The Afropreneur Needs Help! Are you the Yin to my Yang?

TL;DR : This is not for people like you. Get back to whatever video you were watching!

For being interested enough to get here, I am happy to welcome you.

My name is Idris Ayodeji Bello, and yes, I need help! I will leave it to you to propose a title later.

You have only one job, to make my life easier. I retired from paid employment five years ago; 6 years actually, to have more time. Today, I don’t have that time, so I need you to give me back my time.

My mantra; Outcomes are more important than activities (this is not a job where you ‘form’ busy)

Who am I?

Check my Blog. Check my LinkedIn profile. Check my LoftyInc Capital page. You should easily find the links online. Google me! Seriously!

What do I do?

My day is spent around entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors. I run multiple communication channels (WhatsApp inclusive) and a few email addresses. Via these channels, I do the following:

  • engage with investors that probably want to invest in our funds, or angels who want to join our syndicate,
  • answer the questions of existing investors who have already invested in our funds,
  • engage startups who would like us to invest in their raise or whom we would like to invest in and,
  • manage issues for our current portfolio companies who need help with management, fundraising or whatever else they need help with.
  • help entrepreneurs in any shape, form, or manner
  • come up with new ideas and create thought leadership

So, what will you do for me?

I am not alone. There is a full-time team (and a part-time team) working on the funds, however, you will be taking some weight off me on my own tasks. You must commit to excellence and be someone who gets things done, and makes life easier for me. You have to have a low ego and high EQ: no job should be too small, nor any problem too big to work through, particularly through collaboration with the team.

The individual fit for this role could be anyone and some profiles include:

  • A recent graduate with startup experience who thrives on keeping the trains running on time with little supervision.
  • An aspiring entrepreneur who wants a look into VC and fundraising.
  • An individual who is looking for a springboard into specialized roles in technology and an eagerness for learning new things fast.
  • Someone who wants to move away from the conventional 9-5 and would like to try their hands in a full-throttle environment.
  • Someone who is preparing for their MBA in the next few years, or a recent MBA grad
  • Anyone really!

More broadly, you will be handling;

Operations.

Handling all the administration for the Afropreneur Angels Group- including Angel Relations & coordination, process and deal management, documentation, agreements, deal listing, post-investment follow-ups, etc.

Manage my non-personal, non-LCM inbox-from founders seeking investment, to media attention, speaking engagements, meeting scheduling etc.

Communications.

Processing, tracking, and managing database, communications (emails and phones) and overseeing the scheduling of meetings.

Creating decks and other materials to support stakeholders, fundraising, and business development opportunities.

Any other duties; research speech prep, deck preparation, planning, brand management, blog/social media, opportunities sourcing & management.

What is in it for you?

  • You are going to have unqualified access to some of the top people in the venture capital space. I envy you already. I work with over 150 of the smartest investors in Africa, and engage with over 100 portfolio companies across diverse sectors!
  • Access to our deals; if you are someone who wants to invest or just learn
  • You are going to be stretched by the diversity of our deal flow.
  • The pay is 200-250k per month Nairaquite flexible. It could also be double. Show value, get value! Bring opportunities to the table and double your income!
  • You don’t have to come to the office. When I come to Nigeria or wherever you are, we can meet up and talk. If you need to check on a  portfolio company, do so! Apart from that, it is going to be mostly virtual. Just get the job done. I have someone who works with me from Tunisia, and we have never met. I just need someone who can get the job done, someone who can help me with the things that I am spending my time doing, so I can focus on other things that only I can do!.

You have to be seeking to work in this space for this to make sense for you.

Sales Assessment Tests – 5 Reasons Why SalesTestOnline.com Might Not Be For  You – The SalesTestOnline.com Blog
Money will not be your primary motivation for applying for this role, otherwise you are better off exploring other opportunities.


What did I miss?

  • You need to be good with Excel/Google Sheets and PowerPoint.
  • You need to have a lot of initiative to make the work easier if truly you want to get the job done.
  • You need to be organized. And help me get better organized.
  • Putting tools, systems and processes to work should be something that comes naturally to you.
  • You need to have excellent writing skills because I cannot stand typos. I am allergic to bad writing. Blame my dad, he would point out errors on invitation cards!
  • I also cannot stand mediocrity. If you cannot dot your i’s and cross your t’s, do not even bother applying, as we will fight (and I have been told I look like Floyd Mayweather). Nobody is perfect but you must commit to excellence. Ask those who have worked with me.
  • I also cannot stand people who lack integrity. You are going to be dealing with people’s confidential information. So, if you cannot be trusted, do not bother applying.
  • Also, the timing of this job. I have deliverables which mean you could schedule your time and work two hours per day or even work 20 hours per day. I don’t have working hours myself, I work across time zones, so I want to be able to push deliverables out and know that they are being done.
  • Communication is also key for me because I do not like surprises. I don’t like surprises. You MUST communicate! Let me know what is dropping, why, and what you are doing to fix it. I cannot stand excuses. Communicate. If you have questions, do ask. You must be committed, do the research, get the job done.

It is all over the place. What you do in the morning might be different from what you do in the evening. You have to be comfortable with the lack of structure. In the morning I could be talking about flying cars and in the evening, I could be talking about helping a founder with a personal issue. . Did I mention I review about 15 pitch decks daily and my Calendly is full weeks in advance?

Lest I forget, I have a blog that can be better. I have plans to write a book, but I am not bothered about that for now. I might not be asking for day-to-day stuff but when I need stuff, I need stuff.

For this job, you need Initiative, Energy (lots of it) and Integrity!

Finally, I know I already stated the salary range, but I remain flexible.

And lastly, there is a short list of good people who have worked with me / for me over the years; you may want to check with them what that entailed, before wasting your time (and mine?)

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kanyinsolaobayan/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kyanekassiri/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/temitope-isedowo-84827832/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/aaumar/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/oluwakemi-akinola-48b53356/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/moshood-abdullateef/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mootez-ben-chiekh/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/dkevinsimmons/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lydiaidem/

Thank You All! |

Interview process

Check out this link for a fair description of the role.

Please complete the application thoughtfully and I’ll aim to get back to you with a decision to proceed or not proceed. Successful candidates at each round will be sent an email to proceed with the next round.

However, I reserve the right to skip any of these steps 😊.

Round 1: Application + Cover Letter (Thursday, June 24 – 23:59 WAT on Thursday, July 1st)

  • Fill an application that includes a resume and LinkedIn profile (if you cant even maintain your own LinkedIn profile……need I say more?
  • Submit a cover letter – In a few sentences, why are you a fit for this role? (Hint: this is quite important hence, show you could thrive in an environment of ordered chaos).

Round 1 is now closed and aapplications are under review. Round 2 dates have been modified below.

Round 2: Writing and Research (Saturday, July 17 – 23:59 WAT on Friday, July 27th)

Writing exercise to be revealed later for those who qualify for Round 2

Round 3: Interviews (TBD)

Applicants from Round 2, whose writing submission proves to be impressive will be invited for an interview with me.

Good Luck. We both need it!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Connecting the Dots Backwards: Of Leptons, Quarks, and Afropreneurs

So this evening, as I finished yet another Zoom call, I dwelled over the fact that in less than 48 hours, I had spoken with a team working on a technology platform for quantamental investing in the UK, , another on charter cities for entrepreneurs, one on mobility and technology across Africa, another one developing a transformative cancer therapy , one transforming Nigeria’s famous ofada sauce into a staple in Whole Foods stores in the USA, before yet another fintech with a twist on payments in Egypt, a team in Ghana working on KYC and identity tech, finally closing out with one making a bold claim of killing viruses including Covid and Hepatitis B viruses.

It got me thinking about how my Afropreneurship journey has led me to this point of spending my days poring over complicated decks and listening to entrepreneurs on Zoom smarter than I could ever hope to be, and it is quite interesting how the dots connect in hindsight, and how Allah’s Plan always manifests even when we have no clue.

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The Afropreneurship journey is about a decade old, starting with when I got to the point in my career at Chevron where I wanted something different, but even before that, let me start off with how I found myself at Chevron USA. I have written elsewhere previously about my pre-Chevron career and also here!

So let me start in 2005, as I was busy writing my Msc Thesis with the mouthful topic “Non-parametric density approximation techniques applied to signal detection in particle physics; as part of preliminary design of multivariate data-analysis toolbox for use at the Fermilab Tevatron Collider, USA and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

It was a very demanding period of my life, as my Msc funding was running out, and I was not sure of when I would graduate or if I would find a job.  These were the early days of Data Mining and Machine Learning, and I was working in the Data Mining & Machine Learning Group at the University of Houston under Dr. Vilalta and Dr Eick. I had no clue what I was doing, working on research spread across three schools and three disciplinary areas. I had to coordinate the particle physics part with Professor Bruce Knuteson at MIT, and Professor Paul Padley at Rice, and the Pattern Classification part with my own professors at the University of Houston, and the Statistics part with yet another Professor.

My nights were long, buried in Physics texts and research papers trying to make sense of leptons and quarks and why they needed to collide, and at the same time understanding probability density functions, Bayes’ classifiers, Parzen windows, k-nearest neighbors (kNN), and of course learning new programming languages to codify all this and train my models to learn and predict. In all of these, I didn’t even have the time to focus on job searching or on the companies recruiting on campus, until one fateful evening.

