Nine Things African Tech Entrepreneurs Should Never Do

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Hello, my name is Olumide and my business is Prepclass. I am not much of a writer but for some time now my partner and I have been trying to build a kickass team of amazingly smart guys. We thought what better way than to share some lessons we’ve learnt as tech entrepreneurs in Nigeria, from a hustler’s point of view, and highlight our plans for the future.

It is my hope that upon reading some of the things we have figured out the hard way, you would be interested in joining us to build Prepclass into a kickass company.

Here are the important don’ts.

1. Don’t build a startup without savings

Except it’s blogging, bulk SMS or web/graphics design/hosting which ones bring fast cash with smaller effort, don’t build a tech startup if you can’t feed yourself for at least 3-6 months. Or at least your family/friends can feed you. Especially in the beginning. You are most likely going to pour all your savings into the startup. My partner and I literally spent more than N700K of all the money we had in the world on Prepclass  without 100 paying customers o, all we had was the sexy product, that was very very dumb.

2. Don’t build an elaborate product if you have not done any form of micro-testing

Do not read Techcrunch and come up with some fancy business plan or “feasibility study”. Actual testing with real life customers is way smarter. Use google docs, a wordpress landing page/plugin, anything that is extremely simple that lets you test your idea.

We built our first product (test prep) in 6 months without adequate testing only to realize that market (not the users) were not particularly thrilled about our features. We built our tutor market product (our newest and most successful) in one day. We used just Google docs and focused all our energy on users.

Of course now we have built a product with proprietary algorithm that matches tutor requests according to user preferences, but my point is your code means nothing if it’s not gaining traction. Often times (especially in CcHub), we spend too much time coding thinking we’re badass, whereas growth hacking is king.

Instead of building a sexy UI and layout think of the cheapest way to get the largest amount of traction as quickly as possible. Funny enough, the guys making liquid cash in the tech space don’t even have the sexiest UI. Check LindaIkeji, Naij, Information Nigeria, SMSlive247, 50kobo, Betazoo. In fact just check out the website of any VAS company…you don’t want to know how much they make.

3. Build a team

Do not invest your time with a shitty cofounder. It’s either you’re a Bonny and Clyde, or Batman and Robin. If you are working on your startup fulltime, and you have a “friend” or “friends” that are part time (especially software developers, that still earn good money doing other jobs), they better be contributing more money than you, otherwise the relationship won’t last. Please have an agreement signed somewhere, it is too important.

Form a team of people who have the same kinds of ambitions as you. They may think different, have extremely different backgrounds, but they should have the same kind of hunger that drives you. They should also be people you can chill with and share the joys and pains of being a startup with.

As a team, the journey has been extremely exciting for us at Prepclass, first we won the Techcabal battlefield in February, were named top 10 most innovative companies in Africa, were the overall Africa winners in the Indiafrica competition, MTN budding Entrepreneur and the Anshiza prize in entrepreneurship. Far beyond winning competitions in the past 4 months we have increased our average monthly revenue by over 5 times what it used to be in the months before.

It’s been a very emotional journey and one that we are looking to share with exciting and vibrant people. We are forming Voltron right now as we look towards the battles of 2015 and we are inviting as many smart young people who are looking to be part of one of the most interesting young companies in Nigeria.

4. Don’t rely on investors

Especially the ones here in Nigeria. The financial capital market is very poor. The richest guys are the politicians, and they only understand traditional business models. The VCs/accelerators try to mitigate risk as much as possible. They won’t invest (meaningfully) in your code if you don’t have any real traction.

My advice: apply for startup competitions and give it your all. Battlefield literally changed our lives. Aside the funds, the ripple effect of the exposure we got from the experience is still ongoing. There a lot of competitions out there. Indiafrica, Etisalat, Echoing Green, WISE, CcHUB Call For Ideas, MTN budding Entrepreneur, Youwin, Anshiza price in entrepreneurship. In 2014 we applied for more than twenty (it is a lot of work) and we won four. This puts us in a good position to create real value for our customers remain focused and not desperate. Trust me we are also extremely accountable for every penny.

6. Don’t focus on building just a startup, build a solid network

In Nigeria, things happens fast if you know someone. I never taught I would be able to get visa to a country barely 10 minutes after arriving at the embassy for the first time without any prior application. Have “godfathers” in industries that are specific to you. Be their friends and “boy” if you will. Ask for advice, help and possible strategic partnership. One phone call can literally change your user base from hundreds to thousands over night. But please make sure you know exactly why you are following your “godfather” though, because that can be a problem too.

