Wednesday, 27th September 2023

Bode Pedro Is The Best Kept Secret! The Visionary Tech Leader Opens Up About His Incredible Career Journey

By Guardian Life
04 June 2023   |   6:00 am
Bode Pedro is a seasoned tech entrepreneur, venture builder, and investor with a strong track record of over 15 years in founding and managing tech-enabled ventures in Nigeria. He is the Founder and CEO of Casava Inc., Nigeria's first 100% digital insurance company. In 2022, Casava secured a groundbreaking $4m in venture funding, the largest…

Bode Pedro is a seasoned tech entrepreneur, venture builder, and investor with a strong track record of over 15 years in founding and managing tech-enabled ventures in Nigeria.
He is the Founder and CEO of Casava Inc., Nigeria’s first 100% digital insurance company. In 2022, Casava secured a groundbreaking $4m in venture funding, the largest pre-seed raise for an insurtech in Africa.

Prior to Casava, Bode Pedro founded and led Veda Technology, a local computer manufacturing firm. His efforts revolutionized Nigeria’s local manufacturing industry, establishing Veda as a key player in computer design and assembly.
As a co-founder of SquarePine Investments, Bode has played a pivotal role in the success of various tech and media companies, including BellaNaija, MotoCheck, Okadabooks, MoneyMie, BigCabal, Herconomy, Kippa, and Lenco.

He is a graduate of the prestigious Program for Leadership Development (PLD) from Harvard Business School, complementing his degree in Computer Science from the University of Maryland, USA. He is a senior Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (CIIN) and serves as chairman of the Certified Computer Manufacturers of Nigeria (CCMON).
Bode Pedro recently founded the Astra Fellowship, a leadership program that empowers young tech innovators and software engineers.

Can you tell us more about your journey from being a pioneer Afrobeats producer to a successful tech entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist?

I have always been passionate about technology and had a natural talent for creating captivating visual experiences. I started fixing and installing personal computers early and even built and designed technology products. In 1998, while in secondary school, I developed a website for stories (now known as blogs), and by 2003, I had started my first startup. In 2005, I delved into entertainment and started producing Afrobeats music (then called Naija Hiphop) with digital software. I collaborated with my brothers and friends to create a music group called Amplifyd Crew and organized Tuface Idibia and Banky W’s first American musical concerts while still in college in the US. Unknowingly, I was learning and utilizing new technology methods to engage, build products, and create value. This involved using platforms like Facebook, Myspace, and other digital platforms for marketing and engagement, software systems like Adobe, Fruity Loops, and Sony Vegas for production, design, and content creation, and Gmail for drip marketing engagement. I also learned the importance of relationship management, communication, and interpersonal skills, which are essential tools in any industry, particularly in entertainment. Although I had my first failures with the music group eventually disbanding, losses from concerts, and transitioning from artist management, these experiences prepared me for the challenges, opportunities, and successes I would encounter in the following 18 years.

How would you say your upbringing, family, and surroundings influenced and shaped you in your formative years to impact your adulthood?

I am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me by my upwardly mobile family. From a young age, they taught me and my siblings the values of excellence, hard work, integrity, aspiration, and ambition. Additionally, I was fortunate to receive the finest education from Corona School for my primary education, Atlantic Hall and ADRAO International School for secondary, and the University of Maryland for tertiary education.

My father’s career journey was impressive, starting from the Central Bank of Nigeria and rising to become the Executive Assistant to the Founder of FCMB. He then became an Investor and the first employee of Guaranty Trust Bank at its inception in 1989. In 1998, he founded and became CEO of First Atlantic Bank. My mother also had a successful career, becoming the Chief Registrar High Court of Lagos State in 1999 and a High Court Judge in 2001. Finally, my father became the Deputy Governor of Lagos State.

I witnessed my parents’ hard work, determination, and leadership skills that helped them overcome obstacles and disadvantages, coming from humble beginnings. I had their support, and their experiences taught me valuable lessons, but I knew I needed to understand myself better to become a valuable contributor to society.

At the age of 20, did you envisage your current self? What did you think you’d be at that time?
I always aspired to be in the information technology industry (as we called it in the past). The aspiration to become a technology entrepreneur was only evident after my first few entrepreneurial experiences.

You have founded many innovative businesses. You’ve also invested in or helped grow successful companies like the admired BellaNaija company. Which of these is your most outstanding? What is the first thing new innovators should consider and avoid?

In my early twenties, I envisioned building an African computer maker to compete with major brands like HP, Dell, and Acer. This led me to launch Veda Computers, which played a significant role in the growth of the Nigerian tech ecosystem. The journey was challenging, but after almost three years of hard work, we succeeded in setting up the company. We designed and manufactured computers and allied accessories, including launching touchscreen desktops and a proprietary app store called Quest. Our products were sold to individuals, schools, corporates, and government parastatals, including financing laptops for Youth Corpers in partnership with leading banks.

Veda Computers also brought professional achievements, including being nominated for best use of technology and winning Business Owner of the Year at Future Awards 2013, my appointment as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, my admission into the Nigerian Leadership Initiative and Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the Nigerian Telecoms Awards and my founding of the Certified Computer Manufacturers of Nigeria in which I still the hold the Chairman position. It was my most foundational experience in doing business in Nigeria.

To begin with, would-be innovators should understand the “why,” clarify their mission, and understand how truly their talent, expertise, and product will be valuable to their market and how the market will be valuable to them. It sounds like a broken record, but building a valuable business is arduous, time-consuming, and unforgiven; therefore, innovators must understand why they are willing to sacrifice beyond the dream of financial rewards.