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I noticed my Iranian lab mate, Banafsheh, all dressed up, and on inquiring, she mentioned she had been shortlisted on the school recruiting website to interview with Chevron USA the next day and they were having a reception that night to interact with the interviewers. Once she left the lab, I updated my resume, got several copies printed, put on my one suit which always hung on the door of the lab, and off I went uninvited to the reception. Yes, I gatecrashed!

 

I waltzed around, ate to my fill, and told every Chevron staff I met, “I think there was an oversight as I was not shortlisted but this is my CV!”  Satiated, I went back to the lab and waited to hear back.

8am the next morning, I got an email asking if I could make it to the campus interview same day. I got there (same suit), apparently performed well on all those situational leadership questions, and a few weeks later I got invited to the site interview!

On the day of the site interview at Chevron, I was scheduled for multiple interviews before and after lunch.

At lunch time, I saw everyone treating one particular guy with deference, so I asked my guide who he was and I was told he was Peter Breunig, and was the CIO of the Group I was interviewing with.

Till today, I still don’t know where I summoned the courage, but I walked up to him and said “Hi Peter, my name is Idris Bello, and I am going to be working for you!”  He was shocked!  He then asked “When did we make that decision, I thought you were still interviewing?” I replied, “I decide where I work and I like it here”.

He broke into smiles, then brought out a book from his bag which was coincidentally about a Nigerian football player who I had never heard of. He asked me if I knew him and I fibbed, talking about how popular he was back home and quickly changed the topic to speaking about soccer (football) in Nigeria etc. In short, I stole the show. I was later told that when they got to the selection meetings, he said “I need that guy Idris Bello working for me”, and that was it. Bye Bye to any PhD plans, Oil & Gas Money, here we come!

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Anyways, fast forward five years later, in 2009, I was having a great technical career at Chevron leading upstream technology deployments globally, but felt I needed to move from a technical career ladder to a managerial one, and I thought the way to do that was to get an MBA. But then I wanted to get an MBA only from a top school, and I was not interested in getting into debt. I began applying to a few schools leveraging the Consortium Program for minorities which would have gotten me a scholarship, but would have meant leaving work, and starting an MBA in 2010 or 2011.

Around this time in Houston, I used to run a monthly book reading club called “The Forum” for early career Nigerian folks. On one occasion, I invited a Dr. Kola Fagbayi to speak, an absolutely smart guy who was then a top flyer at Shell USA (he’s now a VP at BP),and he had mentioned that he took the highly revered Executive MBA at Rice University, an option I had never thought of.

First, I knew how expensive studying at Rice was, compared to other local Houston schools, and I also knew how tough it was to get into the regular MBA, not to talk of the Executive MBA in a city like Houston which boasted of top executives in every field.

Kola introduced me to the Director of Admissions and I went through a very thorough admissions screening and interview process, and through sheer luck and a couple of unexplainable coincidences, I got offered an admission to join the Executive MBA in 2009! It was a dream come true, especially when I saw the roll call of my classmates and I was one of the youngest and probably the least experienced. The rollcall included a NASA Flight Mission Commander who had overseen the most recent Space Mission, Olympians, top Houston CEOs, and some other very smart folks.

Now admission in hand, where would I find the $100,000 to pay for tuition?

I found out Chevron had a program where you could get your tuition costs reimbursed as long as you did well each semester. But here we were in the middle of the 2008/2009 financial collapse, where people were being let go and budgets slashed. Who was I to go ask my boss for money for tuition, and not even the $30,000 that other Houston schools were charging, but $100k!

But then, I didn’t see the harm in asking, so I shot my shot!

I asked HR, and learned that the budget for tuition reimbursement was fixed and never impacted by recessions and budget cuts! And regarding my fear of being asked why didn’t I choose a cheaper school in Houston? It was unfounded!

As my boss’s boss who had played Lacrosse at MIT said, “Idris, if you are going to do your MBA in Houston, I would be disappointed if you did it at anywhere but Rice!”

And that, my friends, is how I got into Rice University and got funded in the middle of an economic recession, with the plan to use it as a stepping stone to climb the managerial ladder at Chevron.

Fast forward to one evening in early 2010, while still in first year of B-school, I was introduced by one of my mentors, Marshal  Sulayman (who later became the first Nigerian Partner at Deloitte Tax USA) to another young man who had just relocated to Houston, Biola Lawal, and became CFO (and eventually CEO at Erin Energy).  In a conversation, Biola mentioned previously working at Oando in Nigeria, and mentioned in passing one of the young people who worked with him and had risen very fast, by name, Yomi Awobokun.  

I got home that night, and searched online about Yomi, and one thing led to another, and I found out about a program he had participated in, called Nigeria Leadership Initiative-Future Leaders Program. I dug in and loved what I was seeing ,and applied for the program, and luckily, I was invited by First Bank, the sponsors, to visit Nigeria in May 2010 on an all-expenses paid trip to Lagos, to spend a couple of days with other young Nigerians to deliberate about the future of the country. I have written in detail about that experience here.

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So a week before my Nigeria trip in May 2010, I was sitting at the Anderson Commons, at the Jones Business School at Rice, when the Late Professor Bill Arnold sat next to me and started asking me questions about who I was etc.  On hearing I was from Nigeria, he invited another Professor Marc Epstein over to sit and eat with us. Marc then tells me about his project working with Rice MBA students and entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Malawi to commercialize low cost health technologies. He asks if I have any links with universities and entrepreneurs in Nigeria as he would like to expand the program to Nigeria. Never one to say No, I of course say Yes, I can do that, and get a mandate from him to engage with academics and entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

That May 2010 trip to Lagos after several year away from Nigeria was a very risky but pivotal one in my journey of becoming an Afropreneur!  It was risky because the conference days fell within the second semester exams for the first year of the MBA, and I had to take my exams in Lagos and send them over.

I remember writing my Cost Accounting Exams on my laptop while in a car on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway while going to Abeokuta, and in a particular case, looking for a cybercafé in Abeokuta to scan my exam papers and send it back to the Professor.

In retrospect, I am indeed glad I made the decision to make the trip even though I came close to canceling it.

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I made so many friends in Nigeria during that program many of whom I remain friends with till today, folks like Chude Jideonwo who was my roommate and spoke about his plans to take over the journalism and media space, and would in later years go on to form Red Media and YNaija, to Farouk Gumel who was then at PWC and would later on work for the late Chief of Staff –Abba Kyari in the Villa, to Toyosi Akerele of Rise Networks, to Hassan Rilwan, who would later head the Kaduna Scholarship Board..

However, the most important relationship I built at the NLI Program was with Dr. Muntaqa Umar Sadiq who was at that time completing his intercalated Medicine/Business degree at Imperial College, UK, and about to start an MSc in Biosciences at Cambridge University. Smart as he was handsome and jovial, we bonded and spoke of dreams of building a company together around Healthcare technology etc.

On that trip, I didn’t forget my mandate from Dr. Epstein and spent time visiting universities including public ones like my alma mater, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, and also private ones like Lagos Business School where I got introduced to Peter Bamkole at EDC, and Enase and others at the Business School. All in all, it was a good trip that formed the foundation of pivotal friendships and relationships for the future.

As I was about leaving Nigeria, my Houston mentor, Marshal, connected me with his brother who was an editor at Tribune Newspapers and asked him to interview me about my trip to Nigeria and my career generally. I ended up saying a couple of things about entrepreneurship and why Nigeria needed to encourage people with ideas etc.

 Bear in mind, this was in May 2010, a time it wasn’t a fad yet to be a tech entrepreneur, and there was no CChub, no Impact Hub or anything similar, though there was Mo-Mo by Emmanuel Oluwatosin and a few other initiatives/gatherings..

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On getting back to Houston, I shared the Tribune interview by email with a few friends including Damilola Agboola who forwarded it to another friend of his , Michael Oluwagbemi, who then asked Dami to introduce him to me, and that meeting was eventually what led to the birth of Wennovation Hub, in July 2010, and the many things that have come thereafter including the creating of the word Afropreneur (and trademarking it) and the playing of a pioneering role in the Nigerian technology ecosystem. By this time, I was also quite active in the Houston tech scene, creating the Next Cool Idea program at Rice, which was a 72-hour startup weekend event.

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Anyways fast forward to early 2011, and I am busy remotely setting up Wennovation Hub along with the rest of the team, Along with Kevin Simmons, I lead Business development for a new edtech focused on Africa and win the 2011 Dell Technology Awards,  , get accepted into the Harambeans Fellowship where I render poem recitations  , win the 2011 Sallyport Award for extraordinary contributions to Rice University , get profiled as one of the top black students in the history of Rice University,  and thinking of my post MBA plans (and resisting being persuaded to do a PhD in Business degree by my Rice professors) , as life at Chevron is seeming less appealing by the day.

Around this time, I also cofounded Afyazima (Elpida Diagnostics) with Muntaqa at this point with the goal of distributing cheap point of care diagnostics across Nigeria. Then in one of those great coincidences of life, I see an email on a group mailing list that mentioned scholarship opportunities for a graduate program at the University of Oxford.

