To me, the founder of the modern Nigerian Startup scene is Sim Shagaya. For us in the Nigerian technology scene, he needs no introduction. For everyone else, he founded DealDey (a deals site like Groupon), and then went on to found the Amazon of Nigeria - Konga.com.
Now, a lot of people in the tech scene only know of people like Sim by name and have perhaps never met him. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Sim a few times, and I’m using this article to ‘expose’ the real Sim!
So the first big revelation you have to know is that Sim is a real nice guy. Back when I first started Hotels.ng, Sim was the first person to connect me to any major investor. He barely knew me, but was willing to stake his reputation to introduce me to his own investors.
I went to his office and did my very first ‘real pitch’ there. Now, it did not just stop there, but in almost every event I went where Sim was, he would often mention Hotels.ng as a startup that was ‘investible’. He had no reason to do that apart from just helping give us a chance with the occasional investor that comes to Africa.
The second revelation about Sim is this - what he did with Konga is probably one the most brutal and the most difficult businesses to execute on, and he actually pulled it off.
Consumer internet is hard. Hotels.ng is in the consumer internet space, and I know how brutal the market is. You are up against everything - a low income audience, low education levels, bad infrastructure, bad financial systems, etc. Sim entered this market, and built a huge internet business and brand.
Anything that involves moving atoms (and not bits) in Nigeria is EXTREMELY hard. Konga needs to move goods from one location to another; on a fixed schedule; for thousands of customers with very low patience. Konga actually went in and solved this problem.
Fundraising for African startups is ultra difficult. Americans complain that raising money for startups located in Kansas is impossible, now think of how it is for startups in Ilupeju. Sim went and brought in a lot of the first real foreign capital that the Nigerian Internet scene saw.
While in the midst of doing all this, anytime I sent Sim an email, I would get a reply. The couple of times I’ve gone to visit Sim at his office, he was not in a rush to get me out so he could focus on his important business, but he spent time with me.
It’s easy to stay on the outside and look for flaws in internet businesses. And it’s difficult to appreciate exactly how hard it is to build them up, particularly in the African market, and how much the work that each person is doing is making it easier for the next generation.
Maybe someday some young genius will come up with some flashy e-commerce app, and everyone will shout - “oh, this is how Konga should be!” But that new app will never actually work without the underlying infrastructure - and it’s a lot of that infrastructure that Konga is building and has built. Without a Konga doing the base work, that app person will have to start off by building that infrastructure. And at that point most will get discouraged and never build the app - the work will be too much and too hard.
Sim now owns the core platform for e-commerce in Africa. One of the few fundamental industries that internet ecosystems are built on. He is now Chairman of the company, and no longer dealing with the day-to-day operations, which means he is probably already planning the next big thing.
I wonder what it’s going to be.
But it does not matter.
It does not matter because everyone in the Nigerian technology scene should try to become a Sim Shagaya. Pick an industry that is huge and needs to work better. Go and build the base platforms. Then spend the time to make it work well.
What Sim did in e-commerce, everyone should replicate it in different industries, so that one day when people write about a particular industry, they must mention your name.
These are the real building blocks of an internet eco-system.