Timilehin Odusina (CEO), Boluwa Olojo (CMO) and Henry Ajisegiri (CCO) of Versecom.
Based in Lagos – Nigeria and co-founded by Timilehin Odusina, Henry Ajisegiri, Emmanuel Marchie, Abraham Ben-Obaje and Boluwa Olojo. Versecom Limited is a technology services company incorporated in 2016 with a vision to provide free wi-fi infrastructure at public locations and monetize the free service via advertisements visible on each user’s PC, Tablet or mobile phone. In order to adequately monetize the free wi-fi infrastructure we also built a programmatic ad network called “GO Ads” that exclusively serves ads to the users of the service (based on advertisers’ demographic parameters). In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Boluwa Olojo, Co-Founder & CMO at Versecom, a marketing guru with a passion for her company’s brand and the way they are disrupting the traditional above-the-line channels using with their hybrid ad network ‘Go Ads’ and pushing ads on every screen in Africa. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about Go Ads Africa and the gap it’s filling.
Boluwa: A hybrid ad network that serves both digital and traditional media with a granular pricing model. Clients view reports of all channels from a single portal which makes it easy to assess campaign performance. A big issue with LED boards is inability to get accurate analytics, at Go Ads Africa we can monitor the amount of people who view your boards.
The granular pricing model brings campaign flexibility for brands and makes advertising more affordable for lower tier brands.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Boluwa: $500,000 which was raised in Nigeria, but it took about a year and the half to close out the raise.
Alaba: As a startup, what are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Boluwa: Building the technology was difficult because of the scale at which we were going about it, it hadn’t been done before so there was a serious expensive learning curve.
Relationship management was very tricky because we had a model that was business to business and business to consumers. What that meant for us, what that we had to simultaneously learn how to manage both traditional users (Individuals) and Client users (Business).
Regulations, when we started there were very few/zero regulation in our space, as a socially responsible organization we had to come up with those rules for ourselves but as we grew and opened the space regulations came in. Some we were already compliant, the others we had to immediately evolve and follow.
Monetizing our platforms was another major challenge. To overcome this, we launched our marketing and sales unit. This enables us to tell the story of the company while also selling the products.
Alaba: How’s your brand unique and different from other digital OOH brands?
Boluwa: We don’t run just OOH; our aim is to push ads to every screen in Africa. However, what sets us apart is the Go Ads hybrid network and that we can offer analytics for the Ads we setup.
Alaba: With the evolution of digital advertising, can we say the conventional advertising platforms are gradually going redundant?
Boluwa: LED boards are also digital forms of advertising, in developed tech cities like Japan and New York, Out-of-Home Advertising (OOH) is a big part of advertising, with the inclusion of Analytics, we are certain that conventional platforms will continue to get better.
Alaba: How can African government best support Startups and SMEs in Africa?
Boluwa: Lagos government does a lot to help startups and we are totally grateful for that, something that will really help in Africa is for the government to build more incubators/hubs for startups. This will be exemplary in terms of showing how conducive the market is for innovations and investment, by part taking in various portions of the value chain.
Alaba: What’s the future for Go Ads Africa and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Boluwa: To become the first self-serve platform where people can buy both digital and traditional media. This will democratize access to all types of advertising channels.
Alaba: How do you and partners feel as an African entrepreneur?
Boluwa: We feel an enormous sense of responsibility to get as many Africans to the path of prosperity by giving them the opportunity help themselves and a responsibility to show the rest of the world the value and ingenuity of the African spirit.
Alaba: What advice would you give prospecting entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Boluwa: Timing is extremely important and see larger organizations as assets and not competitors.
Alaba: How do you and partners relax and what books do you read?
Boluwa: We socialize a lot; we go dancing and we also visit food fairs. We mostly read articles and when we read book or listen to audio books; they are usually about product management and people management.
Alaba: Please teach us one word in your home language and your favorite local dish?
Abraham: Ajaà is an Igala word that means Marketplace. Pounded yam and Egusi soup bangs different, that’s my fav.
