Interview #1 : OnePort 365
Samurai Incubate has invested in 26 startups in Africa since 2018.
From today, we’d like to share a series of interviews of our extraordinary portfolio companies led by great founders who are absolute “doers” and try to solve problems they face.
Our first interviewee is Akhiome (Hio) Sola-Usidame, founder of OnePort 365. OnePort 365 provides a platform that simplifies global trade with end-to-end digital access to world-class freight forwarding. It is a holistic freight forwarding platform built to empower African businesses with access to supply chain profitability, accountability, and reliability; leveraging technology.
We asked Hio about his entrepreneurship journey so far, and how he sees himself as well as the company in the future.
1)Tell me about yourself, and how you came up with the idea of OnePort 365?
I am the founder of OnePort 365. I moved to England as a teenager, went through secondary school education and graduated from Warwick business school. I worked in logistics in the energy sector for years. It involved frequent travel between the US and the UK, working on refinery projects and logistics.
In 2016, I moved back to Nigeria to explore new opportunities. In the first two weeks of my return, I visited Kaduna state. This was my first time in Northern Nigeria. At the time, I was quite keen to understand why there was a large disparity between the prices of agro-allied commodities in Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria. The price of agro commodities in Northern Nigeria was 60–70% cheaper than we buy here in Southern Nigeria. I found that the core reason for this disparity is “logistics”.
Within the same period, I stumbled on a rail track during a visit to a friend’s rice farm in Nasarawa State. My friend had never seen a train on that track before then. He, like many commodity traders, assumed the rail cargo system was not functional. Further enquiries revealed that the rail service actually works but with little awareness.
This led to the start of our rail based freight service. It involved moving bulk cargo such as grains from Northern Nigeria (Zaria, Kaduna) to Apapa Lagos as well as fertilizers from Lagos port to Northern Nigeria. Our clients included FMCGs such as Flour Mills of Nigeria and Nestle.
We diversified into haulage of containers from the port via railway. The containers were transloaded from the rail on to trucks and then the trucks distributed them across warehouses in southwest to northern Nigeria. As we progressed, we discovered our clients preferred dealing with one logistics vendor for multiple services rather than several vendors. Hence, we started clearing containers at the ports in Lagos for our clients.
Needless to say that as we gained more experience, researched within our client and other industry players, the challenges and inefficiencies in the system became very clear. The freight management value chain was plagued with avoidable costs, excessive middlemen and bottlenecks. We thought, how could we get everyone and everything into one synced value chain…..essentially, on the same page. This was the seed concept of OnePort 365.
A single point of reference in the form of a system or platform that makes all components of trade, import, export and shipping as simple as buying a flight ticket. A platform where traders can go to request a shipment with a pre-notification of the costs involved as well as have clarity on the progress of the shipment. We wanted something that provided a trader to have a focal point for dealing with one person or company as opposed to dealing with numerous middle-men. Essentially, streamlining the freight process for traders shipping out of or into Africa and giving them an opportunity to benefit from scalable growth in their own businesses.
2)Being a founder of a startup is a tough journey, what was the toughest thing you have encountered so far and how did you solve that problem?
Agreed, it has been a very interesting journey. When we started, we had an understanding of the size of the market. However, we were pleasantly surprised at the speed and level of reception by the market. The year 2020 came with the pandemic and we remained a team of 6 for almost 7–8 months. While restrictions due to the pandemic slowed down international trade, we more than doubled our shipment volumes despite being a purely bootstrapped startup. We were able to onboard some listed companies as well as a number of SME traders from northern Nigeria.
The biggest challenge so far arose due to increasing working capital requirements to fund increasing shipment operations. We determined that to grow at a scalable rate, we would need to do a pre-seed round of fundraising.
3)What do you love about your job, that makes you feel you were right about choosing this path?
What I love about my job is what it does to contribute to the evolving narrative of Africa. African businesses are dealing with unique challenges as they try to compete on the international markets.
It is a fulfilling function to bring efficient processes to support these aspirations, enhance Africa’s participation in global trade and boost intra-African trade.
4) Tell me about your relationship with Samurai Incubate.
I was introduced to Rena by a firm who advised us on this round of fundraising. I got in touch with her and started to discuss. One of the key things I have enjoyed working with Samurai, and of course Rena, is the support. She’s been super fantastic and helpful with information and growing our network. Having the kind of support system we receive from Samurai is something we cannot quantify.
5)What kind of support do you want to receive from investors?
Getting investment, working with an investor is almost like a marriage. A key criteria for me when considering going into partnership with a new investor involves assessing what else they bring to the table in addition to financial support. Financial support is great but network, industry knowledge and investment history are other important areas to explore.
6)Any advice/suggestions for us? (from a startup founder point of view towards VC)
The key thing is to keep supporting your founders. The opportunities in Africa are boundless. We have many fantastic companies doing fantastic things in this part of the world. While we have one or two that have gotten pan-African and even global recognition, there is still a lot of work to be done to change the narrative of start-ups in Africa. That’s the sort of support we need. It’s very important that there are more stories about successful and growing African startups. The credibility of this narrative will be further enhanced coming from VC’s and what they are doing in Africa.
7) What is your goal in 2021?
Some key goals for 2021 are market share growth and platform adoption. We are aiming to have processed 20,000 containers by the end of this year. We also are looking to accelerate the digital transformation of the industry. For every 10 containerized shipments destined or originating for/from Africa, 6 would be booked by the OnePort 365 platform by 2025.