Welcome to the first episode of Time Out. It’s taken a lot of drafting to get here and we are glad to bring you this episode. Our aim with Time Out is to provide a forum for entrepreneurs from all walks of life to share their experiences – be it good or bad. We have lots of interesting personalities lined up. So stick with us and you won’t miss anything.
Today, we have the honour of chatting with one of the leading C-Suite executive in the Nigerian tech community. After a brief introduction, she was kind enough to answer some of our questions.
Hold your device tight, you are in for a treat.
During our chat, we talked about cryptocurrency, working around regulations in Nigeria and finding the right partnership for your startup. Let’s get right into it.
CFAmedia: Kindly tell us about yourself.
Olumhense: I am Odion Olumhense, a co-founder and COO at Ellcrys. I have extensive experience working and managing projects in retail, fashion, aviation and technology industries.
I co-founded Gangfly, an advertising network (now defunct) and Crowd Effect, a software consulting company. My journey into finance began with Rupt and Object Network, which are early iterations of Ellcrys.
I am excellence driven, very curious and a futurist.
CFAmedia: How did it all start for you in tech?
Olumhense: I have always been interested in how technology works. Spotting problems and seeking solutions is something that I find interesting. This curiosity led me to the path I am threading.
In 2009, I recognized a problem in Africa’s fashion industry; at the time, there were good designers on the continent, but I felt there was no real structure to showcase and sell products. I wanted to use technology to solve this problem. I built a team of developers to work on a solution. It didn’t quite go as planned, but I gained a lot from that experience. It opened me up to other possibilities. That was my first venture into technology.
In 2014, I met Kennedy Idialu at Aptech, (a technology institute). He told me about a project he was working on at the time. I was convinced and joined him. We have been working together ever since and I have worked on various projects leading up to Ellcrys.
CFAmedia: Tell us your current venture(s).
Olumhense: When I met Kennedy, we began to work on a SaaS product for betting companies. We wanted to build a service that will allow unlicensed operators launch betting websites on a shared licence and with payment capabilities.
We were interested in integrating a payment option that allowed people to pay with mobile airtime. Not a lot of people have bank payment cards and some are just not comfortable using them online to make payment. Since there was no service offering this, we got obsessed with solving this problem first.
We sent out proposals to mobile telecoms operators, requesting access to their APIs to validate airtime recharge pins, but we got no response. We, then, decided to build a digital currency backed by airtime. This platform was called Rupt. We encountered a few problems around openness and transparency. How do we stay centralized and still assure the users that we will not manipulate the platform to our benefit? How do we make codes and data tamper-evident? How do we make users’ opinions matter in such a way that actions can’t be performed without consensus? These are some of the problems we intend to solve with Ellcrys.
Ellcrys is a blockchain protocol for building software products and businesses in the open and with/by a community. We are solving the problem of decentralized content ownership and governance. Allowing thousands of people to truly own, control and maintain shared assets.
At the core, Ellcrys is a decentralized git hosting service providing developers with the ability to create decentralized, censorship-resistant and highly-available repositories.
CFAmedia: Have you raised money, through ICO or otherwise?
Olumhense: In February this year, (that is 2018), we raised over $300,000 in pre-ICO for Ellcrys.
CFAmedia: What can kind of challenges did you face with Rupt?
Olumhense: Rupt was an early iteration of Ellcrys. We had different challenges building our products. They were related to not getting the partnership we needed with telcos, and having to deal with regulatory uncertainty in the country.
CFAmedia: What are the challenges experienced with Ellcrys?
Olumhense: Some of the challenges we have had, so far, are varied; in finance, we initially didn’t have enough money to build because of difficulty attracting for-profit investors to a project without a business model, as is the case with most blockchain protocol; in talent, not a lot of people have the skill, background and experience required to build a distributed P2P system. In addition, sentiments towards Nigerians isn’t very friendly, especially, when the team is dealing in finance.
CFAmedia: Knowing that blockchain is not a mainstream technology among developers, how have you been able to source talents for your company.
Olumhense: It’s one of our biggest challenges. There are not many developers in Nigeria who are ready to instantly contribute to p2p protocol. We currently maintain a small team of people who are very technical and are able to learn and understand the space, concept and technologies.
In the future, we are looking into the possibility of helping to train more developers to increase the talent pool for the sector.
CFAmedia: What are your thoughts on cryptocurrency?
Olumhense: Revolutionary. It is a new and innovative method of transferring value. They are units of account in a blockchain network and as long as the network exists they will remain. Crypto tokens are not legal tenders, so, I don’t think the word currency fits. I believe cryptos will not totally eliminate fiat currencies. They will exist side by side, however, in other to experience mainstream usage, two basic things have to happen.
1. Better interface and usability: The blockchain/crypto learning curve is steep. There are potential users, who have studied, researched and still don’t know how to buy or trade cryptos. UI/UX designers have a role to play to make it easy to onboard users. A frustrating experience can turn a potential user away.
2. Stability: There is also the need to reduce volatility. I believe this can be solved with stable coins and an increase in the number of non-speculators in the industry.
CFAmedia: What do you do away from work?
Olumhense: I go to the gym 3 to 5 times a week. My health is important too, you know.
CFAmedia: What are your favourite books?
Olumhense: The hard things about hard things by Ben Horowitz and The inevitable by Kevin Kelly.
CFAmedia: Your favourite companies?
Olumhense: Amazon and Apple.