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Billion-Dollar Bumble

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When Whitney Wolfe Herd started planning an October launch party for a new product at Bumble, America’s fastest-growing dating-app company, she was deliberate in her choice of venue: the Manhattan space that for 57 years hosted the Four Seasons restaurant, where regulars like Henry Kissinger, Vernon Jordan, Edgar Bronfman and Stephen Schwarzman created the ultimate power lunch.

The space now has a new name, new management and a new menu. And, as Herd insists, a new perspective on business. “The power lunch is no longer just for men,” Herd announces to the mostly young, mostly female crowd, before ceding the stage to the popstar Fergie. “We all deserve a seat at the table.”

That table surely now includes the 28-year-old Herd, who has changed the tenor of dating dynamics. By letting women make the first move, Bumble has amassed over 22 million registered users, to closest competitor Tinder’s 46 million, and at more than 70% year-over-year growth, to Tinder’s roughly 10%, it’s closing the gap quickly.

Bumble began monetizing via in-app purchases only in August 2016 and crossed $100 million in sales in 2017, a figure that – aided by the introduction of tailored, hyperlocal advertising – is projected to double in 2018.

Herd turned down a $450 million buyout offer from the Match Group in early 2017, according to sources with knowledge of the conversations. And these sources maintain that Match approached the company again later in the year to discuss a valuation well over $1 billion. This 30 Under 30 honoree retains 20% of Bumble, a stake that makes her a centimillionaire. (Match declined to comment.)

It’s a stunning comeback. As cofounder and vice president of marketing at Tinder, which has reinvented how people date and mate, she was part of one of the great business success stories of the smartphone age. But then she found herself in one of the era’s great public dramas.

In June 2014, she sued Tinder for sexual harassment, alleging that her ex-boss and ex-boyfriend Justin Mateen called her a “whore” and “gold digger” and bombarded her with threatening and derogatory text messages, which she attached to her complaint. She also alleged that Tinder, owned by IAC and then by its Match Group spinoff, had wrongly stripped her of a cofounder title.

The company denied any wrongdoing, but Mateen was suspended and then resigned. Sean Rad, then the CEO of Tinder, told Forbes in 2014 that Herd bore part of the blame for the bad blood between her and Mateen. The suit was quickly settled for a sum that Forbes previously reported to be approximately $1 million. (The settlement bars the parties from discussing the case.)

There’s no question who the founder of Bumble is. Rather than sulk about Tinder, Herd decided to compete against it. In doing so, she belatedly entered one of the most crowded and established digital fields (over 90% of online dating start-ups fail) and nonetheless quickly carved out a lucrative space by focusing on the needs of one segment: women.

Whitney Wolfe Herd Bumble

Whitney Wolfe Herd in the Bumble headquarters (Photo by Kristen Kilpatrick)

More than 10% of Bumble’s users pay $9.99 for a monthly subscription to access perks like extra time to decide whether a suitor merits a message. At Tinder, just about 5% of users pay for a similar service, according to a report from the investment firm Jefferies. It helps, of course, that her segment also happens to represent a majority of the population.

“I just don’t harbor resentment toward anything or anywhere or anyone – I’m too busy,” Herd says. But if success is the best revenge, then nine digits in three years flat offers the kind of vindication people make movies about.

READ MORE: Karlie Kloss – Coding’s Supermodel

Herd’s path to Bumble was unintended. In the months between filing suit against Tinder and settling, she experienced the sort of online abuse that’s all too familiar to women who make public sexual harassment allegations. “I was being told the ugliest things by complete strangers, and they were having full debates about me,” Herd says. “I wasn’t running for office. I wasn’t trying to be on a reality show. I was just a girl who left somewhere.”

When that abuse turned into rape and murder threats from strangers, she deleted her Twitter account. Panic attacks and paranoia followed. A Salt Lake City native who attended private school and is a third-generation legacy at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, she retreated to Texas and the family of her then boyfriend Michael Herd, who’s now her husband.

“I was broken,” she says. Trying to give some purpose to this trauma, Herd began sketching out a women-only social network called Merci, which would focus on positivity. “No compliments on physicality,” she says. “Compliments about who they are.”

