When it comes to starting up a business in Africa especially Nigeria, many entrepreneurs are sceptical and are most likely to shelve the idea. This was not the case with Merijn Campsteyn, the CEO of Accounteer. He already made up his mind to establish a business that will offer practical solutions to some of the continent’s problems. But he what didn’t know was the destination of the startup. Well, Innovation Village interviewed Merijn Campsteyn and he spoke about how he came to set up shop in Nigeria, winning the Lagos leg of Mest Africa Challenge 2018, challenges of running his startup and much more. Excerpt!
Can you tell us about Accounteer and what it has to offer Nigerians?
Accounteer is an online accounting software made for SMEs. It helps business owners to manage their professional finances. You can create invoices, track expenses, register payments and much more.
What is the motivation For setting up Accounteer?
Accounteer originated from two of my passions. The first one is entrepreneurship. Ever since I was young I’ve always been looking for ways to make life easier and turning ideas into businesses. A second passion is Africa. What I saw is that Africans are very inventive and entrepreneurial. Yet many business owners across the continent struggle to grow.
Access to growth capital remains difficult. The average SME is overpaying taxes. And many business owners don’t have the right data to properly manage their organisations. All these problems can be traced back to the lack of accurate and trustworthy financial accounts.
Even for my own businesses, I was sometimes facing the same issue. Accounting isn’t easy. You need to have the financial knowledge and existing accounting tools are too complex to work with. That’s a situation I wanted to change by creating the first accounting software that was made from the mindset of an entrepreneur. A tool that is easy to use and accessible to any business owner.
How will you describe the reception of Accounteer by Nigerians so far?
The start was difficult. But now the reception is great. One of the big challenges, in the beginning, was the difference in culture. The way you need to approach the market is completely different from one region to the other.
The big game changer for us was when we participated in the Ventures Platform acceleration program and established a local team. They helped us to create awareness and the right go to market strategy. Taking into account cultural differences is key for any business that wants to expand internationally.
You are a non-Nigerian running a business in Nigeria. How will you describe the experience so far? What prompted you to choose the country as a destination to set up your startup?
The choice of Nigeria came a bit by accident. From the start, we already decided to create a product for the African market. During our search for local developers, we came across Andela and teamed up with them. They assigned us a developer from Lagos. From this first contact, we started to expand our team.
Our first connection with Nigeria was a faith of luck and it has proved to be a great asset. Nigeria has a very active startup ecosystem, especially in fintech. We can leverage this ecosystem to build our business. Nigerians are also very open and helpful. Even in large corporates such as banks, people are accessible and open to collaborating. For some, it might sound like a surprise but some of the products we’re currently building in Nigeria we couldn’t build in Europe or the US. The speed of innovation in Nigeria and Africa as a whole is impressive.
Accounteer was among the regional winners of Mest Africa Challenge 2018 and will be heading to Cape town soon for the finals. What do have to say about the win and what are the chances of Accounteer of being named the winner?
We’re excited to emerge winner of the Lagos round. The competition was strong, and we had to meet ourselves with the most promising Nigerian startups. It gave us a boost to know that the judges believed in our project and see potentials in what we’re doing. It’s hard to assess our chances of winning the final round in Cape Town. The competition will be fierce, but we’ll give our best pitch.
What are the challenges of running your startup? Where do you see Accounteer in the next five years?
One of the biggest challenges is people management. It’s hard to find skilled professionals. Especially in a startup phase where you don’t have large budgets to work with. The trick is to find the right team that shares your vision and that is willing to go the extra mile to make the company a success. Running a startup sounds sexy, but it isn’t. It’s hard work, day and night. But if you see that people are willing to share the journey with you and what you can achieve, it keeps you going.
Looking to the future, our focus will be on maximising the value of accounting data. Accounting is at the core of any business. We’re already working with some financial service providers to provide cheaper credit by using financial data to assess the creditworthiness of the business. We’re also working on automating your accounting flows. E.g. automatically importing your bank statements and categorising them. Basic accounting tasks will be more and more ‘robotised’ which is a good thing. It frees up time for entrepreneurs who can now focus more on growing their businesses.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
Test your hypothesis as soon as possible. It’s a mistake we made ourselves in the past by waiting too long to launch a product into the market. As a starting entrepreneur, you need to do things cheaply. You need to turn your idea into a profitable business before you run out of funds. You do this through rapid experimentation. Create a prototype, test it, improve and iterate. Yes, your first attempts might look like crap, but you always have early adopters who are willing to give feedback and help you move your product in the right direction. It’s those who fail fast and learn even faster that will make it to the end.