educate the customer on what needs to be changed, allowing them to make those purchase actions from the platform and making it very easy for them to place those purchases on Auto, so they would not need to confirm again.
Introducing all the DIFM – Do-it-for-me services like, to drive convenience and obsession to the app/platforms.
Alaba: What is the set milestones and future for Odiggo?
Ahmed: It’s mainly coping with the huge market need in the region. Based on research the market in GCC is more than $11 Billion USD. So we are mainly going to expand to the MENA Region mainly, with a focus on GCC starting with UAE and KSA. In addition, Africa is a huge market we are targeting for the future as well.
Be the No. 1 source of car parts and services with a great experience through automated error recognition. Acquire 5% of the global market size in one of the top 10 revenue generating industries which is 100 Billion dollars, that means being a trillion dollar company. Between Mid-2020 to Mid-2022, we are looking to expand and earn the highest market share in the digital marketplace in terms of car parts and services in three markets UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
We are working on various testing environments and R&D ourselves that will allow us to always elevate the company and grow beyond our stakeholders expectations
Alaba: How do you feel to be African entrepreneurs?
Ahmed: First, we believe that Africa is the next big thing, we’ve seen great success stories that came from Africa that made it to billion dollar such as Jumia that went IPO at NYSE.
Second, is there a lot to be done in our industry, there are a lot of ideas that haven’t been applied to the region yet.
We believe that entrepreneurs make people’s lives easier so that’s our main objective. We feel so proud when we get a message from a customer saying how we made his life easier and how much time and money we saved him.
Ahmed Omar CEO & Co-founder grew Odiggo traffic from 0 to 100K+ with no marketing team. He started his e-commerce career and made first eCommerce sale at 14 years old in 2017 with his e-commerce channels in Egypt selling through marketplaces like Souq, Jumia & social media channels making thousands of dollars during his college. While graduating back in 2014 he built what is called Seyanty a car maintenance booking platform, not knowing anything about tech product or venture capital. Omar have been involved in Find My Pic, which is an app that helps customers save images with keywords so they can easily find it, again.
Omar did not research the market well enough to know that Google Photos have launched it in their new app led to Find My Pic users to leave no reason to use the app anymore. Omar’s passion to solving the customer’s problem and disrupting industries as long as making people’s life easier always kept him hungry. After his last visit to Cairo, he decided to join a team building an aggregator marketplace called KasrZero.com, which was the first used cars (pre-owned) marketplace in Egypt during 2017/2018, They never made any money selling cars, the only money they made was when one of their customers asked for Car Parts, That was the start of Odiggo’s story.
Ahmed Nasser, COO & Co-Founder drove the growth of Odiggo’s revenue from $5K to $100K monthly in 11 months and transformed Odiggo’s performance to make 8x more during COVID-19. Nasser grew small traditional companies and digitized businesses to be top ranking companies in their industry in Egypt. He started helping businesses at the age of 16 and pursuing patterns that would make successful management. His obsession to how companies grow and building great products have carried him along every step of the road.
Nasser read over 500 books during his career trying to understand the right patterns to create successful businesses, yet he found the answer in execution. This is where he decided to be part of building a startup or build his own. Results speak louder than words! Since joining Odiggo the company has been on top of the list of any candidate looking to grow and be part of this disruption, the company was able to grow 40-50% month over month in GMV, transactions and Userbase.
Up Close & Personal with Phillip Scott, Founder of YouTube’s Most Watched Black News Channel
Phillip Scott, Founder at The African Diaspora News Network (Source: Kellen Coleman)
Kellen: You started YouTube as a hobby and for free for years while having a job and a family. Did you ever imagine it would have blossomed into being what you have now?
Phillip: No, it wasn’t in my mind that our platform would grow into what you see today. I knew we would grow if I would be open to new ideas but not at this level.
Kellen: Numbers show you are the most subscribed to Black News network on YouTube, does YouTube give you any special privileges or awards?
Phillip: We have received a Silver Play Button award for obtaining 100K subscribers and a Gold Play Button award for obtaining 1M subscribers. Anyone that hit those levels of subscribers can obtain those awards. But an award directed at being a successful Black platform. No, I haven’t had that type of recognition.
Kellen: With your new app and website it appears your messages are more direct and uncensored did you feel you were being silenced on other social media platforms?
Phillip: Social media platforms aren’t what they used to be. Back when I started as long as you didn’t use racial slurs, post violence or do something bad to children, you were fine online. Today social media companies are heavily censored and at the end of the day it’s their platforms. I felt we need our own place to speak where no one can remove our opinions.
Kellen: It’s said your content can be seen on various networks including Roku, Itunes, and others around the world, how do you keep track?