Then came an unsolicited e-mail from someone with an unfamiliar address and a Russian name, Andrey Andreev. Born in Moscow and based in London, Andreev in 2006 had founded Badoo, an online dating network that is today the world’s largest, with over 360 million registered users in 190 countries.

Herd had met Andreev at a dinner in 2013 while she was at Tinder, and she’d made an impression. “To be honest, I immediately fell in love with Whitney’s passion and energy,” says the thick-accented Andreev, who has acquired a reputation as a recluse because he rarely grants interviews. “I thought she was a very cool lady and that I should be watching her very carefully.”

When she didn’t reply, his team e-mailed Herd’s lawyers, wishing her well with her legal battle and adding that he’d like to work with her. “My original idea was to get her as CMO at Badoo,” says Andreev, who’s 43.

As it turned out, Herd had plans to visit her little sister at cooking school in Paris, and she made a pit stop in London. She didn’t want any part of his job offer. “Dream on – I’m not for hire,” she recalls saying. “I’m starting a company, and I don’t want to be in dating.” She did pitch him on Merci, though.

While Andreev liked the idea of a women-centric social brand, he thought Herd should stick to her forte and his: the dating sector. They spent days walking around London’s streets and parks together, exchanging ideas. Andreev told her he wanted to pair her innate talent for marketing and branding with the infrastructure, capital and resources at his disposal after almost a decade at Badoo.

After she settled the Tinder lawsuit in September 2014 – which, conveniently, did not contain a non-compete clause – she took Andreev up on his offer. He’d make an initial investment of about $10 million for launch marketing and commit additional funds to fuel growth, taking 79% of the company. She’d be the founder, the CEO and a 20% owner, with all the autonomy those titles imply, while tapping into Badoo’s infrastructure and Andreev’s know-how.

Both have come in handy. At Badoo, Andreev has a decade’s worth of A-B tests, data on the effectiveness of various monetization efforts and experience bringing a product to scale that have no parallel in the dating market. When the time came to start charging users for in-app perks, for instance, the team at Bumble was able to develop sophisticated technology to support subscriptions from day one thanks to input from Badoo.

From September to December of that year, Herd flew between Texas and London around 15 times. She and Andreev brought in two of her fellow former Tinder executives, Chris Gulczynski and Sarah Mick, to design the new app’s back-end and user interface. (The two left Bumble in April to launch their own agency but still share the 1% of equity not held by Andreev and Herd.)

Whitney Wolfe Herd Bumble

Whitney Wolfe Herd (Photo by Jamel Toppin for Forbes)

One night, over cocktails, Herd stumbled upon Bumble’s special sauce. “I always wanted to have a scenario where the guy didn’t have my number but I had his,” she recalls telling Andreev. “What if women make the first move, send the first message? And if they don’t, the match disappears after 24 hours, like in Cinderella, the pumpkin and the carriage? It’d be symbolic of a Sadie Hawkins dance – going after it, girls ask first. What if we could hardwire that into a product?” It was the kind of brilliant tweak that comes from someone who understands the target demographic because they’re in it.

After toying with names, the two settled on Bumble, confident that branding details like hives and bees would prove a marketing boon. The app went live in December 2014 and garnered over 100,000 downloads in its first month. “Women were ready for this,” says Dave Evans, an industry consultant who has chronicled hundreds of bad experiences women have had with men on dating apps. “Women got scared years ago. This goes way back.”

It’s 105 degrees outside Bumble’s new headquarters in an otherwise residential neighborhood in north Austin, Texas. The oppressive August heat hasn’t stopped passersby from gawking at the building’s exterior. For its grand opening, artists have covered the sunflower-yellow roof and walls with thousands of oversize pastel balloons. It looks like the inside of a gumball machine. Pedestrians take selfies in front of it; cars linger, drivers asking the name of the company inside. At Bumble, even something as ostensibly mundane as a crosstown move is a marketing opportunity.

READ MORE: Zedd – The $85 Million Classically trained DJ

Bumble has 70 employees, approximately 85% of whom are women, including in all the top jobs, Andreev aside. The new office reflects that, from posters and neon signs espousing various Bumble mantras like “You’re a Queen Bee,” “Be the CEO Your Parents Always Wanted You to Marry” and “Make the First Move.” When Bumble hands out its cream-and-yellow sweaters as gifts at events – the familiar honeycomb logo on the front, along with the word “Honey” – there’s invariably a scramble.

