HOW I BUILT A PRODUCT WORTH HALF A BILLION
Unlike in the western and advance countries of the world, building a successful tech product or startup in African countries, especially Nigeria is nothing near being easy due to several factors, including hostile business environment, lack of family and government support, absence of credit facilities, lack of investors, crazy and bad government policies, operating with too much risk and uncertainties, the demand and preference for foreign products over local products, and unforeseen disruptions such as COVID-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding, against all odds, We were able to “successfully” build a product worth half a billion naira. In essence, I intend to share the “little things” which I have learned to make a difference.
Business Model – In other to be successful in the industry, I knew it is not possible to compete with the “big guys” in the industry, instead, the best thing I did was to create/build features that the “big guys” didn’t have and bring a pricing plan that will break them. I wanted to be like the “big guys” in the industry, but for me to attain the level they are today, I had to start small by building a unique product which best suits my immediate market, with an additional benefit of more bundled features and slashed pricing.
Investor – Aside from building a unique business model, I also conquered the issue of finance, lack of credit and the absence of investors by being my-own investor (bootstrapping) at the very starting point. The issues of raising funds or getting an investor, especially a startup venture, is very boisterous, hence instead of waiting for the right time which an investor will be willing to invest in your ideas, the best thing to do is to raise money/capital yourself, either by engaging in menial/odd jobs – taxi business, salesperson, coffee shop attendant, waiter, etc. – in other to gather some reasonable amounts; attracting Venture Capitalists (VC) – a private equity investor that provides capital to companies exhibiting high growth potential in exchange for an equity state; or setting up a fundraising team.
Location – Having resolved the issue of finance, another factor which accounted to the success of my product which is worth this value is my understanding of the business environment. Location is important, in fact very important. Before I developed the unique business model that works for me, I already identified a “problem”. This identification and subsequent provision of the solution to the “problem” is unarguably responsible for the success of my product. In essence, creating a product or services which can be easily understood by both potential customers or clients, or more generally, a product or services which are scarce, in addition to an attractive price tag, location is fundamental to the success of any potential product or service.
Collaborations – While being a sole entrepreneur is wonderful, giving room for collaborations and partnership brings development, in fact, faster development, especially collaborations and partnership with individuals with experience in the industry. Even with my “wonderful” and “perfect” business idea and model, I came to understand the importance of collaborations and partnerships with industry experts and players, due to their experience in the industry, which tends to guide me towards certain pitfalls which might never be obvious to me as a newcomer in the industry.
Staffing/Build a Team – Even with my numerous soft-skills and expertise, I also came to understand the significance of having a “wonderful” team. While I intended to start small, with say, less than 10 staff, including myself, I had to gather individuals with my kind of professionalism. To say the less, getting these individuals was very significant in making the whole process of building the product very smooth and less stressful. Additionally, for one to achieve a successful system up and running, have personnel man key positions such as HR, accounting, office administration and a support engineering desk launched side by side with the product, especially before even getting significant customers onboard.
Have a Mentor – “Even the most intelligent big-guys in the business world have mentors, so why shouldn’t you have one?” that’s the very question which I asked myself when I was about to set up my business. Even with great partners, collaborators, team, business model, and idea, I still needed someone I could look up to for mentorship in the industry and seek professional advice from. Aside from following the activities of the “influential guys” in the industry by following their posts on social media, reading their books, and listening to them talk, I also had the opportunity to get across to few of them, thereby building a mentor-mentee relationship. Their mentorship has greatly help me improve on certain areas, which might not be possible without having a mentor. Whatever kind of business you are into, you need to have a mentor, so to learn from experienced people, or to be able to make trade-off / informed decisions as he/she could share his own experiences on where he failed, and how he was able to overcome the failures.
Have a Plan when you Fail – Recently, I had the opportunity of meeting the CEO of Interswitch in a breakfast chat (https://www.linkedin.com/posts/abdulkadir-suleiman-a0b657151_breakfastchat-yaba-businesses-activity-6606263958259150848-grYw) where he asked I and other entrepreneurs on the table – “what are we going to do when the curves take the down-turn?” In my mind, this is coming from someone that has achieved a billion-dollar valuation. Well, while nobody wishes to fail, it is important to factor in the possibility of failure and how best you intend to address the failure. The steps might be hard, but it’s good to start with failure. In my case, I had a backup plan in case the product was not demanded, even though I was sure that the demand and market were there. Fortunately, the demand for my product in the early stages even exceeded my actual projection. Notwithstanding, it is a good thing to have plan A, B, C to even Z if the fist plan fails to actualise.
Build to International Standards – Even though my original intention was not to compete with the “big guys” in the industry, I was, however, sensitive enough to make my product flexible, that is, factoring other locations outside Nigeria while developing my product. There is no doubt that this has seriously help me to easily market my product within the Nigerian market, since it both has features which the products of the “big guys” do not have, and the price is economical, coupled with the compatibility with the blue ocean strategy. In fact, in recent times, the demand for such product outside the Nigerian market has grown to over 30 per cent. In general, while building for the local market, the international market should also be considered.
Furthermore, building a template of how my company’s corporate structure, scaling and management will run was helpful. As the company was transiting from a small startup with less than 10 employees to a company with many more employees, the already designed template for managerial positions and corporate governance was automatically activated to indicate the different growth patterns outlined. While all these might seem easy and simple, most entrepreneurs have failed because most of these factors were not considered, or not engaged before setting up their startups. No one guaranteed building a successful product or service, considering some of these will most definitely avert certain uncertainties/failures which one might face when building a new product.
Thank you for your time, In the coming days, I will come up with video series specifically targetting to explain with use cases (Old management methods vs New, Traction, Idea Validation, Using the Lean Startup Model and Building a Minimum Viable Product -MVP) just for you to have a way to find what works and creating a product that gets you going for the first time.
You can also use this opportunity to download JD Lab’s Capability Document – and follow me via my handles.