When you need to learn valuable insights for career advancement or personal development, “where do you go to that is not boring, where you can watch video and the time frame is short?”
Learning online has many benefits. An internet connection provides access to tons of free resources. But it can come with costs such as information overload. Focus could be difficult in the sea of pages competing for our attention. Many of us fail to sustain concentration for long periods, frustrating the ability for deep learning.
The question above, therefore, deserves a thoughtful, tech-compliant answer. Raphael Isah, an edtech entrepreneur based in the north-central Nigerian city of Jos, is building a web-based service in response.
Isah’s solution is called 5minutes, a platform to connect mentors and mentees. The startup launched this January and has signed up about 1,000 users, according to Isah who spoke with TechCabal on the phone.
5minutes wants to provide access to mentorship in ways that are not obtainable through formal education.
At a price of $3 a month, users can access knowledge from mentors from diverse disciplines – politics, entertainment, religion, etc. After signing up, you can choose from 29 content categories to follow. There is also an option to suggest categories that do not already exist.
According to Isah, 5minutes’ mission is to offer “a well thought-out and carefully designed learning platform for mentors and mentees to effectively learn and share knowledge.” The model is a mix of the interactivity of LinkedIn-style social media and the content quality of MasterClass, the American online educational platform.
Here’s the product thesis: users do not want to read long articles but would love to receive information in bits. 5minutes becomes a platform for content that is short enough to inspire without causing overload due to its length.
By this framework, articles are no longer than 500 words. The plan for video content is to limit it to 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
In effect, the relevance of the 5minutes app depends on the quality of on-boarded mentors. That is the strength of MasterClass which, as Vox explains, sells a “combination of motivational speaking, celebrity access, and pedagogy into something with less baggage.”
How does this barely 2-month old startup compare with the six-year-old American company where annual unlimited access costs $180? It is, perhaps, an unfair comparison but Africa is best served by bench-marking against a high bar.
At the time of this story, 15 mentors (including Isah, the founder) are signed-up on 5minutes. None of these mentors have the kind of name recognition that you would expect for an ambitious online learning platform with, at least, a national focus. MasterClassme has Serena Williams, Gordon Ramsey, Martin Scorsese and Paul Krugman. 5minutes has Elisha Mamman and Niyi Soyinka.
Nevermind MasterClass, Isah acknowledges that his competition is social media. On Twitter, ideas are a dime a dozen. Influencers in virtually every sector are dishing free valuable information.
Yes, Jason Njoku, the IrokoTv founder and industry commentator, has now paywalled his website. But there is still a ton of useful life and career hacks floating freely.
But 5minutes has started engaging tertiary institutions to gain a foothold into Nigeria’s educational system. Talks are ongoing with Fountain University to have lecturers place their course materials on the platform. Nile University, Kaduna Polytechnic, the Federal University of Technology Minna are all on Isah’s radar.
In the meantime, they plan to grow their subscriber base by 15% every quarter. They currently have 1,000 users with 10% paying subscribers. Of the twenty mentors so far enroled, only one is female.
Fields like science, engineering and math have historically tilted towards men. Only three out of ten senior managers in African telecoms, media and technology companies are women, according to a 2016 report by McKinsey & Company.
There is ongoing progress in highlighting the stories of Africa’s tech women, but mentorship platforms like 5minutes should be looking at creating more visibility, facilitating impact to aspiring technologists.
Isah says they are working on having more, but it is not clear how this will happen given their strategy of inviting interested mentors to sign up. An approach worth exploring would be to approach qualified female mentors and provide incentives. You wouldn’t wait for Serena Williams or Annie Leibowitz to sign up before approaching her, would you?
As to funding, Isah is banking on accessing finance opportunities like those from the Mastercard Foundation. In the future, getting accepted into Tony Elumelu Foundation, and YCombinator programme are in his plans.