“I think it’s part of feeling empowered, being proud enough to say ‘I’m on this service,’ ” Evans says. “On the street, if I was wearing an AdultFriendFinder shirt, it’d be a different story.”

The bee theme and Bumble’s signature yellow are front and center in the app, which works like this: When two users of the opposite sex match by swiping right on each other’s profile, the woman must send her potential date a message first or the connection is void.

By giving women control over the initial contact, Bumble feels more polite and walled-off than competitors, avoiding the unsolicited photos – including the occasional male genitalia – that plague online dating. Last year Bumble banned shirtless mirror selfies (common in male profiles on Tinder); they were the most-left-swiped photos. This doesn’t mean Bumble can prevent all abuse or unpleasant experiences – but it does undercut them.

The more controlled environment has resulted in surprising dividends. Hundreds of thousands of women indicated on their profiles that they weren’t there only for love. They also cared about friendship and career. Hence BFF, an offshoot that focuses on platonic connections between women, and Bizz, which launched officially at the October party at the old Four Seasons in New York and offers a challenge to LinkedIn, with the same women-first interface that Bumble’s users have grown accustomed to. “We’re taking out the soliciting nature and the sexism that exists in networking,” Herd says. “We think we have a chance.”

Success for these offshoots has been modest so far. Bumble BFF has been tried by over 3 million users, but just 500,000 are active in a typical month. Bumble Bizz is too new to evaluate, but like taking on Tinder with a product customized for just under half the workforce, even modest success carries huge potential.

“To be able to test at that scale is something most start-ups can’t do,” says Evans, the consultant. “They can seed that network with millions of people on Day 1.”

READ MORE: Kendrick Lamar: The Conscious Capitalist

Of course, there’s at least one other dating start-up that also has the scale – and enough men and women – to delve into such areas. Rad, who is still at Tinder running its mergers and acquisitions arm, Swipe Ventures, declined to comment for this story (as did Mateen). But the company is obviously taking notes on Bumble’s moves: Last year Tinder also expanded into platonic relationships with an investment in Hey! Vina, a fast-growing female-friendship network.

And then there’s the keen interest of Tinder’s parent, the Match Group, which remains the biggest player in the online-dating business in the United States. The publicly traded company, which in addition to Tinder owns Match.com, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish and other niche dating sites, would clearly like to add Bumble to its roster.

“Look, Match has been lucky, because they have 45 different brands,” says Brent Thill, who covers the dating-app market for Jefferies. “But probably the one brand that seems to have caught everyone’s imagination is not theirs.”

Herd wouldn’t comment on the attempted buyouts, but selling to Tinder’s parent and folding Bumble under the same corporate umbrella would, of course, serve as a poetic coda to the ugliness of 2014. Indeed, among those at the headquarters dedication were representatives of a high-profile Hollywood production company that is contemplating making a movie about her saga. It is, Herd acknowledges with a laugh, a pretty good story. – Written by Clare O’Connor

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The Maverick In Tech

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The founder of some of Nigeria’s best-known startups on the mistakes and the millions that made him click in the technology business.


Sometimes, the simplest business ideas can come from strange places, or even strangers.

In his first year studying law at Waterloo University in Canada, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji was approached by a stranger who asked to stay in his house.

 “I was like ‘I don’t know you, you have long hair and you are white; I don’t know about this’, but I said, ‘ok cool’, and he stayed over and we became good friends.”

About a year later, Pierre, the friend, decided to head to Silicon Valley for his cooperative education term.

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“He told me about this amazing world of Silicon Valley, tech and investments, and I was sold. A few months later, we decided to start our own tech company called bookneto.com,” says Aboyeji.

It was a platform that enabled students to download past examination questions and work with a team of people at the school to help answer them.   

The company did decently for three years until it got sued by the university, but at least that marked a turning point in Aboyeji’s entrepreneurial life.

It turned out that the intellectual property for past examination questions belonged to the professors at Waterloo University, a fact that was “unknown” to the pair of entrepreneurs and they were found “guilty of piracy”. The venture was eventually sold to a professor who wanted to teach students not enrolled on campus, for a small fee.

