While studying at the London School of Economics and Oxford University, a group of graduate students noticed how difficult it is to get data and information about Africa’s largest economy and their home country, Nigeria. Each had different but complementary skills – Michael Famorottieconomist; Bode Ogunlanasoftware Engineer; Abdul Abdulrahim, data specialist; and Preston I wentcorporate lawyer—and in 2017 they launched a media startup to address the dearth of information and data-driven insights in the West African country.

Five years later, this startup, Steers, announces a $3.3 million seed round led by MaC Venture Capital. Serena Ventures, Omidyar Group’s Luminate Fund, Melo 7 Tech Partners and Cascador (Empowering Economic Growth Foundation) participated. This news comes two years after Stears raised $650,000 in pre-funding. It was last month one of the 60 startups to be accepted into the 2022 cohort of Google’s Black Founders Fund for startups, which includes some non-dilutive funding.

Stears started as a media publication focused on financial news and insights in Nigeria. Its flagship subscription insights product, Stears Premium, features content ranging from news and opinion pieces to investigative and deep dive articles, educating the general public on matters related to business and finance, the economy, government and politics in Nigeria. The $100-a-year product has seen significant usage among users, especially employees working in various financial institutions across the country. And because those institutions have more buying power, Stears subsequently tailored the product to businesses that wanted to subscribe on behalf of their teams. Some of its subscribers include financial institutions such as Sterling Bank and fintech companies such as Sparkle, PiggyVest and Paystack. The company says its user base has grown primarily organically by about 6.5% monthly, doubling its total users over the past year.

“We have a good understanding of the kind of information people need. So our focus is on standardizing the distribution of information and building with the customer in mind,” Ideh said in an interview with TechCrunch. “A key part of our business model is pushing high-value subscription data, such as proprietary predictive models. Conversely, the low-value end will be news, so customers’ willingness to spend changes as they move along the spectrum.”

The Stears Premium iteration, along with the introduction of other products Stears Pro and Stears Advisory, has transformed Stears into a data and intelligence company. Macro trends and topics such as GDP and inflation drive Stears Premium content. Stears Pro, on the other hand, provides more specialized content on specific issues such as market entry, country analysis and the digital economy for international organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme, the Office for Overseas Community and Development and knowledge workers – people need a lot of data for their work, which may include roles such as analysts, portfolio managers, researchers and economists who work within them.

But in an effort to support its transition from an insights company to a data company, and supported by this new investment, Stears is planning a strategy modification for the Pro product. According to the company’s COO and data scientist Abdulrahim, the data team works with international development and financial institutions to create proprietary and exclusive data sets that do not exist anywhere else. Therefore, instead of reporting insights from the data it extracts, Stears wants to collate data, engage in deep data analysis and present it to its business clients in a variety of formats.

“A core part of our business model is pushing high-value subscription data. And as we move forward, we’ll be doing less custom work for that set of clients and focusing more on holistic data around the same sector,” Ideh added about the direction Stears is taking with its Pro product. “So the difference in the output is that in the past we’ve released reports, but in the future we’ll probably release data feeds. So a less text-heavy way of publishing and more forecasts and predictions around sectors that matter to knowledge workers and their organisations.”

Stears Advisory — the product where Stears dons its advisory hat and takes on third-party projects around its core coverage — is taking a back seat as the company looks to double down on Pro and Premium. CEO Ideh explained that while the Advisory product, which he likens to an R&D department sponsored by various partners, allows Stears to experiment with data collection and analysis and provides the basis for crafting additional insights, it is not scalable and lacks the kind of recurring revenue that venture-backed businesses need.

Image Credits: Steers

So far, the company’s strategy seems to be paying off. Enterprise customers now contribute over 75% of revenue generated, up from 45% in 2021. It also expects revenue to double from last year, as half-year 2022 revenue has already surpassed full-year 2021 revenue. This is compared to 80% revenue growth between FY 2021 and FY 2020.

As a data and intelligence company, Stears finds itself in a good position where it is incentivized to pursue political projects that would garner attention if it were a media or technology company. In 2019, the company undertook one such project, as it developed the one in Nigeria the first real-time election database. Over 2 million Nigerians used it to monitor the general elections. Ide said his company intends to relaunch the election data site, this time with more datasets and functionalities, in anticipation of Nigeria’s 2023 elections.

“At its core, Bloomberg is a data company; we like the way they approach elections and our approach in 2019 was driven by them,” said Ideh, who has always been vocal about Stears building Bloomberg of Africa. “This is a big open data effort for us and we are also excited about the survey because it is a very important form of data verification that is currently lacking in Nigeria. So during the election period, we will conduct and push statistically representative surveys for Nigeria using strong data attitudes to gain insight into public opinion issues and achieve more robust results.”

According to Ideh, the initial investment will take Stears from v2.0, a Nigerian insights company, to v3.0, an Africa-focused data company. The company plans to use the investment to improve its data collection and analytics capabilities, hire data specialists, data analysts and sector analysts and expand into East Africa through Kenya, South Africa through the country of the same name and North Africa through Egypt .

“Africa is home to the first people and is now the next frontier for business,” Marlon Nichols, co-founder and managing general partner at lead investor MaC Venture Capital, said of the investment. “Many multinational corporations and governments understand that this is a reality. They also appreciate that several African countries are subject to unique business processes and are predominantly cash-based economies, resulting in an understated GDP, among other things. Stears is uniquely positioned to provide the proprietary and accurate data needed to unlock trade and deepen business relationships with African countries and companies.”

Nigerian data and intelligence company Stears raises $3.3M, backed by Mac VC and Serena Ventures

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