Top of Mind: Happy Sunday!
It’s winter 2022.
Shola Akinlade, CEO/Co-founder of Paystack, broke the internet when he announced he’d launched a football club to spend the next 40 years building football talent in Nigeria – two years after Stripe acquired his startup in a whopping $200 million deal.
On the back of that announcement was an exciting partnership with an emerging startup – Klasha.
This partnership would set the stage for future tech and sporting partnerships in Africa.
Let’s get into it.
Spotlight: Sporting Lagos and Klasha break records
Growing up in Nigeria, the domestic clubs that defined our parents’ generation were Enyimba FC, Kano Pillars, etc.
We grew up naturally supporting these clubs. With the emergence of Sporting Lagos, aka Sporting, this generation has its team—one they’ve bought into and feel a sense of kinship with its evolution and success.
Sporting’s evolution started with the most prominent spectators being the tech community filling up stadiums to support Akinlade’s new venture. Still, its rapid growth in eighteen months has captured the attention of the wider Lagos community.
With its ascension into the first tier of the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) in its second competitive season, it’s captured the hearts of a community that spans all of Nigeria.
Klasha makes an entrance
Launched a year and a half ago, Klasha is revolutionising how we buy, sell, send, and receive money across Africa.
Klasha took centre stage on Sporting Lagos jerseys.
We sat down with Jess Anuna, CEO of Klasha, and Fola Olatunji-David, a member of Sporting’s Governing Council, to get the inside scoop on this partnership, what Sporting’s meteoric growth means for Klasha and some expanded context you won’t see elsewhere.
This is Personal
Jess Anuna grew up watching football. As she experienced this beautiful game, she not only became a football fan but also gained a deep understanding of how football can affect a nation’s economy.
With this background, launching Klasha’s first major partnership with a homegrown football team was a no-brainer.
Similar to this passion, Shola Akinlade, Fola Olatunji-David, and the team launched Sporting Lagos.
How this partnership was brokered
Jess: It was a discussion between me and some of the Sporting Lagos team. At that point, they were looking for diverse sponsors and a company aligned with their mission, particularly in tech. They sought one that reached the audience in Nigeria and one in line with where they wanted to be in the next five to ten years. It happened quickly.
We discussed it in a month, discussing contracts and what it would look like in the long term.
Fola: It was an effortless conversation. We wanted a data-driven partner. As a club, we’re data-driven and trying to improve on that. In the negotiation stage, while other people would negotiate back and forth on price, Klasha didn’t only care about the price. It was about the value.
According to Olatunji-David, the Sporting team’s north star was to get promoted in one season.
The team experienced setbacks, losing and drawing games, eventually shifting the focus to “let’s just not get relegated”.
Shortly after, the gods of football smiled – Sporting Lagos started winning games.
The wins built a community of passionate fans, stadiums filled up, and Klasha’s logo got visibility across Nigeria.
On-pitch wins – new users
Scouring the internet, we saw numerous posts where people shared that they’d started using Klasha because of Sporting Lagos.
One particularly interesting testimonial was a user who said she knew nothing about Klasha. However, after watching Sporting Lagos, she discovered that Klasha could help her shop seamlessly from Zara and other brands.
According to Anuna, as Sporting Lagos has grown, Klasha’s seeing numbers increase, and fans mainly support products on both the B2B and B2C sides.
Jess: We’re on a mission to build a category-defining company, and Sporting has big goals to become one of the best teams in the world, not just in Nigeria.
We’ve seen a lot of synergy between Sporting Lagos’ fans and our customers, giving us direct feedback, which has been great. Our goal was to spread the word about Klasha and improve our visibility with high-quality customers that could drive value for our business, and that’s what this partnership has offered us.
Growing users hasn’t been a one-way strategy.
With this partnership, Klasha has provided support with payments and spurred Sporting Lagos’ launch with personalised merch deliveries to fans.
If you purchased a Sporting Lagos jersey when the club launched, your jersey came with a personalised greeting card from Klasha.
However, Anuna and Olatunji-David stated that Klasha’s initial product integration started with payments, e.g., facilitating a Sporting Lagos fan in Zambia to purchase a jersey from Nigeria.
But there’s more.
Jess: We had various discussions with Sporting about how we could integrate our product into what they have live right now, particularly on the B2C side. So right now, we have discounts for supporting Lagos team members – fans who buy an annual membership get a specific discount on our app. We’re also considering using Klasha to pay for Sporting Lagos’ products.
Our mission is to make it seamless and easy for Africans to access payments and goods cross-border. And as Sporting Lagos becomes more global, we’ll see more intertwining of our product with some of the initiatives they’re launching.
Fola: Our product strategy will take both a push and a pull approach. We’ve started from what we have readily available, which are the jerseys. But we’re also working with intangible and tangible outcomes when considering products.
So, the club offers products, right from thinking about the game-day products and entertainment – that’s the experience as a product. And I think as we think about those types of products, to Jess’ point, some of the product offerings that Klasha has today will also evolve based on that.
Africa’s the goal
Jess: Klasha serves users in six African countries today, including Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya, and we make it easy for these users to transact across borders. If a user in Tanzania wants to pay for a Sporting jersey, it would be seamless using Klasha. So, it’s about the interconnectedness – that interoperability between Klasha and Sporting Lagos’ systems that will make it easy for the fans to access products. As Sporting Lagos becomes more global and our reach expands across borders and pan-African regions, this will become increasingly important.
Fola: If you think about the product, not just in the tangible aspect of what people are buying and selling, you realise that we create multiple experiences as products. As our partnership grows, it will evolve to the point where it drives conversion for both parties, and we’re happy with that progress.
Sporting Lagos acquired a 55% stake in Danish second-division club Aarhus Fremad earlier this year.
Europe is the pinnacle of professional football. According to Olatunji-David, this acquisition will allow Sporting Lagos to train and build their talent, effectively using the new team as a European training ground.
Aside from this, the Sporting Lagos team are also working on the growing adoption of “intangible” products like memberships.
It’s no secret that Sporting Lagos is building a new stadium.
After Promotion to the NPFL (top flight of Nigerian club football), word on the street is that Sporting Lagos will build a brand new stadium.
Fola: The idea is if you come back to the vision of Sporting Lagos, it’s not just a football club. It’s really about improving sports as a complete sector and creating jobs for the future.
We think about it beyond a stadium. It will be a sports arena where lots of things happen. That is the next phase. We’re private about the plan, but the stadium will be on Lagos Island and ready within the next season.
North star chasing
Jess: We want to ensure that we’re providing value to Africans on the ground who want to send money across borders. We want to get to at least 30% market share in the next two to five years, meaning 30% of our target market uses us to make payments from Africa.
We plan to go deep into the countries where we operate, ensuring that we’re providing value and a product that delivers excellence. And we are striving towards those Northstar metrics to build a sustainable business that will be around for the next 100 years.
Fola: You know, I was out with my sister the other day. She was wearing a Sporting Jersey, and the bell guy was excited to see the jersey. And for me, that is the type of brand growth and association I want to see and build something that will outlive us.
Final thoughts: This is the first time Africa is witnessing a sports and tech partnership whose success is predicated on the evolution of a startup and football club.
The partnership came out strong out of the gate, and as we see both brands succeed symbiotically, it will set the foundation for future case studies on how tech and sports brands can partner to build enduring communities.
Thanks for reading! We’d love to hear your thoughts about this week’s issue.
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