The founder and CEO of e-commerce company, Losode, Aderonke Ajose-Adeyemi, believes that women do not have to struggle so much to play in the tech space. Speaking with Onyinye Okonkwo of Technext about the challenges of being a female founder in the Nigerian tech ecosystem, she said it’s important that women do not think less of themselves.
“I don’t really see myself as a woman. Of course, I am a full woman, however, if I’m sitting with a male founder it doesn’t even cross my mind to think less of myself. I believe if you work hard, if you prove yourself, if you get the right team, externally and internally, if you make a compelling argument, you will get where you are going. I am not one who believes I should be rewarded if I do not do the work.“
Ade, as she is used to being called, is the founder of Losode, an “e-commerce online marketplace which enables trade for four groups of people which are: people who want to sell in Nigeria and Africa, those who want to sell outside Africa, those who are outside but are looking to break into the African market, and people who want to buy from all of the above. It gives local access, global access, and two-way international access.”
Ade is a qualified engineer which perhaps prepared her for venturing into the tech space. She holds a Bachelor of Engineering (BE), in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the Queen Mary University of London. She also has a certificate in Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Studies from the London Business School. She has worked with multinational companies like KPMG, Thomson Reuters, Credit Suisse, MS Amlin, etc, across Europe.
So, how does an Engineer with such a level of experience pivot into being the founder and C.E.O of a technology company that facilitates e-commerce you may ask?
As she tells it, the idea for Losode came after a highly disappointing shopping experience in 2010. She had gone all around Lagos, from Victoria Island as far as Ogba, Ikeja, armed with the Naira equivalent of about 500 pounds, looking for quality clothes and a shopping experience. Ade mentions she couldn’t find anything she wanted and ended up buying out of fashion clothes she didn’t believe would give her her money’s worth.
It was the worst shopping day of my life.
Having lived in the UK and occasionally visiting Nigeria, she couldn’t believe how the structure for trade and commerce was almost nonexistent in Nigeria and in Africa. This is where she saw the opportunity.
After that realisation, Ade went ahead to create a platform that would make it easy for people to have access to high-quality fashion. For her, “it’s really about creating access, where can I access what I want. We are solving two problems at a time because the infrastructure doesn’t exist for trade and commerce. Our trade network just isn’t working”.
She is very passionate about creating infrastructure for trade and commerce, believing having solid trade and commerce structures in place will regulate trade in Nigeria since the buyers have already responded in a certain way. According to engineer turned ‘tech sis’, this is the real vision of Losode.
I am not a cloth or fashion seller. I don’t have clothing items that I sell. What I have is a platform that brings people together. So I’m not really focused on clothing, I am interested in the industry.
When she first started, she confesses that she wasn’t proud to tell people what she did.
“How do I tell people I sell clothes online? Especially as an engineer, I expected I would be somewhere around that field so I had a problem being honest with people because It sounded absurd. But, I’m glad I started anyway because as I continued I gained clarity”.
She gained clarity in her entrepreneurial journey, has faced a few challenges and learnt some lessons.
Lessons and challenges
One of the lessons Ade has learned is that you need to keep updating yourself with market trends. This is besides the fact that she has learned to make mental shifts from thinking like an employee to an employer.
One of the major challenges for anyone in tech is raising funds but it has been argued to be more of a challenge for women in tech in Africa. Ade doesn’t dwell on this so much as she believes that “it is difficult to raise funds anywhere you are in the world. I don’t think it’s just in Nigeria. It does help if you have a more mature ecosystem, but like in Nigeria, you have less competition. Nobody will give you money because you look pretty, no one will give you money unless you do the actual work.”
One key challenge Ade has is the lack of expertise in the talent pool – finding the right team and the right people.
There is some expertise we can’t find in Nigeria and I have to do some jobs myself because I am the only one who can properly get some things done, which keeps me from fully focusing on my role as CEO. But, it’s ok because we are still building and I hope we can move out of that and get the right people.Aderonke Ajose
Regardless of the challenges, Ade believes that “the argument for the challenges is what calls for entrepreneurial intervention. There is still so much to be done in putting these infrastructures in place in Nigeria and the African continent. There are institutional voids like lack of regulation, lack of infrastructure, and corruption. The government cannot solve all these problems alone, which is what makes it necessary for entrepreneurs to intervene by coming up with solutions to these problems. So yes, it’s been challenging but it’s exciting because we have been able to turn our challenges into power.”
Future of the Losode vision
Losode emerged in the top three positions on the leaderboard at a 2016 competition by the Richard Branson-led Virgin Media business pitch competition, and since then has continued to be a preeminent fashion destination in Africa.
Speaking on future aspirations, Ade says that in ten years she would personally like to become the queen of e-commerce.
She hopes to be able to create a massive impact in people’s lives that would be disruptive. She believes that Losode would be successful for her if they can change people’s lives, and create the infrastructure that would disrupt the way trade and commerce are currently being run in Africa.
“We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of e-commerce in Africa. So, in ten years, I see us operational in all 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Not just going there but building infrastructures for trade including empowering the players, and becoming something like a gatekeeper of trade.
“When we look at the vision we see fintech in Losode pay, hopefully, with our own switch, we see media, with fashions news, fashion TV, we see logistics, having a huge fleet across Africa, there’s edutech, packaging, warehousing, doing luxury and retail, kids. There is so much we can do.”
Losode is a gift that just keeps on giving. We want to create more jobs, impact the GDP and just make a great impact.Aderonke Ajose
What’s the unique selling point?
Losode is an e-commerce platform and a growth engine for small businesses. Beyond driving trade and commerce, the platform provides powerful growth tools that make it easier for businesses to scale and maximise local and global sales opportunities. They aim to incubate and accelerate the growth of brands on their platform and equip them to be agents of change in their various communities.
The all-female founding team of Losode has almost 40 years of combined experience across management consulting and a wide range of technology sectors. It is this experience that they bring to deliver a robust and effective platform that can facilitate the opportunity they believe is ripe for the taking.
Women in Tech
Tech is everywhere around us. So long as you use a mobile phone or any technology-enabled device. Tech is not this technical phenomenon we like to think it is. Of course, there is a very technical and complex side to tech but that isn’t all there is to it.
Ade believes that this notion that tech is complex, technical, and manly may be the reason many women are not yet venturing into the tech space.
“What is tech? If you are trying to make your hair for example and you discover that there is a problem getting a hair maker and you decided to build an app to connect hair makers all over, you’re in tech.
Tech doesn’t do anything different, all it can do is take what you already do and make it quicker, bigger and boundaryless.
Specifically, to women, she encouraged them to be bold.
“One thing I’ll tell women is to be bold and courageous. Notice I didn’t say act boldly, because there is a difference. Being bold is a very serious charge. So, be bold in learning about your space, equip yourself, and know what you are talking about so that when you step out you’re bold.
“A lot of people are like ‘fake it till you make it’ and maybe that may work to a certain degree but when you are bold with substance, you are called up because you have something knowledgeable and substantial to deliver. And, when you do decide to run, make it big, don’t be quiet about it, don’t shrink yourself, let your light shine for the world to see.“
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