Boluwa: ọmọis a Yoruba word that means Child. My favorite local dish is Amala with Ewedu and Gbegiri.
Emmanuel: Nbò means hardworking in Igbo and Abacha is my favorite local dish.
Henry: Ile-Eko is Yoruba word that means School. My favorite local dish is Iyan [Pounded Yam] and Efo-riro [Vegetable Soup].
Timilehin: Opomulero is a Yoruba word that means Pillar. Lafu and Ila is my favorite local dish.
Versecom is a technology services company incorporated in 2016 with a vision to provide free wi-fi infrastructure at public locations and monetize the free service via advertisements visible on each user’s PC, Tablet or mobile phone. In January 2017 we were awarded the contract to provide free public wi-fi on BRT Terminals by Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority. We are now able to provide free internet access to 100,000 users per day from April 2017 when we successfully built the largest public wi-fi network in Africa; a 15km continuous mesh network on one of the busiest roads in Lagos (serving more than 1.5 million users per day).
In order to adequately monetize the free wi-fi infrastructure we also built a programmatic ad network called “GO Ads” that exclusively serves ads to the users of the service (based on advertisers’ demographic parameters). Building the wi-fi mesh network opened us to other business opportunities like ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ with products like wi-fi offload and CCTV as a Service; these products share the same wi-fi infrastructure but are targeted at Telcos and surveillance-based businesses respectively.
Similar to the extension of the Free Wifi into the “Infrastructure as a Service”, we have also pioneered a new ad model that disrupts the traditional above-the-line channels using our ‘Go Ads’ Ad network by partnering with owners of other advert channels to sell their inventory on a granular basis.
Timilehin Odusina (CEO) is an Innovative Product/Business developer with an eye for Social-Economic Patterns, working on various product and project across various industries. He has done most of his work in Tech-Start Ups (worked with Sharphire Global, Meditel, Intellectric, Hirefreehand e.t.c…) and Techno-Advertising industry. Currently on the board of KUBADI (Hirefreehand – Syracuse), Discreet Labs and is the Team Lead of the Public Access project in Versecom.
Henry Ajisegiri (CCO) is a Product Manager and Data Analyst whose core interests are in product development, performance insights and optimization. He is the head of commercials and partnerships for the company and has a mandate to drive all products to generate sustainable revenue. He is also a trained project management professional and business analyst who consults for early stage startups.
Emmanuel Marchie (COO) is a Covenant university graduate who studied Building Technology. He is the head of Operations at Versecom Limited; he ensures the stability of Versecom’s infrastructure and network on and off site. He has also worked with a few other startups on their product (MoluePro, Intelectric e.t.c). When Emmanuel isn’t working very hard to ensure the company is operating at its best, he is watching Arsenal play entertainment football.
Abraham Ben-Obaje (CTO)is the Lead Engineer on GO Ads Africa. He has successfully designed the City Connect Wifi and developed the GO access. He is a Technological Enthusiast with a passion in Data Analysis and Pattern Recognition. He also enjoys playing a lot of sports for body development and recreational purposes. He believes in equilibrium and numbers.
Boluwa Olojo (CMO) is a Mass communication graduate from Babcock University. Boluwa started working when she was 17 years old and this exposed her to various people and organizations. The last two years of her life was spent working at a digital agency and working with some prominent Nigerian Brands, which is where she picked up fantastic client management and sales skills. Joining the founding team as the first woman on the team, Boluwa is ready to take on the task of telling the Go Ads Africa story and ensuring the 250 million naira target for 2019 is met. When she isn’t working on getting more clients for the business, Boluwa spends her time sprinkling black girl magic around the world, doing Yoga, travelling and writing articles on medium.
Viero: A SaaS Platform Enabling Entrepreneurs Create Food Delivery App Without Code In 60 Seconds
Viero & Zistify Founders, Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude
Launching a food delivery start-up requires an entrepreneur to manage 4 aspects; Restaurants, Delivery Agents, Customers, and the most costly of them all, an application. Building a food delivery application can cost up to $60 000. There are also additional costs that need to be paid on a monthly basis to maintain and improve the application. “This is a major barrier to entry into the food delivery industry in Africa” said Basheer Phiri, the founder and CEO of Viero.
