How an ISP start-up maxxed the big-time, collaboratively

Frustrated as a student, already under pressure from higher education fees, a young Richmond Arthur found that the high costs, and unreliable connectivity at his university were the catalyst to his career.

Richmond is the Founder and CEO of Maxinet, one of Ghana’s leading Internet Service Providers. Richmond’s exasperation with costs and inferior connectivity fuelled his vision to build quality, reliable and affordable internet solutions for his fellow Ghanaian students. The growth in internet penetration in Ghana has steadily grown over the past period, with an estimated 53% of households having Internet access by January 2022. However, access to quality internet is challenging, for both businesses and households.

Richmond started Maxinet in 2018, just a year before graduating from Ghana Technology University with a B Degree in Information Technology. Less than five years on, Maxinet has certainly lived up to its name and its founding vision.

Challenges of a start-up

Along the way, Richmond explains there were some key business lessons in establishing his own ISP. “It didn’t come on a silver platter,” he says. “I had to go through a process of starting up a business – and one of the challenges was the capital. I underestimated the amount of startup capital for sure, and ultimately required more than ten times my initial estimation. Every time I revised it, I needed more – and more.”

The second challenge faced was to build the right infrastructure.

“I had knowledge but not all the expertise to build everything. I found it hard to find the right engineers, and to be able to afford them. I learnt that creating the right team is a process, and that finance and human resource go hand in hand in the beginning.”

Finding partnerships

Maxinet uses the upstream services of Workonline Communications to connect to the global Internet. Workonline is one of the largest IP transit providers in Africa and has a large footprint across West, East and Southern Africa.

When first introduced to Workonline, Richmond and the team hit it off immediately.

“They were the most experienced of all the providers we had considered, and had a very mature, long-term approach to collaborative market growth,” says Richmond. “The Workonline ecosystem is robust and they introduced me to many others already making use of their services. We also tested their services thoroughly and found that they were able to offer the best and fastest routes from and to Ghana, offering the benefits of improved latency while keeping the traffic on the continent instead of sending it to London or Europe for example.”

The partnership between Workonline and Maxinet has grown from strength to strength. Workonline business development manager, Daniel Duah, attributes this to open communications and collaboration between Maxinet and Workonline teams.

Richmond agrees and echoes Daniel’s views. “Since we signed up, we’ve had reliable service, great partnerships, and a deep personal connection. In fact, now we are friends, it’s not just business any more. Once I get that kind of service, it flows downwards to my customers and everyone benefits”

“This collaborative approach has helped me build a better and stronger customer base.”

Independence rules

Being an independent ISP was a significant milestone for Maxinet. Workonline supports and guides their customers through the process of establishing an independent ISP.

Independence in the Internet industry refers to having your own block of unique addresses, issued by Afrinic the African Internet registry, and can be a complex process. The benefits of this are important to downstream customers but often not understood or appreciated. The impact of independence is control over quality – Maxinet can provide the same quality service and speed but at a lesser fee than the larger telco’s charge.

“Without the experience and assistance of the Workonline team, we would have struggled to establish the quality service we are able to provide. Their engineers are world-class and always there when we need them,” adds Richmond.

He adds a story of the early days in the business where Workonline helped negotiate a lower monthly service cost for his base station, protecting Maxinet’s cashflow and helping to grow the long-term viability of the business.

Starting an ISP in a growing and vibrant market like Ghana is often seen as a great business opportunity and with low barriers to entry. Maxinet’s story shows that it can be done if you have the right partners on your side and an appetite for collaboration and independence.