Truth be told, nothing prepared me for the unusual experience I had with Samson Abioye when we first had a direct interaction that led to an Innovation Village exclusive interview. This happened after his startup, Pass.ng was named as one of the winners of Airtels Catapult A Startup competition. Today, while thinking about his sudden death at the age of 25, I just had to go down memory to February 2015 when I first spoke to Abioye.
I could vividly recollect that my boss did the introduction and we got the interview underway. My question was on his feeling about the startup’s achievement. I started on that note to establish a common ground and to get his unguarded approach to handling success, comparing it to what I’ve come to describe as the pseudo celebrity mentality of Nigerian startup founders.
Instead of gloating and boasting about his startup’s achievement, he was rather humbled by it.
“I feel very privileged and excited to be one of the winners,” he told me.
Just few days before this, I interviewed another startup founder that was shortlisted for this particular competition. He was so proud and started giving me the pride vibe even though he was yet to be announced as the winner. So you could imagine the strange weird feeling I had when Abioye said he considered the success a priviledge. He was also magnanimous in victory as he recognised the other startups that pitched at the event.
“We all had a great pitching session and there were wonderful ideas on stage,” he told me.
Like several other Nigerian startup founders, Abioye had more than his fair share of disappointments and failures. To start with, he went to LAUTECH. Then he lost in MTN apps challenge back in 2014.
“I didnt give up hope, we kept working and God smiled on us,” he told me.
Yea, I forgot to tell you he’s a Christian – his Yahoo email username is “samsung4christ”
My interactions with him also revealed he wasn’t solely focused on money, he wanted to create value and make positive impact instead which I consider to be a very important lesson for Nigerian startups who only look at telecoms and other big corporate organizations as only capable of giving them money. Abioye saw this differently.
“What we are getting from Airtel is beyond money, they are giving us penetration to their already existing users so we can get our product to the market easily and quickly. The privilege to build on their infrastructure due to the relationship is of great value to us,” Abioye told Innovation Village.
I also knew that he had the best interest of his startup’s users at heart and was focused on ensuring they have the best experience without going through too much stress which is quite foreign these days in the ecosystem where the focus is more on the product and not the enduser. He shared the experience in 2014 when Pass.ng had to send thousands of people to bank to pay NGN300 for the company’s product.
“Many complained because of the stress and cost of going to banks relative to the cost of the app. But right now, they can pay in-app…all Airtel subscribers can now pay for our product through their airtime, and we are working on some options for other telecoms users. This alone is a big impact for us,”the late Abioye said.
I also tried to figure out what he considered to be his number one priority in his company when I asked what he considered to be unique about the company. He told me in beautiful words that it was the team.
“We have a very good team that I love to call the Dream Team. All our products are developed in-house. We started this project back in university, we all sleep together under the same roof, go to night class to program and we sleep in the office. It was all fun and challenging anyway. We studied computer science and engineering in school and with our technical capabilities we are a team than can change things on the fly! Fix bugs on the go and break new grounds,” he said.
He also had a perfect understanding of his product, the ecosystem and competitors. He also knew what needed to be done to get the desired results.
Regarding Pass.ng’s ecosystem, he said: “Help students learn with problems. No matter how much students read before exams, they need to take a mock before the exams. This will help in seeing where they lag behind. We are making the approach fully mobile and social. Also due to internet cost in Nigeria, many students cant afford it; Airtel is making the site zero rating. That means students can browse and learn from the site without data charges, this we believe will help more students to come on board. Forming an online library is another strategy to look into whereby students can have access to the needed textbooks for materials to study better.”
When I heard of his demise, I went back to the transcript of the interview to ascertain whether he was able to achieve his target before he slumped to death. According to him, he wants to make Pass.ng the Number One e-testing and exam preparatory platform in Nigeria.
“To achieve this, all major examinations must be on the platform and most importantly our success stories from users must be compelling. I hope to see the best students in different exams attest to the usage of Pass.ng as one of their prep tools,” he said.
Although not all the best students in the different exams are attesting to the usage of Pass.ng, the company is making impressive impacts in the ecosystem and it would have to forge ahead with achieving its CEO’s dream even without it.
PS: Normally for me, after publishing an interview, I rarely hear from startup founders. Which was why I was shocked when I received an invitation to connect on LinkedIn from Abioye on Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 12:45 PM. He also wasn’t afraid of asking for ideas about running his company as shown in this radar post on Pass.ng’s tutor marketplace.
RIP Abioye, sleep on.