AfricaLive: Lets begin with your own journey to setting up Ntansa. You have a great deal of corporate experience in Canada and your career was progressing well there.
What was your motivation to return to Ghana and set up your own business?
Emmanuel Tackie: Being Ghanaian, I have always wanted to return and contribute to the nation’s goals. Back in 2018, the vice-president of Ghana called on the Ghanaian diaspora to come back home and help build the economy. The call was the catalyst for me to think about returning to Ghana and examine the possibilities. Returning home for me occurred in phases. The first phase involved me joining a “Back to Africa Programme” which was looking at opportunities in South Africa and Kenya. My desire was always Ghana, though so i started to look at other paths to my goal.
I started to explore the idea of returning while working with a multinational as a learning opportunity, and also, the risk was low. I was offered a role that I did not believe was the right fit, so in the end, I opted to do my own thing. The challenge of going out on your own is identifying the most promising niche to go into. I was always technologically inclined. I was interested in the intersection between business and technology.
RPA is something we had been involved with for about two and a half years, and I thought the results were phenomenal. It was a technology that had added so much value in North America, Asia, and Europe; but had little footprint in Africa. It was introduced in South Africa and became a hit immediately, but it was not a thing yet in West Africa. The opportunity was glaring, so I went to Ghana to make things happen early. My family situation was also ideal because my wife and I had two boys who were seven and four at the time. Our kids were old enough to appreciate different experiences and were also too young to be tied to Canada. I had to make a move when the window, however small, was still open.
AfricaLive: Moving countries and setting up a new business can both be considered to be challenging experiences. Even more so if doing both at the same time!
I think the first steps for you after setting up the company were really focused on starting to educate the market there in Ghana about what is quite a new set of products for that market. What are you doing to educate your new market and sensitising them about what you offer?
Emmanuel Tackie: To effectively market your value proposition, you have to identify a sector that can bring it out properly. We choose banking and financial services to start off with. The banking sector was the most appropriate because of easy interoperability, and the high number of use cases. We then started working on the most practical use cases that resonate with the local market to demonstrate the value proposition. February last year saw me spend three weeks meeting experienced people and learning more about the market. It was a precious business development learning experience to get a sense of how ready the market was and where we needed to start.
It’s easy to show the value proposition of RPA normally, but in Ghanaian culture it’s different, and really have to prove its usefulness. When you are in a position of having to prove instead of just showing its value, then you are already behind the curve. We overcame this hurdle by sensitising people that the brands they already knew about were using the technology. Once they found out that it was working for those companies, the conversation became much more comfortable to have. We put in a lot of work to showcase the value of the product we offer and when we tie the dots between what we offer and what they know; aha moments begin to happen. After the education, comes the pricing hurdle. Most emerging tech comes at a premium, and many Ghanaian businesses are not planning for RPA in their budgets. We had to find a way to make our pricing competitive so that we can penetrate more easily. We had to find a way to make our pricing competitive so that we can penetrate more easily.
AfricaLive: Let’s take a step back and look at RPA technology. How would you describe it in layman’s terms and what value does it bring to the market?
Emmanuel Tackie: RPA is a digital worker that can mimic the efforts of a workforce on a computer.
If you have high volumes of repetitive work, be it data processing, or maybe transaction information for multiple systems. The RPA bot can be used to manage that entire workflow from end to end. A use case right now is the Know Your Customer (KYC) process. The need for digitisation has become even more pronounced with the intense lockdowns we have had here in Ghana. Businesses are regrouping and trying to determine their next steps. Banks have approached us wanting to find out how they can automate the banking hall end to end.
Onboarding a new client, for instance, usually involves filling up paperwork and getting those signed by multiple people. Banks are, therefore, looking for a digital and frictionless solution that can enable them to onboard customers faster. Nowadays, people have the means to prove customer identity through virtual I.D and pictures and have virtual documents authorised by appropriate authorities. RPA takes the identification process to the next level through the bot that works round the clock and ensures all customer information is recorded, and he or she is signed up quickly.
AfricaLive: African businesses are noteworthy because of their ability to adapt to changes quickly and also their ability to embrace leap-frogging technologies such as mobile banking. Do you see a positive, receptive market that’s open to new technologies and innovative solutions?
