July 14, 2020

Hi Elohor, thanks for having this conversation with us.  Could you please tell us about yourself, your background, and why CodeLn?

Thank you for having me, Chinedu.

I am from Delta State, Nigeria. I am the third child among 3 female children, I do not like to say I am the last born [laughs]. All 3 of us were single-handedly raised by our father so you can trust that we are strong women, I always say I owe my drive and accomplishments to him.

I have a B.Sc in Industrial Mathematics and an M.Sc. in  Systems Engineering (Artificial Intelligence Major). I have about 10 years of work experience across Education, Sales, and Engineering.

In 2016, I facilitated a three-month intensive Software Development Training Program organized by the Lagos State Government and a top tech company. The government promised that all the 100 trainees that complete the training successfully will be offered jobs. Long story short, at the end of the training, even though we had over 70% success, only less than 3% of the trainees were offered jobs (mostly those connected to government officials). The trainees came to me complaining bitterly, I wished I could help. I started CodeLn because I believe learning to code is tough and anyone that has put in an effort should be rewarded with their dream job. Fast forward to now, we have programmers calling and texting to pray for us when we help them find a job. For me, CodeLn is more than just work.

 

CodeLn is a marketplace for African tech talents. My experience with marketplaces says the supply side of the platform is where the hard work is. How are you pulling this off?  Considering you have a database of over 9000 Programmers.

Interestingly,  I have a different opinion, I think the demand side requires more hard work. Well for us, we took the same approach that successful marketplaces like Lyft, Airbnb, etc used. Our first year of operation was focused on the supply side, getting Programmers. This is because that is the only way we could show value to companies and get them onboard. Funny enough, it was pretty easy building this database because my co-founders and I are programmers too and we were already part of numerous tech communities. So it was as easy as telling our various communities that we had launched a new product and selling the CodeLn value to them. Now, we have programmers signing up daily in their numbers with little or no marketing effort from our end.

 

What differentiates CodeLn from other platforms. What makes CodeLn the preferred destination both for programmers and recruiters?  Is it your commission fees or screening processes?

Well, I can keep going on and on and never stop, lol. But in summary,  the fact that our value is very crisp and we are addressing a niche market that we have the expertise to tackle sets us apart from other competitors. Yes, we offer value for money and quality verified programmers but it is really about our commitment to solving the problem of both our users – programmers and recruiters. This has made us attractive to even notable clients and partners abroad, to mention a few, Wikipedia, Microsoft, IBM, Digital Ocean, Cloudinary, etc

 

You have 3 co-founders from other African countries, how did you meet them and how has the diversity in your background impacted and helped your work?

Those 3 are the reason behind the success of CodeLn. They are also the strong pillars that keep me going. CodeLn is a 50% female-founded team, Philisiah and Dennis are from Kenya while Dexter is from Ivory Coast. We met in Ghana during the MEST Accelerator Program. MEST brings entrepreneurs from across Africa together for 1 year to develop groundbreaking technology solutions to global problems.

I must say our diversity is our strongest asset and a major reason for our quick expansion. We currently have offices in Nigeria and Ghana and we are setting up in Ivory Coast and Kenya in Q3, 2020. We have a lot of talent in these countries already due to each cofounder’s network.

 

Are there new trends and insights you’ve seen since you launched?  Like the gradual acceptance of remote work. Could you please share them?

Oh yes, due to COVID 19 more and more businesses have begun to see the benefit of technology and online presence. I must say, this is indeed a great period for our business because lots of companies are hiring programmers to automate their operations. Remote work is now being accepted and programmers are happy because this is what they have been fighting for [laughs]. On our part, we are doing our best to educate and assist recruiters on how to manage teams remotely and hire with ease in these times.

 

You built ‘Memorize It’,  a voice assistant for kids education using a gamified quiz. Is gamification the new tech frontier to be explored?

Yes. In 2018, a friend and I built the Memorize It App. It is a friendly AI voice assistant and teaching coach for kids. The aim was to make learning more fun for kids using gamification. Our innovation won about $4000 from the MTN Apps Challenge, Education Category. The app is still on the Google Assistant App Store and we are excited that kids are continuously learning with it.

I’d say that gamification is a very interesting space that is gaining a lot of attention even globally. I have used platforms that use gamification to simplify their UX process and it completely blows my mind. This area is definitely worth exploring for us.

Codeln is Pan-African and ambitious.  Are you bootstrapped or supported by any VCs?  And are you open to more support?

Great question! We were able to raise a pre-seed round of  $100,000 from Meltwater Foundation. We are currently actively raising our seed round and we are open to discussing with interested investors.

 

The internet is bridging gaps and creating jobs as more people come online with tools.  Are we going to see a time where there would be an oversupply of technical talents in Africa?

Hmm, honestly I have thought about this several times. We can take India as a case study, they did not get to where they are overnight. This time will come in Africa but I am afraid it is still very very far. Until the Government introduces coding as a compulsory subject in Basic and Secondary Schools, the gap will still be vivid. This is because kids have a very open mind and can easily learn and relearn, introducing them to coding at a tender age will open their minds to great innovation and it will be easier for them to take it up as a career. The gap is still very wide but I believe we will get there with the right support.

 

Nigerian developers are top-ranking on Github. Is this the case on CodeLn?  Could you give us an insight into countries with high sign-ups and responsible factors for the same?

[Laughs] No doubt our Naija Devs are doing us proud. On CodeLn,  we have programmers from over 14 African countries on our platform, and as expected Nigerians are more. But we have most engagement generally from Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Uganda. Again, this is probably because of our physical presence and the cofounder’s network in these regions.

 

Software development is one area that’s gender-neutral or balanced if I must add.  Do you have some initiatives or policies at Codeln aimed at ensuring more women get into this career path?

Yes, we do.  We organize hackathons and boot camps regularly. In fact, during the COVID-19 lockdown, we supported what we called the biggest online hackathon in Africa, Africathon. We have specific hackathons and boot camps targeted at girls. I must say that our CTO is a lady, Philisiah is very passionate about this mission. She and I have been and still are volunteers and advocates for this drive perhaps that was probably why we clicked before we started CodeLn.

 

Are there verticals you’re looking into in the near future?  Is that decision data-driven?

Yes, although these verticals are still within our supply chain because there is a lot you can do in the tech space. The decision is definitely data-driven, it always has to be in our type of business. By next year, we will be launching something really cool, we urge our users to watch out!

 

Thank you so much for your time,  Elohor.  We hope to talk more with you some other time.

It has been a great pleasure, thank you too.

 

 

Elohor Thomas is the CEO and cofounder of CodeLn, a  marketplace for hiring skilled African software programmers at a fast speed.  She’s also on Twitter.

 

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