Will The Real Startups Please Stand Up?

stand out

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).

46 Comments

  • Dee says:

    …and what happens to Side Talk when a “side talk” feature is added to Whatsapp or BBM?

  • Sola F. says:

    AMEN Burtha…. Someone had to stand up and say it.

    But come .. Your profile said inventor at night…. Can we see some of ur inventions already?

  • Sola F. says:

    From what I’ve seen from techcabal there are four 4 different types of tech startups in Nigeria.

    1. The copy copy startup.
    This is ur next facebook, picture sharing app.etc. They usually build on iPhone app first (like lots of Nigerians are carrying iPhone). They are usually done by non tech founders. They will be quick to tell u how Facebook is worth 100b and how they are going global.

    2. Great idea bad execution startup.
    Generally low funded and/or poor hiring of engineers. The ideas are truly good and solves a problem but the software is so underwhelmly executed. Ur sad once u use it.

    3. Great idea NO execution startup.
    These startups advertise how they are going to solve a GREAT problem. They have a great PR pitch but no working site, not even alpha testing. Launch date 2078 ??? Still waiting…

    4. Great idea, Good software, 65th company to launch the same product startup.
    Yep, these are the jumia konga clones. Nigerians typically like to follow whats successful so every week. An ecommerce startup launches in Nigeria.

    • Damola says:

      so, which one of them are you? even if you can’t stand up, at least raise ya hand naw

      • Sola F. says:

        The same one that you are bro!

        • Damola says:

          I would be disappointed that with all your strategic analysis, you can’t even raise a finger talkless of a hand in this matter…

          • Sola F. says:

            So if I tell you I have a successful one man tech (java) startup in Nigeria would that make you feel better or worse? mmmmh

          • Sayo Oladeji says:

            He doesn’t have to have a successful startup before he can criticize or analyze. I’m not a good graphic artist but I can tell good designs from poor ones.

    • Awesome comment Sir, I think this your comment deserves a post on its own too…

      • Damola says:

        Against popular opinion, I think you don’t know what you are talking about.

        There are a lot of Nigerians working very hard every day to do things. We are the Yahoo kings man. Our brain work faster than the damn computer..

        To execute an idea successfully, there are certain key elements that must come into play. a. The right vision. b. The right management . c. The right Cash Flow.

        The Nigerian framework does not support entrepreneurship. If you’ve the right vision, and you really did get it working, like some people did and still do, you need the right management to be able to scale or it’ll die or someone like konga and jumia will have the right management + cashflow to scale it for you, and you’ll go hungry!.. ONLY YOU.. Cannot do It..

        Management comes into several dimensions from basics like HR. Finance. Customer Service. etc… Do you know how nearly impossible it’s for one person or even a team of persons to handle this, and do you know that consultants in Nigeria were not built for startups unless the startups really knew what they wanted which is usually hard at that stage, and do you know even if you paid them a lot of money, You’ll most likely not get jack back!

        Do you know that, you have to probably be an experienced manager of people, resources, and ideas for you to even attain any sort of success in Nigeria, which means you must have spent years making mistakes or learning from others?, do you know that your most creative years are usually in your 20s?..and as such those management skills will be lacking?..

        Frankly, Nigeria is a shitty place to grow an idea. Everything I have written so far, is fact from almost 10years of real time experience. I started from 0 and with my team did over 12,000 cash on deliveries before 2010. NO konga, No Jumia,

        Good news is that, all these accelerators will help more people a lot, and with more information there’ll be less errors and better opportunities. But who am I to say?…

        • Only a fool comes to a public forum and expects to be always right. I am not a fool and your views are well said, there are always 2 sides to every story and advice.

          But I read through your comment and I am not sure the alternative you are proposing. Or just because in your own view “Nigeria is a shitty place to grow an idea” (I dont agree) means we should all quit and go find something else doing? Maybe we should all turn into Bloggers and Internet Marketers??

          As I said, the accelerators popping up are a welcome development. Only time will tell whether they are indeed helpful or not.

          Thanks for airing your views

          • Damola says:

            Frankly, you’ve bashed the hard-work of the Nigerian entrepreneur and the Nigerian spirit, and you are like all those arm critic who find it convenient to just talk. They never know anything or do anything, but they just talk.

            Like you pointed yourself, You’ve never been a real entrepreneur, so, I want to tell all the real entrepreneurs out there to not listen to the crap you wrote, or did you drop out of school to pursue your passion? did you spend at least 10 hours of 24 hours every day in your last ’10 ‘ years to make it work? Have you ever done over 12,000 deliveries in over 6 states pre-2010, no jumia, no konga. Like my mentor 2baba said, Walk in my shoes for a 100 miles, and lets see how it feels.

            Guy go and sit down!.. Listen my people. I know you are doing all you can to make it work, a man is only as a great as the war he conquers, don’t let this critic talk crap into your head.. he doesn’t know what he’s saying.

