In 2013 while attending a young entrepreneur’s summit in Johannesburg, I had a rare opportunity to meet with the president of southern Africa’s largest media and publishing enterprise, as we shared briefly I began to gain insight into how he built his enterprise, I was awakened to a lot of missing ingredients in our ecosystem.
It has been interesting watching the Nigerian technology scene develop, however, a recurring pattern I have observed gives me cause for concern; consistency and longevity.
I recall a few years ago, wrapping up from university, some of the strongest tech companies then were Quanteq, Chams, Linkserve and the likes, fast-forward few years during compulsory national youth service, I was unimpressed when I saw Quanteq staff distributing poorly printed flyers for computer training, my senior peers from school had left the company and a trip to their office was rather discouraging. With this is mind, I wanted to know why Nigerian technology firms have short lifespans. Below are key deficiencies I discovered and insights on effecting a change—
Enterprises without vision
Most Nigerian tech firms have no clear vision and roadmap, that ultimate expected end usually derived from a higher purpose and mission from the core values of its founders.
Two years ago I caused a stir in the company I worked for when in a staff meeting I asked my boss what his long term vision for the company was, he stuttered and reluctantly gave an unsure and uninspiring response, I left the company and a year later the company collapsed.
Nigerian technology entrepreneurs ought to go beyond setting up an enterprise simply for making money, there is a limit to the success of ventures solely formed for profit, there are vital lessons to draw from the “why’s” companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google were founded, until we operate from a higher value and motivation standpoint, there will be many more Linkserves’ and Quanteqs in Nigeria.
Lack of innovation and creativity
Over to present day and our tech ecosystem. Can we name one Nigerian tech venture that is truly disruptive? That’s right none you can instantly remember!
The harsh reality is; our ecosystem cannot be taken seriously by the international technology investor community when the supposed biggest players are online retail businesses- Jumia and Konga, which are not necessarily Technology Start-ups, neither are they novel and revolutionary innovations.
I attended a tech event earlier in the year in Lagos which featured supposedly budding/best tech start-ups and I was discouraged, yes agreed there are different kinds of ventures, ventures that find a better way of solving a particular problem with technology or one that creates a new and revolutionary venture, but we all know Africa is behind, to bridge this gap we ought to be “ADVANCING” not “REPLICATING”..
Instead of creating unique and innovative solutions to our local challenges and indeed the world, we are rather interested in running project management and exams tests applications as companies, I even saw one start-up, their eureka venture was an office intranet application.
Even worse, the ecosystem mentors who others are supposed to be inspired by are not exempt either when they begin to launch online grocery delivery ventures.
Surely we can we think innovative-ly beyond exam test softwares and project management apps as start-ups? Moreover, exams testing ventures are Band-Aid solutions to the high failure rates in WEAC and JAMB examinations, I’ll expound on this in a subsequent post.
I believe we have the capacity to pursue big innovative and revolutionary ventures, impacting our environment and indeed the globe, this is no bashing, all am saying is we will be taken more seriously internationally when we begin work on truly creative ventures, so that we no longer have to wonder why the foreign investors call on Kenya first before Nigeria, Ask Ushahidi and mPesa.
Wrong mentors, Private Club Syndrome and the elitist demeanour of the ecosystem
The Nigerian tech scene is in dire need of a poster child for successful visionary technology entrepreneurship, someone who literally squeezed water out of stone.
We do have such individuals like Seun Osewa of Nairaland, but unfortunately they are overshadowed by the noisy elitist private club of tech entrepreneurs who have self-crowned themselves head honchos and juggernauts of the ecosystems.
I am sorry but I’m not a Harvard grad, or have access to a network of billionaires like Sim Shagaya who is a mentee of Bello Osagie Chairman of Etisalat. No, the picture is more like the young dudes I met at CCHub/iDea Hub, fresh out of Yaba Tech or studying in UniLag, with only a laptop where they write code while thinking about how they’re short of N50 for their bus fare back home.
I walked into CCHub a while back and asked who are mentoring the chaps there, and I was given names of employees from Google and Nokia, we should be smart enough to know that straight jacket corporate boys and entrepreneurship don’t mix.
Also, the current crop are hardly relate-able to the young aspiring technologist with their grand idea, for example, besides business management there’s not much can pass on, for starters they are not thoroughbred entrepreneurs and certainly did not have the original idea, they were brought in as Business development employees and later elevated to run the show, with a large pull of cash to play with, I doubt if they have the hang of going from Idea to company on a 0.00 account balance.
Then again we receive reports that the tech scene has been turned into some sort of elitist private club, before anyone listens to the young guys they want to know if you studied abroad or if you are “connected”, how are we going to trigger innovation when there is already politicking now in the ecosystem.
We should advocate for knowledge sharing and an open system if we are to create ventures and redefine industries and cause a shift in culture.