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“We had it for three years, and by this time, I had graduated and looking for a new adventure and I was pretty sure I did not want to run another business in Canada, so I had started looking at other markets and Africa was a big one for me, Nigeria in particular,” says Aboyeji.

After graduating, he returned to Nigeria in 2013.

His proclivity for identifying opportunities inducted him into the world of massive open online courses (MOOCs). The dominant players at the time were Coursera and Udacity.

According to a report by Component, globally, the MOOCs market is estimated to hit $20.8 billion by 2023. Aboyeji wanted in. He set up a company in Abuja called Fora.com focused on incorporating MOOCs into the university environment especially for courses that were relevant but not provided by Nigerian universities due to a lack of quality resources.

“I was very naïve. I imagined that it would be a breeze to build that business and learned the hard way that anything regulated doesn’t operate rationally. So, the regulators didn’t give me any approvals and universities were skeptical and didn’t want to be laid off so it didn’t work out. We ended up pivoting that business and ended up selling online MBAs instead. Our typical clients were young bank managers who wanted to get an MBA or advanced degree courses to improve their chances of being promoted,” says Aboyeji.

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The firm began to gain some traction. People were paying for the application courses and Aboyeji decided to pilot a loan program where financial institutions would offer loans to students.

“So, we were making money but it wasn’t popping off. I went to New York with the team because we had just gotten some new funding and we had to meet the new investors. I had met a guy named Jeremy Johnson when he was in Nigeria earlier so I pinged him and told him what we wanted to do. I wanted to learn from his experiences. He agreed to meet for coffee in New York.”

During their meeting, Johnson expressed his idea about a new form of education geared towards skills rather than degrees. Aboyeji also talked about unemployment in Nigeria and how that represented a massive opportunity.

It was a match made in heaven.

“One of the things he told me was that he could not find a sales force engineer for $150,000 in New York. They just didn’t exist so I said, ‘man, I can train you sales force engineers’. And he said ‘if you decide you are going to pivot, what you are doing or adding to it… I would fund you and I will be chairman and we can do this together’. So, I said ‘someone is going to fund you to do a new business, why not’.”

Aboyeji had just stumbled on a new gold mine and Andela was born. He started with one person and began teaching him how to code. He repurposed the team from Fora into coding masters, bid masters and operational staff, and shifted the focus of Fora because they had the flexibility to do it.

“I don’t think at the time we had any idea how big what we were doing was. We did the first one, it was semi-successful, we trained the next four, which was really good. We put out a job description saying no experience required, we will pay you to learn how to program and we had over 700 applicants off Twitter and we knew we had something.”

They whittled down to about four or five people that completed that program. To find work for his new coders, Aboyeji used Upwork, the popular freelance jobsite, to bid for jobs.

“We didn’t know anybody, so we bid for jobs, executed it and before we knew it, we had about 150 people in the room. That was how the transition happened from Fora to Andela,” says Aboyeji.

The company has since gone on to raise $180 million in venture funding from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and other notable investors from Silicon Valley. Aboyeji left the company after three years in search of his next adventure but is still a major shareholder in Andela.

That voyage led him to co-found Flutterwave, an integrated payments platform for Africans to make and accept any payment, anywhere from across Africa and around the world. Under his watch, the company processed 100 million transactions worth $2.5 billion.

Turning his eyes firmly on future opportunities has led Aboyeji to set up his own family office called Street Capital, with a focus on identifying passionate and experienced missionary entrepreneurs with the integrity and courage to flawlessly execute in Africa.

With a solid track-record of unearthing diamonds in the rough, Aboyeji hopes to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs to achieve their fullest potential and help build some of Africa’s fastest-growing and most-impactful tech businesses.

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Entertainment

The Movie Buff With A Happy Ending In Business

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Kene Okwuosa continues to make profit selling the immersive cinema experience across movie halls in Nigeria.


If trailers of Simon Kinberg’s upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix have whetted your appetite for more action-packed cinema, you could take your pick from the likes of Hobbs & Shaw, John Wick 3: Parabellum or Avengers: End game. But as any film buff would tell you, watching these adrenaline rushes on DVD or TV is no match for a full-throttle cinema experience.

