Founder Focus is a “Humans of New York” style spotlight on the human stories behind diverse startup founders, their life experiences and perspectives, the origin stories of their startups, and the path they took to where they are today.
Hello everyone, I'm Jade and I run Cloudflare's startup program. Welcome to another episode of Founder Focus where we shine the spotlight on startups and their founders from all over the world.
Today we have Mathew Beef, co-founder of MavApp, who was connected to us through DigitalOcean's Hatch program, where MavApp is a participant.
Welcome to the show Mathew. Hi Jade, thank you very much. Thanks for coming on our show.
So very briefly, can you tell us what your startup does?
Okay, so once again thank you for this opportunity, this program. My name is Mathew again.
So MevSieux, that's our startup name, and basically we're trying to make database solutions where enterprises from Africa can create and manage their own database without even having to know how to write codes or anything.
So basically we make it very easy for people to own a database and the only reason is because people that don't yet have a database are missing out on a few business opportunities, growth and retention for business owners.
So we try to create the simplest solution that they can.
I think you're frozen.
Mathew, can you hear us?
Let's give them a moment to come back. Okay.
And while we're waiting for Mathew to come back and rejoin us and reconnect, please take a look at the email address down below.
We will be taking audience questions at the end.
So just find that email and email in and we will be taking audience questions.
Welcome back. Oh, you're muted. Hey, sorry about that. I think a glitch. No worries.
It happens. Okay. Okay. Where was I? I think I was at... Yeah, I think you told us what your startup does.
Basically a quick database for business owners or folks who don't even have to know how to code for very basic database needs, right?
Could you tell us a bit about your user base? I was in your account signup flow and noticed that you can choose whether you're a church or a small business or any other kind.
So could you tell us a bit about the percentage breakdown of your user base that you see?
Okay. Yeah. So we launched August of last year and so far it's been nice.
We had about 800 users, but in between that we have different segments.
Like you said, we have churches, we have small businesses, we have schools, we have people who run events.
So the percentage kind of varies, but we have more business owners on the platform than we have religious organizations on the platform.
I think that's as much as I could argue now. But yeah, so we also have space for where we can try to offer services to developers to be very sincere with you.
We are still testing how we can really make solutions hackable for developers.
So far we've seen a few developers from our community reach out to us and say that, hey, we are able to use it because we recently launched an API service for developers.
So they were able to use it to create something within their own application that relies on storing data and retrieving data and also doing some triggers which we provide directly inside our own app.
So they were able to use that as a developer directly.
So typically when your customers sign up, what are they switching to you from?
Do they have paper and paper records before or spreadsheets that they are switching to you from?
Okay, right now when people switch from an existing solution, most of our users right now are users who have never used a database services before.
And this is because they do not really know what they are missing out from not having a database solution.
So most people, what they currently do is, for an example, a business owner, a traditional business owner in Africa, in Nigeria, you walk into their store and they take your information on pen and paper so they leave your information there.
So they don't have any folder system that they put it in.
So most people use it, we just move them from the traditional pen and paper.
But yeah, of course, the more smarter users that we've migrated use something like Google Sheet or spreadsheet software on their computer.
So since it's very easy to move from such systems to our database solution because of the add-on features that we have on the platform, it's easier for us to just tell them that these are the opportunities you get from moving from this kind of data management way to what we are trying to offer you.
Cool. So could you tell... So most of our audience is from all over the world and there is a saying that perceptions often lag about 15 years behind.
And so people have the images in their heads are from 15 years ago.
And I would love for you to educate us, like me and the audience, a little bit about what the tech and business ecosystem is like in Nigeria today, certainly as compared to, say, 15 years ago.
All right. Yeah. First of all, I think this is largely a question of an expert in the industry, in the tech industry of Nigeria or Africa in general.
What I can try to say from my perspective, growing up...
So basically for the last couple of years, the ecosystem of tech has actually grown up, especially with new people joining and especially even women and even new young individuals coming from school or who are first here in college joining the tech community and are able to even offshore or outsource their tech skills outside of Nigeria and even outside Africa.
So basically it has really improved compared to a couple of...
Especially with programs like Andela, new tech communities and teaching programs that has actually erupted in the country and the continent.
A lot, a lot, a lot more and more people are joining communities.
There are several programs that have started in states, in community level, in local government levels, where new people, new individuals are joining a space in their community and is forming the global or the national tech community space in Nigeria, making it more awesome.
We've also seen an increase in technological events that have been contributing so much to the general tech ecosystem of Nigeria.
So it has been super amazing in the last couple of time, of months, especially from Andela, CC Hub, programs like that have really, really increased our tech ecosystem in Nigeria and Africa.