Phillip: We try to keep up by checking our various networks for the analytics just to get a scope of what countries and demographics are consuming our content.
Kellen: Why do you think your channel is so successful, and what do you do that others aren’t?
Phillip: I believe our success comes from taking many risks. Some people aren’t willing to invest money or risk failing. I also believe our success comes from having the proper team as well. As you grow your team is very important in helping you achieve the goals at hand. We also made sure to dedicate to a daily show and being at the same level as mainstream media platforms.
Kellen: African based news networks struggle to get the audience you have, what advice would you have for them and would you consider partnering?
Phillip: I would say for African channels to target a younger audience. The African continent average age is 25. Younger people are more on smartphones and care about modern Africa. Young African people care about foreign nations taking the resources for free, they care about their politics and want to live no different than the rest of the world. You can’t get a young African audience focusing on what the older generation cares about.
Kellen: You have come a long way from filming in the bathroom and kitchen table, you have a beautiful studio setup would you encourage others to invest in their studio?
Phillip: I always say that no one will invest in you until you invest in yourself first. Always be willing to take a risk by investing your time, money and partnering with others. I felt that having a studio similar to what you will see on television would bring our platform respect. I have achieved the respect due to our reporting and efforts.
Kellen: How has your message been received by Africans in the states and Africans on the continent?
Phillip: Yes our message is received on both continents. We made sure to also employ our sisters and brothers from the continent as well to help us.
Kellen: What can Africans on the continent do to support your network?
Phillip: The best way to support us is to watch all our content and share it with 5 people they know.
Kellen: Your company is registered in Kenya, but you have Kenyan and Nigerian in your DNA any plans on having a company in Nigeria, and what can Nigeria do to help you with that?
Phillip: I plan on visiting Nigeria when international travel opens back up. I would also consider having a studio in Nigeria if everything works right with a great team in place.
Kellen: You have several contributors from around the world, more than some larger networks twice your size, how do you recruit and manage not just personalities but payroll?
Phillip: I can’t give our secret to picking people. But I will say I have a great idea on who would fit well for our platform. Some people could be great but not for our platform. We select people based on previous work and work ethic.
Kellen: Do you see yourself living full time in Africa, and if so which country(s)?
Phillip: My goal is to live on the African continent at least 80% of the year. Having business I will still have to travel to the US. As for country, I’m still deciding at the moment.
Kellen: What impact do you think cryptocurrency and NFTS will have on your business?
Phillip: When it comes to cryptocurrency it’s new so for us we will always move with the times. Maybe with time we can use cryptocurrency as a payment method.
Kellen: How important is it to have a great wife in doing business?
Phillip: I can tell you from experience that a woman can take you high as the heavens or take you to the pit of hell. As a man a wife that’s a blessing also will help you be successful. Having a supportive spouse makes the hard jobs easy and also help come up with ideas for growth.
Meet Riaan Rautenbach Changing the Future of moving Cargo, using Cloud-Based and Machine Learning Technology
Riaan Rautenbach, Founder & CEO at LIVE FR8™ (Source: Riaan Rautenbach)
Riaan Rautenbach is an entrepreneur, founder and CEO of South Africa based tech startup LIVE FR8™. A disruptive game changing cloud based App that gives solutions to existing problems in the transport and logistics industry. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Riaan shares his entrepreneurship journey, challenges, impacts and successes of the App. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you us briefly tell me about LIVE FR8™ and the problems it’s solving?
Riaan: LIVE FR8™ is a South African start-up that offers Cargo Suppliers and Transporters improved low cost logistics services using Cloud Technology. The App can be used on any Smart Device. Cargo Suppliers add loads and Transporters find loads on the App. Cargo Suppliers and Transporters connect using the Cloud. Cargo Supplier lists the loads by weight, category, source address and destination, on the database. The algorithm helps Transporters to search for specific loads in the specified area, thereby turning empty loads into full loads. The Transporter nominates the price to move the cargo to the destination. The Transporter only pays a small fee to LIVE FR8™ once a load has been obtained successfully. The Supplier and the Transporter transact directly with one another, and rate each other. The continuous rating system will remove dishonest, corrupt, non-performing and non-competitive role players. Transparency will drive improved performance and cost effective logistics operations.
Alaba: Why did you start your business?
Riaan: After 30 years’ hard work and experience in transportation of goods by road, sourcing return loads, making deliveries on time, determining whereabouts of Cargo in transit in 5 African countries, I came up with this idea. With my experience in cost accounting, as a marketing manager, financial manager and general manager, I have identified problems in the transport industry. I have spent a lot of time thinking of and finding a solution. I developed an App that addresses the various problems and challenges in the Transport industry: improved communication; finding Cargo geographically in real-time; monitoring and managing dispatch staff, controllers, drivers and Cargo in transit. Reducing communication costs; no expensive programs; no costly servers; no monthly fees; no broker fees; no bidding platform but a closed quotation system. Reducing empty trip costs that results in expensive transport rates, reducing transport pollution and a rating system indicating the performance of Cargo Suppliers and Transporters.
