by Bankole Oluwafemi
Before I met Sim Shagaya in person, I’d heard people speak of being overwhelmed, in awe or coming away with an intense liking after being in his presence for a while. So when it was time for me to interview him at his Banana Island home, I made sure I had double titanium psionic visors in place.
I shouldn’t have bothered. Sim cuts an imposing figure. Not large enough to be physically overwhelming, but enough for one to be constantly, acutely aware of his presence. His eyes twinkle when he talks about his work, and his visage takes on an aspect so cherubic that it is almost unreal. His unassuming demeanour and humility is disarming. Before you know it, you are sucked in, and time flies. You don’t want to leave. But when you do, the – God help me – afterglow of inspiration lingers.
Of Apple’s iconic founder, it is said that he had an “ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence”. This aura that Steve Jobs projected was dubbed a reality distortion field. Those who have been around Sim, or heard Sim speak might have felt something similar.
Sim Shagaya, African internet business prodigy — that is the narrative that people and the media have fallen in love with. In a continent where success typically shies away from explanation, a lot are fascinated more with the fact of accomplishing it than the process leading up to.
But, in this case, the process is important – because Sim is no genius. He’s simply worked longer and harder than most.
He used to be a corporate autobot, and was so for almost a decade before venturing on the perilous journey of entrepreneurship. Like all legitimate entrepreneurial successes, the road behind him is densely pockmarked with craters of inspired ideas that crashed and burned spectacularly. A failed dating site. A jobs portal that never caught on. A Nollywood streaming service that came before its time.
Ironically, Sim’s first significant breakthrough came not from the internet. His first billboard, in 2006, was a desperate and unglamorous contrivance to keep his family financially secure while he pursued further academic endeavours. It succeeded beyond his expectations and became E-motion advertising.
On the back of that, Sim would gain access to the vast connections and investment that have allowed him play a significant role in not just the emergence of e-commerce in Africa’s most populous nation, but also in the direct inspiration of a new generation of entrepreneurs.
In 2013, the radius of Sim Shagaya’s reality distortion field broadened even more, and Konga, his latest e-commerce venture for almost two years running, has attracted lots of love from media and awards committees.
Not all the reality is distorted though. Konga’s 60,000+ Twitter audience are enthusiastically engaged with a rising brand that is deftly riding the wave of Nigeria’s mobile and internet revolution. A lot of those tweople have unbeknownst to them been interacting with the boss himself. Sim has been known to take control of the company’s Twitter handle to serve customers personally.
It is only appropriate that such levels of mania for one’s product should be rewarded with resounding success.
– Oluwafemi is editor-in-chief of TechCabal.com