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Out of curiosity, I click on the link and find out that as I already was in an MBA program, the only graduate course I could do at Oxford, was a M.Sc. in Global Health Science at Oxford. I put in my application without thinking much of it, especially as I didn’t meet many of the prerequisites for the course and had zero medical background and only managed a credit in Biology many years earlier. My personal statements and essays were very clear on me being an outlier and why they needed an outsider in the room. Well, something seems to have worked as I got admitted, along with both the Weidenfeld Hoffman Trust full scholarship, along with a Kellogg College scholarship! One interesting twist though was that I didn’t get the actual scholarship for developing countries which was what led me to apply to Oxford, but instead ended up getting the Weidenfeld scholarship as one of five American scholars selected for that year! (along with Ouleye Ndoye, who would later play a key role in my leadership of the Oxford University Africa Society)

I took a leave of absence from Chevron and arrived Oxford in September 2011,  to discover that unlike during my EMBA program, I was probably one of the oldest in my class, and probably one of the few ones who had no clue about most topics we were going to be learning; from Diabetes Mellitus to Health Economics to Global Disease Burdens.  I quickly realized also that unlike the USA where there was GPA, and continuous tests, my Oxford program only had term papers and a final exam, and you either failed, got a Pass or got a distinction. 

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After a lifetime of First Class Degrees at undergraduate and graduate levels, I quickly told myself I didn’t have any point to prove again by aiming for a Distinction. Not that it took much to persuade me, seeing as there was going to be stiff competition from the very young eggheads in my class, especially the six young female medical doctors from Nigeria (three of who ended up with Distinctions).  Rather I quickly busied myself with Oxford politics and ended up becoming not just the President of the Oxford University Africa Society (under the tutelage of the Late Prof Raufu Mustapha who was to write me this prized reference letter shortly before his death in 2018) , but also an officer of the Oxford University Students Union representing the entire Medical Division.

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I spent more time at Oxford attending and participating in debates at the Oxford Union, and attending invited (or gatecrashed) talks all over Oxford, than I spent studying. I was more likely to be found at the Said Business School engaging with entrepreneurs and meeting famous visiting speakers, than I was to be found in the library at Headington where the Global Health students were.  I became the ‘Uncle’ to the Nigerian students in my class and would have them not just teach me what I didn’t grasp in class, but also cook great meals to accompany the group study sessions.  

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They would joke about my unserious academic attitude as I would spend most weekends in  London representing the African society at one key public event or the other, or attending global conferences in Washington,  and even leading business development for another health technology startup at Oxford for which I won the 2012 Dell Technology Award again, and I would reply half-jokingly, that I was only at Oxford to get their email addresses , so I could call on them in the future. I ended my Oxford year working on an m-Health project with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and the Ministry of Health in Swaziland, and hiking Swazi mountains.

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So that was how I ended up with three master degrees in very diverse fields of Computer Science, Business, and Global Health. My late Dad would usually joke that my laziness in doing a single PhD was what led to me doing three masters degrees. At that point it wasn’t immediately obvious to even myself, what I was looking for in this confused educational journey, and I would later add a stint at Singularity University to it, but I would just tell anyone who asked, that I was in the business of technology in health!

But this birthday week, as I ended that last call and looked back, it all seemed to make sense when viewed backwards. The ability to understand the difficult fields of particle physics and multivariate statistics, while juggling datamining and pattern classification, and the diverse educational experiences of computer science and engineering, business and global health were what were now behind my complete ease at listening to, learning from,  and engaging with entrepreneurs from very diverse fields, connecting dots between the disparate sectors, and yet being able to ask meaningful and probing questions of them in deciding to invest or not.

It reminded me of the closing part of my Oxford application statement where I said in big English;

 “I would love to benefit from attending Oxford University because I believe that this experience would distill my personal and business experiences, my bent for entrepreneurship, my background in technology and statistics and blend them with my local roots and global education into a fine brew that will increase my motivation and commitment to providing leadership in solving the complex global health challenges in the developing world.”

Also, prior to each of those Zoom calls, I have always been able to find an expert in my network, who can provide a quick deep analysis (and education) to me of the problem area I was currently entertaining.

So I would call on Daniel Diemers (Singularity) on issues that were crypto related, and my cousin, Hakeem Gbadebo if it had to do with institutional investment and quants and stuff, and when it had to do with cancers and bioscience, Dr. Onikepe from my Oxford days was just a WhatsApp message away, and of course for those things space related, it was either Dr. Raheem Bello or Kwatsi from Nasa.

As famous therapist, Esther Perel says on the importance of relationships:

“Life will present you with unexpected opportunities, and you won’t always know in advance which the important moments are. Above all, it’s the quality of your relationships that will determine the quality of your life. Invest in your connections, even those that seem inconsequential.”

So as I was writing this, I dug out my 2005 M.Sc. thesis on Particle Physics , and this line in the introduction section struck me:

“The identification of ‘interesting events’ usually involves the separation of small multivariate signal events from a large amount of high-dimensional background events.”

That statement could have applied to my 2005 pattern classification work in Particle Physics , as is it applies to my 2020 pattern classification work in angel investing which is essentially  ” identification of interesting entrepreneurs/events/ideas, by separating small and strong signals from all the hype and noise out there in the early stage space.”

I am right where I started, and it all makes sense now, viewed backwards.

Afropreneur Idris Ayodeji Bello, December 2020

So I started this as a tweet about connecting dots in retrospect, and how a host of unplanned events, diverse educational experiences, and relationships built over time have contributed to my ability to handle investing in diverse sectors, and a few hours later, the tweet had turned into a 3700 words write-up which is really an abridged story of my pre-investing life!

Hopefully it finds its space in my yet to be written book on “Investing in the Dark; a Decade of Finding, Supporting, and Investing in Afropreneurs”

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10 Survival Tips for African Startups in a Corona World

It is no longer news that despite being slow to catch up to the COVID-19 pandemic, African countries from Nigeria to Egypt to South Africa are now having to deal with increasing cases of COVID-19 , with resulting varied responses from airport shut-downs to lock-ins and the rest.

 

So what does this mean for the growing startups across the continent who will no doubt be affected?  As an investor with a portfolio spanning several African countries , and diverse sectors, I do have some companies that are either directly impacted by the pandemic, such as companies which focus on supporting travel, events, and other gatherings, and many that will be indirectly impacted . I also have some startups that have found a huge positive spike especially those in the online learning and pharma space.

What is clear and which I am prepared for after having spent the last few days speaking to over 30 portfolio companies is that companies with short runways will likely die, and even more jarring, companies that operate in certain industries could fold because of a  “foundational collapse” caused by these shocks.

Earlier today, I spent some time with some high-level entrepreneurs across Africa who are part of the Harambeans Family and who are also speaking to startups in their portfolios, fashioning a COVID-19 outlook and strategy.

Here are 10 takeaways for startups/small businesses.

1. This pandemic will likely last at least 6 months to 2 years (from an economic perspective). Do not believe the lie this is going to end soon; If you wait and don’t act soon, your business may die. This is serious.

2. Investors will tighten wallets for two reasons: (a) Response to coming recession (b) Many African countries are not equipped for this and some are in recession E.g. SA has been in recession. Nigeria, SA, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Kenya = top countries that will be heavily compromised when we come out of this crisis

3. Non-critical businesses will have to make tough decisions (e.g. let people go, etc.) Many African countries will be closed for at least another month and borders closed to supplies too.

4. Figure out how your business is aligned for a COVID-19 response. Thought exercise: what existing assets do you have and what does it give you ability to do. Shift the use of these assets. For next couple of months, you need to help people stay alive (make money, eat, entertain them selves or learn while locked in, move food/material logistics etc.)

5. Need to be cash flow positive for next several months. If you have a deal or cash on the table, you need to hoard it now. Cash is king. Conserve what you have. Hold onto your cost of capital as much as you can.

6. Cut expenses completely that are not directly related to the bottom line. Cut them now. You will have to redefine what is essential.So you can react wherever the market goes.

7. For entrepreneurs: first priority should be to raise just enough capital if you need it to extend your runway and freeze non-essential expenses at this point. It’s not easy to raise capital at this point, but it does not mean you cannot raise. Look at “venture debt” = not for everyone, but raising debt financing on the back of having raised equity on the back of VCs. Provides collateral against debt financing.

For employees, being laid off is not the end of the world. View it as a new opportunity to retool and refocus. Identify which of your skills are needed in a different space. Perhaps, there’s that project you’ve been thinking of working on or you’ve not had enough time to explore, this might be that golden opportunity to put that idea to test while you explore other employment opportunities. My advice to you will be, time is of the essence and you can’t allow the event or situation overwhelm you because your productivity and abilities are beyond being unemployed.

8.This is a moment where the world is reshaped. It’s a pandemic and financial crisis at the same time. It will be a new normal.

9. Moving forward, build a continuity plan. No one anticipated this and so ask “Is my business equipped for the fallout”?

