In mid May, we were delighted to share news that Ghana’s Dropifi had been selected to join the latest batch of Silicon Valley accelerator, 500 Startups. The Dropifi team are the first African founded startup to get investment from the accelerator. The accelerator is home to some wildly successful companies including Wildfire Interactive (acquired by Google for $250 million in 2012), Twilio and SendGrid among others. Their inspiring story was shared via this awesome infographic.
The startup was incubated at Ghana’s Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), home to Saya Mobile, another Ghanaian startup that took the tech world by storm last year at Techcrunch Disrupt.
So what’s so special about a company that provides a contact widget to small businesses? The truth is that they are providing a really simple solution for a big pain point for SMBs. Enterprise companies have Salesforce.com for business to business sales leads management. Dropifi aims to eventually become the Salesforce.com for SMBs.
We caught up with Dropifi’s CEO, David Osei to share his vision with us and what it’s been like to be part of 500 Startups latest accelerator class. Check out the interview below and share with your network.
CP-Africa: In mid May, news broke that Dropifi was part of 500 Startups’ latest batch of companies. How has the experience been so far?
David Osei: 500 so far has been one of the best experiences for me as an entrepreneur. We are exposed to over 200 mentors who have loads of experience to share. Also being in the heart of Silicon Valley, we’re open to lots of opportunity and people. The great thing is, everywhere you are in Silicon Valley, be it in a train, a bar or restaurant, you are doing business. It has been a great experience so far and we have even greater expectations.
CP-Africa: How did you first hear of your selection? How did you and your team feel when you found out you made it into the spring batch?
DO: After we pitched to Dave McClure in Rio, one of his venture partners followed up with a Skype interview. Without any hint of what was to come, I woke up one morning to see 500’s offer in my inbox. This totally blew me away! That same morning, I quickly called Effah and Kamil for preparations to begin towards moving to Silicon Valley.
It was a mixed feeling of surprised and intense happiness especially looking at the fact that we are the first African startup to join 500 and the opportunities that will be created for us.
CP-Africa: How has being a part of 500 Startups helped accelerate Dropifi’s growth?
DO: We’ve been in 500 for just a month and so growth have not really changed much. We are however building on the relationships and mentorship at 500 to grow our partnerships, distribution channels and to fundraise.
CP-Africa: How did you first come up with the idea for Dropifi?
DO: The original conception for Dropifi came as a result of an encounter I had with a business executive. I requested for his business card and the piles of cards he had to wade through were enormous. He was looking for his card amongst that of others. I figured out then that collection, organization and storing of business cards must truly be a huge task. I conceptualized a mobile app that will help people to share, store and organize business cards better. This was way back in 2006. I pitched the idea to an investor / technology entrepreneur the same year, the project wasn’t able to be executed for so many reasons, one being that I wasn’t a developer and secondly, I had to focus on my first year courses at the University. Fast forwarding to 2011, the original idea went through evolutions and is now fundamentally a messaging platform to enable businesses easily take and respond to requests and inquiries through their websites.
CP-Africa: How were you able to acquire your first 5,000 users without any marketing?
DO: Being a startup with budgeting constraints, we figured out quite early that, getting cheap ways to acquire customers was our best bet. My team and I developed a distribution strategy that pushed Dropifi to some major shopping cart and content management platforms within our target markets. We also eliminated all barriers to the installation of Dropifi on all these platforms hence it became so seamless that, my mother could install it on WordPress or Shopify and get started engaging customers. This was one of the winning point for us and took us from 0 to over 5,000 users with a $0 marketing budget.
CP-Africa: Tell us more about the MEST program in Ghana. How did MEST prepare you and your team to become the entrepreneurs you are today? What makes MEST tick?
DO: The Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) provide training, investment and mentoring for aspiring Ghanaian software entrepreneurs with the goal of creating globally successful companies that will eventually create wealth and jobs locally in Africa. I call MEST the MIT of Ghana although the MEST recruitment process is the most rigorous process I’ve ever had or gone through. Top tier talents are put together in the same environment and exposed to an international business environment and you can imagine what happens when the best graduates from the top universities in Ghana are put together to think and act on projects. MEST ticks essentially because it has figured out a way to dig out talent and groom them internationally. My team and I were part of the third batch of entrepreneurs-in-training. The unique thing about us is, we schooled at MEST for only three months instead of the normal two years and got fast tracked to the MEST incubator.
CP-Africa: Tell us more about the Dropifi opportunity. Why is lead generation online currently such a pain point for small businesses?
DO: Businesses currently generate leads through different ways. In recent times however, 80% of the world’s businesses have websites and their contact forms serve as their basic unit of lead generation. However, contact forms have remained unchanged for decades even though online visitor behaviors are fast evolving. The long-known contact forms have therefore rather become detrimental to lead generation because they are too long and require too much information. This is a pain for many small businesses. Dropifi therefore replaces this with an intelligent widget which takes requires just an email address and a message from the site visitor. Our over 5k users are generating 69% more leads, effectively engaging their customers and gaining enormous customer insights with Dropifi.
CP-Africa: Who are some of your global competitors in the space? How is Dropifi differentiating itself?
DO: Our main competitors are contactme.com, Webengage.com, Uservoice and Snap Engage. We have however differentiated ourselves with the level of business insight that we deliver with just a customer’s email address and message. Also, for small businesses, nothing is more important to them than simplicity and that is another thing that has set us apart from our competitors.
CP-Africa: Where do you see Dropifi in the next 2-3 years?
DO: In the next two to three years, I see Dropifi being the Salesforce for small businesses. A global company which offers businesses a multi-channel and social request handling system so businesses can completely virtualize and automate the way their agents handle requests. I also see Dropifi offering a better and wide range of business analytics intelligence to aid small businesses derive real value out of interactions with customers and prospects. In recent times, the demand for analytics is unquenchable. The era of analytics has come to stay; it is the present and the future as well. Dropifi seeks to make the world a better place using this new trend.
CP-Africa: What advice do you have for African tech entrepreneurs looking to start globally successful technology companies?
DO: I believe there are three key things that define a successful startup, the team, the idea/execution and the market. To start a globally successful startup you need to build a team that can compete globally (remember investors fund teams not ideas), the idea you are working upon should be relevant in your local market as well as the international market and finally you need to build a solution for your customer and the ever-changing target market of your business.
Most importantly you have to remember that horses are prepared for battle but success comes from the Lord.
In case you missed it, check out their journey via the infographic below: