As an undergraduate, Kendyson Douglas learned to code while studying Civil Engineering. A few years later, alongside a group of friends, he launched the store builder Selar, which enables creators to start selling digital products like ebooks and courses. After a few slow years, the platform hit ₦2b in sales in 2022. Speaking with PiggyVest, he tells us the story of how he did it.
Kendyson is not a very common name.
[Laughs] I go by Douglas because I got tired of explaining myself. My first name is Kesi (pronounced Kay-cee) and people will ask if it is KC as in Kelechi. So, I started going by my middle name. But people will ask what it means. So I started using my last name as my first name.
On behalf of everybody else, I apologise.
[Laughs] It’s okay.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Port Harcourt. My mum did a lot of entrepreneurial things. I lost my dad at eight, and my mum became the sole provider. She was committed to giving us the same kind of life my dad gave us, but at the same time she wanted us to understand that things had changed. We went to the best of schools, at the least.
She sounds great.
As I grew older, I started to play with our desktop. We had a neighbour who was a computer engineer, and if something went wrong with the computer, he would tell me what to do. When I was done with SS2, which was around 2009/2010, my mum bought me a laptop. It’s one of my most memorable presents to date.
What did the gift change for you?
It was mine and so if it crashed, it was up to me to fix it. So, when I got to Covenant University, I realised that all of those fixes had taught me something: I could fix other people’s laptops.
Interesting. What were you studying?
Civil Engineering. I wanted to study Architecture, but someone told my mum that architects don’t have money and I wouldn’t get jobs.
The end of that dream.
Yeah. So I was kind of popular among students and CU is a school that encourages business, so I was making decent money from fixing laptops. By 200 level, I told my mum that I wanted to switch to Computer Engineering.
My mother started crying. [Laughs] And that was that.
The tears were effective.
Indeed. I had to soldier on. Anyway, at some point, I had some trouble. In trying to repair a laptop for someone, it spoiled. I had to go back to my mum for the money and it was about four times my stipend. I said I’d try to get her the money back, but she said to let it go. My ego was deeply bruised by the experience.
I can imagine.
I had been trying to get clients from the female hostel because they would pay more, and if news that I had spoiled someone’s laptop got out, it would make things harder. Somehow, I had an idea to build a site like OLX.
I tried to learn how to code to build it. I went to the 400 level class to find someone to teach me because I couldn’t pay for it. They recommended a guy called Raymond, and he was very nice. He started to show me how to code and because I’m an obsessive person, I fell in love with it.
Which of the languages were you learning?
Very focused on the web.
Yeah. As it turned out, Raymond and his friend Ebuka were also very money-focused, so I became a person who learned to code while also thinking about business. I learned to code in August and was earning money by November.
Within a year of learning to code, I got a contract to build a website for Cobhams.
I think it was his wife I was working for first and then she said to do something for her husband as well. I think we had agreed on ₦70k for two websites. I also had the thought that the clout I would get from the project could lead to something bigger
That is usually true.
It was but still the feeling of getting underpaid was there that day.
What other major event happened to you at the time?
Covenant gave Aisha, a student, a grant for entrepreneurship. She had an idea that involved delivering food to students. I helped her build it. This was in 2016, I think. A few of the payment providers were not quite doing it for me and then Paystack came up.
I became a customer and one of the company’s fans and feedback givers. I joined their Slack, which was public at the time, and knew when they had an opening. I joined them as technical support and worked with them for almost a year.
Why did you leave?
Because I wanted to. [Laughs] It was my village people.
What happened next?
I was unemployed for a bit and then I joined Flutterwave.
That’s quite a switch.
[Laughs] I left after 10 months and then got a job in Dubai.
Jet set life.
That was in 2018. I wanted to stay for a year because I hadn’t done that at any company yet. I did that and then left. A few years later, in 2021, I decided to do Selar full-time.
You got funding from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, right?
Yeah. That was before I left for Dubai. That money helped to sustain the site for some time.
Let’s backtrack. What was the initial impetus behind starting Selar?
I was part of a group of five friends looking to start something. The idea came about from my work with Paystack, and we started to build it. Some of us were designers and three of us could really code. As time went on, we became three and then the other two guys left.
And now it’s just you.
Yes. The product wasn’t really making any progress, and everyone was very busy with their day jobs and just general life stuff.
Why did you stick with it?
I don’t really know. For the most part, it cost me nothing (financially), just my time and energy, so it was easy to keep going. I tried to keep the cost of operations low, which meant begging for AWS credit sometimes. [Laughs] We might have been paying up to $1500 per month for that service at the time.
When did things change with regards to revenue?
Recently. In 2018, the total transaction on Selar was ₦3m. The year later was double that. By 2020, we did ₦100m.
The year before, I had decided to give Selar one more year. And if it didn’t work, I planned to pack it up because it was taking up my time. I became more intentional mostly because the job I had at the time taught me about the importance of marketing.
What did you do next?
I quit my job after the growth spurt in 2020, which was scary because even if the numbers were good, it could have been a fluke. I was also stressed at my job, so that also contributed to my quitting. I moved to Lagos after I quit.
Dubai was too expensive?
Yes. But more importantly, I had looked at my savings and realised that if I stayed in Dubai, I’d have maybe 5 to 6 months of personal runway, but if I moved to Lagos, I’d have more than double that runway.
Fair enough. It seems like you haven’t raised money for Selar.
I haven’t. I really like autonomy. I’m not ready to be on the funding treadmill. Yet!
Back to the revenue trajectory. What happened in 2021?
We did over a billion naira.
And then last year, we reached the ₦2 billion mark.
And Selar gets a percentage of that, right?
Yes. From 2% to 4%.
Balling! What’s the team like now?
We are about 18 now.
What kind of creator brings in the most value on Selar?
Coaches. Life coaches and business coaches. There is quite some attention on a japa class right now. Then there was a coach who got one transaction worth $12,000.
We were just as surprised. In 2020, there was a coach I reached out to that I had reached out to years before she came on the platform. When she finally joined, she did ₦21m in three days. The individual sums were like ₦250k, ₦300k. I had never seen anything like that in my life!
Things are happening.
Imagine seeing your whole revenue in one person’s daily intake.
Shocking, amazing stuff. How has Selar’s success changed you?
That’s a hard one to answer. But let me say that the success has meant that I can take a salary, which I only started taking last year. My savings were about to finish, so I had to do something. [Laughs]
Take me through your income trajectory.
I went from ₦35k to ₦150k, which came at Paystack. Then to ₦250k and ₦350k. I was paid ₦500k at a small company before leaving Nigeria. In Dubai, I received $4,000 at my first job and my last job in Dubai paid me between $5,000 and $6,000 dollars.
And now you pay yourself.
Impressive. What tips for success do you have for tech entrepreneurs and the kind of creators your platform hosts?
There is a role time plays. Even the creators that command the most money on Selar are people who have been in the game for a long time. Maybe a celebrity does great numbers, but it normally doesn’t last. The guys who have built their credibility over time are the consistent winners. It is similar to my journey, in that I was writing code almost every weekend. So time and consistency are important.
Then if you can, keep your costs low. We only started paying for email marketing this year and the cost is heavy. Lastly, be nice to everybody. Anything can happen. A lot of the progress I have made is because people have helped me.