Every day, millions of people around the world jump on social media to share content, catch up with friends and have fun.
But for all the free and engaging content we create on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, how many of us actually get paid for our work?
That’s right. None!
And this is why I’m very excited about today’s article. Two bright African entrepreneurs in Nigeria have developed a truly amazing app that will finally get us paid for creating interesting content on social media.
It’s called Skits.
In this article, you’ll meet the impressive entrepreneur behind this innovation. He shares his startup journey, his vision and inspiration for the app, and how he intends to stand out in the crowded social media space.
More importantly, Ugo has done a really good job of sharing his battle stories from the front lines of entrepreneurship – his struggles, challenges and all.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got the inspiration to develop Skits
I studied computer science and mathematics at the State University of New York at a point in my life when I actually used to be a pretty hardcore coder. I remember a time when, while working on a project back in undergrad, my teammate and I finished a class at about 10am and stayed back in the lab, working non-stop till 9am the next morning when our classmates walked back into the lab and found us there, sitting in the same chairs, wearing the same clothes and with nothing but each other and a few empty pizza boxes for company.
Shortly after undergrad, I did a master’s degree in Information Systems Management at the London School of Economics, transitioning into a career in the financial sector. I learned a lot and enjoyed working in finance, continuing to corporate and project finance after I returned to Lagos (Nigeria).
I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, mainly because it excited me to think I could create something that would potentially impact millions of people.
In 2012, I did an MBA at INSEAD and focused squarely on starting a business, originally with an idea to leverage smart meters to deliver value added services to households. The sheer capital requirements in the power sector were prohibitive for me, so I moved on, but remained determined to ideate.
The inspiration for Skits came from other ventures I had interacted with that used incentives to drive consumer action. I believed that this dynamic could be extended to the direct interaction between brands and consumers, and over the following two years through research, market testing and tireless iteration, and with a great deal of support from family, friends and a growing founding team, Skits emerged in its present form.
Today, the product is eons away from the original idea.
My co-founder, Jide, has a BSc in Economics from Madonna University, Okija and qualified as a chartered accountant at PwC in Lagos. He was accepted to do an MBA at IE business school in Madrid, but deferred his plans to join Skits.
His thirst for entrepreneurship started in his undergrad days when he designed and sold handmade greeting cards and also ran an airtime business on campus. In 2012, he also left fulltime employment to set up on his own. While providing freelance consulting services to startups and not-for-profits, he worked with startups such as DealDey and Abuja Tech Village, and larger businesses such as Etisalat and portfolio companies of Kaizen Venture Partners.
Jide and I have been working closely for some time now. When he and I met, he immediately connected with the dream in a way that challenged and improved our thinking and he has now assumed responsibilities for optimising processes across our operations and managing financial reporting and control.
Together, we are supported by a team of very competent designers, developers and marketing specialists, and a board of directors that helps guide our vision as we charge ahead.
How did you overcome the inertia to get started? What were your main roadblocks?
Most would-be entrepreneurs, especially those with financial commitments, have difficulty restructuring their lives around the zero-income reality of startup life.
Our situation was a little bit different. I started my MBA knowing that I wanted to launch a business immediately afterwards, so I never applied for a single job while at business school. Instead, I constantly researched and planned my business idea and prepared for the challenges ahead. The day after graduation, I was essentially broke and unemployed, so I had nothing to lose.
At least I thought so.
Our main challenge, by an overwhelming margin, has been funding. I had won some money in a venture competition that helped us get started, but it ran out before we properly got a move on and it was difficult to bootstrap Skits because of how complex it was to build.
Fortunately, we were able to attract some investors who provided our initial angel funding. But we were treading uncharted waters with this new and innovative product, so we invariably made a few wrong turns along the way that escalated our development costs.
We also experienced some inadvertent friction with family, who although genuinely supportive, still maintained that we would be much better off in stable paying jobs.
Investing the time needed to build a compelling product and keep costs under control, while constantly running out of money and having to regularly remind our loved ones how our vision could create value was like trying to run a marathon in the Sahara wearing undersized flip-flops.
It was foolhardy to believe we had nothing to lose. I, personally, have nearly lost every strand of my sanity.
Tell us about Skits and the thoughts that went into it.
What can it do? What’s its strongest appeal? Why a social app? Who’s the target audience? How does it stand out against social incumbents like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook?
Across social media, users have fun creating and promoting all forms of social content every day. Our proposition is essentially the opportunity for users to get paid while creating and promoting fun user-generated videos and building lasting and meaningful impact for brands in the process.
Opportunities to earn on social media are typically limited to celebrities and influencers with 100k+ followers. But fun and creative content could come from even the most obscure users with few followers — the real challenge is reaching an audience.
Social sharing is our solution for that.
Basically, Skits allows users get paid for creating videos that get featured by brands, but also allows users get paid for promoting user-generated videos that have been featured by brands. This leads to branded user-generated videos, widespread distribution and organic engagement for brands, and pays users for doing things that they already enjoy doing.
The very essence of Skits is social and we expect it will be highly appealing to people aged 16-30 who engage actively on social media, but we also believe that it could provide casual entertainment to people across various demographics.
Versus the incumbents, we offer a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that is truly unique, allowing users immediately monetize their content without the need to invest in building a massive audience.
We have also tried to make the UI/UX (User Interface and User Experience) quite seamless. The camera lets you tap the screen continuously to record numerous short clips that get stitched together into a sort of stop-motion video.
The income-earning and self-actualisation opportunities on Skits also mean that we are making a social impact with this venture.
What’s the plan, and where do you see Skits in five years’ time given how fast social media evolves?
We have a long journey ahead and we are truly just getting started.
Our primary focus for now is Nigerian users. After we build a loyal and engaged user base here, we will look to penetrate certain other markets that we have determined to be suited to our proposition.
Given the emerging prominence of mobile video in social media, we believe we are making the right bets. We are getting ahead of some very powerful tailwinds. We just need to do our very best to remain nimble as the world evolves and we look forward to enriching the lives of all of our users in the process.
What’s the single biggest lesson you’ve learned from the app development business?
Never underestimate the complexity and scope of your product, but at the same time, be careful not to overreach.
The most difficult aspect of the development process is determining the USP, scoping the feature set required to deliver this USP and thoroughly detailing every realistically likely use case. Yet, this is by far the most important step. Indeed, it is more than important — it is vital.
Another lesson is to know when to pivot your product, a complex decision that must be driven by a mix of external signals and intuition.
Honing this intuition is the reason why you must take time to understand your vision for your product. External signals are easier to acquire through user testing, but only a clear and resolute vision will give you the confidence to concede to these signals or defy them.
Any advice for aspiring African entrepreneurs, especially those in the tech market?
In Nigeria and Africa, the startup ecosystem is nascent and the available venture funding is desperately shallow. Although it has been said before, it is worth reiterating that propositions that do not present a clear route to early monetisation will rarely make it off the line.
Second, it is important to persist through every single struggle. The moment you decide to start out on your own, you have something like 60 days to fail. Every day that you make some sort of achievement buys you time and every day that you achieve nothing worthwhile counts against your 60 days…and that’s counting weekends. Stay positive, be confident and just keep showing up every day for your new venture.
Most of all, manage your health the best you can at all times. Falling ill has become unfathomable for us because we know that if we ever do, then every day that we are out of commission would be like pausing to jog on the spot during our Sahara marathon.
Ready to take this app for a test drive?
Skits is available for FREE download at the Google Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.skits.
iOS users can visit http://m.skits.com to sign up online. An iPhone app will soon be available.