Opeyemi Awoyemi New Establishment Cover

How Opeyemi Awoyemi Became the Shaman for Nigeria’s New Founders

February 21, 2021

Not as much as you would expect has been written about this dude. And that’s a shame. For someone who has been in optimal performance on Nigeria’s increasingly storied tech and start-up stage for close to 15 years, that Opeyemi Awoyemi’s google search doesn’t cough up a mighty ton of media links is just… weird.

But let’s see what I can do.

I met Opeyemi Awoyemi once. At the time I had an implacable tussle going on between a popular humorous newsletter and my day job as an ad agency creative director. He said, “I like what you were doing. How much do you think it’s worth?”

By that question, he was enthusiastically asking me for the valuation. But sorry, I had no idea. The query had caught me unawares. In response, I must have rambled out something unintelligible.

Which was why, of course, nothing came of that conversation. So, kids, if you have any side gig that’s gaining traction, at least find a way to get it valued. You never know who would come knocking, especially with Lagos now having its day in the sun—the most desired creative ecosystem on the African continent for venture capitalists.

For the city to attain these towering heights of notoriety, however, adventurous businesspeople like Opeyemi, known by most as OpeAwo (a musical contraction of his first and last names), had to first hit the streets.

These days, Opeyemi may be spending some of his waking hours working as cofounder of TalentQL, which helps to “hire, develop, and manage remote talent for global companies”; and as a senior product manager with Indeed, a US-based employment site but, before these current roles, he had, as the saying goes, been there done that.

You would immediately remember his star-making start-up, Jobberman. Opeyemi had cofounded the job search and recruitment site in 2009 while he was studying computer engineering at the Obafemi Awolowo University. The other founders, Olalekan Olude and Ayodeji Adewunmi, were his mates. In just six years, a record at the time, the business was acquired by Ringier One Africa Media.

Jobberman, of course, wasn’t the first in its field but it carried with it a certain attitude that gelled with the Silicon Valley mindset that was beginning to blossom in the mid 2010s, thanks largely to Co-Creation Hub, the first incubator in Lagos and Nigeria. Jobberman ran, not like a subsistence hustle for three young college graduates, but as a serious company that might someday go global.

“The goal at the time my partners and I started the business was to create a service that could impact on Nigerians; a business that was viable and could be used by millions of people,” Opeyemi told Ventures Africa in 2013.

This was two years before it was bought by African One Media (which would later merge with Rigier). Jobberman had recently become the fifth most visited site in the country partly because of aggressive marketing and sales strategy. This programme included exclusive partnerships with over 7,000 employers and a CV polishing service it offered to job hunters.

The other reason Jobberman exploded was that it was just time for an idea of its kind.

As Opeyemi said, before Jobberman, “If you needed a job, you had to go around physically to offices dropping your CVs, or buy a physical newspaper to see the jobs available in town.” But, “Jobberman was at the forefront of making jobs info available as well as making job applications as simple as possible.”

And, naturally, the market, bustling with over 50 million young people in its labour market, took notice. In December 2009, Chika Nwobi of L5Lab reached out to the founders and, a month later, they signed a “strategic equity partnership.” In August 2010, Tiger Global, which had previously invested in LinkedIn and Facebook, pitched a million dollars. Soon, Jobberman expanded into Ghana.

In the Nigerian start-up space, it is commonplace to hear of Opeyemi spoken about in reverential tones. It has been said that the man who turns 33 this year, is the oracle of fundraising. They may be right, indeed—the man did attract one million dollars for one of his start-ups within two years of launching it, and he’s been part of many other landmark projects.

Case in point: Whogohost. Founded by Opeyemi two years before Jobberman, it’s also noted for an impressive number of user numbers. As reported by Techloy, in 2014, Whogohost had become the “second largest domain name and web hosting company in Nigeria, with [more than] 2,600 domain names hosted on its servers.”

Then there’s FastForward. It’s quite easy to see why someone might think the venture fund needs to exist. With it, Opeyemi hopes to find more entrepreneurs like himself from the universities. Co-created with Passion Incubator’s Olufunbi Falayi, FastForward is fuelling the fire of behind ideas of undergraduates and recent graduates who may be nursing entrepreneurial dreams of their own.

On its website, the company declares that it has N200 million (about $525,000) to invest, with each selected new business receiving between N250,000 and N2,000,000, for not more than 25 percent equity in the ventures.

“A lot has changed and it’s clear today that the way to create jobs is by encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Opeyemi in an interview.

At TalentQL, Ope’s tech industry sageness is fully in play. As reported in November 2020 on the trade blog Techpoint, “Akintunde and Yusuf will actively run the new start-up in Nigeria, while Awoyemi, who is in the US, will take charge of matters relating to the start-up’s business and partnerships.” Akintunde, being Sultan Akintunde, founder of DevCareer, the not-for-profit tech accelerator. Yusuf, being Adewale Yusuf, who, until TalentQL, created and ran Techpoint.

It was Yusuf who’d dreamt up TalentQL. For years, he’d studied the migration of software engineers from Africa to Europe where the big companies could easily snag them up. He thought, why go abroad if the jobs could come meet you here?

He said, “In the first place, talent relocated to Lagos for opportunities. But what we’re doing is to take these opportunities back to talent. During a 60-minute drive within the city of Ile-Ife, you’ll see more than ten higher institutions. And for TalentQL to be sustainable, we need to go where talent is currently abundant and promises to remain so.”

Nonetheless, for this new expedition to take off, Yusuf needed a guru, a veteran of the Nigerian tech space whose network also extended to the markets into which TalentQL must extend. That’s Opeyemi. TalentQL has since raised in $300,000 in pre-seed funding round led by funding round is led by Zedcrest Capital, the parent company of the much more famous Zedvance, the consumer finance company.

If you search the Web, even if you do not find a lot of current stories about Opeyemi, the hero to many young Nigerian entrepreneurs, you will find a couple of articles and a podcast episode in which he freely gives his tips to anyone who needs to fund their business on precisely what to do. If you happen to meet him, you may want to ask him this for me: “Making history on two fronts, aren’t we now, Mr OpeAwo?”

Like two sides of the same coin, the man, on one side, builds celebrated companies; and on the flipside, he helps more Africans break into global business.

This feature was first published in The Guardian (Nigeria) on Saturday 20 February 2021

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