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Dr. Yele Okeremi advises startups on ‘how to build’

We’re not looking for smart codes, we’re looking for smart companies — Dr. Okeremi

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Dr. Yele Okeremi
Dr. Yele Okeremi, CEO of PFS and former President of ISPON

Speaking on the challenges faced by startups in Nigeria, the educational disadvantage and how the current system impedes the growth of its citizens, Dr. Yele Okeremi, CEO Precise Financial Systems (PFS) breaks down the processes that encourage these developments.

To start a small intellectual venture in Nigeria means you will be investing in a high intellectual capacity although our educational structure hinders us from training and harvesting the best brains,” Dr. Yele Okeremi said.

This then makes it almost impossible to compete against world-class ventures who have excellent educational structures that churn out great brains consistently, who are then given the leverage to take over our space by our own #economicpolicies.”

Indeed, internal challenges and external challenges are inevitable in any sector, but how you handle them determines the extent of your success.

Speaking during an interview, the astute businessman said that starting a small business, especially an intellectual one, requires your high intellectual input as regards your output expectation.

Investing your time and resources in the recruitment process for smart intellectual capacities is a prerequisite.

That sounds very simple, but when you look externally today at our educational system, you realise that it’s an uphill task for you to actually be able to harvest the best.

According to Okeremi, starting a business for PFS about 27 years ago was a lot easier as they were able to get smart graduates from tertiary institutions seamlessly.

Today, even if I don’t sit down to talk to people at entry level, I get the reports. I know how difficult it is to get smart brains to do a job.

We’re able to get smart brains because we’ve gone through over eighty or ninety resumes and several interviews. That in itself is a big challenge and you still want to compete with international companies.

Dr Yele Okeremi

Dr. Yele Okeremi speaking

Even when you’re able to get a few smart people for the progress of your business, entrepreneurs need to understand this: “we’re not looking for smart code, we’re looking for smart companies,” he pointed out.

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Although you have the guys who develop brilliant codes, some internal things and processes need to be put in place — This is another challenge.

You begin to look for international benchmarks and standards. Just like PFS did we had to do CMMI and reveal processes. All these things cost money.”

This leads us to another point to be highly considered — finances.

A startup without funding is likely not going to achieve as much as is projected. This also includes building skills and systems.

World-class companies are world-class people driving world processes and world-class systems. Acquiring world-class people and retaining them is a challenge. Building world-class processes are not cheap, however, like in PFS, we evolved.

When PFS started, Yele handled several roles at the same time but later, these roles had to be separated. To make the company grow, they had to make sure that people who took up these roles handled them as well as it was initially handled.

That means there’s a principle of me being able to recreate myself in other people and that’s a very challenging process. You have to sit down, document and digitise what you know so it becomes transferred.”

Other challenges come; you’re able to recruit, how much are you able to retain?

Remember, you want smart world-class brains, the question is who else is looking for these world-class brains? They are huge corporations. MTN, Shell, Dangote, among others. You’re competing for the same resources.

If it turns out that these competitors have a lot more resources than you then you realise that your attrition rate is very high. This becomes another problem for you — hiring and retention.

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To solve these problems, rather than compete with companies that are war-chest, the first compromise many companies make is to scale down. They decide to train individuals even though they didn’t go to college or have good results. The expectation is that they would be able to onboard the performance by putting elaborate processes and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place.

The moment you begin to do that you’re already having compromises because what you’re doing is that you’re already creating bureaucracies where you don’t need one.”

Moving on to external challenges, Okeremi said:

When you go external, you realise you’re in very big trouble.”

Everybody realises that Nigeria needs to produce what it consumes and vice versa but then who wants to lead by example?

Nigerian tech startup companies have brilliant ideas but also have a general problem of who would be their first customers.

Without a first customer, it doesn’t matter how good your idea is or how brilliant you are, it will never be successful.”

There are no structures to assist in giving market access.

Rather than having structures to allow internal players to have market access, the structures we have encourages external/foreign players to come and compete locally.”

These are people who have the advantage of scale thereby taking up the market from young players when they come into Nigeria.

In a conclusive statement, Okeremi emphasised:

Remember, cash is key. It doesn’t matter whether your idea will be viable in two years, if you run out of cash, two years will never come.

​Joan Aimuengheuwa is a content writer who takes keen interest in the scopes of innovation among African startups. She thrives at meeting targets and expectations. Contact: [email protected]

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