It all started with a reader’s interesting suggestion that we interview Linda Ikeji for a startup founders’ series. The request seemed absurd because the intent was for the startups in question to be technology companies…obviously. This got us thinking about how loosely we use the term ‘tech startup’.

Most of the businesses that we’ve come to refer to as tech startups don’t have any real technology at the core of their operations; technology (or more specifically, the internet) is merely an operations component of said businesses.

Take Konga for instance, a retail logistics business with a delivery fleet as large as Tranex and about one third the size of DHL. If online payments become a hassle, you can pay on delivery. Then there is Taxi Park, a fantastic service – not only because you can book a cab on the internet, but also because of the follow up phone calls; some to you, some to the Taxi company, all to coordinate the transaction.

And those are even complex examples that have significant technology elements. As you come down the startup evolution pyramid, the examples evoke some head scratching. For instance, is a website that sells drinks or one that sells t-shirts a technology company?

Since we’re talking about what isn’t a tech startup, it is worth mentioning that we did an impromptu vox pop and asked some of our people at the hub to give us any examples of actual Nigerian tech companies that they know. A lot more head scratching threw up names like Prowork and Interswitch. We were more confused than we were convinced.

It seems the lines between a tech company and a tech enabled company have grayed significantly. Is that why such titles like ‘internet entrepreneur’ have been coined to cater for the gray areas? At what point do you draw the line and say, here’s a tech startup and here’s a non-tech startup? Let’s draw the line at calling Linda a tech startup, shall we?

While the semantics of it might not be important to everyone, the distinction matters to us from a blogging standpoint. The thing is, there are so many startups in Nigeria/Africa, and there are only so many bloggers who are willing and able to tell their stories. Perhaps a distinction might help us know where exactly to begin our task?

Lordbanks contributed to this post.

Tolu Agunbiade writes at OTEKBITS…sometimes. Follow her on Twitter here.

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Cabal, Developers, startups
31st May 2013

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