What Nigeria’s Tech Startups Are Doing Wrong

ICT

VENTURES AFRICA – The Nigerian tech scene is buzzing. No doubt. Its leading incubation centre, Cc-hub, has been featured on CNN, the New York Times, and various international media outlets. The Nigerian government has also set aside $1 billion to develop ICT innovation hubs around the country to support its young tech talents and encourage local content development. Global tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Samsung et al have flocked in droves to the country and are currently engaging its tech community, particularly the app developers.

BudgIT is an amazing local startup that uses Twitter, interactive formats and infographic displays to simplify data as complex as the Nigerian annual budget, for easy public consumption. The impact has been a phenomenal increase in the enlightenment and public discussion of the financial data, thereby driving budget implementation monitoring. As at the time of this writing, BudgIT consults for Nigeria’s National Assembly Budget and Research Office on data mining, analysis and visualization.

A local content-based company like Autom8 develops applications like wholesome HR suites, online payment platforms, etc, for corporate Nigeria.

Chianugo, a tech-savvy telecom executive says: “Nearest Locator is a brilliant app. It allows users locate places within their vicinity and has a simpler and an easier to use interface than Google Maps.”

Despite such impressive innovation emanating from Nigeria, most of its tech startups are having a hard time generating revenue, closing funding or achieving international recognition and success as their African counterparts. Without any VC input, South Africa’s 2go has grown to making profits, servicing over 9 million active Nigerian users. Kenya’s M-Pesa is the global leader in mobile money. Ghana’s instant messaging service Saya, has secured investments from foreign investors and has been exported to other emerging markets.

A primary cause for the delay of Nigeria’s tech emergence is that its budding young talents are awesome app and software developers, but are not entrepreneurs. An apparent lack of business management or the knowledge of its importance, has taunted their growth.

At a tech knockout competition, I asked a developer whom I thought had a bankable app, for his business card, but he did not have any. I inquired if he had a PR personnel trumpeting his product but the passionate developer who had turned down a good job to focus on his project, replied in the negative, adding that the only person he contacted was more concerned about “money, money, money, and not passion.”

I replied frankly: “Why would I give a care in the world about tweeting your product if you’re not paying me or giving me a stake in your company?”

His eyes brightened instantly. He had that ‘aha’ look on his face then he nodded. He had seen the light!

These aspiring geeks are passionate about what they do and put unbelievable amount of effort in product development but without any thought to the business development – little or no attempt is made at research (market behaviour, purchase influence etc), marketing, PR, branding, business model.

Before Marc Herson’s 2go dominated the Nigeria market, it flew a team over to the country which conducted a thorough market research and identified Nigerian university students as its hotbed. Though Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, he initially had a limited vision, but it was Napster co-founder Sean Parker who exploded the idea and took the social network beyond America’s IVY League colleagues to Oxford et al and the rest is history. Talk about marketing! Great products don’t just equal great revenue, they require contribution and support from several other expertise.

Incubators and Venture Capitalists provide this support to early stage companies but in the absence of these ‘angels’, Nigeria’s tech entrepreneurs have to set up supports for themselves. I remember listening to a developer making a presentation to prospective investors without mentioning how his product generates revenue!

Basically, Nigeria’s tech developers need to start thinking like businessmen.The richest tech entrepreneur Bill Gates wrote in a BBC report titled: “The Skills You Need To Succeed” just before his resignation as Chairman of Microsoft that: “A lot of people assume that creating software is purely a solitary activity where you sit in an office with the door closed all day and write lots of code.

“This isn’t true at all. Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.”

He furthered: “I also place a high value on having a passion for ongoing learning. When I was pretty young, I picked up the habit of reading lots of books.” Business men do that a lot.