10. When we come out of this, there will be huge local opportunities, as countries now realise you cannot rely upon China or anyone for all your strategic needs, starting from food to basic medical supplies. Expect a boom in support for local manufacturing, healthcare and similar key needs as new supply chains are formed. Also, there will be new startups that come out of opportunities arising from the crisis. I remember Andela for formed in 2014 around the Ebola crisis, and Flutterwave in 2016 when Nigeria had a recession!

And here is another excellent article on how to survive and thrive in a downturn!

Afropreneur Idris Bello
Loftyinc Capital Management

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I will do this again, with more zeal, if I had the chance – Salisu Hamisu, CEO AgriCo

The Afropreneur is an every two-weeks series that aims to highlight Entrepreneurs in Africa, their progress, challenges and how they get back up.

 

Today’s edition features Salihu Hamisu, a young entrepreneur building AgriCo to “help youths strategically position themselves in the agricultural value chain. For him, It’s about the “passion of creating value for people.”

 AgriCo is an e-learning platform that enables young people to learn how to grow crops and animals right from the comfort of their homes with interactive online classes taught by experts. 

 

Foray into entrepreneurship?

I started my entrepreneurship journey since when I was in secondary school. I grew up in an extended family of successful businessmen and women, in fact, this is what our family is known for. As such I inherently have this thing in me that made me want to create value for people – I want to create jobs rather than being employed to work for anyone.

This influenced my choice of study at the university. I initially wanted to be a medical doctor so much such that I used to fake illness as a kid just to be taken to a hospital to see doctors in their clean offices with white coats and stethoscopes on their necks. Sadly, as I grew older I realized medicine is not for me and I started searching for a University course that will empower me to establish my own businesses and create value, this led me to settle for Agriculture as my choice of study.

Biggest achievement since starting Entrepreneurship?

AgriCo was awarded the Public Choice Award of the PitchAgriHack competition organized by CTA and it’s partners during the African Green Revolution Forum in Accra, Ghana this year. And Salisu names this as one of his latest achievements since he started entrepreneurship.

He also affirms that this award is one of the most important targets for Agripreneurs in the whole of African, the Carribean, and the Pacific’s countries. 

“I have achieved so much as an entrepreneur and I count and celebrate every little win. No achievement is little to me because I must have put in so much energy and hard work into it. As such I have so many ‘big wins’. “

Big question: Would you try this again if you had to start over?

If I have the chance to start this again, I’ll definitely do that with even more zeal, but there are things I’ll do differently because I have learned so much the other time.

Mad!

Pursuing your passion(idea) or just doing business for money?

It’s okay to go into entrepreneurship to make money, but money shouldn’t be the number one on the list of anyone willing to succeed. Building a startup is never easy, there are so many disappointments, you need to have a greater driving force than just making money to remain alive – passion. 

Passion could come in different flavors, it could be the passion to solve a particular problem, to create a particular value or to become relevant in the society.

Where does AgriCo fall for you? Passion or Money Making Machine?

I started AgriCo to help youths strategically position themselves in the agricultural value chain. It’s about the passion for creating value for people.

Makes sense.

Talking about AgriCo, what prompted the idea?

I started my personal farming ventures while still in university, and I was doing really well, obviously because I employ my background and knowledge in the processes. As this became apparent to the outside world, friends and family started seeking my advice on how to start and successfully run an agribusiness just like I did. 

I then saw a growing number of people in need of such advice and the only sane way to reach them is through technology. Then the idea of AgriCo came to mind.

What’s your biggest driving force?

My biggest driving force is creating a value that will translate into zero hunger for the whole of Africa.

Have you ever had to deal with dishonest business partners? Tell us about it.

No, I haven’t come across dishonest partners yet.

You have just one piece of advice to give to a newbie entrepreneur…

My advice will be to just start, the condition and the timing will never be perfect. If you have an idea, just go for it.

 

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Afropreneur in Bristol: Can you do big things from such a small place? When universities play the right role in their communities!

Afropreneur in Bristol:  Can you do big things from such a small place?

The highlight of my week was visiting the University of West England (UWE-Bristol), and seeing how such a business-facing university is able to do big things, especially around research into Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Health Technologies, and Enterprise. It is even more heartwarming knowing that there are lots of brilliant Nigerian scientists driving a large part of this along with their counterparts from around the world.

A very BIG DEAL!

Started the day at the Big Data Enterprise and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (Big-DEAL) founded in 2016 by  Professor Lukumon Oyedele, who is also the Assistant Vice-Chancellor of the University and Director of the Lab. The lab is 100% externally funded with 33 strong active researchers and has supported the growth of many businesses and generated more than £18 million in project funding.

https://bigdatalab.org.uk/

Very interesting work being done around Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, Immersive Technologies: Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, Simulation, Internet of Things (IoT), Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Cyber-physical Security.

The lab has a very clear mission;

To develop (a) a world-leading cross-disciplinary research laboratory that leverages novel digital technologies to address current needs and future challenges;

(b) commercially sound digital solutions that drive up commercial competitiveness and productivity, and that improve the quality of life and well-being of the society at large.

The exciting thing is that it is all applied, market-facing research that is sponsored by government and industry, and carried out in collaboration with top UK companies and SMEs. Every project has a requirement that it must have an industry partner. So not a surprise that Big-DEAL has attracted more than £18 million in funding from Innovate UK, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS), and EPSRC.

A Big-DEAL indeed seeing that I came across a few of my OAU lecturers leading the research, and the amount is probably more than OAU, my alma mater, currently has budgeted for research!

 

Sidebar- I also ran into an @Andela alumnus in the Lab (yes, we are everywhere), and she is working on some very interesting research in conversational AI -see below.

 

I particularly found a few of their ongoing work particularly interesting and applicable to some of our challenges in Africa;

  1. a) The work they are doing around advanced Natural Language Processing and conversational AI for enabling on-site frontline workers to verbally communicate with BIM systems can find easy applications in our work @TORAAfrica) with semi-educated artisans. If you can allow artisans to ask questions/get trained/learn about their field by interacting with machines/tools/processes in their natural, local languages, rather than being limited to reading foreign manuals, you can speed up on the job training, improve productivity, and ensure fewer mistakes are made on construction sites, in factories, etc.
  2. b) AI Monitoring system for Safer Driving behaviors can easily be adapted for monitoring the truck fleet drivers across Nigeria, Kenya, etc. and driving safer behaviors.

There was also the IoT-enabled Platform for Rail Assets Monitoring and Predictive Maintenance (i-RAMP) which leverages techniques in Artificial Intelligence (AI), IoT and Augmented Reality (AR) to enable predictive and preventive maintenance.

And of course, lots of publications (over 47 journal publications, with high citations since 2016) and so on….

LaunchSpace!

Then with the kind help of my friend @otukogbe, I moved on to explore the UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone which also houses Bristol Robotics Laboratory, the largest robotics complex in the UK (where Silas Adekunle incubated Reach Robotics), the Future Space incubator for high-tech start-ups, and the Launch Space innovation incubator for graduate tech start-ups.

The Enterprise Zone is a business ‘hatchery’, incubation and grow on space for businesses specializing in robotics, biosciences, biomedicine and other high tech areas.  The idea is to promote university-business collaboration, provide space for new and growing businesses, access to specialist facilities and expertise, and business support. The £16.5m project is supported by £4m from the government with match-funding from the Local Enterprise Partnership, business and UWE Bristol itself. The Zone is expected to generate over 500 new jobs, and generate more than £50m for the local economy.

All things Health!

My first stop was at the Health Tech Hub, a new £5 million centre just next to the Bristol Robotics.  After being introduced to the Director, Prof Luxton, and Dr Attwood, the Director of Industrial Partnerships, I was shown around by an amazing Nigerian research scientist, Dr Ibidapo Williams, who incidentally had done his first degree in Microbiology at OAU again!

 

The Hub is focused on advancing technology that enables people to live independently and manage their own health and well-being, thereby ensuring they spend the least possible time in hospital, and I spent time in a live-testing apartment within the facility. The fully furnished one-bedroom flat enables engineers to measure the functionality of their products and, using cameras, monitor how people might interact with them while at home. The space will also allow them to evaluate the use of new home diagnostics, for example smart toilets, and new systems for treatment monitoring, as well as activity monitoring and prompting of everyday tasks. Splendid!

I was also shown around the genomic laboratory where companies can develop technologies for personalized medicine, which are tailored to the patient according to their genetic make-up. Other products included next-generation diagnostic wearable biochemical sensors able to detect diseases and monitor patients’ long-term health conditions.

I was also introduced to Auwal Musa @AuwalMusamuhd, a brilliant PhD student and electrochemist, from Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, who is working on new advances in polymer engineering with the latest tools.

Greaaaaat Ife!

 Anyways, I finished the tour and discussions at the office of the Pro Vice Chancellor & Executive Dean, Faculty of Environment and Technology (FET), Prof Paul Olomolaiye, who, wait for it, is a 1981 alumnus of the University of Ife! The Faculty spans Architecture, Engineering, Computer Science and the Environment

He explained how the Launchpad and Enterprise Center wasn’t a separate part of the university, but deeply embedded in the student experience from the first year on campus, such that students graduated with not just their degrees, but fully launched startups ( It reminded me of the TENT program PIN and Gbenga Sesan had started a while back.)And how it complimented the West of England’s plan to be seen more and more as a leader in a number of areas, including robotics, high tech, creative and digital innovation

 

Well, every great tour had to end with food as you know……..and lots of takeaway lessons!

