TechCabal Sessions – The Recap

This is a recap of the first TechCabal Sessions, which I am glad to report went swimmingly. But not without some lessons though. One interesting one is to try and not organise your event to co-incide with an Arsenal match.With any match at all, if you can manage it. But by 6:45 pm, we had enough guests in the room to ask that the dinner starters be brought in, although we would have liked to have gotten the show on the road much earlier.

On the other hand, the delay was fortuitous — it led to some pretty good pre-event networking.

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Tayo Oviosu is very punctual. I would too if I was the main attraction of an event, but even so, we got to recognise. Tayo strolled in at around 20 minutes to six, dressed simply in a t-shirt and jeans. Cue a huddle of punctual people who apparently don’t care (that much) about football.

With Tayo safely ensconced in the hot seat between Seyi Taylor and I, dinner got underway. Seyi got the job of quizzing him, Pando-style.

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And Tayo put on a good show, took all the questions in equal, measured stride, never pausing even at the ones with barbs. And there were quite a few of those very pointed ones  from the audience too.

In the course of his interview, we learnt that the man is a bit like Jeff Bezos. At least where funding is concerned. Bezos attended sixty investor meetings and twenty two of those resulted in Amazon’s 1 million dollar seed round, with each participant contributing $50,000 on average. That is 22 people whom he had to pitch to and sell slivers of equity at a shrewd valuation. Bezos still owns about 18.5 percent of Amazon.

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Most people know that Paga has raised money from various institutional sources. What they don’t know is that Tayo had to take the collection basket to dozens of people at the angel level, and an amazing thirty of them eventually agreed to invest. And Paga is still raising.

We also discovered that Tayo is an active angel investor.Just not in the tech ecosystem. Yet. For someone who founded and runs a technology business, his investment outlook is curiously tech agnostic.

What I want to do post-Paga is help building an ecosystem that allows small startups access funding at the early stages

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By this time, the conversation had turned mostly away from Paga and more towards entrepreneurship and the VC climate for local startups. Early stage funding for startups is of course a sore topic for many entrepreneurs. From the general sense in the room, it probably will be for some time to come. Akin Oyebode’s position on the matter in Nigeria – Capital will always chase the highest, quickest returns. Land, stock, crude. Not startups. Unless the investor has a personal interest in the matter.

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You can buy a plot of water in Banana Island, fill it with sand, build a duplex on it and sell it for thrice your investment in one year. How many startups can yield that sort of return in that time?

Summary – typical high networth individuals are not quite ready to bet on a ten year ROI cycle on startups when proven investment alternatives exist.

This grim view of the early stage startup investment landscape could have been a consensus, except that Jason Njoku was in the room, and he’s bullish on sparking up early stage startups. He said as much.

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Those (Banana Island/crude oil/contract) opportunities are available to a privileged one percent. The other 169 million people in Nigeria have to make do with other opportunities. There aren’t many legal business where you can make a billion dollars with one million invested. Local investors have an unhealthy infatuation with profits in the short term, but technology startups have better chances of getting higher valuations in the long run.

In the end, I think we all came away upbeat that a forum where earnest discussions about the imperatives of building solid, long-term businesses has been created. Even Jason who in his words came expecting another “socialist convention” admitted surprise at the earnest, pragmatic texture of the conversation.

We’ll be posting more pictures of the event in short order, look out for those. Awesome photography by Busayo Longe.

Apart from the token of support that each of our distinguished guests contributed towards making the dinner possible, I want to make a point of noting that TechCabal Sessions was funded by startups. Startups contributing to these conversations tells us that the ecosystem has reached another crucial point in its evolution.  Thanks once again to our awesome sponsors, Hotels.ng, Tsaboin, Anakle, and TopUpGenie.

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NB: All quotes were approximated and not necessarily transcribed as is.

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