By anas | 22 November 2016 | 10 Comments
A good friend of mine, who is in the government once asked me about the nature of the tech ecosystem in Northern Nigeria, and that the Presidency is considering having another edition of the Aso Villa Demo Day in the Northwest. For some of the readers that don't know what Aso Villa Demo Day is, it was an event organized by the Presidency in 2016, where young, mostly tech entrepreneurs with great ideas got a chance to pitch their ideas in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. In the end, 10 finalist got a chance to pitch to the President in Aso Rock Villa, and also got a chance to meet investors. The project received a lot of criticisms especially from the Northern part of the country, as it was seen as highly skewed to one region of the country. However, the fact is, in the North, we don't have fully developed tech ecosystems, the likes of the ones in Lagos and Abuja. Furthermore, we do not have successful tech startups in the North the likes of Jumia, Konga and Printivo. So if we have to be practical and realistic with ourselves, we need to ask the question why? I made some observations and decided to write this article.
While we are not short of great tech developers in the North with amazing skills in almost every language, every platform and every framework, we are very much short of tech entrepreneurs. I observed 3 major reasons why our tech developers are not becoming tech entrepreneurs. These misconceptions make our young aspiring tech entrepreneurs develop a mindset that hinders their progress. I will elaborate on each one below:
1) The Developer is the "King" Mindset
This is the biggest obstacle to overcome if you wish to become a successful tech entrepreneur. This is when the guru developer thinks he or she can do everything by himself or herself, because he or she believes that the code is the most important component of the product. This is truly a misunderstanding, since one tree does not make a forest. If you wish to turn your idea into a great business, then you should understand that you need a team. There are at least 3 different kinds of people that make up a great team for a good tech company, they are the Hacker, the Hustler & the Designer. While the hacker a.k.a. the developer may have great coding skills and good background in technology, he would need a "hustler" to go out there and talk to people about the product and get them to buy it, in most cases the hacker cannot do both. Now, even though these two may be considered strong enough to start a business, they may not be strong enough to build a “great" business, they would need the designer, the awesome guy with taste, who knows colors, fonts, shapes, packaging and branding. The designer is by far the most important member of the team, because the customer would be first attracted to the packaging of the product, before buying and using it. Hence the designer’s work is seen first by the customer before hacker’s or hustler's work. Some people make the assumption that women are better at design or that design is women’s work, leaving design work to any lady and expecting good results. This is a wrong assumption since design is a creative process, and study has shown that men are more creative than women. Finally, as a developer don’t make the mistake of building a product all on your own thinking that you will later hire a marketer to sell it, this will never work, you need to form a team first and build the product together or at least be the developer, the hustler and the designer all at the initial stage until you validate customers, it sounds hectic but not impossible. Come to the think of it, it is easier for a designer with a hustler's mindset to hire and pay a developer to build a product and then go on and sell it, even this is also not advisable.
2) Building a Product with Too Many Features
This is another problem many aspiring tech entrepreneurs make in Nigeria. They spend a lot of time building a product and adding all kinds of functionality, I am amazed the kind of stuff people add to their product, most of them are just put there for fun even if they are not necessarily useful. This is the typical case of building a product without ever thinking of the customer's needs, problems and preferences. This is a guaranteed way of failure or a troubled startup journey. You have to get a customer first, understand the problem of the customer and build a product with the functions needed to solve that one problem and not the other way round. This will ensure you build a product that will sell itself, great products sell themselves. So lets say you have an amazing idea, don’t just go into writing a code for that idea, share the idea with about 10 people and get their feedback. Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea, it does not matter, people can steal your idea but they cannot steal your vision. Now, when choosing 10 people don’t choose your family and friends or as Doug Richard once said, you may suffer from Ugly Car Syndrome (UCS) this is like when you purchase a car that is ugly and show it to your family and friends, who unlike strangers will not say “thats one ugly car” because they don't want to hurt your feelings. If you get good response from these people, you have completed the "Idea Validation Phase". Now you can build a simple prototype and show it to at least 50 prospective customers or end users, and get feedback on how they think it solves their problem. With this feedback you can build a product that these customers are ready to pay for and start selling. Now this phase is called "Customer Validation Phase". Once you start getting customers you can setup an operation in place which may include renting a place, hiring people, paying for services, etc. Now it is in this phase that you can start adding features based on your customers new needs and problems. Once you have a stable product and operation model that ensures you make decent profit, you have completed the “Operation Validation Phase”. This is a more focussed way of building a product and taking it to the market.
3) I Need a Capital Mindset
This is the biggest misconception almost every current and aspiring entrepreneur in Nigeria makes, not just the ones in tech. It is the misconception that you need capital to start a business. The unfortunate situation is that even the government and people in the academia believe this too. That is why most government programs that include giving capital to small businesses hardly succeed. The thing is you would only need capital probably at the "Expansion or Growth Phase" of your venture. This is the phase that comes after the Operation Validation Phase. As a tech entrepreneur you should be aware that people are very sentimental about their money and they do whatever it takes to minimize risks before investing in any venture. So an investor would require certain indicators that show your business is worth investing. They would require figures like capital costs, operational cost, return on investment, profit and loss statement etc. All of which will not be available until after the first 3 stages of your business. So when you have a great idea, do not collect funding even if offered, use your personal savings to validate the idea and customers, then you may need seed funds from family and friends to validate the operations of the business before even thinking of looking for funding from investors. The same argument actually goes for writing Business Plans. People are obsessed with telling you to write business plans at early stages of your business, this comes mostly from MBA guys. The truth is you may not need to write a business plan until you determine the numbers that will feature in the plan such as the ones mentioned above. What you probably need is a business model canvas, which you can fill and update over time until you reach the Expansion and Growth phase.
Other issues that our developers need to address to become successful entrepreneurs include things such as the idea of fast money, making the journey all alone without guidance and mentoring, and giving up after failure. These are very common obstacles that you will also need to overcome if you wish to build a multi billion Naira business.
Do you think there are other obstacles that prevent our developers in the North from becoming successful entrepreneurs, comment below and let me know.