Ghanian tech startup Dropifi is a new web messaging platform which replaces the ‘contact us’ form on websites with a real-time widget that finds out the purpose of the enquiry and sends it directly to the right people. It streamlines the communication process and eliminates spam. The company has won a number of awards for its innovation, including the title of Best IT Startup in the world in the Kauffman Foundation’s Global Startup Open for 2012.[hidepost=9][/hidepost]
David Osei, co-founder and CEO of Dropifi, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of How we made it in Africa’s questions about innovation and entrepreneurship.
How did the idea for Dropifi come about?
The idea of Dropifi was inspired by the need for easy organisation. I once requested a business card from one executive. The piles of cards he had to wade through while looking for his card, amongst that of others, was enormous. As an entrepreneur, I thought this was a problem and an opportunity as well. I figured out then that collection, organisation and storing of business cards must truly be a huge task. I then started thinking about a software that could make that much easier and that was the genesis of today’s Dropifi. Dropifi, as it is today though, has evolved based on the ideas and suggestions from co-founders, customers and advisors.
How did you finance your startup and what was the process like?
Our company started out of Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), a timely initiative by the Meltwater Foundation. After just three months of training in the programme, we secured funding of US$50k and moved into the Meltwater Incubator where we received guidance and mentorship.
This was as a result of winning the very first Accra Startup Weekend competition where we pitched Dropifi. The founder of Meltwater, Jorn Lyssegen, saw huge potential in the idea and enormous talent in the team after we emerged winners in the competition.
Briefly describe what Dropifi does and who are its customers.
Dropifi seeks to clear out the era of long and scary contact forms that deny businesses valuable feedback and leads, while delivering business insight and a spam-free experience to customer engagement. This all works from a simple contact widget for websites.
Our service offers a way for online SMEs to offer more effective customer support, generate more leads and gain extensive insight into their customer interactions for better decision making. Using the Dropifi contact widget, companies can see incoming message trending data in relation to industry metrics, see the demographic and social media profiles of the message senders, analyse the real emotions behind the messages they receive, and easily integrate with their existing CRMs, e-commerce and blogging platforms. We have already launched our integrations for Shopify and WordPress platforms.
We currently have over 400 clients, 90% of which are e-commerce sites located in the US, UK, Canada and India.
Who is your competition and what is Dropifi’s competitive advantage?
In both the high and low ends of the market in which we operate, our main competitors are Contactme.com, Uservoice.com and WebEngage.com. They offer contact forms and/or survey services and very scanty tools for companies to engage their customers online. We however differentiate ourselves by offering the simplest and most user-friendly application that provides features that are more tailored to the needs of our clients – lead generation, extensive insight about customers and their interaction, and a simplified but effective customer support tool. Our advanced analytics, sentiment analysis and personality discovery features set us apart.
Describe some of the challenges of running this business
Just like every venture started before, we are not without challenges. The biggest challenge we’re currently facing is fast growth, a good challenge to have all the same. Our customer base is growing very rapidly and this has posed a challenge on two fronts, firstly we have to hire the very best people very fast and secondly we need to have enough cash to keep our servers running at Ferrari speed.
To allay the situation we are raising funds from a couple of investors. Quite a good number have shown interest but we have to do our due diligence first. We want to raise just enough to take us to being cash flow positive in order to hold onto our shares. With cash out of the way we will be recruiting about four full time employees.
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
My entrepreneurial journey was inspired by the need to see change. There is the mindset of completing school and working for a big company, which I thought was not worth the fuss in our national development. There are teething problems the continent is confronted with; I see opportunities in all of these problems and therefore entrepreneurship to me is a tool for solving these problems while creating jobs and effecting the necessary change that will propel the continent.
Looking back, what mistakes have you made and what did you learn from them?
When starting Dropifi, I wanted to do everything. I wanted to lead the company, to write software, to manage the daily business, manage the finances and basically everything. It didn’t help the company and it also created a lot of confusion between the co-founders and me. What helped is when I had to fully trust my co-founders to execute in the areas of their strength. What I did learn from this is the importance of having a company culture. When a startup develops a culture of trust, transparency and respect it creates a more lively and productive environment.
What’s your greatest fear as an entrepreneur?
The fear of treading the path of failure and not knowing it. It is okay to fail, but it is not okay to not know when you are failing. You need to know when something is going wrong and what is causing that very thing to go wrong.
If you could offer a first-time entrepreneur only one piece of advice, what would it be?
The one advice I will offer to a first-time entrepreneur is to follow his/her interests. As the world continues to advance, new opportunities keep springing up day-by-day, many of which will be tempting because of their potential return in money terms. I am driven by my interests. I do what I do best because I love what I do. Winners are self-motivators and for me, nothing motivates me more than my love for what I do.