Last week, I failed to bring you an episode of “How It Started”. I didn’t plan well, and last minute efforts to get guests failed. This week, I bring you a startup which most people have now come to know, SynCommerce. I spoke to Christian Osei-Bonsu, the CEO. Enjoy.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Christian Osei-Bonsu. I am the CEO and co-founder of SynCommerce, and a graduate of University of Ghana, Legon in Information Studies and Philosophy.
How did you get into tech?
I think I got into tech pretty late. My actual introduction to tech was in the Senior High School, when we were being taught computing at the computer lab. Then I got into the university to learn Information Studies, which further introduced me to just a bit of programming. After that introduction, anything I would come across, any challenge I would face, I would be thinking of how I can solve that with technology. But the challenge is, I didn’t know enough. Information Studies didn’t offer enough programming tutelage for me to try out the things that were running through my mind. Together with a friend, we sought “extra classes” with a TA for actual programming lessons in C+. We had limited time, the TA also had limited time, and not much progress was made. Then a roommate brought me a MEST flyer, and my decision was made. I thought it was just what I needed, and I guess I’ve never looked back.
How did you get the idea for SynCommerce?
Two of our co-founders interned with an eCommerce startup in the Meltwater Incubator whilst we were still at MEST. They quickly realized that a lot of merchants are already selling on multiple sales channels, and there are many who keep expanding to multiple. But this came with several challenges, chief of them being keeping everything that’s happening on all the channels they are selling on in sync. SynCommerce emerged from the insight that SME merchants need a solution that will allow them to automatically manage their selling processes from one place, and automatically keep their data and inventory synchronized, without switching from platform to platform.
What was the biggest barrier to starting; how did you overcome it?
I believe the biggest challenge was that none of us co-founders had ever really been online merchants. And it wasn’t something we could just jump in and try it first hand to get the experience that we needed. Why because we were targeting the Western market for a start – US, Canada, UK, and the rest of Europe – and we couldn’t just start exploring the online selling experience in that space. So even though we had discovered this huge need of merchants, we still lacked a certain level of understanding and knowledge in that space that would make it easier to build a system to solve the problem. We had to rely on a lot of research, reading, constant interaction with our initial users, and a lot of testing to overcome this, and to be able to build a solution that will suit them.
What was your first sale, and how did it happen?
It was from a US company called Vertcapital which had an online retail shop called DressNotes. We had launched our beta app in June 2014. We had quite a good number of merchants install from Shopify to help test it, give us feedback, and improve the app. About three months down the line, we believed we were ready to start charging, still in beta. And on November 4, 2014, DressNotes upgraded to pay. They actually had three different accounts with us, and eventually ended up paying for all of them. It was truly an exciting moment.
What’s your current work routine like?
Currently, I’m almost always thinking about growth. So I spend most of my time with our data and analytics, to see what we can do differently or improve to grow more, and scale. This also helps me to better understand how our merchants are using our system and the necessary changes and improvements we need to make product wise. Acquisition and engagement is also another thing I spend some time on, visiting the forums of the channels we integrate, social media, researching and writing blog posts, to keep the very initial source of the funnel constantly flowing.
Who have/what has inspired you the most?
No particular person to be honest. I just pick gems from whoever I come across that I believe will be helpful to me in this life. But I do think God, my belief in Him, and the Bible do inspire me a lot. I am sort of never really bothered whatever befalls, because I know it will all always work out for good. You see, in this world that is filled with so much uncertainty, you need that bit of certainty that I believe can be found only in God.
Best advice you have received?
One that immediately comes in mind is a quote I read some time right after the university, and I have carried along with me ever since. It was by one philosopher called Friedrich Nietzsche, and he said “He who has a why to live, can bear any how”. If you have a reason, purpose to live and do whatever you do, then you can bear whatever comes your way, and keep going till you achieve it. I believe I don’t easily give up.
What’s a current problem you wish there was a tech solution to?
Two. I would love to be able to transfer money between different mobile money wallets. It doesn’t matter if it’s MTN, Airtel, or Vodafone. I should be able to send and receive money.
And I would love for there to be an easier way for Ghanaian companies to build solutions and receive payments for it here in Ghana, from the outside world. Why doesn’t Paypal work here? Why doesn’t Stripe work here? I direly needed this, and I believe it’s about time there is a solution for it.
Tell us something interesting about you few people know.
Few people know, ha, that makes it hard. I like music a lot, and I think I’m a good singer too. I’m in the choir at church, and in an a capella group as well.
I also think a lot of people who don’t know me get surprised when they see me play soccer. I believe I’m usually quiet and calm, so they least expect me to be that active, or that good with it as they put it. But I love soccer, and I try to play it at least every Sunday to keep fit.
Which Ghanaian apps do you use often?
Promolante. It help me to keep track of the numerous different short codes by the telecommunication networks we have. It as well helps me to know some of their promotions and services out there that I can take advantage of. I don’t remember if I use any other.
Which part of the day do you enjoy the most?
The early morning hours, it is my most effective. I spend most of my time in the office. So early in the morning when I wake up, I’m able to get a lot done without the distractions of driving from home to the office, and the traffic issues that comes with it. Also without the distractions of meetings, or discussions with other team members on something we are working on.”
The How It Started series looks at tech entrepreneurs in Ghana and how they began working on their ideas. The series is aimed at encouraging our readers to start working on their ideas, and also to hear the untold stories about tech companies in Ghana. Enjoy!
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