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Why I am investing in my first female-founded African startup- We are TORA!

So, I recently made my 17th angel investment in an African startup, but it’s arguably one of the most interesting ones I have made.

Firstly, it’s probably the first female-founded, female-led startup I have invested in. But it gets even more interesting.

My investment thesis has always been founders first. Identifying passionate, committed entrepreneurs who have a dream and who have integrity. It is one thing that has never failed me.

Even when it doesn’t provide financial returns in the short run, it provides ‘people’ returns in the long run as you never go wrong betting on adding value to people.

It doesn’t mean the entrepreneur is perfect. No, far from it, most times it’s even the imperfections that drive their passion. What it means is that they are honest and will give this their best shot. It also means they are willing to be teachable!

That sounds very cliché but it is almost the most important thing at the very early stages when you don’t have enough data to justify your gut decisions. Every early stage entrepreneur is going to struggle, but if they have integrity, and are willing to ask for help and to take help, then even if the business doesn’t succeed, the entrepreneur will succeed.

But beyond the entrepreneur and their team is also the idea, its scale, and its potential impact. In this realm, I have never been about just a pure apps or marketplace investor. I like people at the center of my companies. I like companies solving real problems such that even before I get financial returns, I get feel good returns. It’s even more fulfilling if the product is human capacity development and that is why companies like Andela are a no-brainer.

And if I may be allowed to use that phrase– it is one of the reasons why I made this recent pre-seed investment in the ‘Andela for Drivers’ – which TORA Africa is.

TORA Africa is an academy that recruits, trains, verifies, insures and provides background-checked drivers for individuals and businesses. Basically, it recruits and trains drivers for deployment to individuals and companies who need them.

Whether as individual car drivers, Okada riders, fleet owners, truck drivers, we are always complaining about drivers, their lack of training, attitude, and myriads of other issues. Well, TORA is here to help solve that. We are big on training and retraining of drivers to meet 21st century driving standards.

While this is not about coding or artificial intelligence or any of these new things you usually see me posting about, it is about erasing the concept of mediocrity in every profession as my late mentor Pius Adesanmi would have put it.

This is about showing that being a driver should not make you subhuman or deny you of health insurance or turn you into a menace on the roads. And every trained driver/rider who makes the road safer because of TORA is a win for us.

It is about realizing that a driver can be more about just driving. You can learn new skills that turn you into a logistics executive or a PA in addition to your driving skills.

And that leads me to the third point, which is about my interest in the informal sector which makes up the greater population across Africa, especially the population that is at least secondary school educated but lacking opportunities in the economy.

The International Labour Organization estimates that more than 66% of total employment in Sub-Saharan African is in the informal sector.

And according to the Center for Global Development in a recent report, “The informal sector has been the main driver of employment growth in Africa for decades, absorbing rising urban populations. While this sector is unproductive and lacks employee protections, we need to recognize that realistically, it’s where Africa’s youth bulge is going to find their livelihoods.”

So the goal here is to see how  technology-enabled platforms like TORA  might make this type of informal gigs more productive and of a better quality for workers themselves, hence accommodating the progressive inclusion of informal enterprise in the formal economy to generate value for all parties.

While TORA is starting with drivers, my hope is that with time it extends to other aspects of the informal economy.

Still very early days, but I am excited about what the team led by Roseline ,Ized, and Charles are trying to do around formalizing this sector, and enhancing people’s skills. I am therefore excited to welcome them to my portfolio and the extended Wennovation Family!

So if you need a job, you can drive (or are willing to learn), you want to be a driver/rider, you understand that TORA Africa will negotiate the best pay for you, including insurance and HMO, are willing to undergo thorough background checks and provide reliable guarantors, then check the team out on Twitter  @toraafrica  or Facebook

Hello Africa, We are TORA!

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Afropreneur in Tunis – The Tech Tourist (Work & Play) Edition

So this past month,  I finally took up a pending invitation to visit Tunis, ostensibly to attend the 3rd Demo Day of the Flat6Labs Tunis accelerator, but also to connect and engage with the local ecosystem, as part of our Afropreneurs Fund’s North Africa strategy.

While I had visited Morocco a few years earlier, and spent lots of time in Egypt over the past few years, Tunisia (Ifriqiyya) was a country I knew little about, either from a tech ecosystem point of view or even as an avowed tourist.

Arriving in Tunis

I landed at the Tunis Carthage International Airport on a Wednesday morning. While it wasn’t an impressive airport in terms of size or structure (compared to the Cairo airport, it did look like a small regional or local airport), it made up for what it lacked in size, with the ease with which I passed Immigration Control, exchanged some money into the local currency, got a free sim card from the Orange kiosk and loaded 2Gb of data on it,  and got out of the airport. It did help though that I didn’t check in any luggage.

No Uber, No Careem!

Disappointingly, there is a stark absence of ride-sharing companies in Tunis. No Uber, and not even the Careem I had grown to enjoy as an alternative in my travels across North Africa and the GCC region. My friend Kyane, who had facilitated the trip had told me to just hop into one of the airport yellow taxis and insist the driver turns on his ‘adad’ (meter). He advised the cost from the airport (which is surprisingly in the middle of the town) to my hotel shouldn’t exceed about 6-10 dinars ( about 2-3 USD).

However, I tried three different yellow cabs, and they refused to use meters, so I had to take one, and on the assumption that I was Ivorien or Malian, he engaged me in French all the way to the hotel, while I just nodded blankly. We arrived the hotel, and the guy insisted on collecting 20 dinars, and I refused, and gave him 10 dinars. It took the intervention of the hotel concierge before I agreed to pay him the balance.

(Side note- while French was actually a compulsory language in junior secondary school in Nigeria while I was growing up, we never took it serious as it sounded quite funny and musical to our ears. We liked the way the usually pretty French teachers pronounced ‘encore’ and ‘repete’, and all I took away from three years of French beyond it being the only red spot on my termly report cards- was Bonjour, Bonsoir, Viens, Je mapelle, Monsieur and Madame).

I had been booked at the 5-star Hotel Laico Tunis in the downtown district and just off the intersection of Avenue Mohamed V and  Avenue du Ghana. While I wasn’t disappointed by the hotel in both its imposing edifice and the comforts it promised to offer, I knew I didn’t have lots of time to indulge as I had a very busy schedule lined up.

Work-space or Hotel?

Very soon I was off to my first set of meetings at Cogite Coworking Space (heart of the ecosystem, equivalent to Egypt’s Greek campus, but much smaller).  Had great discussions with Afef and got an overview of the space which is quite centrally located. I wasn’t surprised to hear it had won awards for best working space several times, with the beautiful indoors, and even the garden outside which had, wait for it, a swimming pool! The work space hosted quite a variety of folks from developers to journalists. Interesting to hear over 40% of the hub members are female.

I also liked this nice outdoor space constructed by one of their startups-Prefabulous.

Outdoor Unit built by Prefabulous

Thank you Afef and team for a good tour.

 

Lunch time came, and I stopped by one of the outdoor restaurants nearby, to order some hot chocolate and pastries.  The lady rambled on and on in French while I looked on like Dundee United before I suddenly remembered that Tunisia was supposed to be a dual-language country, and I had indeed seen several signs in both Arabic and French.

So I replied her back in passable Arabic , but she replied back in French again, until I was forced to say ‘Je ne parles pas francais’ or what I hope sounded close to that, at which point she now started responding in Arabic. I was like, Aunty, where did you leave that one before?

Anyways, that was when the realization occurred  to me that she, like many Tunisians, probably thought most black folks spoke French (as most black people in Tunis I was to learn, were from Ivory Coast as they didn’t require a visa to enter the country) and also, they used French and Arabic interchangeably. By the way hot chocolate here isn’t the usual plenty of milk with a smattering of chocolate, it is truly cocoa with just some milk. It was so thick and bitter I couldn’t finish it!

Demo Day

Very soon I was off to the main event I was in town for, the Flat6Labs Demo Day, which was holding at the Acropolium of Carthage. The Acropolium, also known as Saint Louis Cathedral , is a Roman Catholic church located in Carthage, Tunisia and completed in 1880. The cathedral sits on the peak of Byrsa Hill, near the ruins of the ancient Punic and then Roman city.  Since 1993, the cathedral has been known as the “Acropolium”. It is no longer used for worship, but instead hosts public events or concerts of Tunisian music and classical music.

For history buffs, the Carthage (Arabic: قرطاج‎, Qarṭāj) dates back to first millennium BC and the legendary Queen Dido who is regarded as the founder of the city, having been granted by the local tribe to purchase an amount of land that could be covered by an oxhide.  Smart woman, she cut the ox skin into strips, she laid out her claim and founded an empire that would become, through the Punic Wars, the only existential threat to Rome until the coming of the Vandals several centuries later. Ok that’s enough, this is not an history class! Google Hannibal if you like history though!

