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BellaNaijarians, Share Your Thoughts on the Most Talked about Tech Story of the Week, “How Andela was founded…”

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Andela Co-Founders Ian Carnevale, Christina Sass, Iyin "E" Aboyeji and Jeremy Johnson

Andela Co-Founders Ian Carnevale, Christina Sass, Iyin “E” Aboyeji and Jeremy Johnson

It was one of the biggest stories in the tech world last week. The first investment by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a $24 Million Series B round of funding into Andela.

What’s Andela you ask?

Andela provides companies with access to the top 1% of global tech talent. They identify high-potential developers on the African continent, shape them into world-class technical leaders, and pair them with companies as full-time, distributed team members. From Udacity to Microsoft, companies at all stages have partnered with Andela to accelerate their product roadmaps while minimizing time spent interviewing, on-boarding, and training new hires.

This was exciting news on the Nigerian startup scene as many believed Andela has strong Nigerian roots with Nigerian co-founders and much more.

However, as the press on the investment was published, Nigerian tech and startup enthusiasts were disappointed to see that there was barely a mention of the Nigerian co-founders in the major press including news stories in Forbes and Inc Magazines online.

For example, this excerpt from the Inc article was scrutinized,

The idea for Andela came to Johnson and co-founder Christina Sass after he visited Nairobi on his first trip to Africa, in early 2014. Johnson was giving a talk there on online education, the focus of 2U, his previous startup, but while on the trip, he was blown away by all the talented individuals he met. After brainstorming startup ideas with Sass and following a second trip to Africa, Johnson said he was restless and incapable of sleep just thinking about the possibilities of Andela.

Those who had followed the Andela story from a Nigerian perspective were left scratching their heads.

While this photo used in the Forbes article was also analyzed.

Andela Ceremony

Where were the Nigerian co-founders they asked?

As a reaction to all of the above, articles including this one on “Why Andela’s Nigeria Story is Important” by OoTheNigerian went viral.

Andela co-founder Jeremy Johnson tweeted this in support of Andela’s Nigerian history.

Now, we get to hear the full story from Andela co-founder Iyinoluwa Aboyeji as he published this on Medium yesterday.

Read below.
***

“How Andela was founded…”

Last week was a huge milestone for African startups.

A company jointly founded in Nigeria and the U.S. is getting a significant investment and attention from Mark Zuckerberg — one of the most important people in Silicon Valley.

During such a pivotal moment, it is important for me to share Andela’s history and inspire many other entrepreneurs through my story of failure, success and collaboration.

In 2013, Ian Carnevale, Nadayar, Brice and I started Fora, a distance learning platform for African universities. We reached out to Jeremy Johnson because of the similarities between his company at the time, 2U, and what we were hoping to build in Africa. We met at his office in NYC and then stayed in touch. From time to time, I would ask for feedback and he became my mentor.

In early 2014, it became clear that Fora wasn’t working as we had hoped. We were unable to raise the capital we needed and I did not have the political networks to break through various regulatory barriers we faced. After a long dry spell chasing elusive investors in Nigeria, we finally raised a small round from Extreme Startups — now HIGHLINE.VC.(Marcus Daniels, I love you and I owe you forever). This round was small but it gave us some months of runway. I had two options — pivot Fora before the cash ran out or die. Many of you who are entrepreneurs know this moment too well.

At this crossroad, we reached out to Jeremy again to ask for his advice. He had just gotten back from a trip to Nairobi to give a talk for the MasterCard Foundation. He had been invited out by Christina Sass, now one of Andela’s co-founders, and while there, he started thinking of how one might scale high-quality education without charging tuition.

We met up at the Fresh and Co. on 28th and Park in NYC and I told him Fora wasn’t working. We kicked around a few rough ideas and he walked me through one which would eventually become Andela. He promised to personally fund us and join our board if we were willing to consider it. I told Jeremy to give me 24 hours to think about it and talk to my team.

My team was intrigued and inspired by the model, though it was risky. Ultimately, Nad (one of my co-founders at Fora) convinced us that the new model was even more aligned with our mission to empower young Africans to take back the continent through education. The next day, we got on Skype and told Jeremy we were in.

Initially, we figured we would just try to pivot Fora as planned — we even ran the first recruitment and bootcamp as Fora. However, we quickly realized that Andela was actually a totally separate company, so we decided to start anew and wrap up Fora. Around the same time, Jeremy realized that he just couldn’t stop thinking about Andela, and told us that if we were interested, he would leave 2U to co-found the company with us and lead it day-to-day.

I was very excited to have Jeremy join full-time as our CEO. First, I knew I could learn a lot from working with Jeremy. Second, 2U had just gone public and he was (and still is) easily one of the highest profile entrepreneurs in education. Raising capital for a crazy, unproven idea like ours would be a bit easier with him on board. I do not, for a second, regret that decision. As our remarkable success in such a short time has shown, it was the right move.

Shortly thereafter, we convinced Christina Sass, who Jeremy had originally tossed the idea around with in Nairobi, to join us as well and drop out of her PhD program at Harvard. (Crazy eh?)

At this point, we decided to wind down Fora and create a totally separate company, called Andela, with Jeremy, Christina, and the four co-founders of Fora — Ian, Nadayar, Brice and I. Brice and Nadayar were essential to launching Andela. In fact, to begin training the first Andela Fellowship Class, we bought Nad a one-way ticket to Nigeria with a few days notice. He literally up and left his life in Canada on a whim to make this possible.

Despite having to shut down Fora, many of our early investors continued to support us. Some, like Pule Taukobong and Idris Ayodeji Bello, even re-invested in Andela. Today, we joke (not really) that Fora’s early investors have first dibs on investing in my startups for life.

