On October 22, a stern national address by President Muhammadu Buhari on the #EndSARS protests left Nigerians dreaming up emigration plans, a.k.a dreaming to Japa.
WeJapa, a Nigerian startup connecting developers to jobs abroad, tapped into the mood with a coy tweet that highlighted their rediscovered confidence.
After an investigator’s report concluded its founder, Favour Ori, did some wrongs but had not necessarily damaged the business, the startup is flexing its potential again. Judging by the comments the tweet elicited, the shot was well received. It is noteworthy for a startup that had drawn most people’s ire just six weeks earlier.
Ori had been cast as a villain whose behaviour gave insight to an undercurrent of toxicity in the world of tech bros. The allegations mainly bothered on poor judgment and negligence of contracts, but alarm bells bellowed callousness, abuse of power and fraud.
But he and WeJapa are getting a second chance, on the condition that some changes be made around how the business is run. To the extent that there is now closure on the case, there are at least two takeaways to keep in mind as African tech advances towards maturity.
A welcome example
Not many people were confident about WeJapa’s investigation. Early references were made to the seemingly opaque investigation into claims of sexual harassment against Kendall Ananyi, CEO of internet company Tizeti.
But the people advising WeJapa learned from the backlash and distrust that clouded Tizeti. They opted for a strategy that communicated openly to assure the public of a fair process. It probably helped that WeJapa is a very young startup, making it more open to the influence of external voices.
Microtraction was one of those external influences on the investigation. As one of the investors that had made financial commitments to WeJapa just before complaints started pouring in in August, it became clear that they could not sit out the embarrassment.
In unison with other investors and advisors of the startup, the firm led the process of scouting firms to investigate the claims.
“Calmhill [partners] was chosen from the lot based on availability, prior experience in handling such matters, and understanding of the scope of work,” says Dayo Koleowo, a partner at Microtraction, to TechCabal.
“Microtraction’s role was to make sure that an independent investigation and process was followed – which involved ensuring that the investigators chosen had no ties to any investors or key stakeholders in WeJapa.”
To be sure, the choice of Calmhill did not necessarily dispel doubts on Twitter. A few observers pointed out that the law firm’s Twitter handle was merely a few weeks old when it notified the public that it had been nominated to take on the investigation. That was indeed their first ever tweet.
But that did not diminish the possibility of a well done process. The investigation’s executive summary which provides dates, figures and descriptions relating to the investigation and its subjects, bears out a reasonable level of competence.
Koleowo says Microtraction was not further involved in the investigation after Calmhill commenced work as that would have “violated the independent nature of the investigation as we are investors in Wejapa.”
This should be counted as a good thing, a far cry from the dissatisfaction and many questions that remain unanswered after Ananyi was investigated by Tizeti. Kelechi Udoagwu, the tech consultant who accused Ananyi, maintains that there was no “independent special investigation committee” for her case.
That would be a shame as sexual harassment, being a more serious matter, requires the highest level of investigative sincerity and rigor. Her allegations deserved a process that was more transparent and non-hostile than the one projected by Tizeti and Olumide Sofowora, the law firm engaged.
Yes, an accusation of sexual harassment carries greater social implications than workplace bullying or negligence of contracts. If guilty, the accused will not be able to simply beat their chest in remorse and move on to another position in the company. The right judgment on each case must depend on good evidence.
But good evidence is often the product of a good process, and that doesn’t seem to have happened with Tizeti. It may be a lesser case but WeJapa’s investigation is a welcome ecosystem correction.
A growth opportunity
It doesn’t mean WeJapa is out of the woods, however. The report is pretty damning for the startup which seemed to operate as a sole entrepreneurship.
Calmhill’s recommendations highlighted changes that need to be made in business operations; pricing model, clear contracts with developers, stipulations for work timelines, etc. But WeJapa’s most immediate change was to move Ori from his position as the CEO of the startup to CTO.
It means Ori will no longer be directly interfacing with developers as was the case before, but why should Ori still be in the business at all?
“He is a technical founder with the knowledge required to build this type of company,” Koleowo, the Microtraction partner, says.
Hauwa Aguillard, the startup’s new CEO, echoes the same sentiment: “Favour is a technical founder so focusing on his strength at the moment while building up his soft skills is the right decision for WeJapa.”
While the ex-CEO focuses on improving his soft skills and performing CTO-related tasks, other team members will handle interactions with talents, Aguillard says.
She believes the experience has been a teachable moment for them on the importance of communicating intentions.
“We are a young startup and are open to learning and putting processes in place to prevent future occurrences of the recent incidents. I believe that our openness to learn and course-correct sends a stronger message that we care and puts us in a better position to serve the tech ecosystem in Nigeria.”
Time will tell if they have learned.