Elo Umeh is the CEO of the Nigerian-based Terragon Group, a mobile marketing company. In 2018, the company closed a US$5m funding round led by Africa-focused TLcom Capital, with participation from other investors.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
My toughest business decisions were made when we decided to start the Terragon business with little or no capital – the stage I refer to as the … [zero to one] stage. It was also the stage when we decided to move from being a medium-scale enterprise to a large-scale business, which we can call 10 to 100.
At both times, the capital for what we were trying to accomplish wasn’t available – and in no circumstance would it have been adequate for execution. However, we went on to grow the business to a highly profitable position with about 100 staff.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
Founding Terragon and being brave enough to keep it at the forefront of emerging digital technologies on the African continent and globally.
In the second stage, we identified a changing market need that required the business to re-allocate our existing assets and also develop enterprise-grade software to harness the emerging opportunity in the African market … [with regard to] marketing and technology.
At the time we took this plunge, we were well aware that the capital required to deliver on this opportunity wasn’t readily available to us. Then, we went on to raise $5m in series A. The key learning I took from both experiences is that “money follows vision” – and not the other way around.
As market pioneers, we provide a platform for some of the best minds to solve African problems and create value for various stakeholders in the business. Through the Terragon platform, we have a strong pool of talent, due to the attractiveness of the problems we seek to solve, as well as a strong platform for talent development, which Africa urgently needs.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I used to struggle with focus. I am an opportunist and I spot business problems every day and can potentially go on to solve each of these problems with an economic platform. However, in the early days of Terragon, I discovered that these problems will never go away.
Africa is a hotbed of challenges, which will continue to be the case in the foreseeable future. Based on that understanding, I decided to channel all my discipline and focus into solving the big problems in data and marketing technology on the continent. In this way, the challenge of the problem helps strengthen the focus, resolve and determination to deliver on this quest.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
The economic principle of the imperative of the four factors of production – land, labour, capital and enterprise – is becoming increasingly challenged. As technology and digital advancement continue to be the norm, folks who are able to dissect through the conventional thinking of having these factors in place will be in the best position to create and capture value.
When I discuss entrepreneurial ventures, I also think about how these factors can be reallocated or entirely eliminated.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
The idea of the CEO as a benevolent dictator, and the loneliness and thanklessness of the job.