Ghanaian tech entrepreneur says good relationships are everything in business

One of the emerging trends – in Ghana in particular and Africa in general – is the growth of technology entrepreneurs. One of these is the young Ghanaian startup, DreamOval Limited, led by its 31 year old co-founder and CEO Derrydean Dadzie. DreamOval develops internet and mobile software solutions and provides a payment platform for banks and telecom providers. The company has grown to include 25 employees since its inception in 2007.

Derrydean Dadzie

Derrydean Dadzie

Dadzie started DreamOval at the age of 24 and in 2011 he was recognised as Ghana’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2012, DreamOval was awarded the National Youth Achievers Gold Award in ICT. Anthony Sedzro sits down with Dadzie to talk about his entrepreneurial journey and some of the lessons he has learnt.

Describe what DreamOval does and give us a profile of some of your clients.

We build software for companies in banking, agriculture, shipping, telecoms, and for individuals.

We have built software for bill payments, online banking, mobile banking and others. We provide software for five banks, including Ghana’s biggest bank, GCB. We also partner with mobile telecom operators and port authorities and others.

We have mobile agriculture software that sends SMSs to 20,000 Ghanaian cocoa farmers, to [help them] increase their productivity.

What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?

I have always had an entrepreneur in my persona and also in the way I do things. From my childhood to secondary school days, I’ve always helped people and I’ve always wanted to try better ways of doing things and taking up opportunities.

The software company I worked for was okay, but I thought we needed to deliver services in a different way, be on the internet, use new technology and deliver our existing services in a channel agnostic way. I reckoned, being on the internet, we could go global… These were the kind of suggestions I brought to the table, but they were not ready to move along with me. So when my friend approached me, I thought it was an opportunity to do the things I believed in. Four of us thus started it together.

How did you finance your startup and what was the process like?

Funds came from friends and family and personal savings of the co-founders. We didn’t spend a lot of money on ourselves… A classmate of ours donated money to us and we bought our own wood and with a carpenter’s help, made our own furniture. A colleague’s uncle gave us money to rent a small office. The passion was there and that was what drove us.

Considering your young age, what is the ripe time to become an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurship [comes from] within. Your challenges and how you perceive them determine how you take opportunities around you. There’s no specific age, but to succeed as an entrepreneur you need to know people. So your life should be built around building good relationships with people.

You need to let people trust you and it can only happen through the way you talk, approach people and the way you show them what you know. That process should be started from a very tender age and that forms the basis of becoming a good entrepreneur. You don’t build a successful business around products. A successful business thrives on good relationships.

What mistakes did you make and how did you learn from them?

Initially you want the business so bad that you don’t care about agreements. You need to take legal agreements seriously. You also need confidence for people to trust you. We didn’t care about relationships, as we felt that once the product was good people will just like it. In other words we did not put adequate emphasis on business model excellence but rather focused on product features and related elements. The challenge with this approach is that you would have built a great product without the corresponding viable business framework to support and drive it.

Describe your dreams for the future.

We want to go global by expanding our territories and partner network. We have partners in Singapore and Kenya, plus relationships in USA that contribute immensely to our bottom-line. We also want to set up a technology campus called “Dreamville” to train and raise technology entrepreneurs. We have already acquired the land, and are working on it.

What advice do you have for first time entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship starts from your childhood. But if you position yourself well as a person and build your reputation and good relationships, you will do well. For startups, don’t make product excellence your premium but get the whole business model right.