That's really cool. So there is this notion that a lot of times when product designers and engineers are based in the West or very narrowly in a few tech hubs, such as San Francisco, that the products are designed around the needs of a 20 or 30 something person who lives in San Francisco, as opposed to anywhere else in the world.
And I've had these conversations with Chinese engineers and designers who talk about how Chinese web interface relies more on visual navigation and all these differences because of the challenges of typing in a different language on a Western keyboard and all of these design considerations based on the needs of the users.
Could you tell me a little bit about the needs of Nigerian business owners and your user base and how it differs from how the way a lot of products are designed in the West?
Yes. I think first and foremost, Nigerians really, really, Nigerians like that they can use one tool to do everything they want.
I mean, I think there are other countries who prefer stuff like that too.
But if you look at some products, especially from banking product as an example, most banking products, financial services in Nigeria, if you walk into a banking hall, they use mostly things from the Chinese and it's fully packed with features because they believe in spending just a very little but to get a lot in return, right?
So the way it works is that you can try to give Nigerians something that can do pain.
If a Nigerian has pain in the house, you have a solution they can give.
They can solve eight of those pain in the house for them.
They will pay you and they want to also pay you less. Anyway, but it depends on the type of problem you're also solving for them.
But for a technology product, because not everybody in the country is already very technical.
So most people do not know how much they should pay for something. So when you design a product for Africa, you need to, or for Nigeria especially, you need to be able to consider the people and the type of problem that you're solving for them will determine the way you design the product for them for use.
But mostly really, really, really.
Nigerians like that. They can pay small, yeah, for something that can do a lot of things for them.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, so last December, there was this article in The Economist that was titled African countries are struggling to build these robust identity systems and how a lot of these identity systems are being bootstrapped, so to speak.
And this is actually a multi-part question.
So I want for you to first share with our audience what the current problems are with database management across the African continent as you understand it.
Okay, great. Yeah, as I've said, this is a multi -part question.
So first of all, in database management, because database is categorized, the problems around database is categorized in different categories.
What we do is this.
First is data capturing problem. And then there's hassing those data, the problems.
So data capturing, you know, there's always two ways.
Like there's online data capturing and there's offline data capturing. Of course, if everybody was online, it would be easy to capture everybody's data.
And that's if people's compliant.
So first is people being able to reach out to people to even capture data.
So that will lead us to later the identity management problems that we have.
For database management, first problem there is we're not even able to capture everyone's data, first of all.
Largely because offline, the way you reach out to people is to try to go through communities, to try to go down, down, down to the grassroots and try to enroll everybody into a database system.
And definitely in Nigeria, less than 42 million of the country are identifiable.
Because that's because of the national identity management information system that was put in place a couple of years ago.
And they've been able to enroll just a few percentage of the country.
And that's because of data capturing. So the challenge is really, really, really is in getting down to every single people down there and being able to let them know that, okay, even though we have a system, how can we capture information so that we can be able to identify people?
But other than data capturing is how do people get to access information?
And what kind of system are in place?
So basically, if the government right now, where they have personalized systems that were built for the purpose, but because such systems were not built on things like an open standard, which I know we'll probably get to later, has a little challenges where when a government situation, when a government changes and it tends to change the policy and tends to change the system, which they started with.
So those policy issues are also there somehow. So I think that kind of explains the database management part.
But of course, there is an information management part where how are we able to capture every single person in the country?
Or how can we be able to identify people in the country? So the second part of the question is about open standards.
There is, apart from the article, 11 countries, including Uganda, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali and Madagascar have signed up to an industry advisory committee to develop these open standards.
Can you comment on the importance of the open standards to the African market?
I think that most importantly, for every standard that has been created, security is most important.
And the guarantee that the information that people, that you're housing, that an organization is housing is secure.
Because when you look at what can be done with information these days, one has to be very careful.
So the kind of standard that we feel could be built is such standard that allows enough room for security.
And when information are being used, people are being informed.
Yeah, your information has been accessed. If speaker information are ever accessed, there should be a system for knowing where your information are.
Let me try to paint the picture this way.
Imagine that me as a Nigerian citizen, I worship in a church, say I'm a Christian, yeah.
And so when I get to that church, they take my information.
I give them, say, my phone number and my name, maybe any other thing.
I imagine that I also go to a business call at the same week. The business also wants to have my information.
I don't want to have my name on my phone number.
That's nice, yeah. But the standards that should be in place should be, my information is everywhere.
How secure is it? And then how can I guarantee what they're doing with it?
Now, what if my information changes from... So if my information should change as a person, let's say actually my home address or actually my phone number.
You know, if I still want the people that already have my information to have my latest information, you don't have to kind of go back to that one after another.
Go to the business owner and say, my phone number has changed.
