OoTheNigerian

sometimes, I make a lot of sense.

Category Archives for: Startups

Why Aren’t Black Tech Founders And Executives, Speakers at Major Tech Conferences?

15 October 2015 by Oo Nwoye

From Left: Aston, Bilikiss, Obi, Juliana, Iyin

From Left: Aston, Bilikiss, Obi, Juliana, Iyin

As with any blog post on race, I have to include a prelude.

This post is neither meant to be combative nor to apportion any blame. It is merely to add to a continuous conversation about diversity in technology. This post is MY OWN observation made on behalf of MYSELF. If any statement here can be interpreted in more than one way, assume the less combative way and / or ask me for clarification.

I actually wanted to write this over a year ago. However, I had been advised about the risk of branding myself as a diversity activist rather than being primarily known as a technology person. And most importantly, to avoid the risk of pissing off the people who control the tech media. But there is only so long you can postpone a question that pops up in your brain daily. As for the risk, we are in the business of risk taking. 😉

Here is the issue

There are almost zero black faces speaking at the major tech startup conferences held in the US and Europe. And in the rare times they do pop up, e dey get k-leg (basically, it isn’t so straightforward).

Let’s check out the numbers of the most recent major/popular tech events (you can google for previous years).

Numbers are objective!

Conference Total Number of Speakers Number of Black Speakers Percentage of Black Speakers Notes
Disrupt SF 2015 83 3 4% Footballer, Snoop Dogg, Music Agent
Recode 2015 28 2 7% Movie Director, Lucious Lyon!
Disrupt London 2014 54 0 0% Thierry Henry is 1 of 20 this year
Le Web 2014 90 0 0% It happens.
Launch Festival 2015 71 7 10% The best I’ve come across. Nice one Jason.
The Next Web Europe 2015 53 0 0% :/

What you will notice is that in the rare times the black (wo)man is on stage, it somehow manages not to be those who are primarily in the tech field but say, in entertainment or sports. When it’s a tech person, s/he is mostly talking about diversity.

Here is the thing. This past year, I have personally emailed a few of these organizers to highlight the anomaly (no, I will not mention them). I have also recommended speakers. The responses (if they come) have not been positive.

Why are Black Speakers Important?

The Pattern Matching Loop.

When you make a decision based on historical data, you are bound to be biased by the data and produce a similar output. That becomes part of the data set and it continues…in a loop.

When tech black founders aren’t seen on stage (aka recognized as leaders in their field), fewer black kids would believe they have a future to excel in that field. The less black kids go into tech, the lower the chance the situation can change. Of course, that bias does not only influence the future black kids, it affects those looking for a co-founder, those looking for whom to fund etc.

I never blame those that pattern match; it is simply human nature.

Let me confess, if I have a few seconds to make a decision, I would not choose someone that looks like Jamie Oliver to make my jollof rice (don’t read the comments :)).

While it can be argued that food, music and some sports are cultural and therefore could have an inherent racial bias, tech isn’t.

5 years ago, I asked for the renowned black founders. While, there has been a lot of progress in that field since then, it has been against the odds.

The about pages and the speaker list of the tech conferences would have more influence on getting more diverse people into the technology field than any other thing I can think of. I know from first hand experience.

Here are some Black Founders and Technologists that should not be overlooked.

Clockwise from Top Left: Sim, Louise, Anthony, Tony

Clockwise from Top Left: Sim, Louise, Anthony, Tony

First, I have to apologize for putting their names here. Because there is this taint that comes from being used as an example. When they get justifiable noticed, it becomes, “oh, they are there to fill in a quota”. But that could not be further from the truth. These folks deserve to be on the largest stages and are needed to correct the flawed data that say none of the best  happen not to be black.

  1. Sim Shagaya (Harvard MBA, first Google Rep for Africa) is building a Nigerian e-commerce giant. Has arguably tamed the German Moving Train known as Rocket Internet’s Jumia with Konga. Raised $78 Million
  2. Iyin Aboyeji (University of Waterloo). At 24 he has finally got his stride in his 3rd tech startup and has co-founded Andela, the mill to churn out the next 100k technologists in Africa. Recently raised $10 million.
  3. Bilikiss Adebiyi (MIT). Using technology to help take away waste while making wealth and helping Lagos go green. Oh! She happens to be Black, Nigerian and Muslim.
  4. Obi Nwosu is co-founder and CTO at a top UK based BitCoin Exchange in the UK called CoinFloor. Doesn’t get more tech than that.