“Because of these high costs, we see a lot of food delivery Startups all over Africa serving the urban market, because it is big, and has enough customers to cover the development and maintenance costs and make a profit.” Basheer believes that food delivery Startups do not target township and non-urban areas because these markets need to be built from the group up, which means additional marketing costs and slower growth and adoption rates.
Therefore, coupled with the need to cover maintenance costs and the demand for growth and traction from investors, food delivery Startups prefer competing in the already established urban markets. This has led to high concentration in urban markets while non-urban markets remain relatively untapped.
“We saw this and realised that there was value that could be created” said Basheer. “After speaking to a few interested entrepreneurs, we saw that they could manage every aspect of the food delivery business, but could not afford to pay for an App. That is how Viero was born”
Viero is a SaaS Platform that enables entrepreneurs to create a food delivery web application with no code in 60 seconds. (Here’s how it works – https://youtu.be/1T9oxNtRDpM).
The platform built a standard food delivery application template and enables it to be cloned, rebranded and hosted through white-labelling. Entrepreneurs can use the application under a monthly subscription and have access to many features depending on their chosen plan. Entrepreneurs can also make changes to the layout and design of their app, all without any code.
Launched in South Africa on 1 June 2020, the platform has achieved amazing uptake thus far. 22 Apps in total have been created with 2 Food delivery Startups that are live and operating in South Africa and 20 other Startups preparing for launch. 108 orders have been delivered, with R4700 processed in transactions, 200 customer users, 16 listed stores and 45 delivery agents.
Viero was launched by UCT students Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude. They met in their first year in 2018 as residents of Smuts Hall Residence at The University of Cape Town, when they were introduced by a mutual friend who noticed their passion for entrepreneurship. Since then, they have worked together on several Startups and projects.
Basheer and Hopewell are not new to the food delivery industry. In 2019, they launched Zistify, a food delivery start-up for the university market. Zistify delivers food ordered from food vendors on campus through it’s app to university students and staff.
Viero is in capable hands and is ready to disrupt the food delivery industry in Africa. Currently raising a $100 000 seed round to incorporate logistics into its business offering, to bring in more talent to the team, and to continue building and improving the platform.
Meet The Resilient Black Brothers Saving The Planet One Car At A Time
AutoSparkle Owners, Jesse and Genesis Onomiwo (Image by: Jesse Onomiwo)
According to UNIDO’s Investment and Technology Promotion Office in Nigeria, only 20% of SMEs manage to survive in Nigeria. The studies further states that “although everybody in Nigeria desires to become an entrepreneur, only 40% of the dreamers get to start, but no more than 20% survive. But one innovative Lagos-based company seem to have gotten the winds in its sails instead.
Founded by Jesse and Genesis Onomiwo in 2010 in Lagos Nigeria, Autosparkle is currently the world’s only waterless luxury car interior-only detailing company with an option of waterless engine cleaning. As a fully integrated professional operation that combines convenience with environmental sustainability, the company takes their services to their clients without messing up the environment with water and soap.
Autosparkle was selected and named one of Nigeria’s Top Emerging SMEs for 2019 by ConnectNigeria. And just last month, the company also got selected as part of 200 businesses out of 5,000 others to take part in the first ever Forbes Digital Accelerator Program for Nigerian businesses. This has further opened the company up to top venture capital firms, successful founders from Silicon valley and a host of highly respected resource persons from Google, LinkedIn and other renowned credible organizations.
But the journey for the founders of Autosparkle hasn’t always been rosy. One of the company’s founders, Genesis Onomiwo, had to drop out of school for a whole year in order to come establish the company in Lagos. His brother and co-founder also had to push his National Youth Service forward by one year. When the business failed to pick up as envisaged, Genesis eventually had to return to the university where he completed his first degree in Architecture. In all, Autosparkle failed more than 8 times before finally picking up. But all that is history now as the rewards of their perseverance and exceptional business acumen is now starting to pay off beautifully well.
