Founders should focus more on their customers and less on fundraising — Emmanuel Adegboye

Emmanuel Adegboye, the Head of Madica talks about the challenges facing underrepresented founders in Africa and how to build a stronger tech ecosystem.

Founders should focus more on their customers and less on fundraising — Emmanuel Adegboye
Emmanuel Adegboye

As I sit here in my cozy workspace, my laptop open and the cursor blinking on a new episode of The Investors Corner, I'm struck by how much the internet has transformed my life. It has given me a voice and a platform to connect with people who share my passion for startups and entrepreneurship, people who I might never have met otherwise.

One such person is Benjamin Dada, the founder of a platform I started contributing to before we decided to launch The Investors Corner together. But the magic of the internet didn't stop there. Recently, I became acquainted with Emmanuel Adegboye, the Head of Madica and a fervent follower of our series.

We talked about his career journey, the challenges facing underrepresented founders in Africa, and the steps that can be taken to build a stronger startup ecosystem on the continent.

From Research to Entrepreneurship: A Career Path Full of Twists and Turns

With an impressive career trajectory that boasts the building of Africa's first virtual Urban Accelerator Program and designing Andela's first entrepreneurship program, it's hard not to think that Emmanuel had it all figured out from the start. However, the truth is far from this. Emmanuel had to navigate through various career paths, including research, before arriving at his current destination as a technology leader.

Hear this from the VC himself:

"My passion has always been to leverage technology to solve problems in Africa. However, my career path has taken a few twists and turns. At first, I thought research was my way of solving problems. I pursued a Master's degree in Environmental Control and Management, hoping to use my skills to solve environmental challenges. But after completing my Master's, I realized that the research path wasn't the best way to have the kind of impact I wanted to have.

Soon, I attempted to launch a startup called Bus Stop, an equivalent of  citymapper for African cities that helps people navigate using public transport. I quickly realized how difficult it was to build a startup. However, during this process, I discovered that other people like me cared about solving Africa's real problems but didn't have access to the necessary resources. So, I began to focus on how I could help entrepreneurs."

Sustaining the fire

Navigating the challenging terrain of supporting African entrepreneurs can be an exhausting journey. From overcoming a hostile environment to grappling with limited resources, there are numerous hurdles to overcome. However, despite these obstacles, Emmanuel remains steadfast in his passion. When asked how he manages to maintain this unwavering dedication, Emmanuel shares the following.

"Honestly, I've been very fortunate in my career. Of course, I work hard, but it feels like things just keep falling into place for me. Back in 2014, when I was working on the bus stop project, I realized I wanted to be more entrepreneurial.  I found an opportunity at MIT where I applied and got accepted, even though I didn't have the funds to attend. But I did get a lot of help and managed to raise the money for the bootcamp! There have been other instances too, but that's just one example.

Equally, in 2021, I thought about how I could support the startup ecosystem even more. I realized that the biggest challenge facing startups in Nigeria was the regulatory/legislative uncertainty. So I reached out to the NESG and got connected to the office of the Vice President. Long story short, I was invited to the Presidential Council to work on the Startup Bill and led a lot of engagements. It definitely hasn't been easy, but I'm always eager to help others. It's what keeps me motivated!"

Climbing the ladder: From a trainee to a team lead

During our conversation, Emmanuel opened up about his journey in the world of entrepreneurship. He recounted his work at Venture Garden Group (VGG).

"At VGG, I started out as a Management Trainee and gradually climbed the ladder to become a Program Manager. During my time at VGG, I was fortunate enough to work on a number of entrepreneurship projects, including collaborating with the office of the Vice President on their innovation strategy, and contributing to community initiatives like Startup Grind and Ventures Dialogue outside of my day job."

He shared how this cemented his commitment to supporting entrepreneurs full-time and led him to Andela.

"As I immersed myself further in the world of entrepreneurship, it became clear to me that this was what I wanted to do full-time. I joined Andela to help design their internal accelerator program for entrepreneurs. The goal was to create a launchpad for Andela's first set of Fellows, who had spent four years in the program and were now ready to start their own entrepreneurial journeys. The model for this accelerator changed multiple times, leading me to take various roles in the company."

Made in Africa, for Africans

Today, Emmanuel leads Madica (Made in Africa), an affiliate program of Flourish Ventures that is focused on pre-seed technology companies in Africa. Flourish is an early stage global venture capital firm investing in mission-driven entrepreneurs working towards a fair financial system. Madica invests in under-represented tech founders across Africa and offers tailored mentorship and world-class company support.

I was curious to learn more about how he ended up in this position, and Emmanuel's story didn't disappoint:

"Ten months ago, I embarked on a new adventure with Flourish Ventures to launch Madica. It was an exciting opportunity for me to use my skills and experience to help shape the direction of this new program. While there was already a lot of work done before I joined, I had the opportunity to ideate the direction and put everything into action."