There are many more. However, let me not be accused of being biased towards Nigerians home and abroad. But Charity begins at home 🙂

Aston Motes was the first employee at Dropbox outside the founders. I do not recollect him being on any stage. He cannot be seen as a quota at any conference. And no, he is not a diversity expert.

Juliana Rotich of the BRCK team should be on every stage possible. BRCK is globally genius and should get much more love than it does.

Tony Gauda a TC Disrupt Finalist build Bitcasa, a Dropbox alternative. He is very qualified to be on any stage talking tech. And so is Anthony Skinner who was the CTO of Moz for many years, especially during their major technology transition. Louise, Kalam and Courtland are some of the black YC alums that are doing stuff as good as those speaking on any stage. So the question of affirmative action does not arise.

BTW, it took me 3 years to know that 2 Nigerian brothers founded a YC coy as far back as 2012. They just never happened to be on any major stage

Like I said above, I actually emailed a tech publication about their speaker lineup after one of their writeups criticizing the tech companies who had released their diversity reports. I didn’t get a response.

I am certain that there isn’t any conspiracy to deny black people in tech stage presence but it is quite easy to take certain things for granted if you are not checking yourself. One example I use to show there is no deliberate plan by white people is one of the quietly best podcasts on tech around, DRT. Only two black people out of the 104 guests so far and the first was number 99. Well, the host is a black british designer 😉

So how do we solve this?

To Affirm or Not to Affirm?

The biggest criticism of affirmative action is that it gives the impression that those who get in are not there based on their competence. Anyone who knows they are worthy on a level playing ground hates it. It is why I apologise to those people I named above. It would seem that they ordinarily would not qualify. That could not be further from the truth based on pedigree and results.

To me, I have started trying to see affirmative action as being more thorough and conscious. Instead of doing a quick Googling to see who to invite to the next conference, spend more time, go more further to find different types of people that QUALIFY to be on your stage. It is that simple!

I also think having a more diverse staff/speaker selectors at the disposal of those organizing tech events would help. People are quick to go for what and whom they know.

Though I fully respect and understand the need for minority focused events, I do not think it alone can help. We belong in the mainstream.

What finally triggered publishing this post (I wrote most of it a month ago) was the latest speaker announced for TC Disrupt London. When I finalized the draft for this post, they had 0 black people and I noted that there was still a chance to rectify it.

Then they chose Henry of Arsenal.

Please rectify.

PS: I hope because of this, I’m not punished covertly or overtly by the conference organizers I appear to criticize. This is to keep an important conversation going with good intention.

#OneLove

Click to Tweet this post.

PPS: Forgive typos. I just don’t see them. Thanks to Emmanuel, Banke and Sheriff for helping reduce them.

12 comments | Categories: Commentary, Startups, Technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

We Need a Nigeria Based Business Development Intern

14 April 2015 by Oo Nwoye

Fonebase Labs Logo

Fonebase Labs is in need of a female Business Development intern to assist the Business Co-Founder in varying tasks that span non-technical activities.

The role is 100% remote, however, should the intern be resident in Lagos, she can attend meetings with the Business team.

Why Female?

The primary reason is diversity. With the Fonebase Labs team currently consisting of 4 males, we are in search of a young, smart, hardworking lady to join the team. As people usually hire from their networks, and ours primarily consisting of male techheads, we’re going one step further to diversify our team and specifically seek for qualified females.

This however does not imply that we are lowering the bar, on the contrary we are looking harder, further and longer for the qualified candidate we know is out there. By joining the Fonebase Labs team as a Business Development Intern, you’ll get the chance to really contribute to the success of the team, use your skills all while gaining valuable experience. To put it in better perspective – you’ll make up 20% of the team.

Who Are We?

Fonebase Labs is a Nigerian founded technology company. We have a suite of web applications that provide various services targeted at the international market.

  1. Callbase – A web based call center
  2. Fonenode – A telephony API with services
  3. WriteRack – A tweetstorming application

Your Responsibility

Your primary responsibility will be to assist the Business Co-Founder in business related activities. This position will require and encourage you to take initiative in conceptualizing and/or executing various tasks.

A Week In The Life Of…

This is currently what my week at Fonebase Labs looks like across our various products

Fonenode

  1. Today, a proposal was sent out to a company interested in integrating Fonenode with their application.
  2. Fonenode is to launch a new segment. We need to recruit a few beta testers and would also need to get press for the product launch.
  3. We need to follow up with a client regarding balancing up an invoice.
  4. Work with the dev team to integrate intercom

Callbase

  1. We are following up with a remote Interface Designer (in Poland) to complete the redesign of the Callbase dashboard.
  2. Work with the dev team and a front-end developer to integrate the dashboard.
  3. Set up a meeting with a company that trains call-centre agents.
  4. Work with our devs to integrate intercom

Writerack

  1. Launch the new design
  2. Inform our hundreds of users about the new design and solicit feedback
  3. Communicate the feedback to the WriteRack lead.

