Designing websites came naturally to Onyeka Akumah even as a college student, but his greatest epiphany was in a moving bus in Lagos. Today, his bus-hailing solution is going places.
“I felt like I was on a rocket ship and we were building something amazing.”
What do you get when you have a mother who wants you to make all the money in the world and a father who wants you to read all the books in the world? You get Onyeka Akumah. At 36, the serial entrepreneur with a focus on agriculture, real estate and transportation has embodied the advice of his parents. However, the biggest takeaway that helped him hone his entrepreneurial prowess was from his mother.
“My mum told me when I was 15 that if I wanted to be wealthy, I needed four streams of income,” says Akumah now.
He took that advice to heart and at 15, set up his first business with one employee.
“It was a business center and I had my first employee there where I was paying N5000 ($12) per month and I used that business center to buy my first computer and got into school early and studied software engineering,” says Akumah.
This is where his father’s emphasis on education and top grades came in handy. At the Sikkim Manipal University, Akumah had a natural affinity for applied information and technology which also birthed a love for web design. He learned how to build websites in his first six months at school and the whole world opened up to him.
“I just enjoyed creating websites so I created websites for so many reasons. For example, I am told to do a presentation in class and I would rather do a website to do my presentation. I want to talk to a girl that I like and instead of approaching her in person, I design a website in her name and I send her the URL. It always worked,” says Akumah.
A chance encounter with a friend who was building websites for money changed Akumah’s perspective.
“I went to him and tried to understand how he was able to pitch and convince companies to pay a lot of money for the websites. I did the first job and it wasn’t so great but the second job I did for a business, I made a lot of money that allowed me to pay for my university school fees in my final year so I was really excited about what I was doing.”
He built over 300 websites in pursuit of the four streams of income his mother encouraged him about. The precious advice from his father also paid off and Akumah graduated from university wit first class honors.
“These sectors for me were agriculture, because people eat every day, real estate because people need to sleep in a place every day and transportation because people have to move on a daily basis.”
Fresh out of school in 2006, Akumah’s web development skills landed him a job with a software engineering company where he was responsible for designing websites and building their brand presence. With a knack for brand-building and software programming, Akumah decided on an initial career as a chief marketing officer and had brief stints with organizations such as British Council, Wakanow and Konga before launching his startup Quick Gist.
“I had raised some seed funding from an investor of about $50,000 and I launched it and in six weeks we had about 200,000 people that had downloaded the app. I felt I was on a rocket ship and we were building something amazing. It was pretty much like Google News but it allowed people to pick different sources of stories they wanted and get a customized newspaper every morning from their favorite channels,” avers Akumah.
That dream did not last long. Within six months, he hit a roadblock.
“I was trying to compete with the best with my money, which was very expensive, and within three months of going solo, I started realizing we were running out of cash. I made some mistakes, one of them was I started to change the model and started thinking we shouldn’t just aggregate content but should create our own content. That was very expensive and we ran out of money.”
Akumah managed to sell what was left of the business to recoup his investors’ money. After a brief while, Akumah had his Eureka moment, one that would change the course of his entrepreneurial life forever.
“I made the decision that there were three sectors I wanted to pay attention to because I felt like if you could do stuff here you could pretty much make an impact in millions of lives. These sectors for me were agriculture, because people eat every day, real estate because people need to sleep in a place every day and transportation because people have to move on a daily basis,” says Akumah.
This led to the birth of Farmcrowdy, the fintech solution empowering farmers with technology. Today, it boasts over 500,000 farmers on the platform with over $17 million raised using the crowdfunding platform. After conquering the world of agritech, Akumah set his sights on the mobility sector and with that came Plentywaka.
“I had this strange encounter in January 2019, I had to get to a meeting and leave my car and take two bikes and I got on a bus and I had a panic attack. I could see all the metals sticking out of the chairs in the bus. I held on to the rails in the bus and the driver was sweating so profusely it was crazy. I hadn’t entered a bus in 15 years and I couldn’t imagine that people had to go to work on a daily basis with this form of transportation in this state. They are overworked and with about 70,000 buses in Lagos, it just didn’t make sense that people moved that way,” says Akumah.
After some initial market research, Akumah, along with his co-founders Johnny Ena, John Shaibu and Afolabi Oluseyi, launched the uber-for-buses model connecting commuters with buses via an app. The company launched in September 2019 with 18 buses and only six passengers.
It was not an easy ride.
“People didn’t understand what we were doing. Within six months, we got to a point where we had moved about 100,000 people and we were very excited about it and then Covid hit and everyone had to go home and we were just staring at our buses and had no revenue coming in,” recalls Akumah.
The company had not raised any external funding at this time so they came up with the idea to remove all the seats from their buses and use them as food delivery buses because they were the only items allowed to move about during the hard Covid-19 lockdown in Nigeria.
“As soon as the lockdown was eased, we got back on to the road where we could also move at about 60% capacity so we went out to then raise funding. We raised $300,000 to sustain us to get us to grow and towards the end of the year, we went through a series of due diligence processes and by the first quarter of 2021, we were selected to join the Techstars [accelerator] in Toronto where we raised another $1.2 million,” says Akumah.
Plentywaka recently acquired one of Ghana’s leading mobility startups, Stabus, expanding its operations to Ghana. The journey has begun well.