Additionally, while there’s never been an easier time to start a business in Nigeria, thanks to technology and digital access to the market, finding mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities in an industry of interest will provide a would-be entrepreneur with the foundational business training and insights required to avoid potential pitfalls in the journey to success. While I had big dreams for Veda, I didn’t spend enough time understanding the “why,” I had little experience in the industry, which contributed to the mistakes made during my journey.

Finally, innovators must avoid the trappings of committing to expenses and long-term obligations like setting up an office, hiring, marketing expenses, and other operating expenses for as long as possible. Their primary goal is to achieve product-market fit as fast as possible, building and iterating a product that the market is willing to pay for consistently and can provide a sustainable profit margin to accommodate operating expenses. What I admired most about BellaNaija was that it took many years before an office was established (before the Covid pandemic and remote work). Today, the company is remote and has a small full-time team, leveraging contributors, influencers, and curated content to scale. This sustainable model is why BellaNaija celebrates its 17th anniversary in July 2023.

Your company, Casava, is revolutionizing the insurance space by being Nigeria’s first 100% digital insurance company. Considering you came from outside the insurance industry to now building a top Insurtech company, what was the enormous opportunity you saw in the market that influenced the decision to establish Casava?

In 2009, I met Tayo, a successful entrepreneur whose father passed away when he was eight. Fortunately, his father had a life insurance policy that kicked in and provided his stay-at-home mum with a monthly income to provide for the family for the next 15 years. All four children have now graduated from University and are advancing in their various fields. In all intent and purposes, Tayo’s father’s insurance policy prevented his family from going into poverty.

When I returned to Nigeria in 2006, there were fewer than 200,000 individual insurance policies in the country. Today, 4 million active individual insurance policies contribute 400 billion in financial benefits to policyholders. This upward trend is expected to continue, with 50 million Nigerians enjoying the benefits of insurance within the next five years, breaking the cycle of poverty and promoting wealth in families and communities.

What experiences with high-growth companies have you brought into the insurance industry?
Many factors determine the success of a high-growth company, some of which will be known only after the company is in full operations. Therefore, except in a highly sensitive industry, it’s best to go to market swiftly, listen, discern market pain points or motivations and execute fast. These have been my guiding principles for startup success.

Casava launched full operations in 2021, and since then, we’ve iterated our product, value proposition and business strategy a few times to achieve product market fit. In 2022, we raised $4m in venture funding, and this year, we reached the milestone of 100,000 active insurance subscribers.

We saw on your social media that you just hit the milestone age of 40; congratulations! However, a consensus statement from people has been: “Really? Only just 40 years old?”. What has been your key to success?

My understanding of success has changed over time. Today, my idea of success is how much progress I make as a person, family man, and business executive in that order.

Tell us about your new philanthropic commitment, the ASTRA Fellowship.

Many years ago, a college student approached me to pitch his software services to my startup. Although we didn’t work together at the time, we built a relationship, and he went on to become a successful entrepreneur, funding many startups, including my current venture. Through my experiences as a leader, entrepreneur, and student, I’ve learned that building foundational skills like personal development, entrepreneurship training and leadership.

Astra Fellowship is designed to provide software engineers, technology professionals, innovators and creatives with the skills necessary to build their capacity for personal, professional and entrepreneurial leadership so that they can find purpose, start their journey and achieve their version of success.

The inaugural cohort of 40 exceptional fellows, carefully selected from a pool of candidates currently being trained by our esteemed partner, Decagon Training Institute, embarked on a transformative one-month journey. Guided by our distinguished head coach, Dr Bamidele Oshinowo, and assistant coach Dr Kenneth Ikenwa — both renowned educators and seasoned executives — and drawing from my recent experience as a graduate of the Program for Leadership Development at Harvard Business School, we painstakingly designed a curriculum focused on three essential tenets: mastering oneself, becoming an authentic leader, and propelling your career or venture.

The outcome? In the years to come, we will witness the remarkable growth of these fellows as they evolve into the very best versions of themselves, making tremendous strides in their personal journeys, creating value for others, and achieving their goals and aspirations.

You and your team recently held an exquisite graduation for the 1st Cohort of the ASTRA Fellowship. Just from this first experience, what are some key takeaways?
While many conventional fellowships and training initiatives tend to focus on already established stars, Astra has a distinct mission: to equip and empower the ones who will become the next tech leaders. Seeing the distinct transformation in the mindsets of these tech innovators reminds me of the untapped potential in emerging talents and further confirms why we must cultivate a steady pipeline of not only tech stars but also individuals who possess the essential soft skills needed to succeed in today’s constantly evolving landscape. Hearing the feedback from the fellows makes us at Astra and Casava excited to be part of this transformative journey.

Do you have funding for the ASTRA Fellowship, or is it 100% self-funded? How best can the government and other private-sector members deploy technology to drive financial inclusion and create socioeconomic opportunities?
Currently, the ASTRA Fellowship is primarily funded through a partnership with Casava Microinsurance Ltd. When leveraging technology for financial inclusion and creating socioeconomic opportunities, Government and well-meaning private-sector members play a crucial role. They can drive inclusive growth by embracing digital transformation, investing in infrastructure, and fostering an enabling environment. Some key steps they can take include Policy Support, Investment in Infrastructure, Skill Development, and Collaboration.

What is the common thread that ties all that you do?

Long-term financial value and community impact through innovation and creativity.

What is your management style? Do you consider yourself a hands-on leader?
My management style is what is called “leader as a beacon”. I try to inspire and motivate teams to drive a shared mission to a successful outcome. All good leaders are hands-on in one way or another. However, my time is best valued listening to and engaging investors, my team, and the market to share the mission and direct the company’s strategy.