Go to the church and say, my phone number has changed. So we look forward to such standard that allows for a unified data updating, where if my information has changed and the kind of organization I want them to have access to my information, I can just, maybe from the comfort of my home, just put my information, update and it's pushed to hardware, which we believe the standards can actually happen.
If anyone uses my information, I as an individual should be able to really, really know.
So we look forward to such kind of standards. Of course, this is a two-part solution.
One, where the government gets to play their own parts, where in making a policy that's global and the hardware in private sector, like what we are trying to get done, where we can make such systems available or we can put hands together in development of such systems.
We believe that that is a way forward.
The kind of standards that we would really, really like, of security and then accessing of information should make informed the owner of the information.
Well, you mentioned in a blog post that you had written about a five-year plan to work on this problem.
Could you tell us about that? Okay, because we're trying to, on database management as general and the space that we are playing in database solutions, especially in African market, we have to face a few problems.
One is data education.
Recently, we realized that a lot of people do not know the importance of data, especially business owners and organizations.
We can say, we can argue today that some organizations need data than another.
But the fact is that for growth, for retention purposes, for insights, data is key.
And the way you get to do it is if you have a database system and solution.
But the type of solution should be one that is very hackable and very easy to use as well.
So our team set out, we're trying to fix it in five years.
How can we fix data capturing problems online and offline?
So a business that has a solution online that has an online presence can be able to capture data online.
There are solutions that exist today like online forms, but doesn't have a database solution where those data are actually stored.
But with integration services, of course, those are very possible.
Now, data capturing online, offline, other people who are mostly offline and traditional businesses are able to.
So we're trying to see how we can channel solutions for offline data capturing.
And what are the data capturing?
Because that's just the first part of data management. Now, can we make such systems that allows you to do anything you want with the data that you have in a secure manner?
And that's most important for us as a company to focus on. And so we want to fix data capturing online, offline.
We also are looking into how people access the data that they've done and how we can give insights to people who have data on our platform.
So that the insight is the most important because when you have the data, what kind of insight can you get from the data that you have?
So our team's goal is that how can we, in the next five years, to be able to, which of course we are almost a year now, by next month, it'll be like one year.
So how can we quickly drive solutions to give a seamless data capturing solution, data accessing solution, data security solution, data uplifting solutions to the general users of our platforms?
Cool. Thank you for that very thorough response.
So I'd like to ask, how far along are you on your startup adventure?
How many co-founders and employees is your team? Okay. We're a team of five.
Basically, we're three co -founders and we have two employees, some engineers and sales guy and business people.
Of course, we still do everything together.
We are a very close team. So we work together, we work in the same apartment.
It's pretty fun. Sometimes you can, yeah, definitely. Yeah. Well, it's nice that you're sheltered in the same apartment.
It certainly makes everything much more efficient.
How did you meet your co-founders? Okay. Well, that's nice. We met in college, basically.
So for my first day in college and university, I studied computer science.
My co-founder was studying computer science. So basically, I just got to college the first day and I met this guy.
I was like, hey, we're just getting along.
But after two years, three years in college, we're like, hey, there's this thing I'm working on.
You know what? It's like, oh, yeah, it's interesting. We're interested.
It has a skill that is required. So we're like, okay, why don't we try together?
So we've been staying together since then. How did you decide to start working on this particular problem as opposed to any other kind of app that you could build?
To be very sincere, there's so many ideas we could work on, right?
So personally, when I was growing up, I was a Christian. So I have to talk about that.
My pastor in church has a lot of issues, a lot of complaints he used to make because it's a congregation of thousands.
And then so I, because I'm technical, so I'm most often the go-to guy when it comes to, hey, can we store first -time information in church?
Or can we send SMS to people? Or can we send emails to people?
So the complaint often is that people are saying that pastor doesn't care about them because he doesn't send embedded messages.
But can you imagine 100 people, really?
You cannot keep in contact with a lot of people at the same time. And then, so at that point was when I think that maybe I can build something to help my pastor, right?
But I realized I had to build for him to help him manage the church congregation first-timers.
It's a database solution. So I built the prototype around that time.
That was around 2014. So I built the prototype and it works for him, actually.
And some of my long-time friends kind of give it to them. They give it to their own pastors.
So at that point, it was cool, yeah. But I was not in college.
I was not in the university. So when I got to university and I told my friends when I met them that, hey, you know, I was working on this thing back then.
It was working. And we look out again to some other churches around us.
And we saw that the same complaint that my whole pastor was having is what they are also having.
So we thought maybe, hey, you know what? Let's just give it to them.
So we just brought up the whole idea again. Like, okay, you know what?
