In a special edition of Betting on Yourself, host Michael Redd partnered with his friends at Empower Africa for an exclusive podcast episode – as part of their virtual networking event – to help drive business and growth in Africa. Guest Harry ‘Tomi Davies (aka TD) is an advisor, author, public speaker, and angel investor.
TD spoke with Michael about a journey that began over 30 years ago with his first startup, what he sees for business growth in Africa over the next ten years, the times he’s bet on himself, and why it’s so important to measure your success in life by the improvements you make for others.
TD mentors entrepreneurs and invests in startups through TVCLabs, a technology business accelerator based in Lagos. He is also the co-founder of the Lagos Angel Network (LAN), the founding President of the African Business Angel Network (ABAN), a board member at MBO Capital, L4L Nigeria, and other various startups in Africa.
To learn more about the amazing things happening to drive growth in Africa – and receive information on future events – please visit EmpowerAfrica.com.
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In this episode Michael and TD talked about:
- TD’s origin story of passion, faith, and servant leadership
- Why he chose to go to college in the US against his father’s wishes
- How the future of Africa is being built by young tech entrepreneurs
- His advice to entrepreneurs in a post-pandemic economy
- How Empower Africa builds awareness to that region of the world
- And more!
- Harry Tomi Davies on Twitter
- Harry Tomi Davies on Instagram
- Michael Redd on Instagram
Harry Tomi Davies: Measure life not by money, but by time because that's what life really is. It is about how you spend the experiences. It is about the moments, the fragments, the long periods that make up your life. And the measure of your life is the improvement it has given to others that it has touched.
Michael Redd: Hey everybody, this is Michael Redd and welcome to the Betting on Yourself podcast, where I interview successful entrepreneurs, athletes, and other top performers who rose to the top, took success into their own hands and bet on themselves.
Michael Redd: Welcome to a very special edition of Betting on Yourself. I partnered with my friends at Empower Africa for an exclusive podcast as part of their virtual networking event to help drive business and growth in Africa. Today, I'm talking with Harry Tomi Davies, aka TD, and advisor, author, public speaker, and angel investor. TD mentors entrepreneurs and invests in startups through TVC Labs, a technology business accelerator based in Lagos. He is also the co-founder of the Lagos Angel Network, the founding president of the African Business Angel Network, a board member at NBO Capital, L4L Nigeria and other various startups in Africa. We talk about his journey which began over 30 plus years ago with his very first startup, what he sees for business growth in Africa over the next 10 years, the times he bet on himself and why it's so important to measure your success in life by the improvements you make for others. Here's my conversation with TD.
Michael Redd: Well, I'll begin by thanking everyone again who is involved with Empowering Africa, the opportunity to be here and to initiate this podcast with one of the great leaders in the whole African ecosystem, Tomi Davies. So I'm privileged and honored to hear his story, learn more about what's happening in that region of the world and how to bring awareness for other venture capitalists, other angel investors to get involved in what's happening in that part of the world. So without further ado, I want to introduce [inaudible 00:02:33], Mr. Tomi Davies, aka TD. How are you doing, sir?
Harry Tomi Davies: I'm exceedingly well, thank you.
Michael Redd: Great to see you, my friend. Great to see you.
Harry Tomi Davies: Good to see you.
Michael Redd: Yeah. Yeah. We had the privilege of meeting you the other day and hearing a little bit more about your story. I want to kind of start this conversation off with the theme of the show and which is all about betting on yourself. And I want to ask you, what has that meant for you to bet on yourself over the years?
Harry Tomi Davies: Ooh, I wasn't expecting that one. The honest truth, betting on myself is actually betting on God almighty because it is from him I draw all strength. Everything I do, my whole being, I am just an expression of God. That is how I perceive myself. So I'm at a stage in life where I have come to recognize that all the achievements have been incremental and in a particular direction, not by my doing, but by his. And everybody that knows me knows that, but it's not about being religious either. So my apologies to those who will [inaudible 00:04:07] hallelujahs right now. I'm sorry. That's not what I'm talking about.
Michael Redd: That's powerful. And we need to have that aligned with our core values. Can you think back to a moment that you took a major bet on yourself? Obviously being a man of faith, was there a moment even as a teenager or as a young man that you made a major risk on you?
