Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho Presents Futuresoft Nigeria: A Full Service Digital Agency and IT Solutions Company

Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho presents Futuresoft Nigeria, a full service digital agency and IT solutions company, providing a broad range of business solutions for the scaling African enterprise. She also shares her assessment of the digital space in Nigeria and mentions some of the company’s success stories, as well as current projects and her vision for the future of the digital sector and Futuresoft.

Interview with Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho, CEO of Futuresoft Nigeria

Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho, CEO of Futuresoft Nigeria

What is the major challenge for you to boost your business?

We do a lot of consultancy for organizations that are looking to digitally transform. This is an area that is still a bit new and is also happening all over the world where you have organizations that are doing these major transformations and major shifts in order to be futureproof and remain relevant in the future. That would be great if we can lead that into digital skills because in order to actually digitally transform as a company or as a country, you really need to have the human capital to back that up. When I look at my own personal brand, the goal is to position myself as a thought leader, to position myself as an expert within the field so that I can attract opportunities like board seats, sitting on a committee, speaking engagements, etc. A lot of it is focused on impact, on really making some type of change when it comes to policy, and being able to position myself to be able to have an input when it comes to policy discussions because if we do not change policy, we are not going to change much.

What is the Google startup mentoring program?

Google has a mentoring program that they offer to startups globally called Google for Startups Accelerator. Startups can apply to the program and if they get into the program, there are all sorts of different activities that they get put through. Part of those activities is that they get matched to a mentor and the mentor then mentors them for a period of time. The real focus is to get businesses to the point where they can raise investment, where they have positioned themselves properly within their target segment, they have good business models, and they can scale their businesses. I mentor across different mentoring programs. I have mentored in Lagos Innovates Women in Africa, in the Meltwater MEST Incubator last year, the Founder Institute, etc.

What is your assessment of the digital space in Nigeria?

Technology, if used in a strategic way, is the only accelerator for socio economic development. For me, it is important that we understand that at all levels within the private sector because it is the only way that we can really scale our businesses.

The digital space in Nigeria has really evolved over the years and we have been a player in that space for the last 13 years. The reason why we started Futuresoft was to put African businesses on the map. We used to just sell hosting and help people develop their websites to ensure that they could start having a digital footprint so that they would be found on Google. From there, we extended our services into becoming a full service digital agency. The way that the company has evolved is the same way that digital and the requirement and the need for those services has evolved as well. Six, seven years ago, if we had told people that we can help you manage your social media, they would have said it was a waste of money. Why would they want to do that? There were very few brands that would trust us if we said this is what they should be doing. Those brands are still reaping the benefits of investing into their digital presence really early and investing into their social media presence at that stage. There is still a really big opportunity for anyone who works in digital marketing or digital solutions in Nigeria because there is still so much work that needs to be done when we look at some of the solutions and marketing campaigns that are being created on a global level. There are a lot of innovative solutions that we have seen in the local market, but there is always room for improvement. The consumers are very different. The adoption of technology and of digital is a bit slower in some areas and then much faster in other areas which means that there has been a lot of having to figure it out. These trends are similar to the global trends, but sometimes completely different where you have to approach your segment very differently simply because the level of knowledge around digital technology is either lower or the expectations of what a solution should do are much higher than in other places. If we look at the FinTech industry, for example, there are many applications that we have seen come out of emerging markets like Nigeria that are much more advanced than what you see in Europe or in the US. That is because we are a mobile first economy and we are looking at what can we do on the mobile phone before we look at any other medium. That changes consumer behavior in ways that are so fast and so rapid and so permanent. That is really where the beauty and the exciting part of my work is – being able to create services and solutions for the African consumer, ensuring that African brands are able to position both locally as well as globally, and ensuring that they are able to attract the stakeholders that are important for them, which are customers, partners, suppliers, subcontractors, and vendors locally, Pan African, and globally. This makes me really happy because that is really what I started doing 10 years ago. It was all to put businesses on the map and ensure that they can get benefits from having an online presence. I am really excited to see where the future takes us on this journey. It has definitely been a very exciting 13 years looking at the change and the evolution that the digital sector has gone through. The COVID pandemic has accelerated this even more, where every single brand now is thinking about how they can harness the power of digital, how we can engage our consumers, ensure that our consumers can buy our products, that we can educate our consumers, create brand awareness. There are so many different reasons why a brand would go online, but now, the coin has dropped for everyone and everyone is really ready to take on that journey which is really exciting because there were many brands who are still very traditional. Now, everyone is on that digital bandwagon. I think we are going to see very exciting things in the next few years.

