‘Our best brains in technology are being taken out’
Eucharia Amanambu is the CEO of KariXchange, a technology start-up software company that builds platforms with emphasis on user design, ultimate user experience and user empowerment. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, Amanambu, who was part of the team that worked on the BVN project, spoke on the exploits of KariXchange, as well as the challenges facing the Nigerian tech sector.
Could you tell us about KariXchange, what exactly is the company into?
KariXchange is a technology startup company that is involved in building platforms. At the moment, we have a couple of platforms we are building; we have built two already, but not on the large scale. Right now, we are building a large-scale platform that we intend that one-day, the world would use it; not just Nigeria or Africa. We have a whole lot of people working on the project to ensure we get it out.
By your own assessment, what’s the state of tech in Nigeria?
You see, once you build software or an app that is at per with international standard, you can win any time, any day. A lot of people are going to software; I don’t know if you watched Microsoft guy, they are in competition with Apple. And what are they in competition for? It’s all about developers; that’s all! Do you know the crazy developers we have in this country? We have people that didn’t read anything Computer Science, but they are good at what they do. Sometimes startup is tough, but we need to have leaders, especially entrepreneurs, that would let people see that, on the global scale, this is exactly where we are going; and let them stick together.
There’s this concern that some of our best hands in tech, especially developers, are leaving the country as a result of harsh environment where they operate here, what’s your take on that?
The truth is that our best brains are being taken out; they are leaving the country! For instance, tech is getting better in Nigeria, but if we don’t address that dearth, these guys will leave because they are good. These guys (foreigners) are taking them away. Somebody just left my office, one of my best guys; that’s the best guy I’ve ever worked with. It pained me so much, but I can’t afford to pay him what they offered him; and this guy has one and half year experience in software. He read Sociology at the University of Ibadan, but he’s brilliant; don’t joke with our guys. They understand trends; they know what’s happening in the world. They go out there, they read about things themselves, they grab knowledge themselves and then they propel.
In what areas have we progressed in this particular sector?
In this industry, what some people are also trying to do… I know one or two platforms that have done very well; I know Fintech (banking and financial services) is doing well. There are some apps in Nigeria that even the most advanced countries haven’t even started thinking of really using them because of what people in Fintech have been able to do. But asides from Fintech, which is doing so well in this country, what else can we do? I think a lot of people are just going to Fintech and forgetting other apps that could really boost the economy. We could create employment, how about the health sector? You know we have a challenge about the health sector, but I think people are concentrating more on Fintech, which is not really a bad thing, but other entrepreneurs should also look at the other sectors of our economy.
Some of our talented developers, who left the country, complained about lack of fund for tech in Nigeria, what’s the situation right now?
You see, when you start up with a dream you need money to get it out; you need money to do something. It’s tough to get investors for tech, especially in Nigeria, unless you go out there to pitch; most people now go abroad to pitch. So, once you’ve done something and you think it’s good, you just go abroad; I’m going to do that as well. Though I had investors, really that’s exactly what we are going to do; to go abroad and pitch for funding. However, the first thing they will do is to make sure your headquarters is there so that the taxes go back to them. But this country where you are generating the fund, most of the users are Nigerians, you don’t get as much as the investors get.
Does that mean we don’t have people who invest locally?
Locally, we have guys that can invest in this business, but the question is why aren’t they investing? When you go to meet them, they will say, ‘ah, so what have you done, how profitable are you?’ If people like Peter Thiel, president of Clarium Capital, who funded Facebook, were looking at profitability, Facebook won’t be where it is today; they won’t be the billionaires they are today. Our local investors are still looking at tech like all these manufacturing companies, no! You have to look at smart boys with ideas; you don’t need to be a technology wizard to understand how things work in tech. Yes, there’s an old way of doing things, but what’s the best way of doing it? That’s all you need to tell these guys and you have to support them.
Are you saying these talents don’t usually get support?
Look, a friend of mine once told me that some young guys brought these brilliant ideas for him, he said he was going to fund them but he’s going to take 80 per cent and give them 20 per cent. Because they needed the money to push their ideas, they agreed to the sharing formula. Now, he has eased them out totally. So, these are the kind of things people go through in a setting like ours. So, local investors should start seeing things with international eyes. For instance, I have a case where some guys were building something really nice in Nigeria, a very smart boy and his other colleagues; I think they didn’t have money to complete the project. I had seen that job before they went to pitch in the US, they would have done a great job, but they were in a hurry to get it out. Unfortunately, they got there and they denied them sponsorship. And what else did they do, they all left the country to work in other places.
Beyond lack of funds, are there other reasons our talents are leaving?