Other

  1. Get a lawyer to tidy up an outstanding agreement with a new supplier
  2. Tidy up the books
  3. Rope Ope and the team into another long meeting.

These are just a few of typical things to be done so having an extra hand and perspective will be very welcome.

How we work?

We are a 100% distributed team. We presently consist of 4 people. 3 developers one of whom is on on extended holiday in Boston, my Co-Founder (presently in Akure), Intern developer (in Ilorin) and myself (In Lagos… for now)

Our “office” is situated on HipChat, Trello, Quip and Google Mail

Our Ideal Candidate

  • Pre NYSC or NYSC
  • You are top graduate and very interested and familiar with technology and startups
  • If you have visited Lagos, you must have dropped by CcHub or its equivalent elsewhere
  • Know that Raspberry Pi does not taste delicious and Hacker News is not a dangerous place.
  • You have a blog , write/have written about technology
  • You take initiative. e.g started or ran an association while in school.
  • Previously worked with a startup or a business
  • You are naturally organized and like writing (this is important).
  • Wired or The Economist is not out of place in your magazine rack.

Why Us?

First, why not us? We do not offer a competitive salary for a graduate, which is why we are specifically looking for Pre and NYSC level candidates. We however offer a decent package for the job requirements.

In spite of that, here are some advantages of working with us.

  1. Getting a deep knowledge and experience of startup operations. From concept to revenue. We assure you after your tenure you’ll be a catch for a Nigerian or international technology company. We’ll work towards being able to afford you when the tenure ends.
  2. We’re very (Buffer open) internally. If you want to know the balance of our bank account, just ask. If you want to know why any decision has been taken, ask. Nothing is off the table.
  3. We’re pretty flexible. You can work from wherever, whenever as long as you complete your tasks properly and on time.
  4. Our contacts are your contacts. You will get to meet and know a lot of people that will be of help to you in the coming years.
  5. You will be working with a really top notch team and will definitely learn A LOT!
  6. We encourage reading, and will also provide unfettered access to our library.

How to apply

Send an email with

  1. A summary of your academic background
  2. A list and description of projects you have done (it should have a technology angle)
  3. Visit Callbase.co and in a few paragraphs, explain what you think it is and where you would take it if it were handed over to you

Pls dnt wrt lk dis

Oo Nwoye

Co founder, Fonebase Labs

oo@fonebaselabs.com

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How I’ll Run an African Technology Incubator

01 December 2014 by Oo Nwoye

Introduction

There has been an uptake of tech incubators/accelerators in the African techosystem™. While I applaud the great work that has been done so far, I am yet to see an incubator on this continent run the way I’d love to do it. Rather than just criticise, I’ll use this post to give my own perspectives and suggestions using an example.

I have to point out that this is merely postulation and in real life, things hardly turn out the way you postulate.

Between the Incubator and the Accelerator.

There seems to bit of confusion between what incubators and accelerators are. My own definition is simple: the incubator takes the idea to product/market fit; the accelerator takes it from product/market fit to where it needs to scale.

I am talking about running an incubator.

Guiding Principles.

The incubator will be pro founder and looking to fund commercial viable businesses.

I am not one of those that ridicule MBAs. But there seems to be a difference between business and tech head founded incubators. My guess is the tech heads are better placed to empathize with a fellow tech head. While pure business heads are guided solely by numbers.

In addition, I see a lot of incubators that view their investor position as being benevolent. They see it like they are doing the entrepreneur a favour. I see it as a partnership at worst and at best, the founders are doing me a favour helping me make money.

In reality, we both need ourselves to make money while solving problems.

The set up.

I like the Y Combinator setup. If I were running an incubator, I’d have a core partnership structure. The partners made up of “specialist generalists” e.g operations, would all have a stake in the incubator and must have contributed to the fund.

I am not a fan of incubators/accelerators that stockpile “mentors”. It ends up confusing people. There are many ways to cook soup. What ends up happening is each mentor in a bid to justify their existence insist their way is the best. Of what use is a mentor that tells you “what that other guy said is good enough”

The partnership will have one primary person that covers an area of expertise. e.g Product, Finance, Technology, Design Legal and Operations. The partnership will not be bigger than 6 people. Of course industry experts will be welcome to play an ad hoc mentoring role but it will be after the startups have been selected.