Harry Tomi Davies: Well, this is a story I don't think have ever told actually. So even my kids don't know this, but I had been told by my dad that he was no longer going to fund me because I had decided I wanted to study in the United States. And as far as he was concerned, the United Kingdom, which is where I now live, funnily enough, was sort of, or was it better? So I actually managed to get an aunt of mine to buy me a ticket and a girlfriend's dad gave me the cash and I went ahead and I did graduate from the University of Miami. So, but it wasn't easy. There was a time I was doing three jobs and actually using that to pay school fees. And I had to go through junior college and finally, finally met a professor called [inaudible 00:05:45] Howard, who decided that I had enough brains to be a programmer. And when I went through all of his courses in programming, including summer school, he managed to get me a scholarship into University of Miami. So that was a self bet.
Michael Redd: Wow. How'd you feel? What was your emotions during that time? Because I'm sure you use a lot of what you've gone through to kind of give advice and inspire other founders and entrepreneurs. Tell me about that moment emotionally when you decided to say, "Hey, I'm going to take the risk. I have no contingency plan. I have no plan B." Talk about your emotional bandwidth.
Harry Tomi Davies: Well, some call it hitting rock bottom or what have you, but it's just when you come to the realization that hang on, I'm still breathing. You're still alive. And sort of getting to see yourself, failings and all, it's that... I call it nakedness. I don't mean it in the rude, the lewd way, but where you see yourself naked. Dude ain't got jack. But then you awaken to the inside. You awaken to yourself to the fact that hang on, I can walk, I can talk. I can communicate. I have internal unexpressed resources and God has a plan.
Michael Redd: Yeah. Simple. I love it. I'm right there with you. So people know you as a leader, a father in the country when it comes to investing in the whole ecosystem. Where does the passion come from to really get into entrepreneurship and get into the startup world? And where did that whole passion come from?
Harry Tomi Davies: Well, it's from these untold stories that I just shared with you because I honestly believe that the future of Africa is being built by these young entrepreneurs that have aha moments with technology and use it to solve problems that you and I, we take for granted sometimes, but are actually significant enough to have an impact. And anybody, and I mean quite literally, you, me, anybody that actually supports that cause will get two benefits. The first is the most important, which is the impact we will have on building the generations of Africans to come. That's our most useful continent on the planet. It has the most promise in terms of geography. And boy does it have the people. So it's sort of that's the first reward is the impact on the 1.3 billion people on that continent in 55 countries.
Harry Tomi Davies: The second of course is financial. I mean, I ain't talking charity, guys. We making money, all right. Let me give you an example. All right. Just last month, Stripe decided to acquire Paystack. Paystack was in 2015, [inaudible 00:09:48] and Ezra came out. And in October, Stripe acquired that company for $200 million validating our whole ecosystem through that particular move. So it's also about a decent return on decent money, both operative. Decent return, but on decent money, too.
Michael Redd: I think you just made the case why we should bet on Africa. And I'm learning and growing in my increased knowledge of what was happening over there. In these times, what's your advice to a first-time angel investor over there on the continent?
Harry Tomi Davies: Well, find yourself a group. I don't care if it's a syndicate or a network, find yourself a group. And make sure there's at least five of you, not two, not three, make sure there's five of you. Once there's that number, then reality sets in and you guys will fashion out a thesis that says this is why we're doing this and this is what we want to do. For us, when we did it in Lagos, we came together because first, we all wanted to get back to Lagos and we still are. On Friday, I'm keynoting at the Art of Technology for Lagos as we start to look at smart cities, for example. So that was sort of our first reason for coming together.
Harry Tomi Davies: The second reason was we all had experience and expertise that we wanted to continue to fine tune. The only reason I'm still coding today is because I engage with the developer community. So that was sort of the second. The third was to have fun, to really... You see me smiling all the time, I just finished a conversation with the founder of [inaudible 00:11:47] and you know what's his challenge? Apart from talent, all of them have talent challenges, but he's trying to debt financing less than two and a half percent. Now that's an interesting challenge. So that's the third thing is have fun. And the final of course is make money. So we're not a charity. I want a return on anything I give you and I will give, but I want a return. That was the fourth reason. So make sure you know why you guys are coming [inaudible 00:12:17] as a group of five or more. And then go hunting. There's a lot of amazing young talent out there building the future of the continent.
Michael Redd: I totally agree with you about making money. I often share with young entrepreneurs and founders that don't glory in raising money, glory to make money. That's to your point. I agree with you on that. So CIO of GreenTec partners, capital [inaudible 00:12:45]. 50 angel networks across the continent of Africa in 33 countries I believe. Tell me about your very first investment and how that was.
