Catching the Startup Fever with Sim Shagaya

Nigeria Summer 2012 Blog

Written by: Dibia Victor

Aug. 21, 2012

In week 5, we had a flurry of speakers with really rich content to keep us all inspired. One of such speakers is Sim Shagaya, a serial entrepreneur and one whom I think closely resembles Derek sivers ( in approach to leadership and entrepreneurship. Sim kindly shared his experiences as an entrepreneur ranging from founding e-motion advertisements (the first digital billboard/advertising company in Nigeria), founding (a successful coupon distribution service for Nigeria similar to groupon) , (ecommerce website) amongst others. I’ll share some of the main highlights from the talk below

  • In business, the timing of a product is as key as the idea itself.  
    In the late 90’s, Sim purchased the online distribution right for a huge collection of Nigerian homevideos, sitcoms etc and made them available for download at After several months and with very few dowloads/views that endeavor failed.  In retrospect, the idea was excellent but the timing was not ideal. Internet penetration back then was fledging and the online information consumption pattern in Nigeria was barely existent. Great entrepreneurs should carefully assess the conditions and ecosystem before investing .
  • Many times, the entrepreneurship road can be lonely but resilience and steadfastness is key.
    Sim shared his experience with setting up the very first digital billboard in Abuja Nigeria, attracting his first paying customer and managing the emotions along the way. There are the entrepreneurs moments – jumping up 3 feet high in joy, talking to God in your shower, managing disappointments. Rollercoaster emotions followed by periods of intense wisdom and learning.
  • The difference between B2B and B2C businesses.
    Sim highlighted how drastic the difference between B2B and B2C businesses affects entrepreneur and thus his preference for B2C business. In B2B (business to business) transactions, you deliver a service, and have to contain possible bureaucratic delays before you get paid. On the contrary, when you deal with consumers directly (B2C), they actually pay before receiving a service. This creates positive working capital and can make the world of difference in determining if you meet you loan repayment plans, pay your staff in a timely manner, suffer foreclosure or bite the tasteless meat of bankruptcy.
  • Leadership as a call to humility.
    Sim  believes (and rightly so)  in leadership as a call to humility. As an entrepreneur, ones primary function is to peddle a dream, and along the way, attract a group of people to join in achieving the dream. At the heart of it, it is really the first group of enthusiastic dedicated followers that make or break a startup/movement. In Sim’s words “How did I get a group of people to run with my dream ? Spending themselves, continuously believing in me ?  This should breed a sense of huimility and sadness. This shouldn’t be arrogance.”
  • Do not innovate for yourself -  the adjacent possible rule.
    Sim stressed the need to create products/solutions that are based on immediate “close” problems rather than far fetched problems. As a Nigerian entrepreneur, your chances of success are higher when you invent solutions for the average Nigerian (students, farmers, workers etc) as opposed to attempting to build a jet engine pack for space travel. :). Your product should also be easily explainable.
  • Empower people as you lead.
    The mark of a good business is how well it progresses after you leave. This is achieved by believing in colleagues, delegating responsibility/decision making to them, giving room for mistakes and providing guidance when needed.
  • Select a co-founder and build a complimentary team.
    A great way to select a co-founder is to assign some responsibility to them at an early stage. Their willingness to contribute and ability to deliver in a timely manner – even when no remuneration has been received or promised marks out dependable co-founders. Along the journey it’s also important to build a team of people who can do what you cannot or are unavailable to do.
  • Do not be afraid to fail.
    Sim shared some of his less famous trysts with entrepreneurship – starting a solar farm, a windmill in jos, a dating site, a job search site, importing refined petrol (disaster) etc - endeavors that didnt workout. Any failure is a learning experience and increases your level of comfort and wisdom in handling risk . Failures can actually be good.

Sim rounded up by encouraging the students to dream big, believe in their dream and exhibit resilience. Lots of questions were asked. I learned alot, and I do believe we all did.

Birthday things .

Incidentally, Sim's lecture was the same day as my birthday and the class took out time after the lecture to extend their warm wishes ! I’m indeed much much much thankful! Below is a picture (courtesy of Busayo) with my little birthday cake .

Ese gan, Ese dada, Adupe ! (thank you in the local language here in lagos - yoruba).