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Startup Spotlight: Okra
All Things Venture #053
Hey Everyone! Dez here from All Things Venture, we are BACK with our first Startup Spotlight of 2022, and I’ve got to say - this is a special one. I am super excited about sharing this interview, and I wanted to share why. In a 2008 blog post, Paul Graham, one of the co-founders of Y Combinator and the venture capital industry’s most enduring voices, shared a piece of Y Combinator’s history:
About a month after we started Y Combinator we came up with the phrase that became our motto: Make something people want. We've learned a lot since then, but if I were choosing now that's still the one I'd pick.
Make something people want. It’s a sentence that is both wildly complex and beautifully simple. It captures the raw essence of successful entrepreneurship, and alludes to the intractable power of our desires. What we want, as groups of people and at scale, mints millionaires, billionaires, and everything in between.
In the early 2000s, people wanted access to information on the internet.
Google led the charge and is now worth $1.7 Trillion
In the early 2010s, people wanted to share their personal lives on social media.
Facebook led that charge and is now worth $819B
Making something people want is a phrase that has always stuck in my mind since the first time I heard it. I’m of the opinion that as the venture capital industry matures, and as the best practices for building startups are distributed globally, you will find more people all across the globe, building things people want. Today’s Startup Spotlight is a brief interview of David Peterside, one of the co-founders of the Nigerian startup Okra. Okra is building the Plaid for Nigeria and beyond, and leading the charge on giving people something they want, which is the ability to build personalized financial products and services in the largest country in Africa. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to share this interview for two reasons:
David rarely does interviews, and is known for being notoriously lowkey
I believe that there is tremendous opportunity in Nigeria for entrepreneurs and investors to provide people with what they want
On my second point a few demographic stats to share:
220 million people (6th largest country in the world)
41% of the country is below the age of 14 (massive digitally enabled demographic cohort)
50% of the population lives in cities
At a high level, Nigeria has the component parts to build a massive, modern, 21st century middle class in the next ~20 years. The age of their population, the size of it, and the speed at which ideas can be distributed, adopted, and accelerated in today’s technologically driven environment lead me to believe that it’s less of a matter of if, and more of a matter of when that middle class truly emerges. So with all of that context out of the way, let’s dive right in and learn more about what it means to be building a fintech company in the last frontier market.
David! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start Okra?
I’m a technology entrepreneur & a computer scientist by training. It all started with my co-founder, Fara, moving back to Nigeria and looking to build out different consumer fintech products. She realized there was no way to truly scale products with the technology that existed at the time and started exploring bank integrations as a way to get through this hurdle. We spoke extensively about the potential and explored the business case much deeper — we quickly realized that the infrastructure we were building was the most critical tool needed to open the fintech market on the continent and our thesis directly aligned with our world view on the 4th industrial revolution.
What is Okra, and what makes you so excited about building the Plaid for Nigeria?
Haha I think “Plaid for Nigeria” will be a gross oversimplification of what our mission is but 3 things that gets me excited about what we’re building are;
Democratizing access to financial services for the people that need it the most, in the last frontier market (Africa).
Reducing systemic risk in the financial services industry by giving the traditional banks a chance to compete and accelerate their digital transformation efforts.
Last but definitely not least, I’m super excited about all the new fintech products and use cases that will be built off the back of Okra’s infrastructure. Especially the use cases that don’t even exist yet.
What was your “aha” moment when you realized something was working at Okra?
When customers started repeatedly paying us for the problems our infrastructure solves for them.
We’ve talked before about the development of the Nigerian market, the concentration of people under 18, the desire for connectivity and convenience. Could you share more of your perspective on where you see technology continuing to improve modern life in Nigeria?
Nigeria has a huge population of digital natives who demand technology immersive ways to live their lives. This demand will only keep compounding, which creates a huge opportunity for people building and investing in the Nigerian market.
It’s pretty obvious to everyone around the globe that technology is and will continue to be the biggest industry enabler. It's the major catalyst that has enabled the advancement of human civilization. Think education, healthcare, finance, defense, logistics, sports etc. it will continue to improve the modern life as far as it’s allowed to by policy makers — in Nigeria and around the world.
What defines success for Okra over the next few months?
Success over the next few months will be defined by how well we keep our customers happy, we have objective ways to measure this internally.
What advice do you have for any aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be long substance & short status. Make sure you’re solving a problem that someone is willing to pay for repeatedly -- and target big markets for larger impact and outcomes.
Last question, what’s one thing you want people to know about building a tech company in Nigeria today?
There has never been a better time in the history of the world to build or fund Nigerian technology companies. In terms of cycles, pretty similar to India & China in the early 2010s.
Short, sweet and to the point. We’ll be back next week continuning our exploration of the comparative advantages of Web3. Drop us a comment to let us know what you’d like to hear more of throughout the year!