Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|December 9, 2020|8 Minutes|In Entrepreneur

How Bumbling And Bitter Lessons Gave Birth To A Billion-Dollar Dream

Dial-a-nerd for quality you can afford? That’s what an entrepreneur in West Africa is doing by creating an Uber for creatives and those who want to build brands cheaply and quickly. A business built on the ruins of a bruising failed venture.

Sydney Sam looks on top of the world on this sunny morning in an office in Accra the capital of Ghana. He is fresh-faced, 27-years-old, newly married, with the world at his feet in a business he understands well enough to make money from it.

It was this joie de vivre that gave birth to his first venture at college. If enthusiasm was the spur, too much optimistic abandon proved a thorn in the side.

It was called Moonlight Café and it sounded good. It was founded by Sam and a fellow student at the University of Ghana in Accra where he was studying a B.Sc. in human resources and business administration. He admits, in hindsight, that he wasn’t too interested in school; spare energy that fuelled his first venture.

The idea was simple: bring the big names of West Africa to the stage and people will pay to see them. To the Accra stage came names like Mr Eazi, from Nigeria, and KiDi of Ghana drawing crowds of up to a thousand people dancing the night away. In all, Sam put on 21 events run by scores of volunteers. Surely a platform for a future impresario? But behind the spotlights sound systems and the stage, the picture wasn’t so pretty.
“I had no business strategy, no plan,” recalls Sam.

Sam had dreamed of bringing American comedian and Hollywood star Kevin Hart, but it evaporated leaving him fearing for his own heart.

“I hit a heart stop when sums didn’t add up,” says Sam.

“It was a mess. I had pulled some people’s money and hadn’t paid vendors three years later. My mother gave me the money. It all collapsed in 2014. The cause? Business strategy; I didn’t have one and I didn’t know the market. I would do these events because I wanted the next event to be bigger and bigger and bigger. People wanted to chill, but I wanted to do another bigger event to make profit – the one big one, to make a killing.”

In the end, the only killing was that of an idea. In the bitter eclipse of Moonlight Café, Sam was left, still only in his mid-20s, with a large slice of humble pie and painful introspection.

“I have been a bad leader. I didn’t understand leadership until the last two years. I have lost money through it. It is painful because you have to start over again. I didn’t take enough time to develop potential, I always expected people to be the finished product. I did not take enough time to develop potential. That made me a bit cut-throat and not nurturing. I didn’t take my time to explain to people more impatient. I was never an employee; I never understood how employers’ minds worked.”

By 2015, Sam was back sharper and wiser than before. He founded a company called Workspace Global and took on his first two interns. The first job came from UNICEF and a string of corporate contracts followed, even though companies didn’t always pay on time creating cashflow problems. It was time for an early direction change.

“Moving into where we are now – I thought, screw it, we are not going to base ourselves on corporates anymore,” he says.

“We changed our model to a milestone basis. We moved from 30 to 40 to about 100 clients a year. We understood the model now. Workspace 1.0 online service is on the basis of Uber and Air B and B. We hope soon to cater not to a hundred clients, but 5,000!”

The bedrock of this business is a website where technical people can pitch for work and be paid according to productivity. Through it, the client can also communicate exactly what they want. Weeks of work that can be distilled into 30 minutes. He has built brands for Accra household names including: chicken purveyor Lord Of The Wings; Fitrip Gym and HomeMed.

“We create international quality work at local freelance prices,” says Sam.
COVID-19 has proved a double-edged sword. It saw the Workspace office close long before authorities insisted. It has brought its own challenges with everyone working from home.

“People want to know they can trust you. Working 100 per cent virtual has culture and ethics issues; people think it is a part-time job when it is not… The economy seems fine, but from my perspective, people are spending way less, budgets are going down and people are clamouring for what is left.”

In another way Sam must surely be one of the few entrepreneurs in Africa to say the pandemic has been a help.

“COVID has really helped because now more people are seeing their way to doing virtual transactions. Africa is way more open to this. Previously you couldn’t get people to transfer 1000 dollars on the internet – now it’s no trouble.”

Sam has ambitions to garner investment to create a billion-dollar business in 10 years. He hopes to expand to Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and among the black entrepreneur community in the United Kingdom.

“It is very rare for you to have a large army of change agents with the right motive that is profit. Ideally it should be government but they don’t have the set up. Entrepreneurship is the one thing that puts the right level of resource, with the right level of motivation, over a period of time.”

Billionaire Tomorrow agrees.

It all collapsed in 2014. The cause? Business strategy; I didnt have one and I didnt know the market. I would do these events because I wanted the next to be bigger and bigger and bigger. People wanted to chill, but I wanted to do another bigger event to make profit  the one big one to make a killing.


- Sydney Scott Sam