How do you stand out from the competition? What makes you different?

The first thing is that we really focused on b2b companies. A lot of the time when you think about digital marketing, you think about marketing direct to the consumer as opposed to marketing to other businesses. We have experience in direct consumer as well, but a lot of the businesses that we have worked with have to use digital very differently. Some of these industries such as medical services and legal services are regulated here and they are not allowed to advertise or be seen to be advertising which means that you have to be really creative in how you create content for them, what type of things you can put on their social media, because the wording is not allowed to sound “salesy”. That is one area where we have built quite a lot of expertise. Another area where we have built expertise is in digital event marketing. Even before the pandemic, we have done a couple of promotions and campaigns for conferences. During the pandemic, with a lot of the online webinars and online conferences, there were a lot more clients that needed those services. In the last 12 months, we have really honed those event marketing services. The third thing that makes us different is that we do not walk alone. We believe very strongly in partnerships and what we have seen over the years is that there is a huge overlap between digital and PR, a huge overlap between digital and traditional marketing. You really cannot stand alone as a service. We have very strong partnerships with a traditional marketing agency as well as a PR agency that allow us to not only provide digital solutions, but to actually provide integrated marketing communications solutions together with them. This is one area where a lot of companies are struggling. We may be three different agencies, but we have worked together for the last eight years, so when we come together, we come together as one team. Our team members know each other, they know how everybody is supposed to work together, and that makes a really big difference compared to when you have three completely different agencies that do not know each other and that are actually competing for a slice of the pie. This has been one of the unique value propositions that we bring to the table – if you need a little bit more than just digital, we can deliver that as well.

The three agencies you bring together are digital, media, and PR?

You still need that experiential part of marketing, so either direct marketing or marketing in terms of events. We do not create events or do direct to consumer marketing in terms of face to face marketing such as doing activations, handing out flyers, etc. We are purely digital. A lot of the time, your consumers really need to see you across all of these different touch points in order to be able to buy into your product or buy into your service. So, that partnership really allows us to create that omni channel experience in a very seamless manner because we are all working with the same strategy that we have co-developed and we are all working together and checking in with each other. So, if there are events that are happening, digital will amplify those events. If there is anything that gets published in the papers, digital will take that and amplify it so that it gets a wider reach. We can ensure that our clients actually get the best results. When you work with three independent agencies, there is always a lot of fighting, but everybody should really focus on what their core is and not try and take other people’s lunch. In this partnership, we all met working together for a client on a project and we have all become friends since then and we have never looked back. We have worked together on many different projects that we have done really well simply because we have worked together and we would not have been able to deliver the value that we have delivered by ourselves as individual agencies.

Are you looking for investors?

I run a startup called ScaleUp Africa. We have raised our angel investment, but we are going to need a lot more capital to actually scale the business and build out our technology. By next year, we would probably be looking for investors that are focused on education or financing for education and are really looking to support a company that primarily wants to make an impact, but also wants to create value and revenue as well.

What are some of your success stories?

One of the most important things when you lead a company in a sector is to be able to contribute to that ecosystem and be able to shape that ecosystem. That is usually done through policy. Through the work that we have done and the recognition that we have received for the work that we have done, we have been able to contribute to the industry policy discussions and I have represented the company and served on different policy committees through the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, the Technology Thematic Group, which is now the Digital Economy Thematic Group where I am still part of the leadership and still very active in the digital skills, and the E Government Policy Group. For me, when you are able to not just contribute through the work that you do but transcend that and really contribute to the industry to help drive policy in the direction that you think will be beneficial to the industry, that is what is really important and what industry leaders should be doing in the first place. For me, that is one of the biggest successes because that is where we can contribute long term impact to having a voice and being able to contribute our views to what we believe the right policies for Nigeria as well as the continent should be. In a lot of cases, I have been able to speak at different policy focused conferences. I have spoken at the European Commission, the African Development Bank meeting in 2018 that was held in Busan in South Korea, I have contributed to many industry focus panels and conversations at Harvard Business School, as well. Just having a platform and being able to ensure that we first of all are able to also give Nigeria and the Nigerian technology space a face and positive stories as well as the knowledge that we can bring to the table is really, for me, more important than a big project that we might have done. The real impact is in being able to tell African stories and being able to shape policy.

What are your current projects?

