Imagine Favour Ori six years ago. He’s just another teenager living in urban Nigeria— wading through rowdy markets, hanging out with friends, and exploring his neighbourhood alleys in a football jersey top. You could have brushed past him on one of those streets without batting an eyelid.
Fast forward to March 2020. Favour is at a table with a number of other people. They’re at a hotel in Dubai, and they’re concluding a major deal.
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Mr. Ori just sold an app to the other men– top guns at a big company –for ₦22 million.
In the time between walking the streets of a rundown Nigerian neighborhood and striking multi-million naira deals with investors, he’s built a company that’s taught over 9,000 students to code, and launched several tech ventures. He has also become a globally sought-after speaker.
He’s still only 23.
How did he burn up so much turf in a short while, at such a young age?
The Starting Point
Ori doesn’t have a magic recipe for his successful journey through the world of tech.
“I don’t plan to create companies,” Ori says. “I just start out by solving my own problems.”
He’s on the phone from Rwanda, where he’s currently riding out the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s not an idle holiday for him. Ori is already working on something new: WeJapa, an outsourcing startup that’ll help African developers find jobs from clients in Europe and North America.
“I’m working with some of my guys to open job pipelines. Once this thing (the pandemic) is over, we’ll have people in the UK and US getting stuff done. We’ve been on it for a while.”
Ori hasn’t always been a globe-trotter, but he’s moved around a bit. He was born in Cross River State and spent much of his early life there (apart from a stint in Aba). Then he went off to study at the Metallurgical Training Institute (MTI) Onitsha. But he pulled out with just a year left on his program.
“I lost interest,” he explains. “So I dropped out… with no real plans.”
Meanwhile, Ori had become curious about computer software. He remembers asking a friend how the Microsoft Windows could work as it did. That friend prodded him towards learning to build software on his own.
“I started doing this” he recalls. “I did Google searches, and learnt by trial and error. I built calculator apps and timetable management apps.”
Growing with Code
Soon, he was deeply involved with programming– so deeply, that he believed he could eventually deploy his skills to help battle cybercrime in Nigeria.
“I wanted to study cyber security at a university, and assist the EFCC to fight online fraudsters,” Ori says. “But my mentor asked me to consider my options before making a decision.”
This mentor, Gossy Ukanwoke, told him that he would have a broad grounding in technology if he studied Computer Science as an undergraduate level.
“He explained the pros and cons of both paths. A career in cybersecurity could pay well, but it’s narrow. On the other hand, if I studied computer science, I could specialize in a field of my choice at the masters’ level.”
After weighing his options, he opted to study computer science.
Ori got admitted into Arkansas State University in the United States, and began his studies there in 2016. But he didn’t just go there to get a computer science degree; he racked up plenty of experience too. He built apps for his department, the computer science club, and a local church. And he’s since worked as a software engineer for a number of other Universities.
As his prospects brightened, his sights turned homewards. There were a lot of young people in Nigeria who could access the same opportunities he had found if they knew how to code. He decided to help the few he could connect with. This was the start of FavCode54, a non-profit that’s now one of the largest programmer training outfits in the country.
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Build, Sell, Press On
Ori initially settled on 15 slots for the first cohort. But he was inundated with applications from across Nigeria and elsewhere. There were about 5,000 applications in the first three months alone. By this time, he knew he was on to something.
In characteristic fashion, he adapted his plans to suit this reality: he scaled things up.
“So I brought together friends from Stanford, Harvard, MIT and other institutions to help tutor the people who had signed up,” he explained.
The first program took place in 2018. It has grown by leaps and bounds ever since; when entries opened this year, it received more than 1,200 applications within the first four days.
Crucially, Ori got support from IBM to build a fitting online platform for FavCode54. The organization also provided prerecorded courses for participants. Students who complete courses on the platform are certified by IBM through FavCode54.
It all stemmed from Ori trying to “solve his own problem”. He ties FavCode45 back to his background as a self-taught software engineer. He notes that the initiative is designed to make the journey easier for other young people.
He’s followed this line in his subsequent projects. While hunting for university scholarships online, he thought about designing a solution that would connect students across the world to such opportunities, and to the institutions that offered them. By January 2019, he had the solution ready: the College Situation app.
Two months later, Ori sold that app to ABiT Network for ₦22 million. But he retains a 2% share of the app for life.
He also built Tugure—an app that lets people in Rwanda trade new or used items –and sold it for $17,000.
More Lands to Conquer
Ori isn’t letting up. There’s a lot more he wants to achieve.
“I always record my plans in a diary and tick them as I attain them,” he says. “I had the plan for the company (FavCode54) written down, and I ticked it when it was done.”
At the moment, he is focused on WeJapa, the jobs plug he believes could improve the careers of developers in Africa. At the time of writing this, it was in beta testing.
Favour Ori has also become a sought-after speaker in his own right. He’s spoken at the NCHC Conference in Atlanta, Georgia; the United Nations Youth Assembly, New York; the YCBS Conference; and 1MillionCups, Tulsa, Oklahoma, among others.
Asked about the difficulties he’s faced, he admits battling against tough odds, but pressing on still.
“It’s always a process” he says. “Sometimes you feel like giving up, but it’s a process. We keep on with it.”
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