Back to the Demo Day, it was an awesomely attended event, and I probably met about 90% of the ecosystem at that single event, which was well executed. Startups that demo-ed included MooMe, a system and platform designed to help farmers improve the fertility and health of their livestock, Seemba, a solution to help mobile game developers to monetize, TIRA Robots focused on creating industrial robots for industry, Fabskill , an online recruitment management platform, Boostiny, Grabingo, and eRobot.

When you realize  that compared to Nigeria’s 180 million population, Tunisia is about 12 million people, and Tunis has about two million people for Lagos’ fifteen million people, I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd that filled the hall. As one of the stakeholders told me, ‘we are a very small ecosystem, so the only way to thrive is to work closely with each other and support each other’. Big Lessons there!

Side Note: During the demo day, one of the key stats celebrated was the growth of investment into the startup sector in 2018 to $20m. This seemed small coming from Nigeria, where a single portfolio company of ours had done just that last year but I was later to understand why this was so.

Demo Day over, my host took me to experience fresh fish and some Tunisian salad at the La Goulette area just by the Lake of Tunis before I called it a day!

 

A New Day!

Next day, I was off for my morning meetings and tour of B@tlabs.  I missed breakfast and made a mental note to myself to stop booking breakfast along with my hotels as more often than not, I usually don’t feel like going for breakfast especially when traveling alone.

B@tLabs  is an incubator launched by Tunisia’s leading private bank, Banque Internationale Arabe de Tunisie (BIAT) and is prominently located on probably the most famous street in Tunis- Avenue- Habib Bourguiba- which is the central thoroughfare of Tunis, and the historical political and economic heart of Tunisia. It bears the name of the first President of the Republic of Tunisia and the national leader of the Tunisian independence movement, and actually has his statue there too.

It is lined up with shops and cafes on both sides similar to the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and its extension, the Avenue de France, Place de l’Indépendance marking the central roundabout with Lake of Tunis at the eastern end. Many of the important monuments are located along this avenue, including Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul, French Embassy in Tunisia and Théâtre municipal de Tunis. During the protests of 2011, many demonstrations calling for the downfall of President Ben Ali and that of the national unity government were held on the avenue. 

Lunch off the Beaten Bath!

After  a tour and discussion, the CEO, Nooman Fehri  (who was ex-Minister of ICT after the revolution and credited with creating the Startup Act and driving the growth)  who is widely known and respected in the ecosystem took me off the usual path to partake in some authentic local cuisine, deep into the Medina, at what is apparently a world-famous local restaurant- Khairi Restaurant- which has no signboards but surprisingly has an active Facebook page. He mentioned that this is one place where you can run into a cleaner and a bank owner at the same table. The food was out of this world and the owner excellent! #Khairi #Burghul #Couscous #Octopus

The Rest of the Ecosystem

That same afternoon I was privileged to also visit with several key actors in the local ecosystem including Khaled ben Jilani of AfricInvest who I had met last year at an E&Y  venture capital event in Luxembourg. I also met with Zakaria Belkhoja , the astute CFO of Meninx Holdings,  a family controlled investment company managing a diversified portfolio  across various sectors and the brain behind the growing startup scene here through Le15, and also involved in revitalizing the downtown area.  Meninx hosts Flat6Labs Tunis in its beautiful building located at the intersection of the tram, train, and bus terminals.

And that was the end of a very busy day. Well almost, except that around midnight I was feeling hungry and went into the streets to get some really delicious shawarma from the late night street vendors!

TGIF!

Friday was another busy day  of meetings and visits,  kicking off with the very young, but super-smart Haythem Mehouachi, CEO of Diva Sicar, the investment team managing the government’s Fund of Funds for startups. He is also a member of the Task Force in charge of the Startup Act, the bill recently passed in the Assembly, and of Startup Tunisia, the national initiative that “works to make Tunisia a nation of Startups at the crossroads of the southern shores of the Mediterranean, the MENA region and the Africa”.

I thereafter visited Flat6Labs Tunis for a tour and presentation by about ten of their startups . In addition to the Startup pitches from the demo-day, others  included Chantier , a Home Remodeling platform, and WattNow,  which I found quite similar to  Nigeria’s Solstice Energy and Kenya’s Modularity Grid

Another interesting meeting was with Mahdi Njim of Intilaq ,Tunisia’s main VC, which is a partnership between Microsoft, Ooredoo, and Qatar Friendship Fund.  Probably the the most active VC/accelerator in Tunisia (with over 26 investments in the last 4 years), it strictly focuses on B2B firms. I got pitched on five of their top startups ;Datavora, a web scale E-Commerce monitor for B2C actors, Symmetryk, a sales enablement platform for pharma laboratories, Roam Smart, a leading provider of innovative Roaming and Big Data Solutions to mobile operators, Ezzayra, focused on Agtech, AgRobotics, and Polysmart , a very hot gaming startup.

On the way home, I stopped by at another gaming startup, DigitalMania which has a new VR-based  team building game , and at Go My Code, one of the exciting coding schools in the region founded by a 21 year old geek.

 

Its a good day that ends on a foodful note!

Well after my last meeting on Friday, I couldn’t wait for the weekend to come fast enough to explore some of the other sides of Tunis. So kicking off Friday night, I had Kyane take me to some other less fancy parts of town to eat .

 

Key Takeaways from the Tech Tourism

Before I jump to how I spent the weekend sightseeing, here are some key takeaways from my conversations with stakeholders in the ecosystem.

  1.  The focus here is largely on deep tech because they have a small population and B2C is tough, hence more companies do B2B. Also the talent is plenty, strong (good educational systems grounded in math and science) and cheap as there aren’t that many multinationals to soak up the talent or pay good salaries (the exchange rate is $1-3 TDNR, so in naira terms the salaries may still be high though). Also, most design and manufacture for their startups is done locally and quite cost-competitive even compared to China.

  2. I got insights into why the amount of funding into the Tunisian ecosystem is low (only $20m last year as compared to $160m in Nigeria)- because some of the funding goes into Tunisian nationals who decide to establish in France (and hence get captured as France funding) and also because the local/surrounding market is small, so the entrepreneurs stretch the seed funds a long way (talent is cheap) and the goal is usually not to sell the company at high valuations as happens with B2C but really to sell the technology or be acquired by bigger companies in US and Europe as acqu-hires.

  3. Apparently, Tunisia has the strongest mathematics-based functional public education system in Africa, and this is creating lots of developers and engineers. Learned Tunisia currently tops Africa in number of published research annually, and has over 70 functioning research institutes and 30 technology transfer offices.

  4. Of 137 countries in 2018 ranked on the Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI), which measures the “quality and dynamics of entrepreneurship ecosystems at a national and regional level” , Tunisia ranked 40th overall, sixth in the Middle East and North Africa region and first in Africa.

 

Here Comes the Weekend!

Saturday morning we went to the Lac area, where I ‘borrowed’ a bike to take a long ride along the beach, before heading to El Marsa, the old summer capital of pre-colonial Tunisia, which is where the upper class seem to live, and is today a popular vacation spot for many wealthy Tunisians. It is connected to Tunis by the railway and a nice road with good views.

And because tourism is never complete without good food, we went for a nice lunch at the Le Safsaf restaurant.

Who visits Tunisia without going to Sidi Bou Said?

Thereafter I visited ‘Sidi Bou Said’ which everyone had mentioned I needed to visit. Its really a small old French village painted mostly in blue and white on the shores of the ocean. Named for a religious figure who lived there, Abu Said al-Baji, it was previously called Jabal el-Menar.

Practiced some haggling and negotiation tactics at the tourist market cutting off almost 50% on the stated prices of my purchases.

Later that evening I met my first Nigerian in Tunis (who runs a thriving hair salon along with his wife) in the El-Aouina area (pronounced Lawina by the Africans I met) and he invited me to join their weekly Nigerians In Diaspora Organization (NIDO) football practice the next day.

Le Medina- the heart of Tunis

So Sunday came and I spent the morning doing a mini-tour of  Habib Bourghuiba Ave and Le Medina again, especially the 7 famous mosques as seen from the roof of one of the tallest buildings.

Le Medina has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and is said to contain some hundreds of  monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and fountains dating from the Almohad and the Hafsid periods. Founded in 698 around the original core of the Zitouna Mosque, the Medina of Tunis developed throughout the Middle Ages.

Sunday Soccer

Took a taxi to Danfaddal to join the soccer practice, and this is how I summarized the experience in pidgin!

As our people dey talk so golden fish no got hide. Na im naija embassy hear say ah dey town na so dem carry me follow play Sunday football with NIDO Tunisia. As I no fit tell dem say I no dey form after all di couscous I don consume dis week na im ah tell dem say I no carry kit come.

Dem say e no matter, make ah leave matter for Mathias and sabi for Sabinus make ah do goalkeeper.

As say when monkey sef see tree wey near tree, he go dey wan show himself, na im me too come dey jump up and down dey try catch ball.

Five minutes never pass sef before I dey see di kain shot the boys dey faya come realize say na professional boys wey get stuck for Tunisia on the way to Europe na im dem carry me come play, no be the small area boys wey Suraj dey follow play for him area.

