I do not believe the primary motive of anyone building a startup in Nigeria should be money.
It is much easier to make money off the Internet or through other means than it is to make money from building tech startups. The average tech startup founder is smart enough to make much more money from blogging, Internet marketing, affiliate marketing and other ways the group I term “Nigerian Internet Hustlers” make their money.
I think I should know, I’ve spent nearly 10 years on the scene now. I remain convinced I would have made more money if I invested that time into Internet marketing or even scamming. I’m sure that the average ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ boy making serious money from gullible people is not smarter than me.
So, what is our real task as tech entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
Simple: our task is to inject the convenience that digital tech can bring into our society.
We need to sit up and create services that our target market will find useful and relevant. There are lots of problems out there that a little innovation from us can solve. I wonder why more tech startups are not doing these things.
The Nigerian Internet startup that seems to have the most usefulness to real Nigerians remains Nairaland. While we tech overlords criticise Seun Osewa’s Nairaland anytime we get a chance, the fact remains that Nairaland remains much more relevant to the average Bisi, Ngozi and Fatima than a lot of the startups we are building.
A lot of accelerators are springing up, I look forward to see what value they might add. Already, a recent list of startups admitted into a much publicized accelerator program got serious criticism. There was no startup on that list with any serious game changing idea.
If we must build startups, why don’t we build startups that matter? All of the Nigerian tech startup services I use can disappear at anytime and I would not miss their service. I daresay they do not seem to have solved any problem for me.
If you are a tech startup owner reading this article, examine yourself.
I have observed that when I read about Kenyan or Indian startups, they always sound custom built for their markets and the most successful ones among them find a place amongst the everyday people there. You can read this TechCrunch article about RedBus.in to see what I am talking about.
Funding is not the issue
I do not believe that funding is our primary challenge. People have gotten funding and they still blew it. I belong to the school of thought that believes that various skill sets are lacking. Technical skills are lacking, business skills are poor, marketing skills are even poorer.
Having a lot of investor money does not get you an overnight success, some things just have to take time. I learnt the hard way that setting my gas to full power will not cook my oats in a few seconds rather than a few minutes under lower power settings.
This is precisely what investor money does.
More money does not automatically turn your bad idea into a good one or magically bestow you with skills you do not have.
Some of your ideas cannot be unleashed at once, you have to chip slowly at the market until it breaks open and you get declared by everyone as the successful Startup Entrepreneur you always were.
2 Words: be useful
What we need are simple solutions to everyday challenges that work well. Services that work as advertised.
We need to realise that tech solutions are needed in every sector of the economy and as such we should spread out and get things done. I think too many people are already in the ecommerce space, and there are already heavily funded players there too. Unless you have a really dramatic twist to how ecommerce works, then you should look at another industry instead.
Everyday, we read about yet another photo sharing app or chat app launching featuring exactly the same features as the others before them. At a point I joked that the difference between the various chatting apps was their logo and colours. I thought we had seen them all until I found SideTalk, a new chatting app available on Android only for now. SideTalk brings an interesting innovation to the game that makes it stand out: SideTalk works without the internet, it does not use your data!
SideTalk uses your phone’s bluetooth to send and receive messages. It is easy to see a lot of use cases for something like this:
- Side talks during a lecture or meeting (pun intended)
- Chatting within the house. Why should I use up my precious data to exchange messages with my younger brother in the basement?
- Location based social networking, connect me to interesting people around me who are SideTalking.
Of course, this will not be useful to everyone and it does not need to. But I am sure it is a chat app that will appeal to the data-less folks out there. Mark Zuckerberg was certainly right when he said that data access is more expensive than the smartphones.
SideTalk is a brilliant example of what can happen if we sit down to think about how we can build experiences people can relate to and find useful.
The Nigerian Tech startup ecosystem needs to make its mark on the real society. What we really need is for a true Nigerian startup to become as relevant to the average Nigerian in the same way foreign tech like Facebook, Whatsapp and ATM machines have become relevant in recent times. We need to focus on specific use cases that our services will be useful for.
Will the real Nigerian startups please stand up?
(Disclaimer: I am not involved with any startup or product mentioned by name in my post, I only found them to serve as good examples).