The Prime Minister of Benin, Lionel Zinsou, especially recommended him as “the Digital Nobel Price”. Ulrich Sossou, have you heard of him? Maybe not, but behind the great success there is a kingmaker who doesn’t show. Ulrich Sossou is a young Beninese of 28 years old who started from nothing, and is gradually building an empire. From scientific to engineering studies, he became one of the conveyors of economic emancipation in Africa. I went to meet him in the secret hope of being affected by the Sossou grace, a new name for the legendary Midas effect.
Making people to get rich, is it not a funny professional choice?
It is difficult for me to define what I do in a few words using the usual professional terms. So I define my job with respect to the impact I have on people I work with. I help creators to make money while doing what they love. I train people who could have face unemployment, for new digital professions. I help companies to create products in order to fulfill their mission, and I help non-profit organizations to be more efficient, etc.
I worked in collaboration with all these people, companies, and organizations, motivated by the goal to make them rich, not only on the money aspect but also in knowledge, happiness, and liberty as well.
Takitiz, FlyerCo, Etrilabs and TEKXL. Can we say that you are … a serial entrepreneur?
Takitiz was my first company in Benin. A web agency based in Cotonou in 2010 whose objective was to sell digital solutions to its customers. At that time there was less than 50,000 Beninese people browsing on the Internet. The adventure lasted only one year.
FlyerCo is a company created in 2014 that appeal to real estate agents. Right now the market to which it is addressed primarily is the US one where the company has about more than 7,000 real estate agents as users.
Etrilabs is an NGO founded in 2010 by Senam Beheton. I have joined it recently. We work with other NGOs, governments and international organizations to implement innovative technological solutions to social problems.
TEKXL is the incubator that we created in Benin, with Senam Beheton to participate in the creation of an ecosystem of startups and train young people to start businesses that can be sell at a worldwide scale.
So definitely yes. I am a serial entrepreneur. My greatest passion is to solve problems of the daily life, and that leads to the creation of companies to ensure the sustainability of these solutions.My greatest passion is to solve problems Click To Tweet
It is unbelievable to think that at the beginning you didn’t even have enough money to buy a computer.
It was from 2006 to 2008 approximately. I had no money to buy my own computer; I did not even have enough money to pay the cyber café hours. Buy a computer and then make a browser at home was madly expensive. So I had to work from a cyber café for about two years. The majority of my money was used to pay cyber entrance and browsing hours. Sometimes I used to obtain free navigation hours by helping managers of some cyber to maintain their computers and their network.
What helped you to be motivated with so much passion since 20 year?
What motivates me is to find solutions to problems that people encounter every day. Today, digital is a way to do it quickly without using large resources. The digital is the way to develop Africa without billions of dollars investment. I see the light at the end of the tunnel for the African continent in particular, and for the human condition in general, that’s what motivates me.
“Diamonds are designed under the pressure,” Are you born from the pressure?
The only pressure I have is that I push myself every day, the constant feeling that I have not yet accomplished anything remarkable. If I had to name a most appropriate thing that pressure to explain my life so far, I would talk about love, with all the sacrifices that it embodies. I was lucky to be educated by people who taught me unconditional love for others and for what I do.
What are the major achievements of your career?
I cannot quote great achievements because I did not see any. I constantly strive to do everything I realized is greater than the last. My greatest achievements are those to come.
Although there are certain events that inspired me:
- The first contract from a client abroad in 2006 made me realize that it was possible to have customers worldwide.
- the design of a pilot online course platform for Stanford University, the best university in Computer Science, in 2011-2012, which showed me that my skills were rare and appreciated.
- The design of a web application to facilitate the creation of sales pages for a customer in the UK in 2013 which made me gain more than 3 billion CFA francs ($ 5 million) in revenue in less than 6 months.
And what great other achievements are you targeting?
My current goal is to help create a Francophone Africa world-class ecosystem of startups over the next five years. If we succeed, in 5 years there will be more companies with hundreds of millions of dollars (hundreds of billions of CFA francs) of capitalization in Cotonou, Dakar, Libreville and other cities in Francophone Africa. These companies will employ thousands of people.
Should we summarize your success story to that of typical geek, addicted to manga and pizzas that simply got lucky one day?
I do not particularly like manga, pizzas, and other stereotypes that characterize the geek today. Plus if I have to count the number of my failures, I am just lucky right now.If I have to count the number of my failures, I am just lucky right now. Click To Tweet
If you were a Mentor to Benin state and government, what is the first advice you would give to it?
To concentrate. Today when political leaders talk of developing countries, they have a plan for all sectors at once. The limited resources available must not be dispersed like that. We must first target a few sectors with very high added value, and then thinking about developing them. The value created there can be reinvested in another sector. Since the country is one of the least wealthy of the world, it needs us to take interests in all existing sectors and areas. But we cannot afford it, because of the limited resources at our disposal. We therefore need discipline.
What advice would you give to young people facing difficulties in Benin?
Less than ten years ago, I used to take my bath right in the middle of the street of Cadjèhoun behind an old steel sheet. The small shop-converted into a bedroom- where I used to spent nights with my friends has no bathroom. I was doing it to save money in order to run my business.
How many young Beninese are willing to do this? Many of them would have rather preferred to take an apartment, buying a motorcycle, eat rather than be starving, etc. When you want to succeed, you must make sacrifices and never wait while crossing your arms. Click To Tweet
When I see young people who have a roof, who eat everyday, who are healthy, and also going to school, when I see them complain of difficulties, it makes me really sad. They don’t realize the chance they have. I do not deny that there are people who have reason to complain. The thing is that there are some others who don’t have anything to eat at all. There are some who are in very poor health state. Those may complain of difficulties and be right to do so. To them, I can’t speak because I have never been in such distress. But all the others, who are the majority, the first advice I can give them is to learn something new every day. Learning broadens the range of possibilities to create new opportunities. Learning provides a glimpse of the light at the end of the road that allows us to move forward and be successful. The second advice is not to sink into despair. When one indulges in despair, it is difficult to leave it. Click To Tweet