A day in the life of Emmanuel

Surely, heading a pre-seed investment program must be no joke. But what really happens in the day to day? I asked Emmanuel. ​​As he began to describe his day-to-day routine, I quickly realized that being the head of a pre-seed investment program was far from boring. Emmanuel's days are filled with a dizzying array of tasks and responsibilities.

"Well, it really depends on what's going on at the moment.” He said. “In the first few months of launching, my top priority was getting everything up and running. That meant focusing on things like communication, internal structure, and our investment thesis. We had to make sure we were putting our best foot forward and getting the word out there.

Once we launched, my attention shifted to our first investments and making sure we were operating efficiently as a team. We've brought on key players and built relationships with key partners. We prioritize partnerships that help us source potential investments, but we're also committed to supporting our partners as well.

Right now, we're  making our first investments and ensuring our program is rock-solid for the long haul."

As he spoke, it was clear that Emmanuel was passionate about his work. "Being the head of a pre-seed investment program is incredibly rewarding," he said. "You are at the forefront of innovation, and you can help shape the future of technology and entrepreneurship. It's not always easy, but it's definitely never boring."

Exciting things about Madica

Explaining what makes him excited about Madica, Emmanuel said, “The Madica name captures what the program is about and I’m thrilled it’s resonating with our target market and prospective partners. Startups are eager to be a part of Madica and is more than what we could have hoped for. Itt fills me with excitement for what's to come.”

It doesn’t end there. Emmanuel goes on to rave about the quality of his team.

“Moreover, I'm especially enthusiastic about the caliber of talent joining our team.” He continued. “Hiring top-tier candidates is a challenge, but we've managed to attract exceptional individuals to Madica, and I can't wait to see how they will help drive our mission forward.”

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How Madica managed to stand out in such a short time

As I spoke with Emmanuel, I couldn't help but feel impressed by the success of Madica. Despite being in existence for only ten months, the pre-seed investment program had quickly grown to become a popular name in the startup ecosystem. Founders and VCs alike are raving about the program, and it seems like everyone is eager to get involved.

I decided to ask Emmanuel what he thought accounted for Madica's meteoric rise. What was it about their strategy that made the company defy the odds?

“First, Flourish Ventures, our affiliate, has successfully invested in Africa fintech startups  far longer than a lot of the global VCs. This early-mover advantage is helpful and we don’t take it for granted.”

He paused, then continued, “What sets us apart is our genuine commitment to adding value to founders who are . We have a structured program to support our founders for 12-18 months post-investment, much longer than even the best accelerator programs. We also go the extra mile to recognize and engage with key stakeholders in the ecosystem. That's why we launched at AfriLabs, to show our respect for their hard work and dedication to the ecosystem.”

How to get Madica to invest in your company

As stated on their website, “Madica is a structured investment program for pre-seed stage companies in Africa.” But what will it really take for the average pre-seed company to get into Madica’s program? I nudged Emmanuel for a response.

"Well, we look at a couple things - do you understand your customer, do you  bring different perspectives to the table, can the product scale, among other factors. We want to see that you're thinking about the big picture and how your solution can grow and adapt as you take on more customers.

I nodded, taking in his words. "And what about funding?" I asked. "What kind of companies are you looking to invest in?"

Emmanuel said, "We invest up to $200K in pre-seed companies that share our values and are committed to building a better future for Africa. We want to help founders get things moving in the right direction. Beyond cash injection, Madica ensures it supports its portfolio companies.

In Emmanuel’s words, "We're committed to helping our founders achieve success. That's why we work closely with them for up to 18 months, getting to know their goals and challenges so we can provide tailored support and resources."

As Emmanuel spoke about Madica's commitment to supporting their portfolio companies, I couldn't help but feel impressed by the depth of their approach. It wasn't just about throwing money at startups and hoping for the best - Madica is truly invested in the success of each and every one of their founders.

I could tell that Emmanuel took this aspect of the program very seriously. “Our extensive network of experts, mentors, peers, and coaches are available to help founders achieve their milestones and priorities. We offer a personalized curriculum that includes workshops, and tools and resources to help founders develop new skills and expand their knowledge.

But it doesn't stop there - we also introduce our founders to our network of  investors who can help them get to the next level. That way, startups get a partner committed to their success every step of the way."

As Emmanuel finished speaking, I couldn't help but feel excited for the startups who will be lucky enough to be a part of the Madica program. With this level of support and commitment, there is no doubt that they will be in good hands.

Why Madica chose to be sector-agnostic

When it comes to investing, most VCs have a "niche" - a particular industry or sector that they specialize in. It's a tried and true approach, but Madica doesn’t play by the rules.

Rather than limiting itself to a specific industry, the program is open to investing in any startup with a promising vision and a driven team. But why take this sector-agnostic approach?

"We believe that there are winners to be found in every sector, and we're not afraid to put in the work to find them. In fact, we see it as our mission to inspire a change in the industry. We want to show other investors that there’s potential in all types of tech start ups. When we start to see more investors taking a chance on underfunded sectors, we'll know that we've succeeded.

