Thrive Agric Limited had a really difficult 2020, and it had a lot to do with the economic challenges wrought by the Coronavirus pandemic. As a matter of fact, the pandemic had a particularly severe impact on the company’s business operation, so much so it was almost forced out of business.
What exactly Happened to Thrive Agric in 2020?
At the start of the year, Thrive Agric had big plans and high expectations for its agritech business. Its marketing team was hard at work with targeted adverts, encouraging potential investors to “purchase 2 units of a poultry farm worth N85000 per unit at 15% returns”. Expectedly, many Nigerians rushed Thrive Agric’s investment options. These were mostly young professionals who were on the lookout for the most guaranteed, less-risky, and high-yielding investment options available.
Everything seemed to be going so well according to plan until it wasn’t. The pandemic hit Nigeria in March, around the same time the planting/farming season was supposed to take off. Along with the pandemic came a 2-month lockdown. And even though essential workers (including farmers) were granted exemptions, everything was never quite the same. Eventually, the challenges posed by the pandemic resulted in Thrive Agric’s crowdfunding business approach to backfire. The company soon found itself in a fix.
Fast-forward to months later, a lot of Nigerians who invested in the YC-backed startup were already expecting their Returns on Investment (ROIs). But nothing was forthcoming. As a result, many of them began to complain. These angry customers ensured to make their complaints public on Twitter, with some of them going as far as labelling Thrive Agric a “Ponzi Scheme”.
One of the customers (@theprincelyx) who incited/led the backlash against Thrive Agric on social media, used some pretty choice words when he wrote the following:
“Thrive Agric is owing me almost a million naira. They are owing other investors millions. Thrive Agric is telling me to wait till 2021 to get my investment that was due in Sept 2020.
“Basically, a pyramid payment format; they are telling some investors to wait till 2022. Thrive Agric is trying to use COVID-19 as an excuse; meanwhile, they have been owing since March, before the lockdown. This means that people who invested late last year are still being owed. If they are owing those people, what’s the assurance that they’ll pay us? NONE.”
It wasn’t long before the matter attracted the attention of the media. And of course, various journalists covered it from different perspectives, all while asking the question: will investors ever get their money back? Thrive Agric said they will get their money quite alright. However, it will take some time. In the meantime, the company also put in place certain measures aimed at ensuring that its obligation to customers eventually gets fulfilled. One of these measures was the appointment of Adia Sowho as the company’s interim CEO. Her job is to transform the company and help it resolve its challenges. Business Elites Africa reported that Sowho took over from Uka Eje who co-founded the agritech startup in 2017 and served as its CEO for three years up until the troubles began. Eje has since continued to function in the capacity of Chief Operating Officer.
This Year, all Eyes are on Thrive Agric for obvious Reasons
One of the things Thrive Agric’s management ensured to do amid the backlash was to remain as transparent as possible with their customers. The company acknowledged customers’ complaints and frustrations, explained reasons behind the delay in payment, and assured everyone that they would eventually get their money.
“We are doing everything to make payouts happen as fast as possible, this is an urgent priority for us. To make this possible, we are aggregating all debts, inflows, and outflows to prioritize all subscribers’ payouts. We have also raised bridge funds via institutional investors who recognize our track record to hasten these repayments.
“We are now making payouts in batches based on farm subscription due-months. A subscriber due in September will be paid alongside other September subscribers regardless of the exact due date. After September subscribers are paid or refinanced, October payouts will commence and so on,” the company said in a statement.
Checks by Business Elites Africa show that Thrive Agric has truly been paying their customers in batches. However, a lot of people are yet to get paid and for this reason, all eyes are on the company. But most importantly, a lot of people are interested in witnessing the company’s bounce-back from this unfortunate 2020 experience. Will Nigerian investors still be willing to put their money in the company this year, considering the recent and unfortunate experience of other investors in 2020? A company official who spoke to us on condition of anonymity said this is very possible.
“I believe we will bounce back. Nigerians will trust us again, especially because of the way we have handled this issue very transparently. They also understand that 2020 was an exceptionally difficult year for everyone. Mind you, Thrive Agric is not the only agritech startup that struggled in 2020. Virtually all of our competitors struggled to repay customers. HoCorn is still struggling to repay people. So, it was a general problem that never happened prior to 2020. Together, we will overcome the problem and bounce back stronger than we’ve ever been.”
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