Managing Partner of Verraki, a business solutions firm, Mr. Niyi Yusuf, spoke with Emma Okonji about the opportunities for start-ups to innovate unique solutions that will address African challenges, as well the company’s ambition to work with enterprises and governments across the continent to achieve regional development. Excerpts:
What led to the emergence of Verraki business solution firm and what are its plans to address critical industry issues for organisations?
Verakki is a trade name for Verraki Partners, and it comes from two words; ‘Versorium’, meaning turn-around, and ‘Meraki’ meaning working with soul, with passion. Verraki is an independent entity established by those former leaders of Accenture Nigeria, as well as other people who were previously in Accenture Nigeria and Arthur Andersen. Verraki was born out of the idea that it was time to form an African practice; a professional services firm that is owned by Africans who have global experience, who have relevant skills and who are passionate about taking the required level of risk and providing required level of flexibility that is required to be successful on the continent. This led to us coming together to form Verraki, a proudly African company that is focused on working with enterprises and government to ignite opportunities for change, to unleash and unlock potentials and to work with them to embrace the dynamics and the change in the environment.
The managers of the new Verraki are from Accenture Nigeria and Arthur Andersen. Does this mean that the company still retains the same management and operations as that of Accenture?
Accenture is a global firm operating in multiple countries including Nigeria. Accenture Nigeria continues to be a legal entity and its operations, up until 31st of March 2019, had leadership that included three managing directors, Niyi Tayo, Toluwaleke Adenmosun and myself.
Accenture did a review of its operations in Nigeria last year and we concluded that perhaps there was a need to change the way Accenture is represented in the market and the way it operates in Nigeria for it to be more impactful. We thought it will be best if Accenture now operates through a local entity that will be more flexible, more agile to take on risks while meeting national content requirements. These reasons influenced Accenture’s decision to re-organise its presence, to remain a legal entity in Nigeria but not an operating entity. Accenture considered what is required to be competitive and impactful in Nigeria and is adopting a new positioning strategy. Verraki has been approved as a Business Intermediary of Accenture to deliver services to Accenture clients in Nigeria. Accenture will continue to support and provide services to Verraki, including delivery support and access to specialised skills on projects as applicable. Verraki is an independent entity established by those former leaders of Accenture Nigeria, as well as other people who were previously in Accenture Nigeria and through partnership, we have established Verraki as a new business that we own. Verraki will develop and provide business solutions designed inherently for Africa and specifically fit for purpose. We intend going beyond consulting to invest in the market, take measured risks and develop relevant home-grown solutions that will be needs-based and affordable, offering significant value for money.
This is an incredible opportunity for growth for us in Africa and at Verraki, to expand the business and to be more relevant in the market. Whereas with Accenture we were operating in four or five industries, with Verraki, we will be operating in thirteen industries. With Verraki, we are more risk-accepting and will embrace risks that will improve outcomes for Africa. With Accenture, we could only deliver technology and consulting services but with Verraki we will deliver technology, advisory, consulting, and we will also work with startups in our ventures unit. With Accenture we were only able to work with large companies and matured companies but with Verraki we are partnering with both local and international companies, small, medium or large corporates. This is essentially an expansion of the business and provides an incredible opportunity to leverage our global experience and local insights to work with small, medium and large, local and international companies and governments, across levels of maturity and evolution to make Africa a preferred destination to live and work.
Given your plans to extend your solutions to more businesses, how do you intend to support SMEs?
There are 13 sectors of the economy that we will operate in and we grouped them into three broad markets; Services, Real sector and Social sector and this underscores our goal of working broadly to help transform Africa. In the Service sector we will focus on Banking, Financial services, Insurance, Telecoms, Media, and Entertainment. The real sector comprises Energy, Natural Resources, Mining, Cement, Manufacturing, Fast Moving Consumer Goods. In the social sector, it is an understanding that transformation of the continent will go beyond just services and real sector, it must be centered on human development and so, our social sector practice will look at education, health and public service. We will be working with multi-lateral institutions and governments to improve human development in the continent.
Our focus is enabling Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups by providing talent, building capacity, helping them by connecting them to the right partners to enable market access and providing capital as needed. Fundamentally, they need to know what to do, and how to do it. Verraki will work with them to improve and refine their ideas and validate and build their ideas. We will identify viable ideas. The advantage Verraki has being a local company, is that we can choose the most impactful areas, create a list and prioritise. Our ventures team will be deeply involved in the start-up ecosystem across Africa, from the CCHubs in Lagos, the Venture Platforms in Abuja, the Hackerspaces in Ghana to the SwahiliBox in Kenya. We will identify, invest in and groom start-ups that will serve the African market.
How many start-ups are you willing to work with in Nigeria and how will you identify problem-solving start-ups?
Generally, people believe funding is the major challenge of start-up companies. We think that solutions are solved by throwing money at it, but that’s not true. Business hurdles include access to markets, access to mentor networks and even access to the right tools. Our focus is enabling the start-ups by providing talent, building capacity, helping them by connecting them to the right partners and providing capital as needed. Fundamentally, they need to know what to do, and how to do it. Verraki will work with them to improve and refine their ideas and validate and build their ideas. We will identify viable ideas. The advantage Verraki has being a local company, is that we can choose the most impactful areas, create a list and prioritise. So any ideas that meet the criteria and fulfils that, will be supported. We will have both internal and external ideas from local hubs and individuals from across the network. We will work with our clients, hubs, accelerators, individuals and organisations for innovative ideas for problem solving.
Why has Verraki made the decision to focus and invest more in start-ups and ventures?
A well-used aphorism of one of our advisors is that Africa is a continent that has not yet been built. And this is perfectly true. Every single gap we see in this continent is because a solution has not been provided. So when you have an organisation that says ‘we do not do reports, we create and deliver solutions’ that means that we must have the ability to go beyond the idea and the intention to actually creating the organisations that actually achieve the results, and sometimes, the way to do it, is enabling the capacity, providing the capital, enabling the talent to build, operate and deliver those solutions.
How do you intend to cope with African business challenges?
It is popular for a lot of Africans to downplay their opportunities and throw up challenges. We believe that Africa’s problems present a call to innovate, not a flag to caution. Africa’s commonalities are more than its differences. Even though there are 54 countries in Africa, there are regional blocks and so there are common markets. With the operation of the African free continental trade before the end of the year, the continent will be one big common market with ease of entry for goods and services, people and movement across the borders. With technology, we can provide a mobile telephony service to 60 per cent of Africa’s one billion plus people, developing technology products that serve Africans wherever they are.
Where should we expect to see Verraki in five years?
We want to be a trusted partner embedded in the transformation and operation of our clients. We want to be a firm where people prosper and ideas bloom, where challenges turn into possibilities and where potential turns to performance. We want to be the first-choice company for people who want to start businesses or who are entrepreneurs and want to work in a company before launching their ideas into start-ups. We want to be a professional services firm that provides significant value for money, that is focused on solving the challenges of Africa, that is flexible. We also want to be a company that partners with its clients to achieve what is seemingly impossible.