By Prince Osuagwu
Nine years ago, data and marketing technology business, Terragon Group debuted, unlocking values for businesses using insight to reach the mobile audience in Africa.
The company owned and managed by very vibrant Nigerian youths, boasts of having created and strengthened the connections that bond people to brands by delivering services and solutions borne out of six core business capabilities- Digital Solutions for Business Transformation, Consumer Access, Data and Intelligence, Mobile Payments, Digital Content Management and Technology.
Nine years down the line, the company said it is having a long term view of the ecosystem, with focus to understanding what it takes for business outfits, particularly in the technology space, to stay strong and profit oriented.
Chief Executive Officer of the Group, Mr Elo Umeh told Hi-Tech recently the approach his company is taking towards this long term view. “We started off very broad and we solved some problems at that broad level, But as the market matured at that level, we scaled our business model down to a funnel shape. From the broad level of digital media, to building our mobile app network and programmatic platform and today, we are moving into data and mat tech.
“Because we are following an industry that is evolving, we set up right from the top in a manner that it will be easier to make these transitions. Now we understand that without being able to solve problems that are locally relevant, you can’t be ahead of the market, that is why we position ourselves as digital media at the time .That position made us strong and the problems we were able to solve at the top helps us innovate and continue to innovate as we go down the funnel and today.
Umeh said that Terragon has been able to build software that solves problems for banks, telcos and other industries particularly on what is locally relevant because most of technologies are foreign and do not properly address local problems.
He said: “We leverage for Africans directly on phone and innovate for them because today, most of the innovation you are seeing, are imported innovations but as the ecosystem gets deeper from the elites down to people that are not so literate, local innovation needs to step in. It is that local innovation that we think we can reliably produce sustainable values for the African market”.
Giving out some business tips to African start-ups wanting to scale up their businesses, the digital entrepreneur said: “I think the key thing is to be sustainable. For instance, we started off with little money but great focus on growth.
It was when we found growth that we started to think about profitability. Ironically, when we became profitable for a number of years, we also developed need for more growth. I believe that businesses in their primary stages must seek sustainability which is the balance. We ran for eight years, without raising money, meaning we were sustainable for those years.
But the kind of growth we are pursuing now, require external finance, however, we are not jumping into it. We thought it through and agreed that for the maturity of the business, the time is right to turn up that option.
He warned start-ups to think of equity as a last resort. Otherwise, the first is to look for grant, loans and only have to think of equity when the business starts to thrive. He also laid emphasis on capacity building and training. However , he noted that the down side of investment on capacity building is that after training poachers may feast on them, leaving the startup to start training fresh ones
“Teragon is a company where people come in at a very young age, average age of 26 or thereabout and they get a lot of job training and we having a very good job at our retention site because the demands on our talent is so high.
Our strategy is to put together an army, a battalion of people and we groom generals out of them and potentially one, two or three of those generals stay a long time but a lot of that battalion of people, leave. When the generals come up, they become part owners of the company; that has somehow been our approach to it. I think talent is what every investor has to invest in.
“There are a lot of problems in the Nigeria technology business ecosystem but I believe that they sum up the risks which on their own, have a high return. I intend not to talk too much of what the problems are, but the opportunity is massive. You can’t have a business without people; you can’t grow in a long term if you don’t keep to people.
Doing business in Nigeria is extremely difficult. But there must be a lot of commitment and such commitment goes with things around people, things around the nuances of the environment. The nuances of the environment include lack of power, congested traffic system. The country is ours; we need to collectively write our story.