Interview with Tomi Davies

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Tomi Davies is a well-known figure in the West African startup scene. He founded the Lagos Angel Network and is the president of the African Business Angel Network (ABAN).

Mr Davies was born in the UK but went to primary and secondary school in Nigeria. He went to university in the US and did the Nigerian National Youth Service Corps in oil and gas. Tomi worked in various high-profile roles in FTSE 100 companies, such as M&S and EY.

Tomi discovered his passion for startups and technological entrepreneurship during the dot-com bubble by being involved in the Ernst & Young incubator “Future Wealth”. He says this was his turning point for entrepreneurship and directed his professional interest ever after.

It’s no surprise Tomi has a passion for entrepreneurship – the core values of entrepreneurship fits with his personal values. As he put it to me – “I have always, like millions of other people, believed that individuals should be masters of their own destiny. I believe in the free economy, in the private sector leading the world rather than governments.”

Tomi has been involved with well-known tech companies as part of his consultancy business, the most notable – Sapient and Opodo. Tomi was also behind the direct.gov websites technical solution.

Mr. Davies recalls some big failures as well – he was consulting and helping raise finance for the famous boo.com that lost a hundred million of VC money during the dot-com bubble.

Tomi Davies switched his focus on Nigeria at the end of the dictatorship in 1999. when president Obasanjo encouraged the diaspora to return home to rebuild the nation. Tomi has made many angel investments in start-ups and founded organizations such as the LAN.

When discussing sectors in Nigeria, Tomi had this to say –

Ecommerce an over blown sector that’s being pushed by the west because it’s consumer goods driven. Africa challenges is not in consumer goods, it’s not in ecommerce. There are more fundamental challanges that need to be addressed by technology. …  We’re talking about ecommerce when we have not educated our population, so we’re turning them into consumers. But uneducated consumers are not so sustainable, so we need to focus on the fundamentals.”

Tomi believes in looking at the fundamental sectors, the basic needs that have not been addresses. Sectors such as food, agriculture, education and transportation.

Tomi Davies has left a mark and been visible for decades, in sectors such as education. The one laptop per child is just one of the initiatives he has been involved in.

See some other parts of my conversation with Tomi Davies:

You witnessed the birth of the internet in Africa and the rapid penetration rate, what were the big opportunities in the early 2000’s in Nigeria?

Well, the big opportunities were not in the internet funnily enough, it was in voice. And the fact that the voice telephony market was totally undeserved and with the introduction of GSM we saw the take-off of mobility and telephony and so when the internet came of the back of that, commerce was a natural fit.

How has the scene changed over the last decade?

As the Nigerian population has grown more and more youthful and increased in fact across the continent, what we’re starting to see is innovative uses of technology, mobile technology to be specific, to address the challenges that are uniquely that of the continent. Infrastructure is one of the key ones.

So this wasn’t the case so much in the early 2000’s, it was more people just getting their phones and that’s it?

I wouldn’t be saying that’s about it, they were using it creatively, they were using it to challenge time and distance for example. Historically without telephones people were traveling, making unnecessary travel. We saw reduction in that. We saw elements of creativity so you find that the whole Nollywood scene and the music industry took inspiration from the advert of technology. Most people don’t realize that.

Are any new industries to emerge from technology?

We’re just at the beginning. The mobile phone is just an indicator, the concept is around mobility. Before we went to work, now we work. So if you look at that as a methodological concept you start to see that the ability to do things on the go is increasing and that is fundamentally is changing the way that we do just about anything.

Comparing the entrepreneurs from decade ago to now, do you think we’re seeing entrepreneurs improving, becoming more business savvy and more general innovation happening?

I don’t know about business savviness, but I do know about innovation. What I do also know is we’re starting to see certain undeniable trends. First is, the continent is getting younger, the results and effect is that we’re having some critical issues that are unique to the continent. In the West, you have an aging population and the challenges associated with that around health we have a more youthful population and the challenges associated with that around education. So I expect and I’m starting to see innovative use of technology in education.

How did you got started in angel investing?

Oh that’s very simple. A friend of mine wanted to start a company in South Africa and he needed some extra cash and I put some money in and sat on the board and started advising. Today that company is in over 36 countries. Since then we sort of continued to help other founders.

What have been your best investments?

Maybe Strike Entertainment, Sproxil Nigeria, SlimTrader. Yea, I think those would be the three. I call them the three S’s.

The young and ambition reading this from West Africa – what are the real sectors and the real opportunities for them and what are the firs steps?

They just need to look around them and solve problems that they see on day to day basis. Like everyone else in the world is doing. There aren’t any silver bullets. There isn’t go this direction, else you get herd mentality. People need to solve local problems for real people and then commerce will follow.

Meet Tomi Davies in London at the upcoming Africa Tech Forum London, where he and 20+ other experts will be sharing their insights into the emerging technology opportunities to UK investors, businesses and entrepreneurs.

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