AFRICAN TECH ROUNDUP Andile Masuku, page 16
The path to entrepreneurship lies in research and development of business solutions
TIMOTHY Kotin was born and bred in Ghana. He is the co-founder and chief executive of SuperFluid Labs – an ambitious African data analytics firm which supports enterprise clients spread across multiple sectors.
SuperFluid has offices in Kenya, Ghana and Germany, and while Kotin leads his company’s efforts from Berlin, he travels to Nairobi and Accra to look in on his country teams there at least every other month.
He is a member of the privileged subset of African start-up founders who run businesses in two prominent innovation hubs in East and West Africa, while being plugged into Western Europe’s more developed tech ecosystem. By his own admission, this dynamic offers him several advantages – not least, the ability to marry cutting-edge European methodologies with a deep working knowledge of the nuanced demands of African markets.
Kotin considers one of SuperFluid’s most notable successes to date consulting to a UK-based solar asset finance firm (that he opted not to name) which sells solar solutions to off-grid households across East Africa. He says that SuperFluid developed and deployed a machine-learning model predicting which of their client’s customers were likely to default.
The cient in question – which according to Kotin has so far managed to attract at least $50 million (R708.89) of investment – also contracted them to create a software solution that could pre-empt future customer payment behaviour. Kotin claims that the solutions his start-up has built for this client have helped to positively influence customer adherence to payment plans.
Apparently, the ability to reliably predict customers’ behaviour three to six months in advance has led to an impressive 40 percent boost in monthly revenue – all this without the UK-based outfit investing in any other interventions.
When asked what delivering such impressive business results through software-led interventions tends to be worth to large enterprise players – in terms of what they are actually willing to pay – Kotin told me that the rumours about companies like his being offered peanuts for their solutions and services are not unfounded.
When negotiating with cut-throat corporate interests, Kotin has definitely had to rely heavily on his academic expertise and corporate experience as a management consultant to structure mutually-beneficial business arrangements that allow his ten-person company deliver on projects profitably.
Kotin holds an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Harvard University.
Prior to co-founding SuperFluid Labs, he worked as a research scientist at IBM as part of a team which developed financial services innovations for multinational enterprise clients in Africa.
Before that, he worked for Dalberg’s New York and Nairobi offices – playing consultant to key public and private sector development actors such as the US Government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundations and the UN Foundation.
His advice to African founders looking to take on similar ventures – researching, developing and deploying solutions targeting large enterprise clients – is to assemble a founding team that is not only technically competent, but also has individuals skilled at quantifying and articulating the business value they provide.
Talent and capacity notwithstanding, Kotin has found that technical founders who fail to rope in solid business development-orientated co-founders are likely to choke when reeling in the big fish.
Prior to co-founding SuperFluid Labs, he worked as a research scientist at IBM as part of a team which developed financial services innovations.
He also says that the punishing job of landing big name clients – which can take anywhere between 6 months to two years – often involves running expensive trials which must be funded upfront with no guarantees.
Hence, Kotin believes that a solid co-founding team also needs a sound financial officer to ensure that pricing is done sensibly and to help structure service delivery deals that might involve receiving no payment up front in exchange for a share of the upside when clients achieve significant cost savings or even revenue hikes. Happily, SuperFluid Labs’ track record is beginning to speak for itself, and clients are starting to come knocking. And following a couple of years of bootstrapping, SuperFluid Labs is now in the process of raising a seed round.
Kotin is quite pleased at the fact that he and his team have managed to build a sustainable multi-market business without the need to sign on venture capital. He is adamant that with or without external capital injections, his company remains a going concern with excellent business prospects.
When pressed on whether his company’s plan to shop for funding signals the presence of classical start-up fundamentals like the potential for rapid hockey-stick growth, Kotin calmly reminded me that this is Africa, and that while the rest of the world might tirelessly debate industry definitions moulded in fires of Silicon Valley, he’s content to concentrate on leading his already profitable African business to greater heights. Andile Masuku is a broadcaster and entrepreneur based in Johannesburg. He is the executive producer at AfricanTechRoundup.com. Follow him on Twitter @MasukuAndile and The African Tech Round-up @africanroundup
Timothy Kotin is chief executive of SuperFluid Labs, an ambitious African data analytics firm that supports enterprise clients spread across multiple sectors. SuperFluid has offices in Kenya, Ghana and Germany.