Autosparkle spotted a critical gap in the car care market and has so far exploited it richly. The common neglect by car wash shops that popularly dot the roadside in Nigeria and the observed dissatisfaction of most customers with often rushed jobs made the brothers decide to start focusing on waterless cleaning of what they term the two most critical parts of the car; the interior and engine. Their approach to car cleaning is based on nanotechnology and covers everything from stain removal, vacuuming, leather and upholstery treatment, dashboard conditioning, roof cleaning, plastic/rubber/chrome trim polishing, to deodorization, and more.
The level of personalized attention given to the details is based on the fact that Autosparkle treats each car according to its unique needs. That’s why it could take up to 3-4 hours to get one car completely detailed. They do not overlook any part because no one sees them. As a mobile unit, they take their pampering experience to homes and offices in Lekki, Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Ajah axes of Lagos Island and beyond in Nigeria. From the most executive to the most luxurious of cars, Autosparkle continues to renew the interior of cars for Nigeria’s affluent class and those expatriates living in Nigeria. And now a replacement for the word interior detailing.
Ultimately, the company is building the largest chain of environmentally friendly and convenient cleaning operations out of Africa. This covers waterless detailing (thorough cleaning) of luxury cars, aircrafts, boats, furniture and fittings in homes and other types of spaces. This company is certain one to look out for in the coming years.
Black Founders: Here are some fundraising and networking opportunities
In the past few weeks, the world has witnessed one of the largest civil rights movements in recent history. People across races, religions, geographies and social economic classes have joined together to demand justice, opportunity and respect for black people. As an African woman living in the US, I have personally seen and sometimes witnessed the ugly side of racism and racial bias. To make any meaningful difference, we must support each other in stamping out racism from not just the United States, but across the world. I am hopeful that this movement will bring practical solutions to the fight for social justice.
On the positive side, this movement has brought a renewed (and hopefully lasting) vigor and focus on black entrepreneurship. From venture capitalists to retail companies and professional communities, many institutions have committed to supporting black entrepreneurship in some way. If you’re a black founder, or looking to start a venture, now is the time to tap into new and existing resources and opportunities.
It might be difficult to keep track of them all, so I have curated some key resources.
- Apply to join the 2020 cohort for the 1-week immersive course by Black Founder’s Exchange.
- SoGal x Atlas is limiting this year’s Cohort for “Building without Burnout” to Black Entrepreneurs. Apply by June 15, 2020.
- Clever Girl Finance is now offering all its Finance Resources and Courses for free!
- Apply to join the Transparent Collective which is helping underrepresented founders access the resources they need to succeed.
- Apply for a $10k grant from IFundWomen. Deadline June 15, 2020.
- Apply for a grant at the National Association for the Self-Employed (maximum $4k).
- Founder Gym wants to help you learn about fundraising and scaling tech ventures.
- Have a fintech startup and are looking for solutions for underserved populations, Accion Venture Lab wants to talk to you.
- Reach out to funds that are passionate about supporting black founders such as: Harlem Capital, Backstage Capital, New Voices Fund, Cleo Capital and Cross Culture Ventures.
- Nihal Mehta, Co-founder of Eniac Venture is offering free 15-minute mentoring sessions to Black founders.
- Jason Lemkin, VC Investor is reviewing decks and pitches of Black Founders.
- Ha Nguyen wants to meet with Black and Latinx founders.
Networking and Community
- Add yourself to the Black Founders List, and get visibility.
- Join Valence, a network of black professionals.
- Follow the Black Enterprise blog.
- The Plug has all your information needs.
- Plan to attend the Women in Tech Conference; happens every year. 2020’s is virtual and is happening in July.
This is a dynamic shortlist of resources I could gather online and from my networks- will continue updating. Are you aware of any great resources or opportunities?
Please comment below.
Article By: Dami Olagunju Founder, Lagos Young Professionals Innovation Club (LYPIC)