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Scaling businesses through innovative digital solutions with Enterfive

Kemdi Ebi is the co-founder and CEO of Enterfive, creators of Versus. He grew up with the desire to improve the African economy and culture by creating a digital solutions and insights agency. He shares his journey on entrepreneurship and powerful insights on startups.

The outbreak of COVID-19 disrupted a lot of Nigerian businesses, do you think they were digitally prepared and what do you think will change in terms of how businesses will be transacted going forward?

Unfortunately, COVID-19 disrupted a lot of businesses not only in Nigeria but globally. If anything, businesses in Nigeria were now forced to think more about shifting a lion share of their core business operations digital, which for many, was a first time. Before the COVID shock, I think it’s safe to say the digital transformation for businesses was a loose term, often times lip service. But following the pandemic shock, it has become imperative and mandatory. Every business regardless of sector and how it has been traditionally run, is now inevitably moving their core operations, digital.

The core change that is already happening in Nigeria is businesses understanding the importance of cloud computing solutions and migrating away from the likes of physical server infrastructures. While newer companies are more adept to the use of cloud computing solutions, older and more established companies have been forced to prioritize and completely shift their understanding and usage. It has forced a drastic change in these older companies to adapt to store and host their information within the cloud computing servers available and at the same time update their staff to manage maximum security of their information.

It is important to also highlight that with internet as an essential commodity means that mobile phone penetration will increase. Nigeria is estimated to have about 66 percent of its population have mobile phones (and hence internet connectivity) by 2025. Specifically, app-based businesses will most likely experience a surge as a result.

While the impact of COVID-19 has made a lot of businesses to suffer, are there opportunities that you see amid the crisis?

COVID-19 has caused businesses to adjust to remote work and hence be more pragmatic. It has caused for a greater utilisation of digital tools and most times means reduced overhead costs for businesses. For example, with remote work as a necessity, a lot of communication tools that cost little to nothing have been incorporated into day-to-day standards for many businesses – some of which would’ve never used digital alternatives unless COVID-19 happened.

In addition to the increased awareness and growth in digital inclusion, there’s also been a forced need to upskill digital education. Unemployed people are upskilling themselves through online education tools to be useful to potential employers that need their learned skills or even to be useful to start their own businesses online.

Read also: COVID-19: Nigeria need to optimize testing to flatten curve of pandemic

This is the time for SMEs to thrive. Especially the ones focused on tech and digital solutions within essential industries such as healthcare, education, consumer goods and even government policy tracking. With faster and more affordable internet access which the Telcos and ISPs can hopefully provide, there is a wonderful opportunity that presents itself for the emergence of Nigeria’s new crop of innovative companies to steer the economy forward.

Lastly, even with the massive rush towards digital, the need to curb risks of identity theft, data breaches or similar cyber-crimes becomes more imperative. Cybersecurity companies now have an increased opportunity to provide their services at a significantly larger scale for the local business terrain unlike ever before.

Why do you think a lot of Nigerian businesses are not digital and what are the potentials in leveraging technology to scale their businesses?

Nigerian businesses have been long stifled by degraded infrastructures and the general sociopolitical climate that affects the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Once fundamental and permanent fixes are made to basic necessities that will eventually support tech-enabled businesses to run more efficiently and with reduced costs, there’s no doubt the sky is the limit.

So long there is constant and affordable internet to access information across the country, more businesses can be introduced to a lot of these new digital practices to enhance their knowledge.

You recently launched Versus COVID-19 relief initiative aimed at bridging Nigeria’s data gap, how far have you come with that?

First let me introduce Versus our flagship product. Versus uses a proprietary “Listen and Ask” methodology by combining online and offline ways to give brands complete, competitive and actionable insights on the African consumer market.

The “Ask” feature is where we leverage our Versus Scouts to assist with surveys that they are randomly selected to answer based on demographic selections made by the brands that use Versus. We then reward scouts with credits they can eventually cash out. Our whole drive entails giving consumers an opportunity to answer surveys with honesty being our number one policy or else they are disqualified if we find dishonest answers through our pattern algorithms.