            I do agree with him though that you should learn to take it one step at a time. You must learn to evolve the game plan, you must continue to learn.

            There exist over 10k eCommmerce sites in America, if you know what you are doing, You’ll be fine, but you really have to know, so bring it on, there only so many industries like trading where you can have significant influence, pick your market right, keep pushing, keep evolving and eventually, your work will tell your story, Don’t you ever let anyone tell you can’t do it…Of course, it gats to be hard, I understand, it’s tough, thats what great people are made of, tough skin, you’ve to see through the noise, and dream and execute.

            eNough said!

          • Sola F. says:

            If you want to close your eyes and honestly say we don’t have a problem with the quality of startup ideas coming out on a daily basis then you are not being truthful to yourself.

            The idea phase of the startups are pretty appalling. A lot of ideas generated by startups start from a very naive/selfish/copy the next man foundation.

            I like what Ademola is writing about…. He is focusing on a particular point in the startup evolution and that is “the startup idea”

          • I am NOT sure you really read through my post. If you did, then you would know that my post never “bashed the hard-work of the Nigerian entrepreneur and the Nigerian spirit”.

            I am not an arm chair critic, I am a doer. I think this reflects in the amount of things I have tried my hands on. You might want to check out a full profile I have at http://about.me/ademola.morebise

            If people want to keep churning out a new ecommerce site everyday without anything UNIQUE about their own iteration, who am I to stop them?

            My post was meant to appeal to a set of people and challenge them to try their hands at things that will matter. Things that would make them market leaders in their own category.

            I definitely knew my post would not be liked by everybody, and its OK.

        • standout says:

          Nice points outlined….

        • Sola F. says:

          Cry me a river.

          Hustle is Startup and Startup is hustle. All that lack of management stuff is just a poor excuse IMO. Is Nigeria a difficult place to start a startup… Yes. Have people succeed in Nigeria regardless.. Yes.

          I get a feeling that you started something in the past and this post brings back bitter feelings. Don’t take it personal. Ademola wrote a good post and was truthful in his findings.

          Get an idea, start it, execute and grow.

          Please look at my guy at hotels.ng for inspiration. It can be done.

          • amgonnapuke says:

            you be PR for hotels.ng ? and what inspiriation can we get from hotels.ng in sense of the matter wey full ground ?

    • amgonnapuke says:

      @ least they started something which makes the ecosystem more interesting…

  • Nana Mensah says:

    This is by far the best article and advice on this platform about the current nature of tech startups in Nigeria /Africa. Copy copy copy, not much innovation or taking into deep consideration, the nature of the local market, local thought patterns, customs and processes.

    A respected African Scholar said we need to look out for our own cultural triggers in order to create relevant solutions that are scalable and sustainable. Of course we can borrow ideas but those need to be modified / adapted according to the needs of the market.

    But all is not lost as some of the startups are already doing this. They know themselves…

    • Thanks for the kind words!

      As you said , indeed some startups are already doing this, we need to talk more about such people and assist them in anyway we can.

      • Oluwajoba OKEDIJI says:

        Good post. I believe startups should be industry based. Stay on your lane, do what you know, learn and grow….following the hypes of the jasons or the sims of naija may drown you. We need more guys in agriculture.

  • Seyi Taylor says:

    At least I don’t have to write this article. Bless you Ademola

  • chizaram says:

    It will be great to see more hardware based startups in the near future. Software is great – no doubt. And like they say “Hardware is hard”. But once you crack the hardware aspect, you’re on to something.

    • I firmly believe we will eventually be able to do hardware. Maybe we can see some real hardware startups in like 2 years.

      Of course, this days with a Chinese OEM partner, you can easily do something in that space. Have you seen the SOLO phone?

      • amgonnapuke says:

        SOLO phone is like the Bad version of Techno… Shhit is D.E.A.D

        • Hmmmmm, no comment on the quality of SOLO.

          I have not used their product before. I merely brought it up because I am sure their hardware play must have a Chinese OEM partnership.

          That is the way to go for now, or what options do we have?

  • Tunde Mo' Aguda says:

    Great article i must confess Demola.
    I have over the years tried my hands on a couple of startup ideas but over time and experience i discovered that you have to truly understand the type of tech startup person you are, the type of ecosystem you are in and ultimately your target market and competition.

    It took me close a decade to figure this out and once i had this insight, i finally was able to push something (tech startup) that i could be proud of. Developing RAMP.ng from scratch with a minimal team but personally handling most of the coding was great but we faced our nemesis in the area of marketing and business development, still considering the fact that i was still bootstrapping my startup.

    Let’s face it, getting it totally right with your startup takes the combined mix of Networking, Funding, Mentoring and Training. A question that the Tony Elumelu Foundation has been asking in the last couple of days on their facebook page.

    All four components are important but let’s face it,their is a point your startup get’s that funding and networking become the 2 most essential. And when people say startups should solve genuine problems, i quite agree but also lets call a spade a spade, we are all in the for the money. My startup wants to make money too, so let me humbly say i’m primarily into this to solve people’s problems and make money…………..

