Jason Njoku: What Andrew taught me about the future of our ecosystem

jason njokuMrs Njoku was fast asleep, no noise from the kids, the world was at peace. I finally had time to wade through hundreds of unread Spark emails. I happened across an email from Andrew. Firstly, it was the best intro email I have ever read before. Except I actually didn’t read this email. I starred it, a month earlier and forgot about it. Then he sent me the June Update.

78 words and straight to the point. Thereafter he shared his company’s revenue metrics. I didn’t believe them. I have seen all things grand or small. I had someone recently tell me they were scaling up from $0 to $98m in revenue in 12 months. But these numbers were too good to be true. So I clicked on the link and went to the site. OgaVenue.com, looked pretty straight forward. Then I tried Livechat. 98% of Livechat I have tried outside of 7am – 7pm in Nigeria is usually inactive. But here, past 1am on a Saturday morning, someone answered. This can’t be right. Iroko has a 45-person 24/7 customer support team and we usually answer immediately. How can a dinky little startup I had never heard of offer 24/7 customer support. I threw in a fake name. Chidi, or something like that, and chatted / booked to see a venue the next morning in Gbagada. I never got the phone call. A chink in their armour.

But I was hooked. I needed to see this Andrew fella.

Immediately, I reached out to Mark (Hotels.ng) and Fikayo (ToLet.com.ng) to see if they had anything competing and to get their feedback / background check on Andrew. Mark came back immediately. He saw the immediate benefits of taking a leadership role in supporting Andrew. To be frank, I literally have zero time these days and traditionally don’t spend too much time on these things, so I was more than happy to step back and let Mark lead this one.

Five days later, I arranged to meet Andrew at his office. He wanted to come to mine. I insisted I come to his. I don’t believe you can ever grasp the essence of a startup until you sit down and have a chat in their place of business (unless it’s their mother’s house, of course). The problem. His location. Berger. Never been to Berger. Sounded far. It wasn’t but we kept on getting lost. Took almost an hour to locate. He told me the roads are bad. He can come to the Iroko office instead. I refused. He told me my car couldn’t drive inside. Meh. I’m sure ol’ RR will manage. I’m sure this would embarrass the hell outta Andrew. But see the path to their apartment below. RR could’ve made that trip. No problem.

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I walked over the planks to get to their office. A small team of smart, young, enthusiastic Nigerians met me. They had been quietly working out of Berger since moving to Lagos from UniBen. Why Berger? Because it was inexpensive.

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I sat with them for a couple of hours. Just walking through their challenges, the amount of missed opportunities, the issues with supply and demand imbalance, their sales circle, getting a sense of their story, how they came to be, why they were winning vs the immense competition and how Spark could help them grow. They had ready answers. For such youth, they had all the right logic.

I received the email from Andrew 9th July. I met him 13th July. We had a deal negotiated 14th July. The rest was some mild due diligence, my travel delaying the paperwork. OgaVenue was given the highest valuation of any seed round in Spark’s short history. He deserves it. He was more advanced than any we had funded at this stage. He was crazy profitable.

Andrew, with the help of Mark, could x10 his business and not touch the $45k (N17.5m). His unit economics are absurd. In a very positive way. He defines the philosophy of Spark 2.0. No paid marketing, product x market focused (his title is CEO / Chief Product Evangelist), Lagos first (85% of bookings), linear revenue model, super scrappy and capital efficient and long term focused. I love how he and his small team suffered for over a year whilst OgaVenue wasn’t working. Ploughing the profits from his poultry farm (yes chickens were the real seed investors in this story) to keep experimenting, keep paying bills and ensuring the lights were on. He had earned his stripes.

Nigeria needs her young to take our future into their own hands. Fuck the politicians who are always waxing lyrical about supporting the young whilst sprinkling Naira crumbs to the masses. Nigeria needs jobs. Something needs to create those jobs. We need local champions, local leaders who are solving local problems to help reignite job creation in these perilous climes. As I mentioned before in my Spark 2.0 manifesto. I have a bias against foreign educated founders. No, I’m not a xenophobe. We don’t need just 10 successful internet companies. We need 1,000. 1,000 at some stage of building a better Nigeria. The only way we can build our ecosystem and industry is when we have thousands of startups building in parallel. We have to somehow encourage and accelerate that. Because today, an ecosystem we don’t have. We need to make fertile the ground so everyone is given a chance. Not just those who can speak grammar.

I am a capitalist. That I have always made clear. But right now, Nigeria needs activism x capitalism. So following Oo’s lead, I am dedicating myself to building this here internet ecosystem in anyway I can. And it definitely can’t be an individual effort. We need 1,000 startups started.

1. By supporting local startups when we spend at Iroko. 

2. By tireless evangelizing to corporates in Nigeria about supporting our local champions. 

3. By building funding syndications where others feel more comfortable investing alongside Spark.

Activism activated.

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Jason Chukwuma Njoku is the Founder of iROKO. He writes at jason.com.ng

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