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Facing an Investor Revolt, Thrive Agric Names Sowho Interim Chief

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Thrive Agric has announced the appointment of Adia Sowho as interim chief executive after facing a backlash and rising threats of legal action from aggrieved subscribers on social media.

The agriculture startup announced today that Adia Sowho, whose most recent role was Vice President for growth at fintech startup Migo, will become the interim chief. Ms Sowho’s previous roles in the technology and business sector include leading digital business at Etisalat, and telecommunications consulting at Deloitte.

Sowho takes over from Uka Eje, the 29-year old entrepreneur, who co-founded Thrive Agric in 2017 with Ayodeji Arikawe.

“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. 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, recognizing that she has the required expertise to move us past this period successfully,” Eje said in a statement.

The company said Mr Eje will become the chief operating officer. The company was forced to take drastic action after it defaulted on its commitments to investors, many of whom have lampooned the company and its main backer the technology incubator, as the startup nearly collapsed under mounting debts.

On Monday, at least thirty-six people signed on to an ultimatum demanding that Thrive Agric repays ₦50 million (~ $110,000) owed to subscribers of the agritech’s farm investment programme.

In a statement published by Muhammed Akinyemi on behalf of the subscribers, they demanded “a written and signed legal note from Thrive Agric that the investments expected will be paid immediately.”

After feeling ignored by Thrive Agric and fearing the loss of their investment, up to 100 subscribers congregated to form a WhatsApp group to accelerate the pressure on the company.

They have been upset with the lack of communication since May when Thrive Agric first hinted that the coronavirus pandemic would affect its ability to meet its financial commitments to investors.

The group’s said that Thrive Agric had started defaulting on payments since March, before the coronavirus disrupted the local economy.

Ventures Platform, one of Thrive Agric’s earliest investors, has been involved in reshaping the company’s “sub-optimal communication,” according to a statement by the venture capital firm today. In emails to subscribers and FAQs on their website, Thrive Agric has said it will be able to repay all payments in 12 to 24 months.

In addition to a “thorough review of the company’s financial and non-financial operations to fully understand the scale of the problem,” Ventures Platforms says it is “Providing bridge debt to help liquidate some of the outstanding [payments] to subscribers.”

However, most subscribers whose investments were supposed to pay dividends in September and October, have rejected the company’s new timeline.

“I really just want my money paid out as I have bills to pay,” says Tega Edwin-Ajogun, one of the signatories to Akinyemi’s statement.

Edwin-Ajogun said she was forced to go public with her concerns after failing to get assurances in private conversations with Eje, the Thrive Agric co-founder, and other members of his team. She is one of at least three people who have gone into detail explaining their disappointment with the company.

In a Medium post that has been widely shared, one subscriber called the company a fraud insisting that Thrive Agric misrepresented the nature of its insurance agreement with Leadway Assurance. While Leadway has insisted that pre-farming and post-harvest events (like the coronavirus pandemic affecting sales of farm produce) are not included in the terms of insurance, Thrive Agric’s subscribers claim that the company in its sales pitches, implied that subscribers’ capital was insured.

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