Alaba: What has been the impact of leveraging technology in running your business?
Riaan: The business runs remotely, from any location with internet access. The business model has immense scalability and flexibility. Within 7 months, the App was active in 57 countries. Overhead costs are drastically reduced due to the technology LIVE FR8 App utilises, with no offices or expensive servers required. Technology is the future and using disruptive fourth industrial revolution technology which is Cloud-native and functional is exciting and will lead to transformation of the transport industry.
Alaba: What is one of the biggest lessons you have learnt on your business journey?
Riaan: We have learnt that our product, as a world first “Cloud Technology” App for Logistics is more difficult than expected to market in an existing resistant market. Training is an essential part of our marketing.
Alaba: Kindly share of the impact and success of the App?
Riaan: LIVE FR8™ empowers entrepreneurs in Africa and is available in 19 African countries. It levels the playing field for smaller Transporters anywhere in Africa, lowers operational costs for established businesses and empowers them to compete on equal footing. It transforms anyone with access to an electronic device, into a logistics manager. The App brings a huge competitive advantage to everyone who uses the App. It also empowers isolated communities in Africa to put food on the table by coordinating their logistics on their mobile phones. Though there have been many challenges I believe we will soon make a breakthrough in the market and more people will comprehend how much they can benefit from using the App to improve logistics processes, reduce costs, increase vehicle utilisation and drastically reduce pollution from carbon emissions.
Alaba: What’s the future for LIVE FR8 in terms of its expansion to other African and International markets?
Riaan: Africa: LIVE FR8 will be available in all African countries by July 2021. LIVE FR8 is currently available in 19 African countries: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius (Including Reunion), Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
International; LIVE FR8 is available in the following countries outside Africa; America, Australia, All European Union countries, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Turkey, Canada, The United Kingdom.
Alaba: Could you share your thoughts on the current state of Logistics in Africa, and where you see it in five years?
Riaan: Logistics face many challenges in Africa such as: Inadequate communication; Border congestions; inadequate road and rail infrastructure; old technologies; trade relations between countries. In five years most of the above, I believe, will be improved by Africa. I am positive, because there are already projects, led by African governments, authorities, entrepreneurs and private sectors to improve all of the above mentioned challenges. LIVE FR8 can play a vital role with its low cost communication between Cargo Suppliers and Transporters. Loads are exposed for free to Transporters, and Transporters can find loads with a geographic search using little data.
Alaba: How can South Africa support small businesses now and beyond?
Riaan: Smaller businesses help to create and sustain jobs. Support is vital to help businesses gain revenue and stay operational. Small-business owners value relationships they have with their customers and need the support of local consumers. As it may be more of a challenge for small businesses to stay relevant, they continuously need to work on adding new products/developing their products and providing new benefits for their customers. This is good as it generates healthy competition with their larger competitors. Small businesses tend to be more innovative as they constantly need to find new ways to sell goods and service. By supporting small businesses you are also supporting your local community to stimulate the economy.
Alaba: Any advice for young African entrepreneurs in tech and logistics?
Riaan: All young African entrepreneurs must believe in themselves and never give up. You can find solutions, keep asking questions about current affairs, search and find answers on how current affairs can be improved. Believe in Africa with all its valuable resources. All economic activities can be improved by young entrepreneurs who seek and find solutions using technology to improve supply chains, transport, more efficient low cost ways of communication and moving goods to people, factories, markets and harbours for export. Africa is the future!
B I O G R A P H Y
Riaan Rautenbach started working as a clerk, then became a learner coder, thereafter I was an Accountant. I then started part time studies at Unisa while working. I was later promoted to Financial Manager and for 4 years I was a Sales and Marketing Manager. I worked as a General Manager in Maize and Wheat Mills and a Poly woven bag factory. I lived and worked in five African Countries: Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia. I traded with Angola, DRC, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.
Visit LIVE FR8™
Afripreneur3 days ago
How the Founders of Odiggo are transforming the MENA auto industry using tech and linked end-to-end ecosystem
Press Release3 days ago
The Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship at the MIT launches Foundry Fellowship for entrepreneurs in Africa
Legal Business2 days ago
Developments in competition law in post-pandemic Africa
Press Release3 days ago
AI Expo Africa, Wesgro, and Zindi launch the Deepfake Africa Challenge