Emmanuel Tackie: Yes, the locals we talk to in different sectors understand the value. The market is willing to take up technology more now than before because of Covid-19. Even before the pandemic, the market was responding quite bullishly to technology. One of the things I was most impressed with before moving back to Ghana was the amount of enthusiasm, talent and community in the tech space. When you look at the Ghana tech lab and the Ghana Innovation Hub, you see two organisations that are achieving a lot together.
The youth in both spaces are involved in Artificial Intelligence (A.I), Machine Learning and other emergent technologies. If we have these youth mentored and given the equipment they need, then the tech landscape will blow up very quickly in Ghana. We have to overcome internet access challenges, though when it comes to cost. Established businesses can easily pay their internet bills, but individual start-ups trying to get into sophisticated technologies have a hard time doing it.
AfricaLive: The cost of emerging technologies has been seen as quite prohibitive in certain markets. Do you believe that you can overcome this challenge by matching the correct technologies and price with the budgets in the market?
Emmanuel Tackie: We have been doing that because we had to survive somehow. We entered the market under the brand “Impact Tactics”, which was focused on understanding the market inside out. A pivot was then necessary, and we rebranded to Ntansa, we switched from primarily focusing on RPA, to also delving into A.I, and Innovation. We also changed our product mix to service the different layers of businesses here. There are multinational and corporate brands that can patronise our premier product cost and functionality mix; whereby there are brands that want similar functionalities but are better suited for our other products because of resource or scope constraints.
Our expanded market is the small local firms that may not have sophisticated IT teams and need RPA services. We are looking at serving that market as well to expand our penetration. Our three approaches are designed to provide a service to organisations at all levels in the space.
We have also established partnerships with companies in North America and Europe. There are a lot of companies that want to get into the African market if they find the right local partner, so this is most encouraging for us.
AfricaLive: With your product mix do you employ an outbound marketing approach by educating potential customers, or is inbound marketing where a section of customers are already looking for your products.
Emmanuel Tackie: 90 percent of approach is outbound while only 10 percent is inbound. Some companies are actively looking and some further ahead. Our first outbound client was a top tier bank in Ghana. The bank did not necessarily need our RPA developers because they had developers in their team. The bank desired a more consultative solution that would help them determine and decide the right corporate programme for RPA. They are unique because they are thinking ahead as well, this is naturally giving them a real advantage in the market. We will start some inbound campaigns soon, but at the moment the market is still very new.
AfricaLive: The international community is looking into getting into the growing African market with the right local partners on board. Are you looking to position yourself as the ideal local partner?
Emmanuel Tackie: Yes, we want to work with companies that are looking to get into the African space. We are looking overseas to work with some North American and European based organisations. RPA developers are very marketable and we have trained ours at the highest levels. There is no reason why our team of developers shouldn’t work on projects outside Ghana and outside the continent.
AfricaLive: Are you looking at a skills development programme that will enable you to grow your Ghanian staff and eventually build a hub to serve the global community?
Emmanuel Tackie: It is something we are interested in, but it’s not our primary focus now. There are firms like Andela which focus on that almost entirely. We have built a skilled team of some talented developers who can serve the local market and at the same time look at global needs. Serving the international community keeps them ahead of the curve here at home and keeps them sharp. Doing it this way enables us to come up with packaged products that serve specific market needs abroad, and we are able to forecast the future needs of our local market. RPA being a versatile technology enables us to offer different solutions in our product suite. It allows us to serve pretty much anyone, thanks to the options we offer.
AfricaLive: We often ask our interviewees for a score on their level of confidence in the future of their country. You have already voted with your feet with the move back to Ghana! What’s your feeling about where Ghana stands and its potential for economic growth?
Emmanuel Tackie: The momentum I am seeing with members of the diaspora looking in and local people looking to expand their businesses, is very positive. A lot of this was fuelled by the “Year of Return” campaign of last year. This year we have the “Beyond the Return” campaign which focuses more on the business side. Those that came last year for some history lessons and bonding can engage in some substantive business actions. The diaspora is still making moves in Ghana despite the pandemic.
The use of the internet to tell local stories has been transformational. The term “Returnees” has become popular here with people like me getting that label. We are able to tell stories about our experience here. I was lucky to have a Jamaican spouse who was a bit more passionate about moving to Africa than me, that made the move easier. The Ghanaian community when it comes to business, healthcare, land and other sectors, has exponential potential. What makes it more exciting for me is that it is possible to get further ahead here than abroad with similar resources and the rewards outweigh the costs. But one piece of advice I would tell anyone thinking of making this move is, build a network, bring your patience, and plan long term, not short term.”