No celebrity investors or expensive TV campaigns for this online marketplace startup for outsourcing services. If you have never heard of SkillPatron, that's because it doesn't grab salacious headlines on tech blogs. With its headquarters located in Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa, SkillPatron is a startup that is changing how individuals get work done & how businesses operate. At the moment, SkillPatron is pioneering a new labor model for a rapidly evolving workforce in Africa.
Bitgog took the opportunity to speak with SkillPatron‘s founder and CEO, British-born Nigerian Jake Adebayo — who started the company as a side project with four friends, Bolaji Abioye, Afolake Ogundkun, Idera Akeredolu & Esther Nwaoyo. — On SkillPatron's origins and plans for what comes next. The startup's story is a firm example of how there is definitely more than one route to success in tech (even in Africa). Jake Adebayo bootstrapped SkillPatron with his own money and is focused on building a healthy infrastructure, and a product customers would love before worrying about name recognition.
Bitgog: For those who do not know Jake Adebayo, can you please introduce yourself?
Adebayo: I'm Jake Adebayo – founder of SkillPatron, an online marketplace for outsourcing services in Africa. At the moment, we provide business opportunities for young Africans who have significant barriers to mainstream employment.
Bitgog: When was SkillPatron Started?
Adebayo: SkillPatron was launched in “Beta” in February 2016. But SkillPatron didn't become publicly accessible, incorporated, and commercially operational until April 2018.
Bitgog: Tell us a little bit about your background
Adebayo: During my years of studying mathematics and, subsequently, computer science at the University of Ibadan, I was once an avid freelancer, and I loved it. I had been outsourcing work on several online freelancing sites like Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer & Guru, and I had always loved the concept of working from the comfort of my room as it gave me the freedom to choose my projects and make money at the same time. When I eventually became a freelancer myself, Fiverr's model appealed to me the most as it solves the problem of getting micro- projects done at very affordable prices – which is why the bulk of our services on SkillPatron are priced competitively too.
Bitgog: We couldn't help but notice SkillPatron being featured by StartupInfluencer on its top list of hottest African startups to watch in 2020. Can you explain how a “bootstrapped” startup like SkillPatron has been able to churn out profits, whereas heavily funded startups in Africa seem to struggle?
Adebayo: In Nigeria, the term “Bootstrapping” is still very much alien to our still-evolving tech space to the point that whenever we talk about a million-dollar tech startup, the first question that comes to most minds is: How much money it has raised till now? On the other hand, I am a firm believer in the fact that under the radar, slowly and steadily, and without ever taking a dime in outside funding or spending more than it earned, any startup can build an empire. The primary key is to simply start a business, run it to serve your customers, and forget about outside investors and growth at any cost. Sefini!
From my experience in previous startups, I have been involved with, I realized it was very important for SkillPatron to have a sustainable business model from the “get-go.” In Africa, the main goal for many startups at the beginning is to raise money quickly, but many times those funds burn out very easily since they're not directed to making the business grow, so they end up closing up 2 or 3 years in. For us at SkillPatron, it's extremely important to us that we would still be here in another 100 years. So, it's crucial to take it step by step, building a cross-functional team and getting solid and loyal clients that are happy with the results we give them. When you lack resources, you focus on what's essential; on the things that drive value to your company, everything else becomes irrelevant.
Bitgog: What was your company's most significant achievement during the last couple of years?
Adebayo: The official roll-out for SkillPatron began on April 16, 2018, and as of this publication date, our top three flagship services (CityMarketing agency services, Personal chef services, & Social media growth automation services) are already clear market leaders in an addressable market of N197.9 Billion. We literally currently churn out hundreds of thousands of US dollars in revenue every few weeks.
Bitgog: At what point did you start your journey in positioning SkillPatron as a leading online marketplace for outsourcing services in Africa?
Adebayo: Anyone who has handled projects in Africa will not be surprised when we say outsourcing to local service providers in Nigeria and much of Africa is broken!
It's risky, painfully time consuming, and most projects fail. If you've ever tried online outsourcing local service providers in Nigeria, you would know it's broken. It's broken because you don't know the experience of the people you're considering for the job. You have no barometer of quality, and you still face the risks of the contractor disappearing entirely or delivering poor work. It's a nightmare.
As a by-product of these challenges, most enterprise customers have either abandoned their idea of hiring local service providers, or they press on and become battle-hardened, willing to endure the hardships and potential pitfalls of working with low-end providers who barely communicate in proper business language let alone send professional looking quotes, invoices, proposals, presentations, project scopes, etc. in order to ideally meet their objectives — cost savings being a primary one.
Reality sets in when customers discover by trial and error that the process is much more time-intensive and less forgiving than they had imagined, leaving them with few viable options to accomplish their distributed work goals.
The pain of the customer is real and carries emotion with it. Middle managers might lose a promotion based on their handling of a project, entrepreneurs might give up and on the dream, all because of the lasting pain of that experience.
Challenges of outsourcing labor to remote professionals in Nigeria & the rest of Africa.
● Quality of work product is commonly lower than local, onsite resources.
● Project scope due to Illiteracy levels – Accountability is almost non-existent.
● Teamwork is limited and shaky, as trust-issues
● Reporting, security and file sharing
● Assimilation, Staffing, Roadmap creation, Milestone definition.
Bitgog: Very insightful problem solving you have highlighted in the aforementioned question. Could you provide any cues on the landscape for how SkillPatron is tackling these challenges with outsourcing services in Africa?