6. Please never ever Compare yourself to funded companies.

When I tell guys in CcHub how hard some of these things, some say “I would do it like Konga/Jumia”, or “can’t you do it like Cheki?”. If you are a wannabe entrepreneur like me, please don’t compare yourself to companies like Cheki, Jumia, Konga, or Wakanow. These guys spend more on salaries than you would spend in a whole decade, unless you get your own funds ofcourse. They are not startups (in our own definition of startups). They are heavily funded companies with a marketing budget huge enough to allow them make mistakes and still win.

7. Don’t think only local

Think of solutions that scale outside Nigeria too. Ever heard the now cliched phrase, “think local act global”?. There are so many guys here in Nigeria quietly making money with international tech products that have nothing to with Nigerians. See Formplus – for a startup with zero overhead they are an ideal SaaS solution making liquid cash. Build apps for chrome store, a wordpress plugins or build a custom made excel templates with formulas, sell audio books etc.

8. Don’t forget mobile

Especially if you are interested in B2C in Nigeria. Opera mini and Blackberry (yes blackberries are still plenty out there) account for the highest internet consumption in Nigeria, with Opera Mini alone accounting for more than 50%. Ask anyone with an incredible amount of traffic. It’s all from opera mini. That is only natural because of the high internet cost (Opera mini offers nearly the same experience with lesser bandwidth consumption) and of course higher feature-phone penetration.

9. Don’t try to do it alone

I have learnt a lot of stuff by proximity to smart people. I am as curious as hell (I learnt that from my partner) Be friends with guys doing things in the tech space. By this I mean guys making actual money not your fellow friends with code.

If you are already thinking of quitting your jobs to become a tech entrepreneurs I hope you find this useful. We’re also hoping you might be inspired and join us on the Prepclass bandwagon.

Photo Credit: Hugo-photography via Compfight cc

18 Comments

  • Odunayo says:

    This is so damn true!

  • Seye Olucheye says:

    “If you are a wannabe entrepreneur like me, please don’t compare yourself to companies like Cheki, Jumia, Konga, or Wakanow. These guys spend more on salaries than you would spend in a whole decade, unless you get your own funds ofcourse. They are not startups (in our own definition of startups). They are heavily funded companies with a marketing budget huge enough to allow them make mistakes and still win”

    That line is the very true. I see a whole lot of Startups make mistakes, working with a lean mantra while comparing themselves to the full-fledged guys with mega bucks.
    Well Said Olumide.

    • ayo Dawodu ♛ says:

      hehe.. contradicting? but the lean way gives us the best shot at it and making mistakes is all part of it. You just have to make them fast enough and know the ways it would not work.

  • philip0906 says:

    @Olumide your head is there. . .we at autobox can relate to your experiences. We sat back at cchub building fancy website, writing codes, blowing grammar et al with little revenue, as soon as we hit the streets running after customers, we racked up revenue & customer base and we have not looked back. For Nigerian startups with little or no funding, the street (or where ever your customers are) is where the money is.

  • Victor Anumba says:

    I like the last point( Don’t try to do it alone). Most founders in Nigeria who tried never gained traction or succeeded to the point of going viral. Another point is never rely on investors money. kudos for the awesome point. Merry Xmas!

  • Prince Oluwasegun Abisagbo says:

    Great piece

  • ayo Dawodu ♛ says:

    Nice tips Olumide. Thank you.
    Without trying to qualify if Linda and co are in the “tech space” – I just think we should always step back and actually realize that business is business and technology is only an enabler.

    • Osborn Adu Kwarteng says:

      I can’t agree more. Sound business understanding and a good technology solution can take you a long way.

  • Ahamefula Chinaza Benjamin says:

    Article of the Year!!!

  • Lucius Unegbu says:

    Awesome points bro. Traction is and has always being key.

  • Iyinoluwa Aboyeji says:

    Great post!

  • Okwara Godswill Ndukwe says:

    Wow, i learnt a thing or two from this informative post. These are some of the core principles taught by Lean Startup fundamentalists, Point four really caught me.

  • Jonathan Alli says:

    Wow!
    This has kept me re-thinking about a lot. Thanks so much for this nice piece. It’s definitely going to be helpful to all budding entrepreneurs.
    Nice one Olumide.

  • Chika says:

    Great article; MVP, network, Cash safety net. It couldn’t have been said any better.

  • Chidumaga says:

    Awesome post! Pretty much all of it can apply to any entrepreneur in any industry.

Comments are closed.