At Madica, we're all about shaking things up and making a difference, one investment at a time."

Madica makes its application process unbiased for all

In the world of venture capital, there's no shortage of programs and initiatives claiming to support underrepresented founders, especially in Africa. Sadly, many of these programs design their application processes in a way that prevents underrepresented founders from applying. The forms are often too complicated, the requirements too onerous, the process too time-consuming. It was as if the system was designed to keep certain people out. I asked him how Madica would avoid falling prey to this all-too-common problem.

"First, our application is designed to make every applicant go through the same process, with no special treatment for referrals or any other shortcuts. We believe that everyone should have an equal shot at success, regardless of who they know or where they come from.

And here's the best part: our application is open all year round, so founders can apply at their own pace and when they feel most ready. No rushing to meet arbitrary deadlines or missing out on opportunities because of scheduling conflicts.

But that's not all. We're also building relationships with stakeholders in different cities to help us identify the most promising startups. However, we won't give these referrals preferential treatment - they'll still have to apply via our website like everyone else.

Founders who don't seem to meet all the criteria to apply anyway. After all, innovation often comes from unexpected places, and we don't want to miss out on the next big thing just because someone doesn't fit neatly into a box.

Of course, we still have our objective list of metrics and KPIs that startups must meet internally. But we're committed to making the application process as fair and inclusive as possible, so that the best and brightest can rise to the top, no matter who they are or where they come from."

Emmanuel’s thoughts on Africa’s venture ecosystem

A unicorn. Historically low deal flow. Closed down funds. It’s safe to say 2023 has been a rollercoasting year for Africa’s venture ecosystem. As a keen ecosystem stakeholder, I sought Emmanuel’s thoughts on the ecosystem and how it can get better.

"2023 has been an interesting year so far," Emmanuel said, taking a deep breath. "On the one hand, we've seen some amazing successes with the emergence of unicorns and consistent funding, albeit lower. But let's not get too comfortable, because there's still plenty of work to be done. While there's been a recent emphasis on proper governance, we need to keep pushing for more diversity in our startups. We need to tap into the wealth of talent and potential that lies beyond the usual suspects - Lagos, Nairobi, Cairo, and Cape Town."

Emmanuel went on to discuss why investors should explore the borders of the big four.

"Why limit ourselves to the big four countries when there are so many other cities waiting to be discovered? We need to inject capital into emerging ecosystems, and support entrepreneurs in places where innovation is just waiting to take off.

Think about it: there could be unicorns waiting to be born in cities all across the continent. But we'll never know if we don't invest in the right places and support the right people. So let's break free from the usual geographies, and cast a wider net to uncover the next big thing."

Emmanuel's response was unexpected, leaving me intrigued about his perspective on investing in startups. As I pressed him to specify which particular geographies are worth investing in, he hesitated for a moment, and then he made a statement that completely caught me off guard.

"Do I have to name any geography, though?” He said, “The truth is, opportunities abound everywhere - even in the most unexpected of places. As VCs, it's our duty to find innovative ways to level the playing field for all startups, no matter where they're located. We need to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and help unlock the true potential of entrepreneurs in even less developed ecosystems.

Think about it: some of the most successful startups in history have come from unexpected places.

So let's not limit ourselves by geography or outdated assumptions about what's possible. Instead, let's embrace the challenge of supporting startups in emerging ecosystems, and help them turn their dreams into reality. Who knows? We just might discover the next big thing in the most unexpected of places."

Focus on your customers, not fundraising

As someone who had been in the startup game for a while, he has seen founders make the same mistake time and time again. Emmanuel shed more light on this mistake before we ended the call.

"It's understandable that founders want to focus on fundraising and securing investment," he said, "but it's a mistake to prioritize those things over your customers."

"I know that it can be tempting to focus on fundraising and securing investment. However, I want to stress the importance of prioritizing your customers.

Customers are the ones who will pay for your product or service, and will spread the word about your company to their friends and colleagues. Therefore, it is crucial to obsess over delighting them and meeting their needs."

Emmanuel spoke from experience. He had seen many startups fail because they focused on everything else except their customers. They built products that nobody wanted or tried to solve problems that didn't exist. It was a recipe for disaster.

"By focusing on your customers first and foremost, you will naturally build a product or service that is truly valuable and solves real problems. And when you have paying customers, you have traction. Remember, investors are not just looking for a good idea - they want to see a solid business with a clear path to profitability. By prioritizing customers, you can  build a strong foundation for your business that will attract investors in the long run.

Build a business that solves real problems and delivers real value, and the rest will follow."

As I hang up the call, I'm filled with gratitude for the power of the internet and the amazing connections it has allowed me to make. It's moments like these that remind me why I started The Investors Corner in the first place, and why I'll continue to do everything in my power to help entrepreneurs succeed.

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