Startups must validate their assumptions – Nigeria techpreneur

5 Peter Ihesie

Kindly introduce yourself

My name is Peter Ihesie and I’m from Abia state. I’ve been in Lagos for some time now trying to build something for the country. I run a start-up that focuses on building solutions for the mass market. We also have a solution for the security challenges that we face in this country. We do two things: solve a social problem and build solutions for the mass market in the religious sector.

How did you find yourself doing this?

It started when I was pretty young I wanted to build things, start a business or just create things. When I got to school, I did computer science because my goal was to be able to write programs. And I enjoy it. When I left I got a job as a software engineer and worked for a while. But the urge of trying out new things made me to resign and start what I do now.

Why did you leave a paying job for what you do now?

I remember what happened very well. I had a concept to automate the stock market data so that people can get real time data. I discussed it with my boss but they had so many other solutions they were building at the time. But I couldn’t just let it go. So I told them that I would resign to go build that idea. I went ahead and built it. But unfortunately for us, it didn’t work. The stock market crashed a few weeks after we finished building that solution. But we moved on since it’s not about a particular product but what you want to do. We looked into the market again; try to discover the problem people have to build solutions for.

So you’ve tried your hands on other projects?

I’ve failed a couple of times! But I won’t call it total failure. When you try a number of things, you learn from them and move on. We did products for training centres because many of them didn’t have systems running their operations. After several months, only one centre bought it. From there we moved on. That actually taught me that when you’re solving a problem, it’s important to know the market size of the product. If one person has a problem, you might help the person solve the problem. But if you want to make a business out of the product, you ask yourself how many people have this problem? By the time you solve it, you’ll come across different set of people. Also: are they willing to pay for this solution you are giving to them? Those are the two critical questions you need to ask before you launch a product into the market.

Since you started, how many projects have you done?

After I left my job in 2009, it took me a while to get my footing. In fact, the first two years were total failure. That got me to 2010. I had to ask myself: where was I going? After I did a personal inventory, I realise the problem was lack of business skills. I know I could write programs and build products that people use but I didn’t have the business side of it. So I had to register for business classes at FATE Foundation which was quite helpful. Over the years, we’ve done about five projects.

Which are your most successful?

I will say two of them, actually. The first got us an international award. It’s called i-police, a security application that provide people with tools and information to stay safe. It gives access to police details around where you stay; emergency numbers as well as security information. Somebody saw it and put it up for the world summit award competition and we won. We went to Abu Dhabi to get the award. In that angle it was a success, but monetising it is still what we are looking at. Then there is church plus, a church ERP a solution that help churches manage operations from finances to membership and things like that. It puts the admin and the pastor in control of the activities. That has been a financial success for us because a lot of churches need them. These are the two projects we are pushing right now, and I consider them successful.

What’s your suggestion to other start-ups?

My advice is that you must understand your customers. You need to know the problem you’re trying to solve; the people that have this problem and listen to them. At times, we think we know what clients want, we think we know what the problem is. But if you don’t listen to the person that has the problem, you probably won’t understand. My advice is that if you’re going into business around technology; make sure you validate your assumptions. Make something very simple and try to sell it. If they buy it, fine. If they don’t, they will tell you why and it will help you plan better. Then, know the market size. Let it be something tangible enough that will sustain the business.


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