Harry ‘Tomi Davies has a personal mission to “help drive Africa’s development by supporting young entrepreneurs using innovation and technology to create social impact and economic value.” He is Collaborator-in-Chief at TechnoVision, Chief Investment Officer at Greentec Capital Partners (GCP), co-founder of the Lagos Angel Network (LAN) and President of the African Business Angel Network (ABAN). When TD speaks on Technology in Africa you ought to listen and take notes. In this interview he quickly takes us on a ride through his journey and highlights key learning points for young African entrepreneurs.
Value Engine & Growth Engine
If you are coming into the digital world, you need to understand digital economics. It’s more than just advertising; the bottom-line is subscription. In practical terms this is called your Value Thesis – How many people from our audience can we get to subscribe? What value are we offering them? After outlining your value thesis, you must go further to test this thesis and evaluate the practicability.
The second part of this is Growth – How do you grow your business? If you have 20,000 subscribers now then how do you get that number up to 30,000, 100,000 and even a million? While you get them to subscribe you also have to ask: How do you get them to tell their friends too? These ideas are not uniquely mine; the concept of a Value engine and a Growth engine are the fundamental basis of the Lean Start-up movement. In a nutshell, the Value engine answers the question, “How do I get my audience to subscribe?” while the Growth engine answers the question “How do I get my 20,000 subscribers to tell 20,000 more people to subscribe?”
Growing Nigeria’s Tech Industry
I’ve had the privilege of seeing the likes of Mark Essien, founder of Hotels.ng and Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Co-founder of Andela and Flutterwave, grow from their humble beginnings into what they are today. It’s indeed a thing of joy and it can only be through God’s grace. We need more tech-driven problem solvers in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
I started my first company in 1984 just after my NYSC. I was doing computer services at the time. My current company “TechnoVision”, started in 1999 and it birthed TVC Labs.
The tech industry has evolved dramatically because of the internet. The internet has democratized technology. Personally, I focus on technology-enabled solutions because this is the future. It’s a future I bet on 10 years ago and I’m still yet to be proved wrong. In Nigeria, we have significant challenges in structure and application and these challenges may not go away anytime soon. We are still far off the standards set by countries such as the US, UK, China and France.
I was privileged to lead the team that built the first-ever biometric-based Integrated Payroll & Personnel System (IPPIS) for the Federal Government of Nigeria, which saved the Federal Government billions of Naira in ghost workers. I will always give credit to Nasir Ahmad El Rufai for his visionary leadership at the time.
Building Africa’s Future
My biggest risk would be leaving a lucrative career in the United Kingdom with Sapient, and jumping ship into Nigeria in 2003 in the hope that Nigeria would become all the things that my late father fought for. What I learned from this is that the most important thing in life is the value you have created for others. This value doesn’t have to be financial; it could be emotional or otherwise but indeed, you are only as good as the value you have created in other people’s lives.
The best decision I ever made was joining Marks & Spencer. At the time I was doing what I felt was the coolest job ever. My experience with them really gave me a keen eye on the art of the possible and the future. A lot of technology I experimented with at the time hasn’t even come into mainstream yet and now watching my grandkids, I’m excited because I know what’s in store for them.
The future of Africa is in the hands of young entrepreneurs who are using technology to solve significant problems innovatively. You can only build the future if you’re solving significant problems and that’s why I’m always happy to see young entrepreneurs who are creating jobs and not just running a company with someone else.
Angel Investing in Nigeria
Angel investment happened to me. I made some money from an investment once and that brought me into the foray of Angel investing. I began studying it and along the line I made some losses, learned some hard lessons and met with other Angel Investors. At first some friends and I from the same Secondary School started Kings College Lions and later on evolved into Lagos Angel Network in 2012. LAN has grown to become a big organization of seed-funders with several international partners, sponsors and affiliates.
My advice to young entrepreneurs is ‘solve a big problem!’ All I can say is: If you know what you’re doing and you’re actually trying to solve an obvious problem, then you’re well on your way. The big tech companies you see now all started by filling a gap and solving a big problem.
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