Adebayo: Thanks much! At the moment, our solution has always been to frame the industry in the space by becoming a layer on top of everything to manage the entire process of any outsourced project: collaborating, accountability, and payment.
By centering our service around high-end project managers who act as liaisons to local service providers, SkillPatron brings quality assurance and convenience to every outsourced project.
Bitgog: What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started working in the online marketplace for outsourcing services industry?
Adebayo: Hiring and working with the right people is the difference between you and your nearest competition. Your team is everything! Over time I have been able to build a solid cross-functional team that has remarkable working chemistry and can build products, deliver amazing services, create great user experiences, and acquire customers at breakneck speed.
Bitgog: Breaking into the list of top African startups to watch in 2020 isn't an easy feat. What advice would you give young people looking to form their own startup? Marketing tips?
Adebayo: Do You! Focus on your own unique startup journey. There are more than one pathways to the idealized “unicorn” startup status, but it's always helpful to remember the most profitable startups are not necessarily the companies that grace the covers of magazines or receive breathless coverage on media outlets & major blogs; But, these are the companies that make the Nigerian (and African economy run: fashion, events, NGO's, health care services, promotional products, travel, beauty products and so on. Such proven firms do not always necessarily fit the idealized mold of disruptive ideas or breakthroughs.
Bitgog: Tell us about a time you were faced with insurmountable odds, yet persevered to overcome?
Adebayo: At SkillPatron, especially during our Beta phase in 2016, we made a lot of mistakes and adjustments before we finally arrived and pivoted to our current business model. We once operated like Fiverr, and then adopted the Zirtual model, in fact, it wasn't until about the last quarter of 2016 that Mr. Tincup from RecruitingDaily made us aware on Twitter of the startup space SkillPatron was categorized; he even has a post on it. And ever since we have forged forward in an upward trajectory. Today I'd rather like to think of SkillPatron functioning like a regular record label in the music entertainment industry where record label owners assume the task of promoting new talents in the hope of reaping it big as the talents blow up. The difference in our case is that our service providers are our talents.
DAILY BEHIND THE SCENES
Bitgog: Where do you find your inspiration?
Adebayo: Music, nature & traveling to explore new places.
Bitgog: What are your day-to-day activities in the SkillPatron like now?
Adebayo: Being the chief project manager at SkillPatron helps me oversee our dedicated team of project managers remotely. So I get to work flexibly in the way I personally prefer, from wherever I want.
Bitgog: What is one thing you do when you're feeling stuck, creatively?
Adebayo: There are certainly times I lose the desire or inspiration to do any work at all, and this nonexistence or dearth of inspiration is the despair I constantly experience so I turn to nature or any sort of arty expression I can utilize to comprehend and explicate my existence and the world that surrounds us since it communicates to the soul and consciousness in its own distinctive ways. At other times I simply partake or host social games night events to unwind with my inner circle of friends and colleagues.
Bitgog: Is it fair to assume that a renowned brand like “SkillPatron” works with clients with large budgets?
Adebayo: No! Not at all. Virtually every company (and individuals), whether large and small, require some form of our flagship services at some point. Take, for example, our CityMarketing agency – because of this almost universal need for some form of marketing & advertising activities that spans almost all industries, SkillPatron has decided not to create any market segments it wishes to concentrate on nor focus on a target market. We have the capacity to service almost any company of whatever size. We think that at this point in SkillPatron's history, any attempt to target specific markets would hinder our growth potential.
Bitgog: Aside SkillPatron, of course! Who else do you think is doing good things in your space right now?
Adebayo: For different reasons, Andela (although way too pricey, Jiji (no barometer for quality) and Accenture (too much paperwork).
Bitgog: What would you like to achieve before the end of 2020?
Adebayo: Our geographical focus for the next 18 months of our company's existence would be Lagos, Abuja & Port-Harcourt. Later, as we expand to other major cities, and then a nationwide scope, our future business plans will include all of our potential clients across the world.
SkillPatron is also aiming for the greater developing world. I am strongly confident our execution model is a real solution for developing markets… all countries with a similar GINI coefficient rate to that of Nigeria are the company's target markets. Specifically, these include Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, India, Malaysia, as well as South America.
Right now, our focus is to build the community as fast as possible and demonstrate the value of the solution to the greater market. We are in discussions about geographic expansion but need to crawl before we can run.
Bitgog: What's one dream you've achieved that you're most proud of and why?
Adebayo: From my perspective, SkillPatron has not even started. Our focus this first year will be to validate the concept and scale up the service to a significant size.
I think the biggest challenge is that we've gone from A to B, and now we need to go from B to C; that's the market entry part (further validating our concept and scaling up SkillPatron services to a significant size).
From graphic design & social media marketing to – our personal chef services & leaflet & distribution services. We're seeing a fast-growing number of people that are actually using SkillPatron as their part-time job, working under their conditions, on their time, from wherever they want, and this is exactly what we're here for.
Bitgog: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
Adebayo: A painful past and uncertain future. Life can be messy, terrifying, exhausting, lonely, and anger-inducing. There'll be times when you feel like you're all alone, and nobody notices your hurt. But that's part of the package. But there'll also be times when you feel so happy or excited or euphoric that you want to jump out of your bed and start dancing at midnight. Life is a sound wave, with crests and troughs, and you either hide from the past or learn from it. Even when you feel depressed and isolated, remember that true motivation comes from within you and that you'll always be there for yourself.
Bitgog: How can our readers connect with you?
Adebayo: You can find me on:
● Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jakeadebayo/
● Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Jake.Adebayo
● Twitter: https://twitter.com/jakeadebayo
● LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jakeadebayo