Francis Onwumere is the business and product developer for Prowork Collaborative Product Management, one of Africa’s startups that participated in the 2013 VentureOut Challenge. In this interview, the developer spoke on how startups need to prepare for pitches, lessons learnt from 2013 VentureOut Challenge, and Prowork’s expansion plan for Africa.
Briefly talk about how Prowork came into existence
Prowork is collaborative project management solution for business. We observed that many businesses were losing productivity and money as a result of improvising their project management. Typically, project activities were scattered across different improvised media like email, SMS, Skype, etc. To keeping track was a lot of work. Now even when some companies paid a lot to license traditional project management software, adoption was very low across teams.
What solutions are you offering specifically?
We designed Prowork to be a unified platform for project management and collaboration. We made it easy to use, mobile and ubiquitous. Prowork is real time and available on mobile, web, API and SMS for offline scenario.
Prowork comes with full task management features; like scheduling, delegation, and workflow. Prowork also provides business insights like team performance tracking, reporting and predicting project risks.
We have a flexible billing system that fits different business sizes from small, medium to the enterprise.
How has the response been so far?
The response has been emphatic. We are growing very fast and we are working to keep conversion at par. Prowork has Over 10,000 users and a growing number of paying companies from mostly emerging markets.
Our target market is currently Africa, even though we still get subscriptions from all over the world, as can happen with cloud based software as a service (SaaS) platforms.
What was on your mind as you embarked on the journey?
Venture Out Challenge consisted of two parts, the internationalization workshop (3 days) and the Pitch sessions (3 hours).
Each Pitch (5 minutes) was interesting, unfortunately we didn’t win the prize for Africa.
The workshop was very engaging and with a lot of quality content squeezed in the 3 days, hardly any time for a breather.
- Entrepreneurs who had successfully take their startup global (Amir Hasson of Oxigen, Phillip Kandal of Skobbler, etc)
- Business model and entrepreneurship university faculty (Prof. David Kirsch of University of Maryland)
- Investment legal counsel from silicon valley (Augie Rakow)
- InfoDev and CRDF Global Facilitators
The workshop had a lot of practical take home, and a lot of value from interacting with entrepreneurs from across the world
Which skill set is essential for developers at such challenge?
I believe you have to think more of the business. According to Steve Blank – “a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model“. Venture Out is about scaling your business model, so you need to have some understanding and practice of the lean startup approach and the business model canvas
How did you prepare your pitch?
Each startup was assigned three mentors. Prowork had the help of Mobola Onibonoje of Alitheia Capital in Lagos, Saadiq Rogers-King formerly co-founder HotPotato and Nodejitsu in Silicon Valley, and during the event, Augie Rakow of Orrick Partners- a law firm that has many years of experience helping startups close investment deals.
The mentors, amongst many other things, listened to our pitch and helped us refine it.
How will it change how you run Prowork?
Luckily we had three days of Venture Out workshop with Professor David Kirsch, of the University of Maryland Business School, who has helped many startups adopt the lean startup model to scale their business.
At Prowork, we will be applying the lean startup learnings from this event, especially in the area of customer development.
Tech and business aside, how will you describe the challenge in terms of fun, and did you get to go round the city?
Moldova is a beautiful country.
Walking is very pleasant as there’s a lot of history and scenery. If you go to Moldova make sure you visit Milestii Mici, http://www.milestii-mici.md/en, one of the biggest wineries in the world.
Did you get any support from the Nigerian government?
Prowork is part of an accelerator programme, Tech Launch Pad, created by the Ministry of Communication and Technology of the Nigerian government, so we get a lot of support from them.
What should we expect from Prowork soon?
Better customer development, stay tuned.
You didn’t win the challenge. What do you think you could have done differently?
Pitching your startup is about communicating different aspects of your business model. We can always improve there.
Are you considering other challenges?
We are always focused on the business. If we find an opportunity like Venture Out to improve the business, we’ll take it.