Anyways as dem fire one ball bend ma hand na him one man wey see as my face strong kara Kara come realize say because agama lizard dey nod head no mean say everything dey OK, na him he con borrow me brain make ah no dey try catch all the balls o.

As per say na fly wey no get special adviser na im dey follow dead bodi enta grave, na im me too don come dey use Cava and bien take style dodge ball until game over. Shukran lillahi. Merci beacoup. Koku Baboni!”

Had my first spicy meal of grilled fish and plantain (dodo) at an Ivorien restaurant, and I was officially done.

Au revoir Tunis!

Parting Thoughts…

One other takeaway from my trip is that what resonated  in discussions with ecosystem stakeholders was not even our slides (which I didn’t get a chance to present sometimes, and had to hurry through a few times) but our story.

 Every time, everyone connected with our story as LoftyInc founders who returned home from living abroad to launch one of Nigeria’s first tech innovation hubs, Wennovation Hub. To sustain that financially, we leveraged local and diaspora talent to build a strong professional practice around innovation advisory and project implementation for corporates, international agencies and the public sector.

 This also enabled WeHub to expand the hubs from one to four cities. We then leveraged diaspora networks to raise an angel fund, which has achieved 15x returns with success stories including Andela and Flutterwave, raising $220M from top follow-on investors, many from Silicon Valley.  With support from our Silicon Valley-area based long time advisor,  we are now launching a new, larger VC fund- The LoftyInc Afropreneurs Fund– to accommodate our robust deal flow from diaspora returning and from local entrepreneurs remaining home. Our Afropreneurs are passionate about solving big problems for vast populations by leveraging low-cost, scalable platforms.

Join Us!

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An Evening with John Doerr- Why He is Betting on AI and Amazon!

This past Tuesday, I had the honor of attending a talk and spending some time with John Doerr, astute American Investor and venture capitalist who was an early investor in tech giants such as Google, Amazon, Twitter, Compaq, Netscape, Sun and many others.

 

I have been following John for a while, wrote about him for a term paper in business school, and also spoke about him in an interview I did with BellaNaija in 2012, (https://www.bellanaija.com/…/man-on-a-mission-idris-ayodej…/) where I quoted his approach to venture selection thus;

“In today’s world, there is plenty of money, plenty of venture capital, plenty of technology. What’s in short supply are great teams. Not just great people, but great teams. You guys are going to see huge opportunities, but to be able to take advantage of them; your greatest challenge will be building teams” …” Most startup teams think we evaluate them based on the technology or product. But in reality, we are always thinking about the team members. Who are they? How will they work together? So, I usually ask them questions like; what will you do when something or someone is not working out? With their answers, you can quickly get feelers about the values, health and instincts of the team.”

Anyways back to last week, John had come to Rice University where he obtained his EE degree back in the 70s to speak to fellow alum about his new book; “Measure What Matters, a book about goal-setting”

A few titbits from the talk below. I strongly advise you buy the book, it is an amazing read! It reveals how the goal-setting system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) has helped tech giants from Intel to Google achieve explosive growth—and how it can help any organization thrive.

1. Talking about the need for metrics; if it doesn’t have a number, it is not a key result. Spoke extensively of the effect that Andy Grove had on him at Intel and even shared a few old videos of Andy teaching OKRs.

2. When you have the right people and the right goals, the magic is just around the corner.

3. Amazon is not an e-commerce company, it is a large data set with some stores attached to it.

4. In 2017 for the first time, more money was spent on online ads than was spent on TV ads

5. Short story of how he convinced Steve Jobs to open up the Appstore to others and set up the iFund to fund apps development for the iPhone/iPad

6.Tech tsunamis happen in 13- year cycles; there seem to be tectonic waves of innovation that cause exponential change and interestingly, every 13 years or so.

In the 1980s it was the microchip and the PC. From 1980 where we had Microsoft, and Intel, and Lotus, and Compaq, and all those companies, through about ’93

Then 18 year old kid Mark Andreessen wrote a browser at the University of Illinois and that launched the internet revolution, From ’94, for 13 years, until 2006 to 2007, the internet revolution, Amazon, Google, all those companies, what happened then?

In 2006 Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 1 with no app store. He did not want his phone polluted with the applications of third parties and Dianne Greene launched VMware with cloud computer. We got mobility and cloud computing at the same time, monster effect on productivity, education, and entertainment, our markets how we live and
communicate.

John thinks AI/Machine learning, and particularly its application to healthcare and other sectors is the next wave which will birth the new tech giants! So, I guess we can watch out for Amazon Health or someone else in that space!

7. China may win the AI race unless the USA changes its attitude towards R&D, and Immigration

8. Batteries are the microprocessors of the renewable era.

9. John expects to see major breakthroughs in the area of autonomous vehicles.

10. John also spoke about his failures, one of the major ones which is Segway-which he had forecasted to be the fastest company to get to the billion dollar mark. In hindsight he believes the product was over-engineered and missed the cost mark among other reasons.

11. In response to a question about a founder who lacks the ability to lead, he advised on holding honest conversations with the entrepreneur, and spoke about how they brought in Eric to lead at Google while Larry matured, and then Larry went back to being CEO.

12. There are very few problems in the world that cannot be addressed by better leadership!

13. Ideas are easy. Execution is everything, and for most endeavors, it takes a team to win!

14. He is funding the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University and hopes that in a decade, Rice is known as the finest university producing the greatest leaders in the world.

15.John spoke about how he didn’t inherit any money from his father. Rather his dad said to him; “I am going to give to you, something no one can take away from you-fine education”

16.In response to the question about how Houston can become a major tech hub, John emphasized the role of great universities. Every important tech hub is clustered around great universities, supportive angels, and role model entrepreneurs. Is your university doing enough?

17. For John’s Ted Talk and other stories about OKRs, check outhttps://www.whatmatters.com/

I also got lucky to be one of the two people that John took questions from. My question was on how folks like John could engage with the African continent beyond the usual lens of aid and philanthropy. He responded on how there needs to be more investments into the continent and also how the world needs to rally towards solving the climate change issue as the consequences are going to be disproportionately felt by those in Africa and the rest of the developing world!

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One of the reasons I don’t honour lots of speaking engagements in Nigeria is the hassle of road travel

 

27750358_10215581427032554_2833090469303394592_nSpent over 2 hours stuck around Sango road this morning due to a combination of very bad roads, yesterday’s rain and Dangote’s trucks. ( I am sure if Dangote’s trucks were removed from the roads for just a single day, there would be a significant decline in accidents. The number of his trucks I saw in accidents or very bad conditions on that road was too much)

And I dont care if that road is Federal, State or Local, no human being should be subjected to having to pass through that road more than once in a life time. It’s that horrible!

Anyways I got to Ilaro town and the place looked a lot different from 2000 when I was last there, some good, some bad. The sense of nostalgia was overwhelming with almost every place I saw brought back memories of ‘good’ escapades.

I was impressed by the transformation on campus and the movement of the main school to what we called the Engineering Complex then.

It was heartwarming seeing the very cordial exchanges between the student leaders and the young Rector ( Arch Aluko- used to know him then as a very young lecturer, but he looks much older now). I was impressed by the very open and jovial (but firm) way he engaged the student leadership on issues affecting them.

There was none of that Nigerian chief executive gragra-none of that constituted authority stuff. Where he differed with the students, he refuted their stance with logic and superior examples.

Last time I saw something similar was when I was an officer of the Students Union at Oxford and had regular interactions with the school authorities on student issues. Young people feel a sense of leadership and reciprocate respect (usually) when treated as adults.

I enjoyed engaging with the students on the topic of leadership, especially in a rapidly changing world, where old platforms are crumbling and new platforms defying age, geography and the old norms are rising by day. I had a good back and forth with them.

Seems like yesterday when I was sitting on the other side as a student at Ilaro myself. Thanks to my Mr Mugsit Yusuf for facilitating the invite.

Took some time to visit old haunts like the Staff Nursery and Primary School I attended (hadn’t changed much) and left almost 30 years ago (man don dey old o), the house we lived back then (Flat 6B) next to the Abibus, Egbeyemis, Aregbes, Olufowobi and a whole lot of others.

I was about to leave town when I was invited to sample some local cuisine of amala and ewedu with the usual assortments.

I was going to say No,so that people on Facebook don’t start thinking I like food. But then I remembered what I went through on the road in the morning , and felt I deserved a small reward. Or what do you think?

Excerpts from my talk;

“Greatest Nigerian Students!

Permit me to stand on all existing protocol.

Good morning all.

My name is Idris Ayodeji Bello and I am pleased to be here today for a number of reasons.

1. While this is my first time back in Ilaro in 18 years- since 2000 , it is also the place where I spent the first 18 years of my life, where I learned to speak, to walk, I attended nursery and primary school within these polytechnic walls, started secondary school in this town and came back for my OND here, so it is truly heartwarming to be back.

2. Also it is an honour being here at the invitation of those I would consider my fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts, most of who probably saw me running around in my underwear as a toddler. So no matter what I might have achieved today and what I say here today, I am sure all they see is that little kid-Ayo Bello -or Bello Bello as some used to make fun of me back then.

