Following years of struggling to turn his e-commerce brainchild, Konga, into a profitable venture, and with investors unwilling to continue to fund the promising startup, serial media and tech entrepreneur Sim Shagaya had no option but to sell it off.
The e-commerce company was founded in July 2012 with headquarters in Gbagada, Lagos State to be the leading one-stop-shop online retail company and marketplace in Nigeria, but it was a long, hard journey.
Despite attracting funding from the likes of Investment AB Kinnevik and Naspers for various funding rounds to the tune of over $100 million, including a $40 million Series C round, which at the time was described as one of the largest single rounds raised by a single African startup, the e-commerce startup failed to turn in the expected profits as it recorded losses year on year.
After six years and following its spate of losses, Konga was eventually sold off to Zinox group as its major investors decided to stop funding the business as it was written off and the cash being generated could not sustain its operations.
However, Sim Shagaya can be likened to that man who falls down 9 times and rises up each time, given the number of failed tech startups he has under his sleeve.
Sim has been involved in birthing five tech companies so far (DealDey, GoMyWay, Konga, E-motion Advertising, and now uLesson) with four of them ending up in distress and having to either shut down or sold off after a number of years. While DealDey was sold off to Ringier Africa, GoMyWay was shut down and E-motion Advertising was sold off to Loatsad Media.
Interestingly, the five above aren’t the only ones Sim has been involved in.
Other startups he has birthed and left are: Alarena.com, a dating site; Jobclan.com, a job site; Gbogbo.com, a classified site; and a media streaming service, iNollywood.com.
On why these platforms have failed, several issues come to the fore: funding, a challenging business landscape, and being way ahead of their time.
Sim himself explains thus in a 2010 interview: “My first Internet startup was in 2005, iNollywood.com, which sought to distribute Nigerian movies over the Internet. Although it did quite well because we had a few Nigerian classic content, it failed for a number of reasons, most notably because at the end, the timing was not right.”
Sim is a graduate of George Washington University, where he bagged a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Electrical Engineering. He also has a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts in 2003.
Before his entrepreneurial adventures, Sim’s work experience spanned over 10 years in new media and investment banking. Upon his return from the US in the early 2000s, he had a brief stint with Rand Merchant Bank South Africa before moving on to Nigeria, where he became head of Africa for search giant Google and Lucent Technologies before launching e-Motion Advertising in November 2005.
He has a cumulative total of more than 12 years of entrepreneurial and managerial experience spanning platforms such as DealDey, GoMyWay, Konga, E-motion Advertising, and uLesson.
After the failure of all these businesses, Sim appears to be hitting it right with uLesson, an edtech company that provides teaching videos to students.
Founded in 2019, it immediately raised a total of $3.1 million in a seed round led by TLcom Capital and subsequently raised $7.5 million in a Series A round in January 2021 led by Owl Ventures.
The edtech startup has made significant progress in West Africa and has promptly made moves to expand to eastern and southern Africa. During its Series A launch in January 2021, Sim said,
On his startup’s African expansion, Sim Shagaya had this to say, “Africa is not one place. Different needs, cultures, and curricula mean that uLesson has to carefully and deliberately think about how to design products and distribution channels to serve such a vast market. Almost daily we receive emails from families across the continent asking us to make services available to them. And in 2021, we will.”
Sim was mentioned as one of the 10 Most Powerful Men of 2014 by Forbes and was appointed as a member of the Economic Advisory Council by the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, in 2019.