Tell me about SOLO. What prompted you to set up SOLO Mobile, and how where you initially funded? (How many employees does the company have?)
In 2010 I started a company called Fusion Mobile, which was short lived. We were unable to close funding needed to start a company singularly focused on driving Africa’s first mobile device manufacturing and content distribution company. However, in June 2013 I was approached by Adlevo Capital to partner with a group of experienced mobile telecommunications professional led by Tayo Ogundipe to start a company called SOLO. Tayo Ogundipe is an experienced finance executive with extensive background in the technology and telecommunications sectors working for companies like Ubiquitel, Sony Ericson and HTC. Thus the dream of SOLO was born. November 22, 2013 we successfully launched a mobile device company that provides experience-driven, end-to-end digital content and services to young adults and adults who are young at heart requiring a mobile device that provides convenient, affordable gateway to the widest range of digital content that is delivered on the go, every at blazing speed to the African consumer.
There are so many Smartphones in the market already. What is Solo doing differently from the others?
Companies simply compete today in the Smartphone market on hardware specifications. Prior to 2005, no one saw Apple coming. Today Apple consumes over 90% of the profit in the Smartphone market. However, to the average emerging market and African consumer an Apple device is out of reach due to its high cost. The emergence of an open OS driven by Google had brought commoditization to the mobile hardware market. SOLO is an emerging markets play. SOLO is an experience driven device manufacturer with a vision to provide the best content and services to the African and emerging markets consumer at an affordable price that not only delivers tremendous value for money but also enriches their lives. The foundation of SOLO is built on delivering key value added services in critical enterprise verticals such as education, healthcare and commerce, to mention a few. Today, SOLO offers affordable smartphones bundled with free music up to 20 million songs licensed from Sony, Universal and Warner. This innovation was possible because of partners that believe in the SOLO vision. We also recently launched a Video-On-Demand App available to all Android devices in Nigeria offering the latest Nollywood and Hollywood movies from global movie studios such as Disney, Universal Studios and Sony Pictures. Our go to market strategy was to offer download powered by SOLO HotSpots. This innovation offers consumers to download movies in 3 – 5 minutes. This by far is the best offering in today’s market populated by streaming services where data costs are still extremely high. SOLO innovates by putting the consumer first and that is the premise SOLO was founded on.
You launched in November 2013. How has the reception been so far?
Consumers have received our offerings relatively well. In our first year, we established strong distribution network across Nigeria by partnering with key smartphone retailers. Furthermore, we’ve also partnered with primary eCommerce platforms to drive adoption and sales of our device and services.
Founding a start-up like SOLO must have cost quite a bit of money. How did you raise the finance to set it up, before the January 2014 round of funding from Adlevo and Kuramo Capital?
The initial start costs for SOLO was funded by its founders who generously contributed to its vision. On December 24, 2013 we closed our Series A funding led by Adlevo Capital and Kuramo Capital.
SOLO seems to be focused mainly on Nigeria. Might you be looking elsewhere for growth, say the rest of Africa, or even Europe or North America?
The vision for SOLO is an emerging markets play. Our goal is to expand beyond Nigeria and establish SOLO as an Africa-wide brand offering consumers access to the best content and services on the mobile platform. Furthermore, we will expand to other emerging markets that compliment the SOLO vision.
Are your phones manufactured here in Africa or is manufacturing outsourced to China?
The economics for manufacturing our devices today in Africa isn’t possible yet. Today we produce our devices in Asia. In the mid-to-long term we will explore the possibilities of manufacturing our devices locally in Africa.
I read somewhere that SOLO phones offer owners free access to millions of songs from international, African and Nigerian songs. What are the details of your licensing agreements with the record labels and musicians?
Our commercial engagement with the music labels is confidential. However, we structured our agreement with the music labels to benefit local artists and content producers. Today SOLO Music compensates local music artists and their management companies with an opportunity to generate additional income based on music consumption through SOLO Music thus providing artists an opportunity to promote their music through SOLO Music to increase their earnings potential.
How has innovation changed the way you do business?