Kene Okwuosa is bullish about letting Nigeria’s 190 million population experience the thrilling excitement of the celluloid world. Using the theater to extract a sizeable profit from the Nigerian culture of socializing and communal engagement, his Filmhouse Cinemas has grown from just three screens to multiple locations across the country.

As part of the company’s strategic expansion plans, Okwuosa signed a pioneer deal to bring IMAX, the world’s most immersive cinematic experience, to West Africa in 2016. In doing so, Filmhouse has flipped a switch not just to beat competition from other local cinema chains, but also become one of the fastest-growing IMAX businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

READ MORE | Worldwide Box Office, The Best It’s Ever Been

Quite a feat considering Okwuosa’s first stint at the cinema business did not have a happy ending.

The year was 2008 and Okwuosa and his partner at the time, also named Kene, were desperately looking for greener pastures beyond the borders of the United Kingdom (UK), where they were both employed as assistant general manager and general manager respectively at Odeon Cinemas.

“I had a conversation with Kene on the first of December 2008 and he was saying there is an opportunity with a friend of his who was an investor in Nigeria and we could go back, set up a company and create a great product in Nigeria. I resigned from my job on the second of December, I saw my family on the third of December and I caught a flight on the fourth of December after not being back in Nigeria for 11 years,” says Okwuosa.

And their voyage back home was favored by lady luck. A South African company at the time was exiting the Nigerian market and their assets were up for grabs. With the help of their investor, the pair bought up the assets and just like that, Genesis Deluxe Cinemas was born. It was a magical moment in the lives of the newly-minted entrepreneurs.

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With three chains of Genesis Cinemas under their belt, the pair were ready to reap the profits of their entrepreneurial pursuits until everything went belly up.

“A year later, that deal went so bad we had to exit. Myself and Kene exited the company to our dismay.  The private investor owned most of the business and there were issues between the investor and my partner relating to a slight misalignment of the company. We were torn between either staying in Lagos or going back to the UK. We decided to stay and tug it out,” says Okwuosa.

The pair had to downsize from the guest house they were staying in to a smaller flat and survived on noodles, while they hatched their next plan. They turned their living room into an office and went back to the drawing board.

Okwuosa believed there was still a market in the cinema theater business and he was not wrong. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Nigerian film industry is globally recognized as the second-largest film producer in the world. Total cinema revenue is set to reach $22 million in 2021, rising at 8.6% CAGR over the forecast period.

READ MORE | Will Cinema Just Disappear?

The cinema industry is one of the priority sectors identified in the economic recovery growth plan of the federal government of Nigeria with a planned $1 billion in export revenue by 2020. Furthermore, the National Film and Video Censors Board estimates the Nigerian movie industry needs at least 774 cinemas across the country for it to tackle the menace of piracy.

“So, for two years, I was literally waking up and going to every single office trying to pitch and raise money. We didn’t know anybody and we are not sons of rich men, we had already failed with Genesis, we had no assets or collateral. We were literally telling people we were going to modernize Nigeria’s entertainment scene and everybody was looking at us like we were crazy.”

In 2009, the Intervention Funds, created by then president Goodluck Jonathan to boost the Nigerian creative industry, would prove to be the lifeline Okwuosa and his partner so badly needed.

“I am proud to say we were the very first to access that fund in 2012, which was about N200 million at the time which, when you look back is not that much but considering the exchange rate, it was over $1 million. It was enough to help us kickstart Filmhouse. We had nothing, so that particular facility was largely uncollateralized,” says Okwuosa.

The fund took a bet on Okuwosa and his partner and it paid off. The loan was used to open their first three-screen cinema in Surulere, Lagos.

“It had a slow start but ultimately grew to be one of the biggest locations in the country and that organic growth led us to open two more cinemas prior to our second round of investors, which was private equity money from African Capital Alliance.”

The investment helped Okwuosa to scale to 10 operational locations across six states. The original vision when Okwuosa started Filmhouse was to be the biggest and best cinema and create an amazing space where people could escape into a different world.

Two years after, the company set up the production and distribution part of the business.

Filmhouse now represents about 50% of tickets sold in Nigerian cinemas, according to Okwuosa. With just a dream to conquer the Nigerian market, today, Filmhouse has a vision to become a media entertainment company.

