Nigerian-born Temitope Ogunsemo, 33, is the founder of Krystal Digital, a fast-growing educational technology company that specializes in the creation, development and deployment of customized and service oriented software applications for educational institutions in Nigeria.
Founded in 2010 in Lagos, Krystal Digital’s flagship service, MySkool Portal, a web-based application for School Information Management System designed for proper storage and documentation of school data, has been adopted by more than 50 Government-owned High schools in Nigeria, and has more than 65,000 active student users. Krystal Digital now has more than 150 employees and annual revenues of more than $3 million.
I recently caught up with him in Lagos where he recounted his early beginnings, mused on the journey so far, and talked about Krystal Digital’s plans for the future.
What’s your educational and professional background?
I am an alumnus of Kings College, Lagos. I attended the prestigious University of Ibadan and also went ahead to obtain a Master of Science degree in Information Management Systems from the University of Salford, UK. In 2010, I answered my lifelong call of entrepreneurship when I and a group of consultants founded Krystal Digital. Today, Krystal Digital is one of the leading IT Companies in Nigeria.
What is Krystal Digital? What would be an elevator pitch for someone who does not know about your company and your services?
Krystal Digital is a fast growing ICT company which specializes in the development and deployment of customized and service oriented software applications as well as IT training. The Company is focused on strengthening the application of ICT in the Education sector, especially the Basic and Secondary Education Sub-sector.
Krystal Digital is popular for its MySkool Portal, your flagship School Information Management System for secondary schools in Nigeria. What was the opportunity?
The idea that would spawn Krystal Digital was initiated when I attempted to secure my academic transcript. It was a difficult and frustrating experience. It was then I saw potential to develop a School Information Management System that would not only improve the storage/preservation and retrieval of academic records but would also position these schools to harness the benefits of digitization.
How many schools in Nigeria today are utilizing your MySkool portal? Give us a profile of your clients?
Our products and services currently span across 48% of the Federal Government Colleges in Nigeria. The MySkool Portal Platform runs in fifty Federal Government Colleges across the federation. Most of the Directors at Krystal Digital are products of Unity colleges and we were availed high-quality education and orientation. This played an important role in grooming us into what we are today. Unfortunately, some of these virtues are fast disappearing and it became imperative for us to ensure that technology became an intrinsic part in the education management system in Federal Unity colleges. This is probably one of the reasons why our focus at the moment is on Federal Government Colleges.
Walk us through Krystal Digital’s business model. How do you make money to keep the lights on, and where do revenues stand today?
Our aspiration is to drive growth in the Education sector by building a leading sub-Saharan IT organization. In delivering quality services we have modeled the structure of our business to ensure it is aligned with the needs of our clients and how they would rather be served. Our business model has three inputs: Our people, Our operations and Innovation. Our intellectual capital is critical to provide innovative solutions. We rely on the ability of our people to innovate and collaborate with each other and our customers to develop value-adding solutions. We are also committed to conducting our business transparently and ethically by managing our business process towards ensuring a positive impact on the society.
The organization no longer relies on the Myskool Portal solution as its main source of revenue as Krystal seeks to augment its financial structure by championing the Krystal/Microsoft Imagine Academy. Notwithstanding we have achieved strong revenue growth in what continues to be a complex business environment. We have annual revenues of more than one billion naira – roughly three million dollars.
How has Krystal Digital managed to grow so rapidly? Were you bootstrapped or did you raise outside funding at any point in time?
Organic growth is the term for growing internally and Krystal Digital has embraced this strategy over its existence. Our unparalleled reach affords us low-cost competitive advantage to partner for growth with clients in our various locations. We grew our solutions organically from zero into one of the most profitable IT education solutions in Nigeria. Innovation is ingrained in our collective DNA— we learned to innovate in order to survive. Surviving also bred an ability to focus, a focus which translates into capital efficiency because we are self- aware enough to stay within our bounds. Money isn’t spent on hair- brain ideas, dumped down the drain or spent ad-hoc or random opportunities. We keep Innovating internally at a fraction of the cost, while cherry-picking strategic investments which tightly complement our core business.
You have recently invested up to $1 million building digital IT academies across various secondary schools across Nigeria, and you’re working in partnership with Microsoft to teach Nigerian students Microsoft Professional Program courses. Tell me about this.
