Tik Tok has made huge waves when it announced its sponsorship of the Africa Cup of Nations, the continent’s biggest football tournament. Kennedy Ekezie-Joseph, who helped lead Tik Tok’s entry into Africa, is no longer with the company for this moment of triumph. Instead, he’s working on a new startup. Big mistake? Maybe not.

Leaving a fledgling career at the social media giant with big ambitions on your home continent to launch a startup sounds like a suicidal move. But for 23-year-old Kennedy Ekezie-Joseph, who was part of a small group that led Tik Tok’s foray into Africa and was well positioned to benefit from the company’s continental ambitions, it actually wasn’t. the case. This became clear when his startup attracted record seed funding.

Ekezie-Joseph’s startup, Kippa, is an accounting and finance app he founded with Duke Ekezie (his brother) and Jephthah Uche in February 2021. It’s had a meteoric trajectory since its launch in June.

In November, the company raised US$3.2 million in pre-seed funding, arguably one of the largest seed fundraisers in Africa.

Compatible with mobile phones and Whatsapp, Kippa targets small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by providing them with free and easy-to-use accounting software. Kippa then reviews potential funding opportunities and generates revenue by taking commissions and earning interest by lending working capital to businesses.

To date, more than $1 billion in transactions have been recorded by the platform, according to the founders.

“In Nigeria today, there are 47 million SMEs, according to statistics from SMED Analyst. About 280,000 merchants out of that number have used the product. And our goal is over the next five to 10 years to capture as many as many as possible, creating new features, launching new product lines,” Ekezie-Joseph told Bird Story.

As a child, Ekezie-Joseph saw firsthand how the lack of proper record keeping could impact fragile and shock-prone micro, small and medium enterprises.

“My dad had a small business around me when I was born, which he lost. And so for me, that really means a lot to build for a segment that I feel very intimately familiar with,” Ekezie-Joseph said. .

Kippa (a play on book “keeper”) is a mobile accounting app that allows small business owners to track their daily income and expense transactions, issue invoices, provide receipts to their customers, and create marketing materials such as business cards.

The application also keeps track of debtors who owe money to subscriber companies.

When he launched Kippah, Ekezie-Joseph knew from personal experience that he was addressing an existential threat to business. It gave him and his team confidence.

True to their projection, Kippa was an instant hit at launch, striking a chord with thousands of SMEs in Nigeria, highlighting the opportunities and demand for this particular service.

“Traditionally, SMEs have lagged in the adoption of digital technology. What we’ve seen is that digital technology has changed many, many other sectors – healthcare, transport – but the way businesses are run and overall back-office operations are still very manual, they don’t really haven’t changed since the 1960s,” he noted. .

“So what we’re trying to do here is unite the tailwind of deep internet penetration that continues to grow across the continent and smartphone penetration. So, by 2025, Nigeria alone will account for 4% of the total number of new smartphone users in the world. And we think that’s such an exciting business in that companies like ours rely on it to provide tools that business owners can use on the devices they have.

Ekezie-Joseph and his team are now planning another fundraiser to scale the company’s operations.

“So we will be talking to investors over the next two months. And one of the big things we believe in is building relationships early and taking the time to identify the right partners to work with. So if we find suitable investors, we can work with them,” he said.

Ekezie-Joseph was one of the first recipients of the prestigious Yenching Scholarship, an elite master’s program at Peking University in Beijing, China.

A prominent Nigerian debater while still in college, as a 16-year-old freshman, he had already started using his voice to change his community, founding a social enterprise that worked to put end the practice of female genital mutilation in communities and increase access. to the education of young girls.

With two TEDx talks to his credit, a Barack Obama Young African Leaders Fellowship and a Resolution Fellowship and numerous recognitions and accolades, Ekezie-Joseph has a track record of success despite his young age.

A master’s degree from an elite academy at Beijing’s top research university must have made Ekezie-Joseph a shoo-in at TikTok, owned by Beijing-based Bytedance. It was part of Tik Tok’s first expansion into Africa. But the experience at a university that has spawned some of the world’s biggest tech companies and spawned dozens of top global entrepreneurs, may have also given him greater ambitions.

“I was the front line here and had the team to lead our acquisition and growth for business expansions. Africa? We had a few thousand users of the product then. And you know, we’ve gone from 2018 to now being the third most used social app in Africa, with tens of millions of users,” he said.

While acknowledging the economic impact of COVID-19 on the continent, Ekezie-Joseph noted that it has helped fuel the growth of the tech industry and internet adoption in Africa.

“It was the first time that many merchants understood that they could do business online. It was the first time many consumers realized they could transact online with merchants. So it almost helped us overcome the lack of trust around digital tools. And it was super helpful. And more and more people are doing business online now. So it’s very important for our growth as a business,” he said.

Beyond the early conversion of accountants and small business owners, Ekezie-Joseph is the first to admit that there are a lot of hurdles to jump through.

“To get the right people in the door, bring in the most experienced people in the industry and have them work around the table with us to further the mission. And so that means involving the regulators, you know, people will have experience with them and industry veterans. So it’s very important to us,” he said in an interview with the Bird Story agency.

˜ “The second thing is also the execution of our roadmap… the way we think about it last year we built a really solid product and validated its need in the market. where we build processes around that and leverage it and continue to build at breakneck speed for all users and establish our place in the market.

So were there any doubts about leaving TikTok?

“No! The plan was always to eventually go back to Nigeria and create a startup and the onset of the pandemic in China gave me the perfect reason to go back and take the plunge,” Ekezie-Joseph said.

Seth Onyango, bird stories agency