Daniel Afolayan, a graduate of Medicine from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, is the Chief Executive officer (CEO) of BuildCodeTogether. In this Interview with NIYI OYEDEJI, he speaks on how he diverted from being a medical doctor to an entrepreneur in the technology industry.
What is your start-up, BuildCodeTogether all about?
BuildCodeTogether, a technology development organisation provides technology support and infrastructure for start-ups and enterprises to grow. We have a workspace, BuildSpace that includes a training hall and office spaces with a co-working space as well. We provide technology consulting and support services and we have a technology lab where we build innovations with cutting edge technologies. We built innovations in healthcare, agriculture, real estate using deep tech including data science and computer vision.
From medicine to tech, what inspired you to start BuildCodeTogether?
It was simply borne out of my passion to solve problems and improve lives at scale. I realised that technology provided the means to reach the scale of the impact I aspired to make.As a doctor, I ran a number of initiatives aimed at improving the wellbeing of the disadvantaged. I operated a rural clinic in a village without any health centre. To improve the quality of our service delivery, we developed an electronic health records system that ran on a local server. That way, we were able to properly manage patient data, provide telemedicine services and importantly provided quality healthcare despite the absence of health workers in that community. That experience was an eye-opener into how technology could solve some of the intractable social challenges the nation is facing.
My interest in technology then grew and I began a quest to understand how the technology works and how it could be applied to solving problems, and that motivated my founding of BuildCodeTogether, to develop the capacity to build innovations, and provide support to those who want to use technology to solve problems
What was your start-up capital?
Although, I didn’t have any start-up capital set aside, I actually operated a primary healthcare clinic which I gradually converted to a tech space and grew our operations from there.
Why did you choose to switch totally from medicine?
I saw a future driven by technology, healthcare inclusive and I decided to go for it. Technology is already affecting our everyday lives. The foundation has been laid with the advent of smartphones, wide internet reach and increasing literacy rates. I believed that the biggest world changers will be those who can build on this foundation that is already laid.
We have seen how technology affects how we communicate, how we move and so on. I believe that there are still a lot of opportunities and areas where technology can improve our everyday lives and wellbeing, and I wanted to be a driver of making that possible, that’s why I deviated from the medical line to embrace the new world technological advancement.
What is the number of employees you have currently?
A Yoruba adage says one shouldn’t count a number of children a mother has, so I won’t want to declare the number of our staff, but we have a reasonable number of staff and interns.
When was your business established?
After practising medicine for some years, I finally moved to establish BuildCodeTogether in September 2018. I first started a rural clinic in Orisunmbare, Ile-Ife and the health services I was rendering then were totally free. I later set up an urban medical centre that was going to follow the model set up in the village, but this time0 the services were paid for.
I later continued to research means to use technology to improve healthcare. That research opened my eyes to the opportunities technology presented not only in healthcare but across different sectors, to improve wellbeing of people and facilitate economic prosperity
Have you won any grants since you started?
Although, we don’t operate as an NGO, but we got few funding from friends, family, donations and investors but we will like to focus on growing revenue.
What are your expansion plans?
We want to provide technology support and infrastructure to help businesses build and scale their innovations across Nigeria.We plan to open up more workspaces in Ibadan, Lagos and other major cities in Nigeria using our unique selling point. We are working towards building an indigenous cloud service that will be flexible for African start-ups.In our labs, we have built a number of innovative solutions including a card reader for a mobile POS system, an app that does soil analysis with artificial intelligence and we are incubating a number of other start-ups
How would you evaluate Nigeria’s technology industry?
It is really growing fast with international recognition. There are big success stories of young Nigerians breaking grounds and disrupting the Nigerian business environment. We have big success in Fintech. The fintech industry has significantly improved how we make virtual transactions, big players there being PayStack and Flutterwave.
Transport and logistics are also experiencing massive disruption. We have also seen how tech start-ups have been able to raise massive capital that is impossible in other sectors from both local and international investors.
What are the problems you have faced since you started?
Pivoting from medicine to tech meant I had to do a lot of learning. Then bringing together the right team of people to help build and grow the business was not easy.Then raising start-up capital is an almost impossible task in our environment. But I have learnt to maximise resources to achieve optimum results.
And of course, as you build businesses you experience a lot of failures. However, one must be quick to learn from failures and convert the experience to lessons to help in the future
What are the problems facing technology entrepreneurs?
Hacking growth is a major problem. Traditional businesses involve analysing the cost price of a product and fixing a selling price with good unit profit margin, but in tech, it does not always work like that. You build a technology solution and you have to discover how your solution can generate very many users. Your cost is, therefore, not really in developing the product but in acquiring customers.
The fund to acquire customers while improving your solution is where capital is needed in tech businesses, and without that, tech enterprises die. So, another major problem is ability to raise capital needed for scaling
How do you think these problems could be solved?
I think the start-up ecosystem needs to be more robust. The ecosystem includes venture capitalists, successful (exited) start-ups, start-ups in their growth stage, early-stage start-ups, human capital. A robust system helps tech start-ups at various stages of growth to get the support they need. In the past decade, this has been improving in Nigeria especially in Lagos. I believe in the coming decade we will see rapid growth of the ecosystem.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs who are also interested in tech?
The potentials are great, the challenges are greater. And the keys of success are: Knowledge, Faith, Courage and Perseverance.
Knowledge: It is assumed the entrepreneur has knowledge about his solution and how to build his solution. In addition, the entrepreneur needs knowledge about the market, business development, sales and marketing, finance, growth etc.
Faith: The entrepreneur must have believed in himself and in his solution
Courage: The entrepreneur must understand the risks involved in building a tech startup and must ready to bear the risks
Perseverance: Many challenges and obstacles will pop up along the way, but the entrepreneur must be able to press on in the face of the challenges.
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