Lately I was thinking about the growth of the technology industry in Nigeria and how there’s a lot of going round in circles. One of the major questions that persisted on my mind was: “are we the first generation to start this ‘ecosystem’ thing?”
The answer is simple: No we aren’t.
There has been a good number of technology companies in Nigeria, servicing different technology needs. These companies were built over the years and were founded by Nigerians, probably as passionate as the current breed. Maybe a little more, or less. Plus or minus. But these companies were built by Nigerians, in Nigeria.
Computer Warehouse Group, Telnet, 21st Century Technologies, InterSwitch, eTranzact. These are core technology companies. Businesses built and grown in Nigeria, by Nigerians. Businesses that grew from zero to employing hundreds or thousands of people, making massive turnovers and have lasted for at least 10 years. Businesses where people put in tears, sweat and blood to grow. Businesses where people ran the streets, raised money, faced tougher working conditions than the ones that are currently being faced by Nigerian founders.
They still exist and still run…and their founders are still very alive and kicking. Many of the founders are still running these businesses.
And what are we, the new breed, doing about these more experienced founders? Nothing.
We choose instead to repeat most of the things they had done in the past. To chew the very concrete they had chewed in the past. It was Newton who remarked “If I see ahead of others, then it’s because I’m sitting on the shoulders of giants”. On these grounds, we see the shoulders of giants and we refuse to use sit on them.
Admittedly, there are concerns about them not being available and accessible, not enough information about these companies/businesses, etc. These are valid concerns. But we shouldn’t let these stop us from learning what we can from them. If we know the importance of the lessons that they could teach us from their struggles and the benefits, we would surmount all challenges to get that stuff.
Here are my suggestions:
- Acknowledge that we have predecessors whom we can learn from and whose experiences we can build upon. The attitudes I observe from us aren’t encouraging. Attitudes towards known successes are ignorance at best and beef at worst. We need to stop it. We need to make our environment friendly enough for them to leave their busy schedules to come teach us a few things.
- Find-out and write about them. Recently, one major discussion is the lack of good developers for hire, and my argument is that there aren’t enough role models to look up to. Mr James Agada, the CTO of CWG is a personal friend, and I often saw him writing Java code in NetBeans when I used to visit with him last year. This man, by my estimation, is over 45. Mitchell Elegbe is one of the most inspiring personalities I’ve ever been privileged to meet and work under. The stories of these people need to get out to the up & coming entrepreneurs.
- Pitch their stories as references for local tech startup success. CWG was started in 1992 and went public last year. That’s a major exit. By most metrics, 1992 was worse than now: political unrest, military rule, etc. But Austin Okere decided that he wanted to start a company then. That company exited last year. Interswitch’s earliest investors put in 200M Naira into the company in 2001 and in 2010 Helios bought 52% of Interswitch for 96M USD. That’s over 15B Naira for 52%. All the validation we’re looking towards Silicon Valley for is right here in our backyard.
While we run around seeking investments for and trying to build our ventures, let’s be aware that there was an industry and let’s find-out how we can reap from the hard works of the veterans. We don’t need to repeat their mistakes, or the pains they went through. If we fail to pay attention to our history, we’re bound to repeat prior mistakes… and the next generation would do the same.