“The world is a Global village” is a saying that could almost be taken literally today, but it is becoming a daily reality in Nigeria and across the Sub-Saharan region. With the increase in mobile devices and cheap high-speed internet which serve as platforms for many socio- economic technologies, the new educational technologies are yet to revolutionize most of our schools. This has led to a growing divide in access to the vast opportunities that abound in this sector. To achieve the transformation we desire in our education sector, it is our responsibility to ensure that we invest in technologies that are effective in improving learning outcomes. We believe that accelerating the adoption of technologies in the classrooms will empower teachers to improve education outcomes, help bridge the digital divide and, most importantly, provide students with the education they need to transition into jobs in the knowledge economy. We have deployed a tripartite strategy to successfully implement this program in various partner institutions; Training, Infrastructure deployment and Mentorship. Our partnership with Microsoft Imagine Academy would provide us with quality education training resources on Microsoft technologies to help Institutions, faculty and staff (Educators) and its enrolled students obtain the skills needed to reach their academic and career potential. It would also prepare students and educators to earn Microsoft certification credentials. We have already commenced our IT training programme in Twenty-four (24) Unity Schools. In these schools, we have provided the infrastructure that will allow for increased individualization of learning; students have access to technology tools that adjust to their attention span and provide immediate feedback for literacy enhancement, which is currently not fully implemented in the Nigerian School system.
How do you see your solutions evolving in the next five to 10 years?
In the kinetic enterprise, the only thing constant is change. We are constantly rethinking how we envision and deliver our solutions. We are very much in touch with the pace of innovation globally and where we are not leading new ideas and disruptions, we would be certain to be in touch with the trail. Ultimately, it would be about reaching more Nigerian students and improving on the technology, platforms and our people’s capacity and expertise.
How is Krystal Digital making a difference in education, and what do you believe is the state of education in Nigeria these days?
I answered this earlier when I mentioned our interventions across the country. We also have projects catering to the academic and technological needs of Nigerian students. As for the state of education in Nigeria, it is there for all to see but we are not in the business of talking about problems, we are in the business of providing solutions!
What are your views about the growth of Education Technology industry, and what is technology’s role in education?
It’s clear that technology will play a central role in nearly all aspects of our lives. Research by the World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children entering primary school will find themselves in occupations that today do not exist. By 2020 it’s estimated there will be 1.5 million new digitized jobs across the globe. At the same time, 90% of organizations currently have an IT skills shortage, while 75% of educators and students feel there is a gap in their ability to meet the skills needs of the IT workforce. To prepare the talent needed for the digital economy, education must adapt as fast as the demand for IT skills is growing and evolving.
What unique challenges have an Edu-tech company like yours encountered in doing business in Nigeria?
We have been confronted with significant obstacles which have impeded our development. The ICT Infrastructure deficit is a major constraint. This reduces our productivity by 40%. Poor perception of ICT basically because of the lack of education generally in Nigeria about the potential of technology and also due to the lack of solid implementations of technology. The cost of running a technology company in Nigeria is too high which greatly reduces the probability of us releasing any technological hits. Embracing technology in Nigeria, would mean embracing transparency. There are a lot of people excited to flip the system on its head, hence if you show up with a software that promotes efficiency in certain institutions, you might be met with blank stares. Despite many obstacles to success, we would continue to strive to close the digital gap in education.
What’s the next five years looking like for Krystal Digital?
The opportunities ahead for Krystal Digital is vast but to seize it we must focus clearly, move decisively and continue to transform. With no plans of slowing down, we will bolster the economy through job creation, existing and new investments in education technology. With our partnership with Microsoft, we will expand our Krystal/ Microsoft Imagine Academy initiatives that is designed to improve digital literacy among students. We believe deeply in the power of the Nigerian ingenuity and we will focus our investments in areas where we can have a direct impact on job creation and job preparedness. We have a deep sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who help make our success possible.
What’s your personal leadership philosophy?
I believe in leadership by example, by positive reinforcement and by action. The single most important asset of Krystal Digital is its people. As a leader it is my job to know the staff, support their professional development, take an interest in them as individuals and recognize their achievements. I also encourage creativity, freedom of action and innovation as long as these efforts are consistent with the mission, values and goals of the organization. There is never a moment in which I am not learning. I am comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming. I promote learning and make it integral to the organization’s DNA. Lastly, the most important job of leadership is to develop leadership. I try to make every individual feel proud of what they do, understand how their job contributes to the overall development of the Organization and feel that in some way they too can provide leadership.