Well, with software guys, everybody wants big money. So, you see people come in, they want to earn N400,000 per month, what qualification do you have on the job? I don’t have problem with people earning big money, but you need to prove yourself. Truth be told, we have people, we have a lot of young men and women that are doing very well, but they need guidance and direction. If they bring out something that is remarkable, somebody needs to support them. How much will friends and family give you? Maybe N1million, sometime N5 million, but that can’t really take you all the way. Another challenge I see here is that people like to copy and paste. Like Fintech is doing so well, everybody wants to do the same thing; why not be innovative about things that matter to us? How do we develop agriculture, how do we solve problems in the society? These are things we can look into.
What’s the role of government in all this?
I think that investment is important, but I don’t like to involve the government because, I think we can do it ourselves; when we get it right, government can now come. However, things like tax exemption and priority status class for the sector could also help the industry grow. You talked about government, but the question is who are they really connecting with? I read somewhere that VP Osinbajo had some guys on a panel and I asked myself to what end? Maybe it’s for good; maybe they want to understand the challenges we have and see how they can proffer solution. I hope that’s what it’s going to be. I also saw a Nigerian Minister, who went to Facebook recently and they welcomed him and said, ‘Honourable Minister from Nigeria,’ and I’m like, ‘to what end?’ They welcomed you in Facebook, so what? How does that translate to money? Look, the way Oyinbos think is different from the way we think here; these guys are thinking of how to create wealth, they are thinking of how to make money.
They know you can use technology to create money, so, they are looking for avenues. Now, how do we empower our guys to do that? That’s what Americans did with Silicon Valley. When Obama was elected President of the United States, he had to go to Silicon Valley; you need to go there, that’s a powerhouse. But our people, you hear they’ve traveled; they have a summit here, they have a summit there, so what? I think they have to roll their sleeves and do the dirty jobs; they need to come down here and know what the challenges are. You don’t just give people money, you need to exactly see what these people are doing and you need to key in. if we want to win in this country, that’s the only way to do that. Not to go to Facebook and they are welcoming you; how does that impact the economy?
Let’s go back to KariXchange, what informed the decision to set up the company?
KariXchange is built basically out of passion. Most importantly, out of passion for Africa and Nigeria to lead also when it comes to platforms. We know that our people are very creative, innovative and very driven, so, why don’t we use that to develop? So, we have where we want to go to; we have direction. Nigeria is a third world economy, but there are so many things that can be done to improve the standard of living in this country. For instance, you look at healthcare, agriculture, real estate, unemployment… these are things we need to ensure they are improved to ensure we are able to boost our economy. Old things phase out once you have a better alternative.
So, if we can create something a lot better, people will begin to use it and the world can see the better alternative. That’s some of the reasons some of these platforms abroad really become huge. Look at Uber for instance, why do I have to wait for somebody, when I can use the app to get someone to come on time and I don’t have to negotiate the price? In this case, you don’t just look at me and say, ‘madam, you price is N5000.’ For instance, my sister comes from the Mainland, I come from the Island; we both pay the same price on Uber. So, we need to start building apps and that’s why I tell people, no matter what happens, I don’t think I will give out my freedom or liberty and go live in someone else’s country, when I know there are things we can improve in this country. So, for KariXchange, that’s one thing that motivates us. What we are trying to do now is to see how we can tackle unemployment in our own way; we can start gradually and see how we can spread.
You talked about your new platform, what is it all about and how exactly do you intend to use it to change lives?
What we’ve created is a platform (an app) that can solve the problem of unemployment. See, when people finish school for instance, they stay at home because things are not happening for them. But the question is, how creative are you? How skilled are you? We have difference stages, but we want to concentrate on things that can be done around the house; what you can call creative monopoly. So, we’ve looked at the sector and we want to see how we want to improve things. For instance, what are the things people want to be done around the house? Is it tilling, plumbing, electrical… that’s the first part of what we are doing. And what we’ve done is to make it easily accessible to everybody, just the way Uber has changed transportation, but in this case, it’s more advanced. I don’t want to give away too much, but I will speak more on it when we launch.
Who are your targets and how accessible will the platform be when completed?
This platform will be for people that are skilled; professionals, who are looking for jobs to do. It’s going to be a form of subscription, but we want to make it free for a while so that people can see it. But I’m not looking at all the industry; I’m taking a part of the industry. We are not just putting you on the platform, there are some tests you have to go through because, we need to be sure you are very professional. We need to know that, if you go to someone’s house, you will follow the code of conduct. So, these are the kind of things we want to do for people to come and showcase themselves. After a while, we will open the platform to a larger audience beyond Nigeria. But for now, we want people to showcase what they can do. So, even if you work as an accountant somewhere, but you have some skills that people can use, why not? It’s also our own way of saying, ‘don’t stay at home.’ So, what exactly is it that you can do? Why not come on the platform so that people can see you? We are going to expand, but our expansion will be within this industry. Definitely next month, we will be doing our testing.
No comments yet