On Bridging Africa’s Education Gap with EdTech: Adesoji Bello, Co-founder & CEO of Cyberfleet.
Cyberfleet is a vibrant and fast-growing technology company with a diverse workforce and excellent work culture that brings out the endless possibilities of technology in Africa.
The cyberfleet digital marketing team had an Instagram live session with the co-founder and CEO of Cyberfleet, Adesoji Bello. We had a fascinating discussion and there were helpful tips for everyone, from employers and employees to aspiring innovators. He gave us some insights into the problems that led to the ideation and development of Cyberfleet’s flagship product, Klasconnect. In this live session, he discusses the difficulties and complexities of starting a business, raising funds, making decisions, and being an innovator in the African tech space. Soji’s commitment to the growth of Cyberfleet was clear in this interview. Read the full interview below.
What’s the Cyberfleet Story?
Soji Bello: We started Cyberfleet in 2016 when we noticed a couple of recurring problems with the way students and lecturers interact. Learning was barely interesting and everything needed face-to-face meetings. We were in our final year and looking for a way to make the learning experience more convenient for students. Another pain point was the limited internet access and this was at the nation’s pride, Unilag. If this was happening in Unilag, then it was a general problem. These were the problems we tried to solve. And That’s why we founded Cyberfleet. In terms of culture, we are very customer-centric and strive for transparent processes. We take pride in exceeding our customers’ expectations, and we place the highest value on integrity.
What’s the inspiration behind your first product?
Our flagship product is Klasconnect. We coined the name because we tried to connect with different people in a class without a face to face interaction. Our first target was universities but when we launched, we realized that most secondary schools and institutions had similar issues. And since our goal was to change how education is accessed in Africa and impact people, we expanded our reach. We were ready before the covid hit and Klasconnect served a lot of schools. The schools were not ready but we were and because of that, we impacted over 10,000 students. Covid’19 was a wake-up call for a lot of schools and institutions to incorporate technology into their activities.
How did you know when to start hiring and who to hire?
One peculiar thing about startups is that they work on a lean budget. When starting out, we didn’t really have a lot of resources so hiring people was a little difficult. However, after leveraging the founding members’ strengths and weaknesses, we realized that we needed help. It was at this point that we decided to bring in contract hires. A few months before the product launch, we weren’t making enough money but we needed to push the product to the public so we hired a full-time sales rep and an operations engineer. We had to make do with that and we successfully launched. Now, we have over 15–20 employees full-time. Between 2017 and now, the hiring process has matured more than we expected. We have a great framework and prioritize behavioral skills over technical prowess because someone with great behavioral skills would easily learn the technical aspects but it might be difficult the other way around.
What has surprised you the most about building a startup?
The first thing I realized is that every founding member of the team does what they’re not exactly cut out for. Take me for example, I was trained to be an IT infrastructure engineer but I was doing a lot of business engagement, financial analysis, and a lot more tasks unrelated to my degree. Despite being trained in strategy and program management, my co-founder, Ahmad Isiaka, was doing testing, corporate structure, and HR. The second one that amazed me is that big businesses delay payments to startups just because they’re just starting out. Even after rendering services, bigger businesses still delay payment for reasons unknown to me. We refined our payment structure as a result of this.
What challenges have you faced?
Mainly funding and people management. Like any startup, funds are really important in launching. In fact, cyberfleet was bootstrapped for many years. Most of our inflow was from revenue and personal funding. People management; the way people interpret information is different and to manage people effectively, you have to understand how people are. Communicating your vision does not mean that they understand or resonate with them. After refining our hiring process, we found it easier to better understand people. We also now believe in enforcing a very solid work-life balance, so our employees do not burn out. Another consideration is that when you have multiple founders, your agreement must be detailed and clear. Not everyone will give their all, but communication allowed us to iron this out early on. We began with three co-founders and have since reduced to two. We’re still friends, so no lines were crossed.
What’s the best decision you’ve made?
Cyberfleet was to go live around June 2017, however, 4 months before launch, our engineering manager had some personal issues which delayed our work. 3 months to the live date, the issues were still persistent and we had already promised our customers that we would go live. We now had to decide between keeping our promise and pleasing our engineering manager. It was a tough decision but we decided to go live without him. In fact, I had to leverage my personal connection to make it happen and today, we’re glad we did. Another great decision was when we decided to apply for the NCC Covid’19 competition. Winning that particular NCC grant and endorsement expanded our network and had an amazing impact on the company’s portfolio. It has even improved our reputation and our customer acquisition and revenue.
What’s the worst decision you’ve made?
In terms of worst decisions, I wouldn’t really call it our worst decision but when we first started hiring, we hired talents who didn’t resonate with our visions. Asides from the fact that they affected product development and enhancement, they also affected team morale. we learned along the line and improved our hiring process.
Is there a new product you’re building? How are you making it happen?
Right now, we’re in the final stage of completing a product. This product is trying to connect students in Nigeria to foreign education. We have 2 other products in the works that should go live in 2023. The first one is a customer service product where we’re trying to connect people with blue-collar jobs to end users and the second product is our pivot into fintech. In 2024, we’re looking to expand our reach to sub-Saharan Africa and increase our revenue.
How has the startup influenced your family, social life, and relationships?
I’m happily married and I cherish my family so much. My dad served as our legal counsel when we first started, my brother gave us our first official car and it was actually my mom who gave us the money for our first project. Ahmad’s (co-founder) Mom and dad also connected us to other projects. Do you see why I can’t joke with my family? At some point, my social life became less active and I wasn’t always available. When my friends go out, I’m likely working on a project or debugging. It has gotten better over the years and these days, I make an aggressive effort to prioritize my time and include downtime and enjoyable activities in my plan. I love to chill with friends, travel with my family, and go to nice places plus I’m a very passionate Chelsea supporter.
Zainab: If you weren’t building Cyberfleet, what would you be doing? You can’t say building another brand.
I would be building another brand. Lol. Okay, if I wasn’t building something, I would be in the backseat where someone is building something. If there’s something I’m going to do with my personal time, it’s being on a course to impact people’s life.
Extra: The Cyberfleet management thrives on feedback and always puts it into consideration to improve. We ensure that we have a conducive environment where employees can grow in their professional journey and trust us. There are also a lot of employee benefits, we win together and share the risk of losses. We are very transparent and do not shy away from
Would you do anything differently if you were to build Cyberfleet from scratch, with all the knowledge you already have?
We would have done a lot more market research, spending more time understanding the needs of the users. We added a lot of features on klasconnect and almost 50% was not used. If we had spent more time doing the market research, we would have saved time during development.
Another is the hiring process. Now, I would prioritize behavioral skills over technical competencies. I would devote more time to finding people who are aligned with our vision, just not hiring anyone.
Any Advice/Message for Budding Innovators?
There is hype about building and cashing out. Entrepreneurship is a long-term sacrifice, you just don’t hit it once and get it right. Don’t build because it will make you money, build for impact. Spend more time trying to understand your market, users, and flesh out your product. Build products that can transcend local markets. When you spend enough time fleshing out the product and getting it right, the customer will pay for it and they’re the lifeline. Secondly, you need to know that failures happen. Building a startup is no joke, you cry sometimes and smile sometimes. You need to mentally prepare yourself for situations. You need to demonstrate grit and resilience. Failure and disappointments are bound to happen. You only stand out by being laser-focused on the end goal and exuding confidence in your business. This is how you keep moving and get to the desired destination. Thirdly, make your employees happy. be fair and transparent in your dealings, and have a well-defined framework for resolutions. The ripple effect of having a happy employee is many happy customers.
These help you get to the desired goal.