Back in 2017, I came across an article on Quartz that highlighted how better digital mapping will boost Nigeria’s e-commerce and ridesharing businesses. In this article, readers learned that poor logistics infrastructure is a downside that’s a debilitating part of doing business in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos, the nation’s commercial hub. Additionally, the lack of comprehensive mapping has been a challenge for modern local businesses in e-commerce like Jumia and Konga and ride-sharing companies like Uber and Taxify. Now in 2018, I came across another article on Quartz revealing that most African online shopping stores are completely neglecting the realities of their operating environment where organized neighborhoods, well-labeled streets, and addresses are nearly non-existent.
These challenges for businesses and customers create an excellent opportunity for MAX, a platform building connected mobility and logistics infrastructure for Africa by using mobile and web apps to connect consumers and small businesses to independent moto-taxis and drivers in real-time. The team behind MAX are eliminating the barriers that have prevented Africans from experiencing safe, affordable and accessible transportation. With a knack for bold ideas and transformation, they are on a mission to connect 1 billion Africans to mobility services in real-time. My conversation with Adetayo uncovers his entrepreneurial journey.
What’s your life philosophy?
There is a simple statement that drives the things I do; “To whom much is given, much is expected.” When we have the opportunity to build systems and create jobs, to help advance and move society forward, especially in Africa, we must make it our moral responsibility to respond. I have had many privileges such as studying at MIT, working at top companies, and being admitted into one of the top accelerators in the world (Techstars New York). It wasn’t on the basis of being smart. I had it good and this realization encourages me to create opportunities for other people.
What’s something you do every day that is non-negotiable for you?
There are a number of things. One of the key things I believe is absolutely essential and critical to success is to speak positive words to motivate my team every single day. In our meetings at MAX, I always make sure to verbally reinforce the belief that we are able to succeed and accomplish our mission despite challenges.
What are the formative ingredients in your childhood that came to create your perspective?
Without a doubt, my parents and siblings had a tremendous influence on me. Both of my parents believe in thoroughly sacrificing for the greater good. My dad is a professor. Watching him help his students learn, succeed, and achieve extraordinary things influenced my desire to help people, to learn more, and to achieve more. My mom is very entrepreneurial. When she worked as an executive of her Employee Union, she would often go on long trips just to attend meetings. Eventually, she transitioned to entrepreneurship. My desire to create things was inspired by her.
What do you consider to be one of the greatest challenges and setbacks for developing businesses in Africa?
After several years working as an entrepreneur in Africa, I think the main challenge facing everyone is the tough operating environment. What I mean by this is that the basic infrastructure and support services needed by entrepreneurs isn’t easily accessible. However, if an entrepreneur can figure out creative ways to overcome these challenges and raise sufficient capital, customers will still face the same infrastructure challenges and might find it difficult to access what the entrepreneur has built. A good example is a recent trend where many emerging entrepreneurs are building tech products. If most of the population do not have access to the internet, data, or quality service on their smartphones, it represents a huge challenge for the entrepreneur. No matter how nice the product is, the lack of basic infrastructure limits the market size.
When you think about how you built your company, how much do you think was your skills, intelligence, and talent and how much do you think was just luck?
I will say opportunity is definitely 50%. For example, we do not have control over some factors of success -- such as being born into the right family or in a thriving city. This all falls into the luck or grace bucket. Also, it’s possible to have tremendous access to opportunities but not be motivated to take advantage of them. My Co-founder - Chinedu Azodoh - and I are very motivated people with a strong desire to create change in the world we live in. This goes beyond attaining economic success. So when we face challenges as a business, we often joke with the team that if this was just about making money, there are definitely easier ways to do that.
If someone is trying to start a business and has no money or no connections - just an idea - what is the one thing they need to have or focus on?
Go find the connections, it’s that simple. Today, there are all sorts of meetups and events. Unless what you are building is something that’s top secret, then choosing not to talk to anyone isn’t justifiable. However, if you are building something for the public, you certainly need to interact with a lot of people and to build the right founding team. Yes, it’s great to have an idea but as they say, “ideas are a Dime a Dozen.” Ideas are everywhere; what makes the difference is the ability to execute on an idea. To do this, you have to put yourself out there, you have to test the idea, you have to get feedback and keep iterating until it’s valuable for the market. Remember that what it took to build a successful company 5 or 10 years ago is different from what it takes to build a successful company today. The stakes are just different.
There are a tremendous number of opportunities on the African continent. How do you stay focused on your journey?
The concept of focus is a very interesting one which has different interpretations depending on the context. Focus is building something very specific for a niche market. If I am building a startup in a developing country or third world country, the chances of failure are higher. The basic infrastructure you have in the States may be different from what is available in a developing country. For example, Uber built their app on Google maps. If that didn’t exist, they would have had to build an additional platform to help with their core operations.
I actually had a conversation with Mr. Dangote about this topic. He shared that if it were up to him, he will never have gotten into logistics. Because of the scale in which he operates, there was no local company that could provide what he needed. So he had no choice but to build his own logistics operations to support his cement business.
Also, entrepreneurs who face challenges when building a business in Africa often build a new product that helps generate cash-flow in the short term in order to position them to build for the long term. In America, it’s totally different. First, it’s not difficult to find existing platforms and support services to leverage. Other companies have already built great products and new entrepreneurs are in a position to build on this. Additionally, the infrastructure in the States allows entrepreneurs to focus, to raise money, and to build their core product from day one. So for me, the question of focus pertains to honing in on the company mission within its context. The truth is as an entrepreneur, if you can really focus on your mission and market, you’ll figure out what it takes to achieve success.