HopStop Founder on the Sale to Apple and Entrepreneurship in Africa
We recently had the good fortune of talking to Chinedu Echeruo while he was in the U.S. He shared his experiences as a serial entrepreneur, having his company acquired by Apple, his investment banking roots and his perspective on the opportunities in Africa. Chinedu also shared his thoughts on the transition from founding CEO to board member at his own company.
How did you get into the world of technology?
My brother and I started our first technology business in 1996. The Internet was just becoming a commerce platform and college students were the early adopters. We brainstormed several ideas, decided to focus on head apparel, and started Capsized.com. That was my first experience with technology and I was fascinated by how quickly one could launch a new business. I worked on other ideas that never got any traction but each attempt demystified the startup process further.
Meaning can only be achieved through awareness and then choice.
Who has been your most important professional mentor and why?
Yaron Galai is a serial entrepreneur who founded Quigo (sold to AOL) and is now co-founder of Outbrain. He was an investor in HopStop and I was lucky enough to learn from his phenomenal success. His mantra of FOCUS, testing and constant refinement has been a key element of his success and one that is deeply ingrained in the way I have and will approach my next ventures.
What has been the most meaningful professional experience you have had and why?
Meaning for me can only be achieved through awareness and then choice. In that regard I would say my experience as an investment banker at JP Morgan was the most meaningful professional experience I’ve had. The world simply does not look the same after seeing it through the lens of global capital flows, corporate actions to achieve growth and returns for shareholders, and then observing the impact those decisions have on people. The awareness of this global system allowed me to make a choice on where in the eco-system I’d like to be. I decided I wanted to be on the other side of the table, building enterprises. I believe other careers like management consulting can also give you broad awareness.
What is the most difficult professional or personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Four years after starting HopStop I informed the company’s board that I wanted to step down as CEO. I deeply cared for the company we’d built but thought that my particular passions and skill sets were no longer ideal for the company. We hired a search firm and after 3 months found an excellent CEO. It was quite challenging to go from founder/CEO to board member/shareholder. In many ways you are entrusting someone to take care of a company you built from scratch. It was a product I took pride in. Trust, communication, and respect were in constant need as we all shared our unique skills to work towards making the best decision for the company. The new CEO significantly grew HopStop’s revenue and coverage, and eventually shepherded the company’s sale to Apple last year.
Travel and cultivating friendships with people dissimilar from you are great ways of inspiring your imagination.
What advice do you have for young people of color who are looking to get into technology?
Understand the potential and opportunities in front of you. I think there are two ways to do that. First, know what has been done. Subscribe to TechCrunch and other technology blogs. Research different business models and how other companies were built. Second, cultivate your imagination. I like listening to music and reading seemingly off topic literature. Travel and cultivating friendships with people dissimilar from you are also great ways of inspiring your imagination. The combination of understanding what is and what could be is the start of seeing the next BIG idea.
What did you take away from the Apple acquisition process and outcome?
The Apple acquisition was a great outcome for all the HopStop employees and investors. The HopStop team did a wonderful job and I view the acquisition as an acknowledgement of the value we created. Apple is an innovative and iconic company and I am very excited to see the HopStop technology be integrated into the core Apple Maps product.
The problem or market that an entrepreneur chooses to address should be based on how well those opportunities dovetail with his or her interests, insights and capabilities.
What is your perspective on entrepreneurship and opportunities in Africa and how does it differ from what you see in America?
Entrepreneurship in many parts of the world is challenging but entrepreneurs in emerging markets, including Africa, face even more challenges. Lack of market Information, distribution challenges, bureaucracy and fewer skilled/experienced people in the workforce are just a few of the daunting challenges entrepreneurs face. There are also numerous business opportunities on the continent waiting for American entrepreneurs and companies with the willingness to go through the inevitable learning curve. The next company we plan on launching will attack some of the high cost, inefficiency, and bureaucracy in setting up and running businesses in emerging markets, starting with Nigeria.
How does your past experience impact the work you’re doing at Constant Capital?
I am focused on deploying financial and intellectual capital at Constant Capital to build scalable (mostly web-based) businesses. My experiences in investment banking, money management and entrepreneurship have indeed all been useful but I have found each company and situation takes you through its own learning curve.
You have an international background and now have an international focus. How does having an international perspective change your thought process and approach to opportunities and how should aspiring American entrepreneurs and executives think about international experience?
I’ve lived and worked in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and the U.S., and my perspective is that every country has its unique opportunities and challenges. The problem or market that an entrepreneur chooses to address should be based on how well those opportunities dovetail with his or her interests, insights and capabilities. The world is certainly becoming smaller and more connected, but execution of your plan still needs to be accomplished locally.