Nigerian tech start-up Prepclass was launched just over a year ago and has already created a buzz. Founded by two young entrepreneurs, Chukwuwezam Obanor and Ogunlana Olumide, Prepclass provides a database of study content to help prepare prospective university students for their Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exams.
The platform already has more than 1,900 registered users and over 600 paid customers. A three month subscription-based model gives students full access to all content on the platform for a fee of around US$6.
Within just a few months of launching, Prepclass was identified as one of Fast Company’s top 10 most innovative companies in Africa for 2014, and Obanor – aged just 22 – has recently been named as one of the 12 finalists for the Anzisha Prize, a pan-African competition that recognises entrepreneurs between the ages of 15 and 22.
Identifying a problem, supplying a solution
Obanor and Olumide were both students at the MIT Global Startup Labs programme in 2012 and attended a talk by Ayodeji Adewunmi, co-founder of Nigeria’s and Ghana’s job search engine Jobberman, who spoke about some of the possible opportunities in the educational system.
“My partner and I discussed this at length and eventually decided it was definitely a potential opportunity that we want to explore,” Obanor reflects.
After high school, students in Nigeria write their Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE), and are then required to write the national JAMB exam if they want to apply for university. Obanor and his partner noticed a need to assist students with this exam preparation.
“The educational environment in Nigeria is dismal, but not without hope,” he explains.
“Unfortunately, every year the failure statistics of students who write national exams seems to get worse. Also, considering the burgeoning population of school-aged Nigerians, fewer people are likely to gain admission into university in the coming years.”
This was the inspiration for starting Prepclass – to allow students easy access to all the relevant educational content needed to prepare them for the JAMB exams. Not only are study materials and past exam questions and answers available, but the online portal also provides an algorithm to determine a student’s strengths and weakness as they practise for exams.
At the moment, Prepclass generates about $2,000 in revenue a month. In addition to charging users a fee to access premium material, Obanor said they are also launching a tuition service that connects parents of students to experienced, and vetted, home tutors.
Gaining experience in the tech and startup space
Obanor says he has always thought like an entrepreneur, even while working under managers at Ericsson, Google and Rocket Internet. “I always tried to challenge the status quo if I thought my effort could improve things.”
He had interned at Ericsson for six months while studying for his degree in electrical engineering at the University of Lagos, and soon after was one of only two Nigerians selected for the Google Africa internship, where he gained an understanding of corporate culture.
Obanor then worked for a year at Rocket Internet’s Jumia, a leading online retailer in Nigeria, as a senior online marketing specialist.
“My stay at Jumia was a tremendous catalyst for growth for me,” he said. “It was challenging, exciting and very fast-paced because it was a startup with huge targets and a lot of money. So I learnt a lot and I had a great manager who kept giving me more and more responsibilities.”
However, he adds that one of the best, yet most difficult, decisions he ever made was quitting his job to focus on developing Prepclass full-time. He and Olumide had first tried to work part-time, but soon realised the startup required their full attention, and this meant giving up a stable salary.
“I decided I would try to build a company of my own while I’m young and still have the liberty to take the risk.”
Dealing with doubts
While Obanor believes that he has the natural risk-taking entrepreneurial mindset, he admits he does struggle with managing his psyche as an entrepreneur. “It’s something I had never heard of or thought about as a challenge before becoming an entrepreneur, because it seems so few people talk about it.”
He personally had many fears, worries and doubts that come with the responsibility of running a startup.
“There is the challenge of not knowing if or where your next sale would come from, or sometimes not being sure you are engaging in the most rewarding kind of business. Or if your business will actually survive or thrive long enough to become successful. Finally the fear you are rejecting opportunities that look really lucrative to chase something that is still only a dream.
“These are natural fears and doubts, and as an entrepreneur you have to stay positive because your emotional/physiological state will affect both your business and your team.”
He adds that he has to constantly focus on staying positive, looking forward and not dwelling on his fears. But despite this personal struggle, Obanor believes it’s worth risking everything to try and fulfil a dream, and advises other aspiring entrepreneurs to do the same.
“You have to choose whether to aim for greatness at the risk of failure, or settle for mediocrity while hoping you eventually get lucky and get a break.”
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