What am I getting at? Andela is a story of people from all over the world coming together to solve a problem. This is one of our primary strengths as a company, and in part why we have attracted investments from great people like Zuckerberg. There would be no Andela without all of these people — two Nigerians (myself and Nadayar), two Americans (Christina and Jeremy), one Canadian (Ian), and one Cameroonian (Brice) — making huge sacrifices to bring it to life.

Andela started in Lagos, Nigeria, in Mrs Titi Adeoye’s (shout-out to her!) vacant duplex in 33c Cameron Road Ikoyi, which she handed us for free for our first two months thanks to a hook up from Yvonne Johnson — an early Fora Investor. The early days were really rocky and we have a lot of people to thank for keeping us alive when it mattered most. I especially need to shout out Bosun Tijani of Co-creation Hub, who gave us free meeting, office and interview spaces, Mr. Oyedotun, who gave us his office in Fadeyi to use, and Mr. Eke, who found us a place to lease for a month on Connal Road, among other early Andela supporters. It is because of all of you, and many others, that we are here today.

Many people have asked why the parent company is based in the U.S. The truth is that while it is possible to build a global company from Nigeria, it is very very difficult. While I have faith that this will improve, Nigeria is still a notoriously difficult place to operate and invest in from a legal point of view. So, since it has always been more important to us to change the world than to make a political point, we incorporated Andela in the U.S.

It is important for my story to be told to inspire other Nigerian founders who can multiply this success. As Andela, we can always do a better job of highlighting our roots in Lagos, clarifying the role of our global hub in the U.S., and making sure our story is told correctly. I care very deeply about that, which is also why I am writing this. It is tough to make sure the press, across multiple countries, tells the entire story from our point of view in 500 words or 30-second clips.

Two years ago, who could have thought a crazy twenty-something-year-old Nigerian from a humble middle class family could co-found a global company from Nigeria funded by THE Mark Zuckerberg? There had to be a melding of people, cultures, and circumstance for this to all happen and I am grateful to have built an amazing team, partnered with supportive investors and worked with outstanding colleagues who have made Andela what it is today.

So let’s celebrate the history we have made and then focus on what’s important — building the future of this continent.

We have work to do.

Best,

E

***

BellaNaijarians, we’ll love to hear your perspective!

14 Comments

  1. aurora

    June 21, 2016 at 11:19 am

    ‘…while it is possible to build a global company from Nigeria, it is very very difficult.’

    that is the real problem

    • damilola

      June 21, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Talk about determination and perseverance. Wow, I love hearing stories of how a company started but this one stood out. Building a global tech is extremely difficult let alone in a place like Nigeria. I’m extremely proud of this team.Thank you for many who contributed and believe in this amazing vision. I’m specially proud of Iyin and Brice, it gives me hope there are many underground Africans working hard to make a difference.

  2. Oma

    June 21, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Wow, so impressive and inspiring

    Bella Naija please check your settings, your ‘NEXT PAGE’ button is routing to Pepsi facebook page…

  3. oluwatosin Ogunbowale

    June 21, 2016 at 11:31 am

    I have been and have close contact with Andela staff,the company is doing really well. Congratulations guys!,well done

  4. Naijatalk

    June 21, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Happy for you Iyi, proud of you. Hard work and determination pay.

  5. @edDREAMZ

    June 21, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    a.k.a EDWIN CHINEDU AZUBUKO said…
    .
    I really want to be interested in all things mentioned here but if i remember the forces that will decrease my interest eg. No light and excess internet then what is the point in developing interest….
    .
    .
    ***CURRENTLY IN JUPITER***

  6. LemmeRant

    June 21, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    You see the problem.

    Now ask yourself, which Nigerian Investor will drop half of that amount for a startup business, just based on its potential.

    All of them want popular profit making companies they will invest 1 million naira in today and be making 10 billion naira next month at outrageous interest rates.

    Congrats man. Ride on. This what we’re talking about, not all those mtn, etisalat, uber people that will come here with their condescending attitude.

  7. ti

    June 21, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    oh my God,i just passed by your yaba office,my curiosity made me check in dere,i said to myself,”i would google up this name once i get to office& herw i am on bella naija with the answers,THUMBS UP guys,buh your security& reception is average.

  8. Yumz

    June 21, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    It is this mentality that is holding a lot of Nigerians back. How about rsing out of your circumstances, going the extra mile to do something notable and worthwhile instead of making excuses. You think Iyin didn’t face power problems and internet issues when trying to set up Andela here. He could very well have run back to Canada but no he persevered. My point is using Nigeria’s circumstances as an excuse for not doing great things is old. Get with the program!

    • Yumz

      June 21, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      This was a reply to Mr EdDreamz in Jupiter!

    • aj

      June 23, 2016 at 2:30 am

      looool are you minding ed dreams?

  9. Tosin

    June 23, 2016 at 3:41 am

    ah, ok, the backstory. respect.

  10. IJS

    June 23, 2016 at 5:10 am

    Ah congrats…I pray the money is used well and it becomes a really profitable businesses

  11. Countess

    June 23, 2016 at 9:12 am

    I totally understand his decision about the company. I run my own business and because of the ideas we have, only people abroad see the potentials and keep sending us messages. Nigerians don’t know how to invest in a idea because they can’t create anything. Great minds will leave this country because we refuse to see potential. Our attitude of i need my investment back in one year frustrate young entrepreneurs. If you notice, the investors don’t just.give money.but influence and incredible value of knowledge and skills set. Let’s focus on what’s important
    They have suffered enough.but let’s allow them to enjoy the fruit of their labour. Another issue here is the mentality of CEO. You are a CEO and you can’t lead yourself let alone a team. What he has done is very smart. He is learning from the best and watch out for him in 10yrs time. Kudos

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