How this startup is building a distributed team to tackle one of Africa’s biggest challenges
For many people in Lagos, Nigeria and most of Africa, 2021 has spelt the end of the remote work era. Most workers are shuffling back into offices, dusting off desk space, and returning to old office routines. However, the pandemic year has permanently changed the relationship to the office for some.
This is the case of Sidebrief, a startup solving one of the toughest problems for African businesses – managing company formation and compliance across the continent’s 54 countries. The startup had barely formed a team when it had to close its offices to the public due to the pandemic. Since then, Sidebrief has ditched the office for good.
In 2019, Eunice Olopade teamed up with colleagues to build a platform that allows African businesses scale seamlessly across the continent, a key headache for most founders on the continent. The startup is building the rails for cross-border company formation and compliance management on the continent, aiming to solve a key pain-point she had experienced advising clients on the continent.
The bootstrapped team initially struggled with the impact of the pandemic on its core business and from the transition to a fully remote team. However, it has built from scratch a culture to fit the new reality whilst itself battling for survival. There were scarcely available local resources to help, and especially for a young team led by first time founders, it was a pivotal stage in the history of the startup.
Yet the startup survived and scaled, maybe even helped in part by the distribution of the team. The strategies and considerations for expansion changed considerably with its adoption of a distributed team – office spaces are no longer essential; running costs are much lower, and talents can be globally sourced. This has allowed the business to scale faster, cut time to market and costs of expansion.
With members of the team being able to work from anywhere, many opted to work in new markets around Africa, where the team has now established a presence. While Eunice mostly works out of her home in the US and Lagos, members of the team now work from Lagos, Nairobi, Kigali, Kampala, London, Accra and Kaunas. Remote work is enabling team members to have a more fluid lifestyle, with good work life balance, whilst helping the team grow, Eunice believes.
With a team distributed across the world, Sidebrief has built its culture for remote working to achieve productivity. Eunice believes diversity, trust and collaboration, which are essential parts of the matrix to building a global company has been fostered by the distribution of the team. We have also managed to remain a close-knit team despite the distance and time differences, she says.
Despite the early challenges, the transition to remote work has not affected the team’s growth as it continues to scale across African markets, with a presence in most major markets including Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. Having served more than 200 enterprise clients across Africa and seen its revenue double in 2021, the Sidebrief team continues to scale across markets and is looking to open shop in South Africa and Egypt soon.
It is not yet uhuru however, as there are still challenges. A key challenge Eunice highlighted is the stiffer competition for talent. More talents are opting to work for international startups, with deeper pockets and higher profile, as most businesses now allow employees to work remotely permanently. Local startups have had to compete with less firepower in their armory.
The other challenges of building a distributed team include managing taxes and employee compliance across several markets, which fortunately, is one that Sidebrief is solving for startups in Africa.
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