AFRICAN TECH ROUNDUP Andile Ma­suku, page 16

The path to en­trepreneur­ship lies in re­search and de­vel­op­ment of busi­ness so­lu­tions

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Andile Ma­suku

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 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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.