Maybe there's something here. But what we saw is that our first time of launching to these churches, we had about 67 churches like that first couple of years that we launched.
And it was exciting, the information that we're giving us and how we can improve the products.
And yeah, so basically that's how it all started.
Nice. And you just iterated from there. So we iterated from there and tried to make, but I know we have, we got some requests from some business owners saying that.
So right now we start with a business from our, of course we have some civil government officials on our platform.
We have a business owner from Abujo who is very big, a very large growing company.
He just reached out to me and he's like, hey, you know what?
This is a database solution, can work on my company.
I say, yes. So we started talking on the possibilities and then that leads us to adding additional features like database automation into our platform.
People, of course, data continues to grow. So the more data you have, the more difficult it is for you to manage.
So there's need for automation. So the more user base that we've been able to have, the more functionality we've been able to see that we need to build for these people.
But then seriously, database management, we are so excited about our space because if we can do a very good solution around database management, it will mean a lot of success for businesses and enterprise in Nigeria, in Africa, because management, when you start a business, you don't want to think about management so much or managing something like a database so much.
But it is key to continuous growth and retention, especially retention for most people facing organization, religious organization, NGO, businesses, restaurant, any kind of thing.
Yeah, so basically that's how we all got started and we've been moving and iterating back and forth.
Cool. Now let's shine the spotlight on you personally as a person. Could you tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up in Nigeria about your experiences and perspectives?
Okay. Honestly, that's mine. I used to have the perception that as a kid that I was going to leave Nigeria one time.
But over time, you realize that if you're in the country, you can fix the problem because you know more about the problem, right?
But for me, growing up, it's fun. From a family of four, non-technical people, they are all traditional.
So they do just very basic stuff.
But while growing up, I pick up, because I remember when my dad got the first smartphone when he was getting to Nigeria, then he got one and then he was going to give it to my whole sister.
And then my whole sister doesn't really use it so much.
So I cannot use it. And I got fascinated by technology. So I was hoping that, you know, this thing I've always liked to price, like a smartphone to spend time with could maybe be a way to make a lot of money.
Anyway, but what I found was that I had to solve a lot of problems for people to be able to make money.
But growing up, Nigeria is very fun when it comes to food, when it comes to a lot of other things.
But of course, there are some challenges when it comes to infrastructure that we have.
And I would not say that Nigeria is well-developed. I would say that we're almost there.
I would say that, yeah, I would argue, yeah, that I would support the notion that come next 20 years, Nigeria will be like America.
I certainly hope so. There's a, I mean, there's, I am often surprised at how, you know, most folks in the U.S.
don't really know what life's like in other places.
Yeah, it's a little bit funny.
You know, you have to do the whole lot. It's really, really, really hard.
I mean, anyway, it's creativity. Yeah, because when you have limited resources, like in a country, sometimes the resources are available, but you don't have access to them.
Or the resources you have to, the resources are not available.
So it kind of forces you to be able to innovate. So I think that in Nigeria right now, we have a lot of chances to innovate.
And as private individuals and as startups, these are our own chances to innovate and make the country better.
So we have all these kinds of chances to just go into it and just, you know.
So I see it more as an opportunity what we have going up in Nigeria right now.
Mm-hmm. A lot of unsolved problems and a lot of unmet needs.
Exactly. From electricity, transportation, food, Internet, just a lot of space that we don't have right now.
Oh, we're frozen.
I think you froze for a second.
But you're back now. Those are one of the small glitches that are here.
For example, electricity. Of course, there are such solutions that are upcoming.
And I'm so excited about what's coming in the next few years now.
There are folks who are working in that space, working in electricity, working in transportation, working in Internet, sustainable Internet, working on sustainable energy as well.
So all of these things are things that we are so much excited about for the country and the next couple of places that we're entering.
So we're super excited about that. I'm excited too. I think there's a real opportunity to leapfrog over a lot of the countries that have been highly developed in decades and years in the past are very often tied back by legacy systems because of the way that things are already built.
But building things from scratch in a new tech environment, that's got to be super exciting.
And in our last, we are in our last minute of the show.
I, two last things, I guess, is there anything else that you would like to share with the audience?
Any story or anything?
And the second thing is, do you have a pop culture or art recommendation for the audience?
It could be a book, it could be a movie, or a video game, or a TV show, or anything, a recommendation for the audience?
Basically, well, I read this book, Movement and Chase, yeah, by Spencer Johnson.
But basically I would like to, it's all about, life is all about how many cheats do you have?
Which cheats are you chasing in front of you, right? So I think that at the same particular time, we should just try to have a focus.
I used to listen to a Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma.
So mostly I would recommend more people to listen to him.
Thank you for coming on the show. Thank you so very much, Jade. I'm excited too.