Harry Tomi Davies: Oh wow. It's a doozy. Now I didn't know it was called angel investing, but in my previous life, I had worked as the head of research in IT for Marks & Spencer and in building out their very first website, I met this South African guy and what happened was, and I don't know how much you guys know about the history of Africa, but Mandela went to South Africa and [inaudible 00:13:29] went to Nigeria, just about a year of each other. And what that meant was Oliver, which is this my friend went to South Africa and I headed into Nigeria. He comes up with the idea saying, "Hey dude, we're going to do a comic." I says, "Okay, sounds good." And he says, "Well, we want to put all these African heroes in it. And what's going to happen is you got West Africa. So you've got to do the [inaudible 00:13:58] and some of our heroes, et cetera."
Harry Tomi Davies: Cut the long story short, by the time I end up in Cape Town, we managed to change it to a soccer comic. And that was my first angel investment was in a soccer comic. That was a comic book. We started delivering I remember the first 100,000 copies. Then it became 200 and we went to half a million. Then we started, we got into 17 countries and then Media24 came calling. That was when I knew there was something called a partial exit. I think I put in $5,000 and then I walked away with a quarter million dollars and I'm looking like, "Guys, and I still got some of that. Man, give me more of this."
Harry Tomi Davies: Well, the story doesn't end there. So what happens next? Well, Ollie had started the company on animation, so they blew animation away, became the YouTube destination of choice, millions of subscribers. Fast forward earlier this year, they got bought by Disney India. Okay. So that was the first and still the best.
Michael Redd: Wow. With all of the success that you've had in Africa, what is still in your opinion, missing with the Angel Network as far as the BC ecosystem, angel investing ecosystem?
Harry Tomi Davies: Knowledge. People just don't get intangible assets. People just don't get knowledge assets. They don't understand how the kids are going to sit with a laptop and make a million dollars. It don't make no kind of sense. Okay. What's got to happen is I've got to see physical goods. You're going to buy from China. We're going to sell it in here, and we're going to make a heap load of money or I'm going to build a property. There are investors that are building, putting infrastructure and everything else. But when it comes to service-oriented, like software as a service, what's that? E-commerce. But when things are starting to hit, right here when it's hitting, e-health is in your face. And you can see what's happened with event communications. People are starting to stand up and take notice.
Michael Redd: What trends were exciting you today?
Harry Tomi Davies: Co-investment. I've seen a lot of hunting in packs digitally and it excites me [inaudible 00:16:40]. Earlier in the year, we created the Dashboard Angel Network, which is run by Jared and Isabel [inaudible 00:16:48] in London, here in London in the UK. And what it does is it co-invests with the angel networks you talked about earlier across continent. And they've already done a couple of deals. So I'm quite excited about the fact that they've done deals with Kenya. They've done these with Lagos just to prove that things are going on. So I'm quite excited about that. And it's the fact that these deals are cross network deals that we hadn't historically seen. So we've got the Lagos angels investing with the South Southeast angels because Dan's there with them, too. And then Rising Tide, the women only network is joining in on the fray. And so we're doing quite some interesting deals.
Michael Redd: It's powerful. Tell us about the genesis of ABAN and that whole creation.
Harry Tomi Davies: Well, what had happened was through an all boys network, which started the Lagos Angel Network in 2012. And yes, it is true. The chairman and I went to the same secondary school. So, but that's the reality of Lagos Angels. And we'd had some interactions with Ben White and the VC [inaudible 00:18:03] team. And we'd done some things together. One of them was bringing early stage investors together, AESIS, the African Early Stage Investment Summit. So we'd done the first two when this man showed up called [inaudible 00:18:20] who was the vice president of the European Business Angel Network. And he had an invitation from somebody I now call my big sister, her name is Candace Johnson, who at that time was the president at the European Business Angel Network. And it was an invitation to join them for slush in Finland in Helsinki. So, Dr. [inaudible 00:18:45], the chairman and myself, and a whole bunch of us showed up in Helsinki. Yeah, yeah, yeah, good. Cut the long story short, he was like, "You guys need a Pan-African Business Angel Network."
Harry Tomi Davies: Oh yeah, of course. Here's a paper. We thought of that and yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. We've seen some of the work. And so what are you guys doing about it? Well, we've been thinking, why don't you just do it? To cut the long story short, we went to Helsinki, a group of different... There were only five angel networks on the continent. By the time we left, I was founding president of the Africa Business Angel Network. So we then started work and we currently have, like I said, 50 networks now in 33 countries.
Michael Redd: Amazing. Congratulations on that.
Harry Tomi Davies: Thank you very much.