3. I am especially delighted to have the opportunity to address the student leaders- who I call our leaders of today-I say leaders of today, because in Nigeria -if you call yourselves leaders of tomorrow-that tomorrow never comes-as we have seen in the political space.

Let me start this talk by telling you about my own leadership journey which began in 1996 on this campus sitting where you are now…….”

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This is Lagos!

You start the day unusually very early only to get stuck for an hour on the third mainland bridge.

You barely make it in time for your meeting to pitch the Afropreneurs Fund to an institutional investor.

You come out of your meeting to find out your driver has bashed the new car of one Lagos babe that cannot be pacified until you do the needful.

As you approach your melting point, you suddenly remember that you are close to Marina which is home to some of the best tension-defusing, inspirational offerings the continent has got to offer in the face of everyday challenges.

Half an hour later, your forehead is overtaken with sweat while your shirt has a few colored spots, but you have been reset by lafun to factory-settings and ready once again to take on all the mosquitoes, traffic, car bumps, rechargeable fans and everything else Nigeria has to throw at your hustle.

When Lagos shows you pepper, you make pepper soup out of it!

#ThisIsLagos#WeAreAfropreneurs

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As another year rolls by…

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As another year rolls by, it is tempting to remember the missed opportunities, the rejected proposals, the unmet goals, and the many things that didn’t go according to plan this year.

However, that would be losing sight of the important gifts that one has been lucky to be blessed with.

The gift of life in a year when many friends, associates and mentors passed on.

The gift of good health and protection even amidst near misses.

The gift of iman/faith even if it is in a weakened state.

The gift of parents whose guiding light remains a source of inspiration and guidance despite one’s inability to fully repay their love and care.

The gift of family in whom one finds comfort beyond words, despite one’s habitual neglect of them to pursue the hustle.

The gift of great friends and associates whose presence and encouragement gives courage to one’s dreams and efforts.

The gift of teachers, critics, mentors and elders whose rebuke and advice keeps one grounded and humble.

The gift of mentees and younger ones whose energy and push keeps one moving on and creating new opportunities.

The gift of communities that remind you that you are not alone in your journey as an afropreneur.

The gift of intellect and critical thinking that lets you know that the way of the majority is not always the way.

The gift of balance that makes one to realize true happiness is not in what you amass, but in what you give, and that true reliance in the Creator is what necessitates that you still have to make the most utmost effort.

And above all, the gift of every second, minute, and day in which one has the opportunity to reset the pieces, to stand up after every fall, and to seek penitence after every sin.

For all these I remain grateful to my Lord, the One who forgives and honours His undeserving slave while none of His slave’s shortcomings and excesses are hidden from Him.

O Allah, I beg forgiveness for sins which I have repeated after having repented from them before you.

I beg forgiveness for all the promises which I have made to You on my behalf and then did not fulfill.

I beg forgiveness for Your gifts from which I drew strength only to use it in your disobedience.

I beg forgiveness for all those good actions that I intended for Your sake only but later mixed other motives in them.

O Allah, do not humiliate me as You do have full knowledge of me and do not punish me as You have all power over me.

O Allah, indeed You are the Mighty Creator of everything . You are the All-Hearing, All-Knowing. You are the Forgiving, the Merciful. You are the Lord of Great Throne. O Allah, You are the most Gracious, the Most Generous, the Benevolent.

Forgive me. Have mercy on me. Protect me. Provide me with sustenance. Conceal my faults. Support me. Uplift and elevate me. Guide me aright. Do not let me go astray. And admit me to Paradise through Your mercy, O the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.

O my Lord, in Your Sight make me dear, in my heart make me humble before You, and in the eyes of other people make me honorable. Protect me from bad manners and morals.

O Allah, You asked from us that which we do not control except with your help. So grant us from it that which will make You be pleased with us.

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Goodbye Calestous Juma

calestous-jumaSad to hear of the passing of an icon in the African technology and innovation space. Prof Juma was one of the few who was able to bridge the gap between academia and practice when it came to issues of science, technology, and innovation on the African continent. In fact, my learnings from his work formed the fulcrum of my recent lecture at the University of Ibadan.

Though he was based at Harvard, Twitter was where many came to be in close contact with him as he was never shy of his opinions and would engage anyone about them.

A few months ago, I had complained to a mutual acquaintance that Prof Juma was yet to reply to an email request of mine and it was he who informed me of his ongoing battle with cancer.

His death makes it the second African academic mentor of mine to lose the cancer battle this year after Prof Mustapha Raufu of Oxford.

I pray God comforts his family and colleagues and that one day the continent that he dreamt of comes to be what it has the potential to be.

For those who are not familiar with his work, I would advise you follow him (posthumously) on twitter and google his papers and publications.

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The Afropreneur: From Abuja to Kaduna by Rail

For someone who has very low expectations of public service in Nigeria, I must say I was very pleasantly surprised by my experience today traveling from Abuja to Kaduna by rail.

When I was informed yesterday of the need to be in Kaduna early today to meet with some state, local and field officers on a public health project, I agonized about getting to Kaduna by road until someone reminded me there was a train service.

I looked online and after some efforts, I was able to find a current train schedule that showed I could leave Abuja by 7am and yet be in Kaduna in time for my 10am engagement.

Unfortunately like most government run stuff, the website of the Nigeria Railway Corp is very user-unfriendly and after wasting lots of time, I realized I couldn’t buy tickets online.

Left home early and after almost being lost twice by Google Maps, a colleague dropped me off at the Idu Railway station which is someway out of town. While the road to the station was okay, the location is quite remote and there doesn’t appear to be commercial vehicles plying that route. So you either need to have someone drop/pick you up. Once you get off the main road, there are clear signs indicating the direction to the station so I wished they had something on the main road too.

I was impressed by the structure and cleanliness of the structure – I personally think it beats any of our airports including the Lagos and Abuja airports ( I know its new but one year after I Am still impressed that we can keep something as clean as that!).

I joined the line to purchase my ticket (First class tickets went for N1500 while Standard tickets went for N1050, apparently the prices had recently gone up) and tickets for two colleagues who were to join me. Continue reading

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Africa’s footprints in the digital age

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Please join me this Wednesday at the University of Ibadan for what promises to be a provoking discussion on Africa’s footprints in the digital age and the role of our institutions.

Excerpts below.

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Portfolio Company- Flutterwave raises $10.3m in Series A Funding to change payments in Africa- A trip down the lane with Iyin

As the media is  filled with news of Flutterwave’s recent Series A raise, I think back to the journey over the past six years with Flutterwave’s founder, the boldly audacious Iyin Aboyeji. 

I first met Iyin Aboyeji sometimes in 2010/2011  during his undergraduate days at Waterloo, and it was through the Harambe Entrepreneurs Alliance,  a network of highly educated, young African entrepreneurs from leading universities in Asia, Europe and North America seeking to translate ideas about the development of Africa into action.

 

Around the time he was interviewed by BellaNaija, and I was very impressed by his boldness, and he was just nineteen then!

In that interview he said ” The entrepreneur lifestyle definitely appeals to me and I hope I can change the world by making products and services people cannot live without. One thing for sure is that if all goes well, I hope to return and tap into the bundle of business opportunities Nigeria is by being a super angel or venture capitalist focused on young Nigerian entrepreneurs

And in ending the interview , he prophesied  We are coming. Nigeria is coming. Young people are coming.”

We connected quite well, and as he was wrapping up his Bookneto venture and thinking of what next to venture into, he would reach out to me to discuss his thoughts, share his slides, Skype and generally touch base. So it was no surprise that when he put together what was to become Fora in 2013 , he naturally asked for me to review his slides and pitch deck , and I asked if I could invest in him. I use the pronoun ‘him’ because it was really in the person I was making an investment. He would remind me later that I had said ‘even if you lose the money, consider it as my personal investment in your MBA’.

Well he hasn’t lost the money (so far), and I have done follow-up investments (along with several of my friends) in his other ventures after that; Andela at the seed, FFF and Series A rounds, and in Flutterwave at the pre-seed, and the recently completed Series A round , where our new fund, the LoftyInc Afropreneurs Fund (still actively fundraising) made a sizeable investment of $250,000 – its biggest single investment till date.

Our relationship has changed over time , sometimes it assumes an investor-investee role, sometimes a big brother role, and sometimes a mentor-mentee role, and there have been some tough times too when we havent seen eye to eye on some issues, but in all, we have stayed close. Iyin was also very helpful when I made my transition back to Nigeria in 2015, and I have learned quite a lot from him.

E as we call him can be very stubborn at times (and sometimes is best left to learn from his mistakes), but he is very clear-headed on his journey of building Africa’s future! . For him it’s about three things; Transforming Education (People), Building digital and physical infrastructure (platforms) and influencing public policy (power).

Hence since he has already gotten started on the People (Andela), Platforms, (Flutterwave), I am patiently waiting to support his foray into the policy/political arena in a few years to come.

So as the world celebrates Iyin and the Flutterwave team, we are honoured to have been part of this journey from the beginning, and even as we realise that the task of ‘Building Africa’s Future’ is nowhere near complete, we rest assured that together we will succeed. InshaAllah

Congrats Flutterwave!

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