Start-up: Asoriba (Ghana)
Asoriba is a web and mobile platform that helps churches to better administer their affairs and engage with members. Started by four Christian co-founders (Nana, Saviour, Patrick and Jesse), Asoriba last month won the Ghanaian leg of the Seedstars World competition, and is set to compete in the global pitch in Switzerland in March 2016 for a shot at winning US$500,000 in equity investment.
How we made it in Africa spoke to Nana Opoku Agyeman-Prempeh, co-founder and CEO of Asoriba, about opportunities in Africa’s multi-million dollar church industry – and some of the lessons he has learnt as an entrepreneur. Below are edited excerpts.
1. Tell us about your company.
Asoriba is a web and mobile application developed to ease church administration and enable seamless member engagement. The church industry in Africa is worth a billion dollars but there are not many solutions targeted at solving challenges churches face. I am a pastor’s son and so is one of my co-founders. We have served in the church and seen first-hand the many challenges administrators face. They revolve around communicating with a large congregation, organising and managing events, overseeing operations across multiple branches and managing and reporting huge amounts of money. Asoriba is designed to fill these gaps and meet the needs of churches in Africa.
We have signed up more than 100 churches in Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, even the US, and have registered 5,000 church members. Churches pay a monthly fee to use the software depending on their size. The least amount is just $9 per month. We also charge for the in-app contributions and payments, and in the future we will deliver Christian news that will come with sponsored content. Churches buy real estate, they buy equipment, they buy vehicles – so there is nothing strange in churches buying software.
The opportunity is big because the younger generation is taking over leadership and they are keen to adopt new technologies. And churches are constantly expanding, which makes management even harder. There is a genuine need for new technologies to address the emerging challenges churches face today.
2. If you were given $1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?
We would invest in a bigger team to improve the sales force and the payment system in Asoriba. Alternatively, we would buy a payment systems company that is doing well. Getting the payments aspect right will enable church members to easily pay monies to their churches and enable church branches to send remittances to their headquarters. It would also make it easier to expand faster across different markets which have different payment wallets.
3. What risks does your business face?
One of the major risks is integrating the different payment tools available in different markets and the different languages across Africa. We need to have market-specific products. In Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, they speak French while in Tanzania Swahili is the official language. So we have to adapt to the realities in each market if we are to achieve pan-African success.
4. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?
Apart from direct sales, we have recruited independent sales partners who are basically everyday people interested in making extra money on the side. They recommend and sell Asoriba’s software to churches and in exchange we give them $25 and 10% of the cost of software. When people sign up as independent sales partners we give them training. They do not have to give us any money – we only need passion and a results-driven attitude.
5. Tell us about your biggest mistake and what you learnt from it?
I started a cabbage farming venture which failed. I thought I could remotely manage a farm through other people – but soon realised that farming, like any other business, requires your constant presence and 100% attention. You have to get your hands dirty, not attempt to run the show from miles away.
I was fortunate to be a part of MEST where I learned several lessons, especially in my final year studying for my Master’s degree. I was very theoretical but after joining MEST I learnt how to turn a solution into a product or service and monetise it. I also got a deeper understanding of code and how technology works.
6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.
It must be meeting my co-founders – Saviour, Jesse and Patrick. When I met them I had just completed my Master’s degree and I was contemplating going into employment. But I figured I would probably never meet people like them again so I decided to take the opportunity and start a business with them. They all have unique sets of skills, they are passionate and very committed to Asoriba. I would say working with them has been very exciting.