My first encounter with the Nigerian tech space was in 2010 when I met Opeyemi Awoyemi (of Jobberman) to discuss a project I was running. He told me about Jobberman and how online businesses run in terms of fast growth, funding and scaling.
In 2011, they had raised $1 million and the whole idea caught my attention immediately. A few months after the raise, he mentioned the idea of 1500naira.com and we teamed up to launch the company. With a limited knowledge, I launched into the deep end.
Around the same time in 2012, Kasuwa & Sabunta (now Jumia) launched. Dealdey’s Sim Shagaya also launched Konga. The huge amounts raised by these ventures and other players in the space greatly motivated me to think that mega millionaires would be created within the tech space in Nigeria; the industry has the potential to change Nigeria’s narrative for good.
These thoughts started to emerge as reality as incubators and accelerators came in to fund ideas. Technology hubs also sprang up to nurture these ideas to reality. Startups were formed to solve problems and exploit the countless opportunities and this signaled Nigeria’s tech boom.
The fairy tale has long ended, though. Major players are downsizing, accelerators are closing shop and Sim Shagaya left his CEO role at Konga. Sim’s exit was particularly shocking for me because he built two of Nigeria’s biggest eCommerce platforms and has contributed immensely to the growth of the ecosystem. In recent times, Jumia has undertaken many cost cutting measures which include downsizing, going full marketplace and introducing charges to merchandise.
If the fate of many tech giants in Nigeria looks a bit uncertain, then the implication for many smaller startups looks even grimmer. Last week, I read about the closure of Sheriff Shittu’s Showroom.ng. This was really humbling for me because I can relate to it. All entrepreneurs want to be successful, but the story is usually the same of many startups; even well-funded ones.
However, as gloomy as this looks, a silver lining exists. Resilience — that is the edge Nigerian startups have. In spite of apparent difficulties, Nigerian entrepreneurs have been able to swim against the tide. When Jumia launched, they were excited to receive 10 orders a day but during last year’s Black Friday, they received more than 20,000 orders in a day.
Nigerian startups made 500 Startups and Y Combinator incubator programs signify interest in Nigeria. All these indicate that even though the situation in the tech/startup ecosystem is less than ideal, there is a reason for renewed optimism.
There has also been a specific interest in Nigeria from Facebook. Last November, Facebook had their first ever event in Nigeria in collaboration with Jumia (where I was a panelist). Then in February, I alongside five other entrepreneurs from Ghana and Nigeria met with Nichola Mendelson (Facebook’s VP for Europe Middle and Africa) to discuss the impact of Facebook on our businesses. Other Facebook events targeted at developers and other communities also occurred.
Then there was recognition of the Jobberman trio by Mark Zuckerberg. These events preceded his coming. Facebook is a company driven by data with a founder whose focus is firmly on the future. Therefore, one gets the sense that his presence in Nigeria is more of a strategic move rather than a coincidence.
Mark’s visit to Nigeria is a validation for Nigeria’s entrepreneurial energy. It rekindles the hope that I have, that one day, the tech ecosystem can alter the course of this nation especially at this crossroad we currently find ourselves.
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Adejuwon Isola-Osobu is the CEO of Jay Osbie. Jay Osbie is an online brand and retailer for fashion-forward men, creating fashion and lifestyle merchandise for some of Africa’s top brands and celebrities.