The idea is mainly to see how we can provide constant income relief and liquidity for consumers to equally be in a position to afford basic goods and keep the economy going regardless of the shock caused by COVID-19. Since many brands as well as health agencies are also looking to fill data gaps for their better understanding of navigating these complex times, we’ve simply presented what we feel is a win-win situation that brings in contributors to pay a minimal amount to execute these surveys and our scouts earn on the back-end of it all. All of this is done purely digital with all interaction done on the Versus dashboard by the brands and the application or USSD by the scouts answering surveys.

We’re now quietly piloting with a few brands and will be making another announcement of partner participants soon as this will be an ongoing initiative for us.

As a solution and insights agency, you said Enterfive exists to launch and scale businesses through innovative digital solutions, how do you assist businesses to grow through the use of technology?

Right from when we began operations in 2016, we’ve always been bullish about the need for businesses (both local and global) to be more digitally focused in running their operations. Especially with African based businesses. We’ve always noticed the gaps and exist to be the end to end tech product specialists to help companies build tailored products that fit the complex consumer market we’re in.

Our product Versus is where we saw the ability to scale our service through marketing intelligence we can provide to businesses of all types, industries and sizes across the country, the continent and globally.

Especially dealing with COVID-19 now and SMEs affected. We have seen the increasing need to show small and mid-size businesses how best to navigate digital tools (including ours Versus) to utilize the data and hence help them become sustainable and profitable businesses.

What are the key challenges you have encountered in finding innovative solutions for businesses and what are your recommendations?

The first challenge we always face is the client embracing innovation. Before now, there’s an apprehension to build solutions that aren’t trendy. Often times in the course of our consultations, we realize companies don’t solve for direct problems they’ve observed but instead because of the “sheep effect” they want to either build or use solutions because they know their competitors are using it.

As a result, we always advise the businesses we work with to be very objective in their research and even if it means telling them there’s nothing to solve for if they have solutions that are working fine and don’t require further changes or adjustments.

What sectors of the Nigerian economy do you think will excel the most if it were more digitalized and why?

COVID-19 has naturally brought to the spotlight the two most important industries that are vital to building up strong economies and most especially the key to the rise of Nigeria’s economy. Healthcare and Education. With the influx of brilliant Tele-medicine and Edutech solutions that have sprung up in recent time in response to COVID-19, I’m very excited to see how it can empower our people to be productive contributors to the economy.

What regulatory policy or incentive do you think Nigeria needs to boost its digital economy?

There are a few that come to mind: tax rebates and/or concessions for infant businesses with notable ideas to spur economic growth; incentivising local investors that invest in locally based businesses whereby sizeable tax rebates are given to them for investments they make towards viable local digital companies.

But first and foremost, to consider all these ideas it is very paramount that regulators strengthen their knowledge of tech/digital business and their existence in the many sectors they reside. There needs to be a heightened concentration on digital literacy in the regulator’s box so that as some of these incentives are potentially executed, it is effective in reaching its intended objectives.

What are your projections for Nigeria and the businesses that operate in the country, in terms of the use of technology, say in the next five years?

Technology and digital solutions have always served primarily as an escape for businesses to leapfrog a lot of Nigeria’s degraded infrastructure to survive. For the digital economy to meet its maximum yield and be sustained, these infrastructural challenges (especially the lack of constant electricity) have to be addressed.

The next issue then becomes for most viable and successful Nigerian technology-based businesses, they end up being predominantly funded and supported by foreign investors who then require the businesses to be domiciled outside the country. This prevents opportunities to introduce new burgeoning companies to the Nigerian equities market and hence welcome new players into what could be Nigeria’s new economy. However, this will probably persist even in the next five years unless there are policies that incentivise more local investors to contribute to the technology space and allow them own majority stake in these companies even at the latter stages of their fundraise.

With the effects of COVID-19, and availability of online education, more people will become skilled in tech related jobs and hence there will be more employable Nigerians available to hire. There will be a lot more tech businesses serving different sectors in Nigeria however the investments will likely still be largely sourced offshore. Although the quality of businesses that emerge will only get better and the job economy should improve with sufficient foreign investments helping these businesses remain well capitalized to continuously afford new hires.

Nigeria will see many more innovative tech/digital businesses emerge from different sectors outside of the popular fintech space and the country will be home to the best inventors in Africa – without bias of course.

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