BY TOM JACKSON
Nigerian agri-tech startup Thrive Agric has shuffled its management team, a move that involves replacing its co-founder as chief executive officer (CEO), as it looks to turn the business around after failing to payout subscribers in time in the wake of a slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Launched in beta at the end of 2016 and to the public early in 2017, Thrive Agric is a crowdfunding platform that provides farmers with the finance they need to grow their businesses and offers ordinary people the chance to invest in agriculture.
The startup has seen steady growth over the last couple of years, but in May reported that the impact of COVID-19 had started disrupting its ability to fulfill its commitment to subscribers. Since then, unpaid subscribers have become frustrated by the lack of information emanating from the startup, with many signing an ultimatum demanding Thrive Agric pay up to NGN50 million (US$110,000) owed to subscribers of its farm investment programme.
In response, the startup said in a statement it has shuffled its management team and made some new recruitments, in what it refers to as “organisational changes to steer the business out of her current challenges”.
Uka Eje, who co-founded Thrive Agric in 2017 with Ayodeji Arikawe, has stepped down as chief executive officer (CEO) to become chief operations officer (COO), while Adia Sowho, who until May was vice president for growth at well-funded fintech startup Migo, has been appointed as interim CEO to implement the startup’s turnaround strategy.
“Adia has a lot of experience with building businesses from the ground up and shaping them to operate at scale. I asked her to support us, recognising that she has the required expertise to move us past this period successfully,” Eje said.
“She is here to guide Thrive Agric through a turnaround exercise so that we survive the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the business.”
The startup has also appointed a new chief financial officer (CFO), and somebody else to handle risk management and compliance. It says it will be able to repay all payments in 12-24 months.
Ventures Platform, which invested in the company in 2017, said in a statement of its own that “one of the core issues was around sub-optimal communication between the company, its subscribers and additional stakeholders”.
The company said it had helped the startup correct these issues, and expected a “more open and transparent line of communication between Thrive Agric and interested parties, in the coming weeks and months”.
Additionally, Ventures Platform said it had helped the startup develop and implement a step-by-step plan to get the company back on track, and had ordered a thorough review of its financial and non-financial operations to fully understand the scale of the problem. It has also provided bridge debt capital to help liquidate some of the outstanding debts to subscribers.
“The actions we have taken alongside the Thrive Agric team, in this short period, are already yielding some small successes; but we know there is a lot more to do,” Ventures Platform said.
“Whilst a lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes to deliver these results, we are fully aware that the hard work starts here – and we will continue to push the entire Thrive Agric team to return investments to subscribers and rebuild the trust that has been lost in what has been an extremely challenging year.”