    My 2 cents via RAMP.ng

    • Love your startup idea, love that it serves a particular niche and love the site. I think you could expand it to serve all associations not just neighborhood once. I think it could serve student bodies, professional associations and any other type of association with very minor tweaks.

      Get a few customers from associations around you. Let them take it for a test drive risk free (free of charge) preferably for a quarter if you can (keep your cost very low to achieve this). Get them on boarded unto the system, help them use it full capabilities. Let them get addicted to it before the quarter is out. Get them subscribed at the end of the quarter. If by any chance, any does not get to subscribe, learn their reasons for not doing so. Improve your system based on their recommendations. Try to get referrals from those that subscribed and even those that don’t. Get a few testimonials on your site.

      Grow from there.

      While Networking, Funding, Mentoring and Training are important, it shouldn’t stop your progress. Move with what you have and what you can. You will figure it all out as you move along.

      Once again love it.

    • We are all in the game to make money, sure.

      I merely said if your ONLY goal is to get rich, Internet Marketing is a faster and “surer” way to make money than building startups. Real Startups are HARD.

      The idea of building something useful for a well defined group of people is something I also love. If I do not have the resources to be the best in the world… I would reduce the size of my world to a size where my resources can have a real meaning. That is why building niche startups is a great strategy for many.

      I am kinda familiar with your work at RAMP.ng, keep pushing…

  • Oluseyi says:

    To be fair, it’s pretty much the same in the US. For every Facebook and Google that capitalize, scale, IPO and (at least for now) sustain, there are _hundreds_ that seek only to be bought out by the big dogs—that’s their “exit.” A big part of the problem is that consumer internet companies and apps are sexy, but rarely profitable except in a multi-sided market where consumer attention/information is being aggregated and sold to advertisers.

    Nigeria’s most pressing problems are policy. It’s next most pressing are physical infrastructure and the sociocultural context necessary to establish, respect and maintain them properly. As you said, ICT startups add convenience; they don’t solve Large or Wicked Problems. The challenge for the Nigerian startup entrepreneur is thus fairly unique, in that she must seek to deliver conveniences in an environment where significant physical challenges exist. There is opportunity, but it is of a different shape than in much of the rest of the world.

    • I find your comment spot on! We are in a very challenging situation but I think we have somehow progressed against all odds to a place where we can actually get stuff done.

      The basic infrastructure we need is now becoming more and more available. I am impressed with the level of mobile penetration we currently have and it will get better.

      Let’s just get to work – real work that is – and make magic!

      • Oluseyi says:

        I thought about this some more and it struck me that the greatest frontier in Nigeria right now is in physical startups, where the digital information layer is employed to optimize operations. The risks are astronomical due to our environmental challenges, but the rewards for success are equally stratospheric.

        That window will close relatively soon, probably within 10 years, but when it does it will have disintermediated an apathetic government—in effect, a significant portion of Nigerians (at least in major metropolises) will not be reliant on government subsistence services—and created the stable physical layer on which the next generation of innovations can be built. And _that_ generation will innovate at light speed.

        Yeah. This is going to be a thrilling ride! 🙂

  • standout says:

    Nice article. I quite agree with your points but at the same time, Nigeria system is so messed up that the required mix to grow a biz is nearly absent or better say absent. That doesnt mean we would cultivate the ‘sit down look’ attitude and not continue to struggle….at least what we have now is better than what we had in the last five years so that means there a little hope..pardon me for that tho. Also talking about the copy copy startup, i get a headache when i see another startup with the facebook, whatsapp and konga ideology. Shiiiit….. can someone just develop an app that can tell where i can easily get parking space on the island? Thats an expo tho, mehn it is a typical lagos problem. Another point is this and the reason i do not like going to cCHUB especially, you only find ‘Startups’ that continue to code and then end up with the copy copy syndrome or those that just go there for free internet… so much to talk about Nigerian startups… God help us.

    • “can someone just develop an app that can tell where i can easily get parking space on the island?”

      Of course, it might be doable. We just need to spread our gospel of looking for real challenges around and building something to solve them.

      Let the Nigerian condition inspire ideas and not the latest app featured on TechCrunch for obvious reasons…

  • Onyeka says:

    My opinion is that tech startups in Nigeria need to find good business strategists, who understand the industry, to work with. Dont fill your network with only people who live, eat, breathe tech like you, you wont grow beyond having a great idea. Sometimes you need someone to tell you things your tech buddies dont know, someone coming from a different prospective. I should probably setup a business consultancy service for tech startups, you are all welcome.

    • +1,000!

      Many Tech Entrepreneurs are not really Entrepreneurs, many of us are very gifted thinkers and builders and we need people who can handle the business side for us. The challenge we have is finding such people.

      I actually help people building startups think through the business side of the startup. It is part of my day job at http://morebise.com

      Thanks for stopping by

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