READ MORE | A $426.6 Million Opening Makes ‘Black Panther’ The Top-Grossing Film With A Black Cast

In addition to IMAX, the company represents other international brands like Warner Bros and Lionsgate. With the institutional investment, Okwuosa has strengthened his core team, which no longer includes his former partner, as well as providing the company the impetus to scale with the right mind and right trajectory.

With a GDP of $375 billion making the Nigerian economy the 30th largest economy in the world, Okwuosa believes there is still a big chunk of money to be made from the entertainment and media space.

“I think we haven’t even scratched the surface of this industry and we want to position ourselves at the forefront of Nigerian entertainment.”

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Advances In Nigeria’s ‘Burglar Watch’ Industry

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The escalating safety and security issues in Nigeria raised the alarm for this innovative entrepreneur.


Today, organizations not only face escalating risks but also the certitude that they will face a security breach at any time, if proper precautions are not taken. Such was the case for Paul Ajibulu when his office premises were ransacked by thugs in Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island, Lagos.

“We had just got our office fully furnished with MacBook computers and the whole works. When we came in the next day, we found the locks broken and all the office equipment had been looted. I lost about $20,000 in all that day and that set our business back for a couple of months,” says Ajibulu.

READ MORE | Executive Protection: Big Bucks, Bullets And Bodyguards

To solve his problems, he reached out to Extreme Mutual Technique, an automated digital systems solution and renewable energy service provider.

The company says it boasts top-tier clients such as MTN, the Embassy of Sierra Leone, South African Breweries, and Africa Finance Corporation, amongst many others.

Akpobome Ojoboh, its founder and Managing Director, is adamant his systems are a must-have for every organization in Nigeria.

“We initially started the business called Extreme Surveillance Systems limited. Coming from my previous background, we decided to focus on CCTV and digital security. Considering the fact that Nigeria was being terrorized by security mishaps, we decided to [resolve] that,” says Ojoboh.

Safety and security have never been discussed in Nigeria as they are now. Threats are from everywhere, and at all places. Routine security checking at offices and shopping mall entrances has become the norm.

The idea of preventing crime is an appealing twist in today’s times and although it’s comforting for many to imagine a competent police officer monitoring every camera in Lagos, the question remains whether CCTV systems really do prevent crimes from happening or do they merely help in nabbing a criminal once a crime has occurred.

In a city like Lagos where you have constant disruptions to power, the long-term success of these systems presented significant hurdles for Ojoboh in the early days.

“There are so many limitations to digital security vis-à-vis the lack of a proper database that even when you have [identified] the culprits, you cannot find them. Furthermore, there were limitations to how people took ownership of their equipment because there was [often] no power. So, you put a system and people say ‘what if there is no power’?”

To combat these challenges, Ojoboh decided to provide another solution, by moving into the world of inverters.

“Then again, these inverters run down when there is no power to charge them so we went into renewable energy called solar to back up our inverters and digital solutions. That is when we changed the business to Extreme Mutual Technique Limited,” says Ojoboh.

Security is one of the largest businesses in the world, according to Ojoboh.

He has seen an increase in more families opting for peace of mind by having big brother watching over their loved ones whenever they cannot be with them.

“When I first became a mum, I would always worry incessantly about my daughter left alone at home with my nanny. Then, we started noticing strange marks on my daughter and I had heard about people mistreating children they cared for but I never thought it would happen to me. I reached out to a security company to install a camera in the house and lo and behold, I saw the nanny hitting my daughter. My whole world crumbled,” says Rebecca Gyan, a grocery store owner in Accra.

READ MORE | Pain, Poison And Potential

“You have to be prepared because if you are not, then you almost cannot stop any security breach. It helps you to know some proactive measures to protect yourself. If you have a CCTV system and you notice there is a particular group of people visiting your building, you will be able to notice and react,” says Ojoboh.

As organizations become familiar with probable threats and vulnerabilities, they will be able to establish both preventive measures and responsive systems, to decrease the likelihood of intruders and attacks.

Since starting out in 2007, Ojoboh has grown the team to a 40-member business spread across Lagos and Abuja. The company has also moved into IT and engineering services in the areas of energy infrastructure, home automation, fire safety and digital security solutions.

With power still an issue in Nigeria, Ojoboh sees the future of his business in the area of renewable energy to power his systems to provide that all-important peace of mind to his clients. 

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