Michael Redd: Absolutely. Your passion is contagious and inspiring. COVID-19 has rearranged everything in 2020, all of it. What is your biggest advice, main advice for entrepreneurs now in this climate?
Harry Tomi Davies: How do I put this? Steady the course. If you are doing the right thing, then it's about value to your customers and that's where you should get the sense from of what you should do. It's easy for investors and others to tell you what to do, but the money's coming from the customers and it's the lifestyle changes you need to watch. So it depends on what kind of solution you are providing in their lives. And that has to be consistent with the changes that everybody is ongoing. COVID has caused the death of distance. That's a positive thing because it means that we can have sessions like this, but it has also caused a significant amount of economic chaos in the physical world where touch and movement have become very extremely restricted to say the least. So when we look at those, then it's about where in the industry chain do you play? And can you pivot to something that is emerging? Because there are significant number of new opportunities that are arising because of the fact that we are now in restricted movement situations.
Michael Redd: Your mentorship is so important to I know a number of founders and leaders. How important has mentorship been for you along your journey and who were some of your mentors?
Harry Tomi Davies: Well, I just talked about one of them who I call my big sister, Candace. She's always just there. And she always knows who to prod, go talk to that one. You should do it this way and then what have you. Just phenomenally amazing. He is the quiet one, David Rose is another one of my mentors. He's the founder of the New York Angels. And he's more the brainiac in terms of structural thinking and process of how a lot of this play out. So if you look at my latest thinking of valuation of African enterprise, for example, that was bouncing back and forth with him.
Harry Tomi Davies: And yeah, then you've got people like Dr. Suleiman who is the chairman of the Lagos Angel Network. But he's also the chairman of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria and he was the first black person to head Arthur Andersen Accenture in West Africa. So and unfortunately he's passed on, but in blessed memory, the late Monsignor Pedro Martins who saw me through a turbulent [inaudible 00:22:47]. And without his benefaction, I would not have the privilege of having this conversation with you.
Michael Redd: Wow. Wow. As you project the next 10 years, the next decade, I know your engineering and envision is so critical as a founder, as a leader, where do you see the continent in 10 years? Because you've seen tremendous growth over the last 10 years. Where do you see Africa and the ecosystem expanding in the next 10 years?
Harry Tomi Davies: Well, the first is to think about the framework that is emerging around the continent of free trade agreement where two things will be critical and that is movement. It will cause an interesting challenge because Africa is made up of cities as you're well aware. 75, the top 15 cities are responsible for nearly 50% of all consumption. So we're going to see Lagos, we're going to see Cairo. We're going to see Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa expand dramatically as the useful population take hold. Why is that? Because the kind of urban infrastructure, we're talking about smart cities providing the kind of life, especially as renewables start to mature as possibilities. And we start to put agritech, using different aspects we learn into play, the cities will become the magnets for the population growth. So it is services around that that I see to be very, very significant going forward. We're starting to see it in logistics. We're going to see it a lot in food, but by and large, it's all going to be about distribution.
Michael Redd: What advice would you have for your 16-year-old self? After all that you've experienced in life over the last 30 plus years of investing and seeing growth in individuals, what would you say to yourself at 16 going back? What advice would you have for yourself?
Harry Tomi Davies: It's the same advice I've given my son and that is measure life not by money or by time, because that's what life really is. It is about how you spend the experiences. It is about the moments, the fragments, the long periods that make up your life. And the measure of your life is the improvement it has given to others that it has touched. That's what I advise. Other than that, just yeah. Have a great one.
Michael Redd: Wow. To go along what you just said, always share with people that if you want your dreams to be sponsored, love people.
Harry Tomi Davies: That's all it's about. We are one.
Michael Redd: 100%. TD, it's been an absolute pleasure and honor. Thank you for taking the time in your busy schedule to spend time with the Betting On Yourself podcast today and obviously Empower Africa. Thank you so much, sir.
Harry Tomi Davies: My pleasure. And I really appreciate it.
Michael Redd: Thank you.
Harry Tomi Davies: You have a great one, now.
Michael Redd: You too.
Harry Tomi Davies: Cheers.
Michael Redd: Cheers.
Michael Redd: What a fantastic conversation and a great man. I'm really grateful and honored to be a part of this special event. And I hope you were as inspired as I was by TD's story of passion, faith, and servant leadership. If you want to learn more about the amazing things that are happening to drive growth in Africa plus get information on future events, visit empowerafrica.com. Thanks for listening. And until next time, I'm Michael Redd. And remember you are the secret to your success.
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