By Kikelomo Olanrewaju
The CEO/Founder, Sparkle Nigeria, Uzoma Dozie has identified digital leadership, round investments in all areas as well as right mindset as critical steps towards achieving digital economy in Nigeria. In this interview with Kikelomo Olanrewaju, Uzoma also speaks about how over 25 years of experience working in the financial sector assisted him in raising funds, growing Sparkle and what upcoming startups could learn from it. Excerpt
Question: How has Sparkle’s operation impacted the start-ups/Fintech ecosystem?
Uzoma Dozie: Sparkle is leading a new generation of digital only businesses leveraging technology and data to give valuable solutions to businesses and individuals. Sparkle’s ethos and approach is different because it blends financial and lifestyle solutions, rather than thinking about linear processes and transactional outcomes. The use of technology is a differentiator as not only is it the foundation for the business operationally, it is integral to the consumer experience. In April 2021, Sparkle launched its business platform, Sparkle Business, to help MSMEs and SMEs in Nigeria manage their finances smoothly. Sparkle business helps SMES do all their essential business transactions on one safe and simple to use platform. The features of Sparkle Business include Inventory and Invoice Management, Tax Advisory, Payroll, Employee Management among others. Sparkle Business is the only Nigerian business account where no documentation is required.
Question: What are your experiences raising funds for Sparkle?
Uzoma Dozie: These are seed rounds and this is our third round. The first round was raising the money to start a business, the second round was from the existing shareholders. This third one is completely different because we opened it up to a larger group of people, predominantly Nigerians. We knew that we have the capability to raise the money through Nigerians because of our extensive network. I’ve been working in the industry for over twenty years with both traditional and non traditional, even with people in the financial technology space. We were confident that we will be able to tell a story and also show the world what we have done to raise this funds. Fortunately for us, it was not that hard raising this amount of money because people have seen what we have done so far with the limited funds that we have raised and used. Also when you want to look at our extensive partnership as well, we have built; Visa, Microsoft, working with Google, PWC, that gave confidence to raise that money. For us, one of the concerns for Nigerians is understanding what you are trying to do, see the accountability and trust because people won’t put their money if they don’t understand what you are doing. It was important to focus on Nigerians because they know the industry, so we don’t just want money from people. We want money from people who understand Nigeria, who are captains of industry who understand the importance of digital economy and who are also interested in the journey of how this digital world works.
Question: What is your perspective to start-ups focusing on Fintechs while other sectors such as Education, Agriculture, Health e.t.c. are also in dare need of relevant and affordable technology solutions?
Uzoma Dozie: My perspective is that there are actually people who are investing in Meditech, Edutech, Agrictech and others but, I guess they are not making enough noise or not coming up in the news, all you are hearing is the big noise like the fin tech. For example a G24, it is a meditech platform that raise a lot of money last year, two years ago. I think people are just validating the fact that Fintechs are telling their stories better. What we need to do is start telling the story of people who are doing great in agriculture. Sometimes they don’t have access to make announcement or any platform where they can announce. I think the media need to showcase and highlight them because you will get money not only from Nigerians but outside. We do need resources, both financial and non financial from everywhere but these are things that is going on in other countries.
Question: Can you share leanings upcoming start-ups can pick up from the Sparkle’s experience in terms of opportunity to raise funds through angel investors or venture capitalists?
Uzoma Dozie: You know I am fortunate because I have been in this financial services business for 25 years. I have also being in this business for raising money for organization I was working with as well. So in terms of talking to potential investors and stakeholders, I understand what the requirements are. Those are the things that helped. So I know raising money or getting money from people whether its being borrowed or being invested is the same. First of all, there are certain things that people want to see. People want to see that firstly, you have a story, there is a demand for your solution, you have capacity from your management perspectives or you have the foundations that will give confidence. My simple starting point is that if I can’t lend my personal money to someone to use, why will I lend another person’s money? So, if I’m comfortable lending someone money and that will be based on your story that you are telling, the credibility of your story and also what your are putting into the venture as well. If you haven’t put anything in the venture and you want me to put, that means there is no stake in it. Knowledge of the industry you’re going into and also the potential things that will prevent you from growing.
One of the things that is key is regulation, how well do you know the regulator and how conversant are you with the regulations? If you don’t know how to work with people or certain stakeholders, you’re going to have problems. So, those are the things that working in over 25 years of financial services and technology have helped us in Sparkles.
Question: What are the major challenges confronting start ups?
Uzoma Dozie: Firstly, Nigeria is a challenging place, the ease of doing business isn’t there. Although, it is getting better but, we still have a lot way to go. Infrastructural challenges, incorporation challenges but most of the ones you hear about mostly is no access to resources. In developed countries, they have crowd funding platforms, NGO funds and lots of people looking out for new opportunities, here in Nigeria you have to go and find them. And even you found the as a young person with no experience but, great talent and innovations, you have to convince them that your ideas will sell as the money is with the Gen X and above in Nigeria, while the Gen Z or the millennial have the ideas. It becomes a challenge. I believe that we are beginning to see change when you look at the Paystack or Flutterwave who are young people. We’re now saying we need to help these start ups so that we can build this digital ecosystem because if it is only financial technology that is growing and education, agricultural sector isn’t growing, the journey to digital economy will be slower and more stressful. It is important that we invest in all these areas.
Question: How do you think these challenges can be solved?
Uzoma Dozie: That is a difficult question because not one person can do it. It needs collaboration from different sectors both the private and public sector and even the legislation. What is important is the leadership; digital leadership with the ability to understand and lead. One of the reason why in all the organizations I’ve worked in where we have implemented joint digital evolution was leadership which is ‘me’ was digital. So when we say were going to be paperless [remote] even I have to be remote. That is all the documents that come to me are digital. Once that is done, it is easy to implement and you need that digital mind-set across all the important stakeholders required. Lets look at it from a legislative perspective; what are the legislation that we need to change that will facilitate digital economy. Regulations as well, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN is doing a great job in terms of the digital currency even though its a bit later than expected. Also, the white paper on Open banking, we’ve started that journey as well. So you can see we’re taking steps in that area but we also need to strengthen other sectors like education, we need to digitise education. The government needs to create enabling environment for this. Putting the right leaders that have a digital mind-set will help us get there.
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