The trillion dollar African company

(An evening with Oshi Agabi and Emeka Okoye)

L-R Oshi Agabi (Koniku Kore), Emeka Okoye (Cymantiks) and Onyiagha Godfrey

We had the honor of hosting Oshi Agabi at CcHUB on saturday discussing AI, Neuroscience and the future of tech in Africa.

Osh (as he is popularly called) stepped right into the conversations literally seconds after arriving on the rooftop and the energy he brought with him was electric. He described Koniku as a company which, unlike the big tech giants, is taking a radical approach to artificial intelligence (AI) and its application in biotechnology. Koniku is building technology with the strong conviction that neuroscience fused with AI would power next generation intelligent robot systems at scale.

Giving a brief about his company, Oshi described how they launched in September 2015, raised $2.8 million have already raked in an estimated $10 million in profits. However, despite being based in silicon valley, Osh strongly believes the next trillion dollar companies would be built in infrastructure-starved Africa.

I think there should be a trillion dollar company with a Yoruba name. — Oshi Agabi on the motivation behind the name “Koniku Kore”

Oshi singled out transportation, agriculture and housing as sectors with huge potential begging to be tapped in Nigeria. He highlighted in particular, the importance of understanding how markets are structured, the distribution channels in each unique market and creating solutions to these specifications.

Koniku started with zero bucks, $0, and is a result of 16 years of research and hard work. Oshi advised entrepreneurs that the best market to deal in, is one where you get money once value is provided such as B2B markets, saying this money can be ploughed back and used to rapidly grow the business. For this to happen though, you have to go beyond solving problems at the surface level (such as “offering uber for suya services”) and tap into the gaps created by our numerous problems in Africa.

I see a lot more opportunities in infrastructure starved Lagos than in Stuggart or Zurich — Oshi Agabi

Not all solutions are made for the Nigerian market. If you just built a robot and are getting frustrated trying to build a market for it in Nigeria, why not take your product to a market that is ready for it? Build a competitive solution that can rival global alternatives, establish it in foreign markets where adoption is higher and if need be, bring it to the Nigerian market in the nearest future. When working on something unique, always think about scale and the size of the market.

The difference between a kid in Nigeria and her counterparts in Switzerland or Germany is her environment and the amount of information she is exposed to. Using religion as a use case, he described how having the holy texts translated into native languages helped its wide spread penetration and acceptance. Physics, Chemistry and maths are all still in English language, what more do you expect?

We need to use natural languages to truly adapt solutions to the Nigerian market. — Oshi Agabi

How do you protect your idea from being stolen? When you create a unique solution, patent it! If you create something that is worthy of a patent, write the patent in your native country and be sure to file the patent in the US as well. This protects you from a bigger company stealing your idea and ripping you off. He gave the example of a Kenyan startup which filed a patent in Kenya but eventually lost their market to a global brand who filed the patent in the US before them.

You don’t need a lot of education to get stuffs done! You just need to be able to read and write & be GREEDY!

Emeka Okoye highlighted that technology is simply science and engineering. The buzz around technology in Nigeria does not emphasize this enough and we need to transcend from building just web solutions to solving the problems in our communities with science. We have always complained about NEPA and PHCN, yet how many people have tried building a solution that would reduce their inefficiencies?

While our European counterparts are devising methods to make roads last 30 years (current lifespan is around 20 years), we are building roads that need a wardrobe change every 6 months. Have we thought about how these roads or the tires that are driven on them can be re-engineered to last longer, taking our local conditions into consideration?

The people who run the world are technologists. It is the best creator of wealth in history.

A research carried out by Emeka Okoye recently, shows that a majority of the items sold in our recent ‘e-Commerce boom’, currently valued at $12 billion, were imported goods; phones, laptops etcetera. We did not sell many locally made goods during this so-called boom; foreign goods, foreign servers, foreign digital marketing spend, what value did we really create? We need to stop consuming and become makers.

The narrative goes on and on. Nigeria is the fourth largest Cocoa producer in the world, yet in 2015, we captured a meager $540 million in the $46 billion dollar global market. To put that into perspective, that’s 1.15% of the global market size. To change this narrative, we need to become value creators.

People build countries, not the government. At the end of the day, we are the government. Own it!

Closing the chat with insights from TED Global 2017 in the hours that followed Oshi’s departure, Emeka Okoye summed the evening up saying “We need to stop bullshitting ourselves, start working on problems that exist and create solutions that can capture value for ourselves and our continent”.

Despite our recent efforts in creating value, there are too few companies thinking in this direction. The tech ecosystem in particular needs to start rethinking its strategy. We need to become makers, not just consumers, or at least put some weight on that end of the scale.

Here’s to the crazy ones who would go against all odds to create trillion dollar companies bearing indigenous names!!