There are two key things that I am working on currently. First, we have just launched our call for applications for ScaleUp Africa. We are currently shortlisting for the first cohort of 2021. This year, we are looking to give student loans to 100 individuals that are under 30 to launch their careers in the technology space. That has been very time intensive and very exciting because we are privileged to meet so many young people with amazing dreams and amazing visions and hopes for their future, to hear their stories and how they want to contribute to their country. The socio economic development is really rewarding and really amazing. The second thing that I have been working on this month is a personal branding course. We realized that there were a lot of individuals who started to create content and started to try and build their personal brands outside of their companies or in collaboration with their companies. But, what we saw is that a lot of them did not have a strategy. You need a little bit more than just doing random Instagram lives in order to create a strategy that actually works and that takes you closer to your goals. So, we started a consultancy that basically uses the methods that we would use to position a corporate brand – a mix of digital and PR strategies and tactics in order to position individuals. We had quite a lot of different individuals that we have worked with before – entrepreneurs and people who are executives in corporate – and they have started executing their brands, but we also had a lot of people who came to us and wanted this service but could not really afford it at this time. There were so many ideas, and in the end, we settled on creating a course which will hopefully be available in the next couple of months. We are hoping that that will help executives and entrepreneurs to build their own personal branding strategies and ensure that they can win at whatever it is that they have set their mind on. I am a believer in having a really strong personal brand that can support your business as an entrepreneur. As an executive, it is important to have a personal brand because more and more people want to know who is behind these big companies. If you are the CEO, they want to know who you are, what you care about, what is important to you. They want to know a little bit more than just your name and your title, which means that you really have to put a lot more effort into how to position yourself and think beyond that. Personal branding can unlock so many opportunities for you. If you look at really big personal brands, like Sheryl Sandberg, for example, apart from being the COO of Facebook, she has her own community, she has written several books, she does speaking engagements, she sits on different Boards. All of these opportunities came because she put herself out there and because she branded herself. She is still an executive and it helps Facebook with their own image with the fact that they have such a strong COO, but then, she is still able to build her brand outside of the organization. That is really what we want to be able to help African executives and African entrepreneurs to do as well.

Project yourself to the medium term, three years’ time. How do you see the company that you are developing? What is your inspiration and what drives you?

For me, it is really being able to make an impact. I am half German, half Nigerian. I studied in Germany and I was privileged to study computer science. Taking that knowledge back home to Nigeria and just seeing that knowledge can unlock so many opportunities really inspired me to want to figure out how to close that digital divide, how to truly leapfrog, how we can become not just consumers of technology, but creators of technology. For me, that has always been my focus because I think that human capital development and empowering people through technology and empowering businesses through technology and empowering governments through technology is really the way that we can take ourselves from where we are as emerging economies and really become drivers of the global economies and position ourselves in a much stronger manner. Technology, if used in a strategic way, is the only accelerator for socio economic development. For me, it is important that we understand that at all levels within the private sector because it is the only way that we can really scale our businesses. If we can use technology to scale, it also means that we are able to create more value in terms of more jobs, in terms of paying more taxes, etc. With the bigger institutions we have, we can attract bigger global partnerships or sell our solutions to the rest of the world. We also need to as a people know about digital technology and have the right digital skills so that we can play within this digital economy and contribute to building value for our countries. At the country level, if we strategically use technology to empower our people and empower the private sector and deliver government services, we will be able to unlock so much more wealth than we have ever done. Technology is the new oil. My hope is to be able to speak to all of these different stakeholders, individuals, business owners, policymakers, people in government, and to show them that this is the potential that technology has. For me, it is that vision of an empowered continent and an empowered country where technology really drives what we do and solves our local problems. In addition to that, when you have people who come to you because maybe they have heard you speak somewhere and they tell you they studied computer science and they now work as a developer because you came to their school 10 years ago, that, to me, is the biggest reward. There is no money that you can give me, there is nothing that you can say, no award. Knowing that I have changed one life and that that life is better because I spent a little bit of time is why I mentor, why I give my time to contribute to policy, why I give my time to contribute to industry discussions. It is really important that we are involved and that we are represented properly. In terms of my vision for the future, when I see the future, I see doing more work along these same lines, especially in the policy space. That is where I feel the biggest impact can be made simply because policies are so important to creating enabling environments for innovation and for the technology ecosystem as a whole. If we do not have these enabling policies, we are not going to be able to grow at the accelerated speed that we need to in order to catch up and then overtake the rest of the world and be able to really become significant players within the digital economy. In my future, there is some level of policy work, for sure but I hope that I will always be able to play at all these different levels, which is why I have different platforms that I engage through to carry the torch of technology and ensure that we use it in the right manner.


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