Simdul Shagaya is one of Nigeria’s biggest tech entrepreneurs. He recently granted a tell-all interview with My Africa Podcast.
Exclusive partners Pulse Nigeria brings you the juicy details on his early days in the Nigerian Military, set up Konga, the challenges running the e-commerce platform how money shouldn’t be the top priority in starting up a business.
Where did Konga come from?
I spent two months struggling to find a name that was appropriate. I wanted something that would be easy to remember and was African and Pan-African but not patronizing. And after searching and searching, I very unoriginally came up with Kongo and I reached out to a gentleman who wanted to sell it to me for the price of N300,000 which could have basically been all the capital I had at the time and so I changed one letter and made it Konga which is Pan-African word for Drum and it’s found pretty much anywhere from Zambia to Senegal.
Before e-commerce, who was Sim Shagaya?
I grew up in a military household which meant that we moved around a lot; we lived in virtually every region in Nigeria and that probably also means that I had a father that was a bit of a disciplinarian, a very structured regimented man. I had lots of siblings, we were definitely middle class – this was the last 70s, early 80s Nigeria. We didn’t have too much and we didn’t lack anything.
I liked sciences from early, especially Biology and Physics and I was incredibly curious. I played with my first computer and the age of 11. My father’s friend gave me the PC when he returned from the UK.
What was your relationship with your siblings?
By and large, I stayed away from the fights (Laughs). I was always the guy who wanted to be left alone. We are very passionate what we do.
At what point did you think that you weren’t going to be in the typical profession?
I finished undergraduate in 1997 and went off straight to graduate school and finished in 1998. This was right about the time that the internet, at least from a consumer perspective was really taking off.
Before that, at the age of 15 or 16 I had served in the Nigerian Army; I went to Nigerian Military School for high school.
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You served in the Army?
I went to Nigerian Military School and when you finished, you had a choice to serve in the army. And so I chose to serve in Lagos with the Ordnance Corps. It was a very regimented life. I was a private for two years. It was at that point I realised that regimentation was not for me. I salute them but it wasn’t just for me.
How do you handle being rich?
I’ve think family members and friends know I’m totally vested in Konga and there isn’t a lot of liquid wealth (Laughs) so people don’t ask I think. It looks like it’s great outside. I think also, along with my family – we like good food, we love the occasional good trip but beyond that, I think it’s because I am not the one who will necessarily buy champagne or a wristwatch which is the equivalent of one month’s pay. I will only buy shoes only because they are comfortable. For the first year of the business, I didn’t earn a salary. Virtually everyone was paid more than me, literally for two years, I didn’t earn anything. The second year salary was a joke. It was N125,000 a month.
I’ve read somewhere that the lower the salaries of founders in the early years of businesses, the more likely the businesses to succeed. So maybe I was trying to gain the system by paying myself zero, basically implying a 100 per cent chance of success. Before you ask other people to bet on you, bet on yourself.
What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to do in the course of starting up a business?
If I didn’t love Nigeria and the continent at large, I wouldn’t be running Konga. Money is not sufficient to go through the stuff we’ve gone through, it’s not enough.
We have to deal with things that other e-business likes Amazon don’t deal with. If we had to start Konga in the US, Amazon wouldn’t be able to compete with us, considering what we’ve gone through. And there are a thousand different challenges.
An example of these problems was when the 300 plus warehouse staff at Konga showed up at work and about 9:30 in the morning, then the Police showed up, armed with horsewhips, charged into the place and chased everybody out of the premises, locked the place down and told us that the landlord had defaulted on his loan, and the bank had been given possession of the property. For three days, we were taking orders on the website and not shipping. We were six hours to shutting the website down when the warehouse was opened, thanks to a lot of very influential people including the Minister of Tech and Fola Adeola.
We’ve got to fix this place (Nigeria), and maybe if we have a lot of us saying this at the same, it will turn. But I feel like it is turning.