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Cross Border E-Commerce in Africa: Mall For Africa CEO Chris Folayan (Part 3)

Posted on Sunday, Aug 14th 2016

Sramana Mitra: What else did you do in that incubation mode? What other company or projects did you do?

Chris Folayan: We were in the incubation mode throughout OCFX. We did Guru Country and we had an auto dealer’s website where dealers could create their own site for their dealerships. It’s more of a template model. You didn’t have to know how to do any HTML but you could create your own website for your auto dealership. I worked on that. We ended up having about 450 dealerships on that platform. It was also acquired.

Then we have some tiny ideas here and there and created software for major corporations. OCFX was also a software development and design company. Companies will come to us and say, “Can you build this for us?” We also come up with ideas for those companies and say, “We think we could do this for you. Are you interested?”

We did that for quite a few companies where we had access to seeing what they were doing because they hired our company to work on different projects. We would always want to take it to the next level and add new features or functionality that they didn’t require. We did that for a while. There were some that did not do well.

Sramana Mitra: In any kind of incubation process, there will be lots of projects that are not going to work.

Chris Folayan: Would you like me to share one that didn’t work? I did learn from it.

Sramana Mitra: Sure. Tell me specifically what you tried to do and what you learned from it.

Chris Folayan: There was a company called 9LOOKUP. It was an 1800 number. Back then, you would dial 411 to get a phone number and then they would charge your cellphone bill. I was getting tired of dialling 411 and getting these ridiculous bills to get contact numbers and be connected to different lines. I decided to come up with an idea where it will be free.

You dial 9LOOKUP. You listen to a commercial. After the commercial, you’re sent to an operator and the operator will give you the contact information that you’re looking for. Imagine a room filled with a bunch of people picking up the phone whenever calls come in. We know you listened to the entire commercial, so whoever puts the commercial on our platform pays for it. We get money when people listen to the commercial.

After the commercial, we connect you with the number that you’re trying to get connected with. You don’t have to pay that 411 charge. It was a great idea up to the point where other companies came up with other such things. Google came up with their program where you could easily get phone numbers. Yahoo! had something similar. It pretty much took that whole market away. The last time you dialled 411 was probably a long time ago.

Sramana Mitra: Yes, a long time ago.

Chris Folayan: It did really well but the market adjusted and pivoted a different way. The lesson learned there was we were not really following the technology. We could have come up with a better process and followed the change in the environment. We were thinking, “People will always want to dial this number. This is not going to change.”

Even when these other processes came out and Google came out with their voice dialling software, we thought it would still be there because everybody was used to this way of getting a phone number. I learned a good lesson to always look at the market and see how the market is changing and see how people are adapting to it. With projects after that, we’ve always looked at how we can pivot. We were always looking at the market trend. People have always been using some kind of call centre to get connected.

Sramana Mitra: You missed the trend basically.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Cross Border E-Commerce in Africa: Mall For Africa CEO Chris Folayan
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