The Nigerian education system is suffering from a number of different challenges including inadequate funding, a lack of qualified teachers and outdated systems amongst others. Edves, an academic portal that automates operations in schools and colleges, is disrupting the education space in Nigeria by assisting schools to manage admissions, payments, report cards, homework, parent-teacher communication and to track growth.
At the recent Seedstars Summit in Lausanne, Switzerland Edves has won the transforming education prize worth $50'000 for its excellent work on helping to improve the quality of the Nigerian education system. The prize was awarded in conjunction with HEG Fribourg and TRECC of the Jacobs Foundation.
Rise Africa Rise got an opportunity to interview Sunday Oladimeji Falana, the CEO of Edves, during the summit to learn more about what it takes to build a world-class African tech company that can win prestigious prizes on a global level while solving major problems back home in Nigeria. After interviewing Feem founder Fritz Ekwoge from Cameroon it was a pleasure to sit down with another great African Tech Entrepreneur.
Sunday Oladimeji Falana
Sunday Oladimeji Falana is a Nigerian Tech Entrepreneur, Software developer, co-founder and CEO of EDVES. EDVES is an academic portal that automates operations in schools and colleges from admission to transcript generation.
What motivated you to start the business?
Edves was not originally started with the intention to start a business, but rather to solve a problem. My co-founder Dare Adebayo was in the same computer science class at university. He had a friend who was connected to a school who was experiencing issues with managing the school. For example, 70% teachers in Africa waste time doing paperwork that could be automated. Doing a student report can take up to 2 weeks. That's when we started to build software to automate manual processes and improve processes throughout the entire school.
What have been your biggest learnings in building your company?
It is important to have the ability to deploy what is working. Everybody can come up with software, so it is important to build something that schools can customize for their own needs. This is an important differentiator over competitors.
What have been your biggest challenges so far and how are you responding to them?
After trying several hosting companies, we discovered Mainone MDX-i which is very efficient considering their Submarine Fiber Cable that powers a large number of ISPs in Nigeria.
What have been the biggest milestones for your company so far?
Being part of the CCHub Accelerator.
2016 - target to achieve 120 schools
2017- 288 schools (more than doubled growth rate), revenue grew 300x times
2018 - serving 1000 schools by end of year and still retain the quality
How did you choose the countries in which to operate in?
Currently, we are mainly operating in Nigeria. In the near future, we plan to expand to other African countries. We will do surveys and the data gathered from the surveys will lead us where to go next. We are planning to expand in less than a year.
What are your goals for the next 24 months?
Our objective is to make technology better and simpler so that our customers get more value. Then we also plan to launch new features to better automate school processes and make it easier to use. By the end of 2018, our goal is to serve 1000 schools and by the end of 2019 the objective is to serve 5000 schools in Nigeria and other countries.
You have a number of different partnerships. How did you go about establishing those partnerships and what are you looking for when entering partnerships?
We are interested in partnerships where there is a mutual value add. As such, companies that benefit schools are always an interesting partner. Ultimately, everything revolves around the values the companies and partners have as they should be in alignment with ours.
What is the value for your company of being part of the Seedstars community?
The biggest value is the quality of mentors that Seedstars puts together and in particular mentors with experience in Africa who know what they are talking about. Also, there is a big pool of mentors which gives you the opportunity to select from a big pool which is great. Finally, you get to meet a lot of investors who show interest in your business which is great.
What is your tip to other entrepreneurs to get the most out of Seedstars?
Be ready to open up and listen to mentors. But do not be afraid to challenge your mentors. And connect with the Seedstars.
How would you rate the entrepreneurial ecosystems in the countries that you operate in? What is good and what needs to be improved?
The Nigerian ecosystem is valued above USD 2 billion and is spread across different parts of the country with the biggest cluster being around Lagos. The Nigerian tech scene is increasingly attracting interest from around the world and in particular Silicon Valley with Mark Zuckerberg having visited Nigeria as recently as 2016.
In general the ecosystem is in a good state but there is still a lot to learn. More successful entrepreneurs like Mark Essien (CEO of hotels.ng) and Bosun Tijani (ccHub) are needed who can mentor emerging entrepreneur so more entrepreneurs can become successful. The transfer of knowledge needs to improve.
What are the factors that you take into account when thinking about choosing your technology stack? What tech to use to build your product?
Many tech products have a notorious retention problem. How does Edves ensure that users stay active and keep using the app?
Users follow a journey on a platform based on their own goals and when they see that they progres with their learning it is very motivating for them and hence keeps them using the product. Also seeing that the product is being continuously developed further and improved makes customers happy and gives them a reason to stay. Actually, we have had customers that left us for cheaper competitors until they realized they were not getting the same value from our competitors. Then they came back to us.
Over the years numerous African tech companies have won important prizes and money at the Seedstars global event. If you want your startup to be the next one in this illustrious list then the first step is to join a local Seedstars event in your country. Find out about the next events here.
Thanks to Sunday Oladimeji Falana for sharing those valuable insights with our audience. Congratulations once again to Edves for winning the transforming education prize at the Seedstars Summit and showing the world that Africa can conquer international prizes.
Rise Africa Rise is your online guide to tech entrepreneurship and (social) innovation for African entrepreneurs, startups and businesses. Our aim is to provide you with valuable digital strategies, tools and insights to support you in building a world-class and competitive business in the 21st century.