More on that in my example to come.

Idea Selection

We’ll focus on ideas that are relevant to the continent but applicable globally, generate revenue from the very first user and can scale to millions of dollars in revenue with a team of 20 or less and at worst can survive without follow-on funding even if it does not succeed in scaling.

Founders will be able to apply with their ideas or ours.

Founder Selection

Since we will be focused on incubating, we will be looking for teams that are “complete”. The core tech must be internal and part of the team. Same as the core operations (more on that in my example). They must have proven at some point in their past that they have the resilience and focus to execute a project for a long period of time.

We will also recruit our founders. The best employees are sought out and not waited on to apply for the job. I believe same applies to founders. I see most incubators putting out application forms and waiting for the applications to roll in.

Like the CEO of a startup, I as the promoter of the incubator will use applications but will also spend a lot of time trying to recruit founders. Many of the best people are already doing something else with their time. That does not in anyway mean that those that apply are not good more like there a lot of great people that will not apply.

We’ll look to cap it at 5 teams per set and 2 sets per year.

The Incubation Period

There will be a residential place available for all founders. This may not be a big deal in other climes but here in Lagos, having a place where you have 24 hours light is luxury.

Providing only an office that has the resources is not enough when most of your founders will be spending 4 hours daily commuting and most likely will be operating at 50% capacity during “office hours”.

For the 3-4 months incubation period, every other distraction will be taken care of. At least it will be an offer left for you to take or not depending on circumstance.

Scope and Funding

Once of my biggest criticisms of African incubators is that they do not begin with the end in mind. They have this idea of holding on to the startup from the beginning to IPO. I view the startup funding funnel more like an assembly line. Before starting, it has to be clear who you want to hand over to and pitch those people before you start. After hand off, you move to the next batch.

Y Combinator’s accelerator program ends with them handing over to Venture Capitalists and Seed investors on demo day. Were I to do an incubator, my plan will be to hand over to the accelerators and that means discussing with the likes of YC, TechStars and co before I start to know the type of metrics and growth that will get them interested.

Sometimes, the startup might scale beyond your next planed step. In that case you work and hand them to the VCs. But at worst they have great accelerators to be handed over to.

For the above to work, there has to be a clearly defined time scope. If startups think they can stay forever they will work like they have a cushion. Like strict and loving parents, they have to know the nest is available for just 4 months. That’s it. It would help them have an urgent mindset. It does not mean after 4 months you kick them out in the rain if they are stuck.

Equity and Financing.

Off my head I am looking to spend $25-35k per startup for 10% “founder shares”. $15-20k cash and $10-15k for facilities/operational expenses depending on team size. I think it is fair because we’ll be acting as co founders taking practically the same risks as founders.

For the funding of such a scheme, we’d will be looking to raise about $2 million that will last over 4 classes (5 startusp per class) and 2 years. A fraction of the money (say $100k) would come from the partners, much more(say $400k) from the promoter i.e me and the rest, from strategic Limited Partners. e.g Venture Capital firms and accelerators interested in deal flow and say telco companies interested in not being left behind.

Raising money from external parties is the hardest part. But then, that’s why we have the finance person in the startup :). Also see epilogue.

A Quick Example.

Idea

Funding a startup that wants to build an on-demand platform for building artisans (painters, plumbers, etc). Customers request jobs and the startup gets a trained artisan to do the job and takes a part of the revenue.

Founder Selection

The team would need to have someone that can build the platform but more importantly, a person that has practical industry experience. Say whose parent or self is/was an artisan, or has experience in the industry e.g has worked in a building maintenance company.

If we do not see such a person applying we’ll seek them out. Maybe someone doing such a business on an analogue scale or sweet talk that person out of their building maintenance job where they do all the work but the owner takes all the upside.

I am not saying a founder without such experience cannot learn on the job. I just believe the risks of failure are much higher without practical experience.

Scope

Our work as an incubator is to ensure that at the end of 4 months, there is traction which we’ll define in revenue terms before the class starts.

In the first few days, we will work with the founders to define the scope. e.g focus on painters and painting jobs in Lagos.

As a product person in conjunction with our tech partner (say Ope Obembe), in two weeks, we can work hands on with the technical guy to get the version one of the platform ready. Our operation partner say Mark Essien (top lad) will work with the operational co founder to work on recruiting 5 painters that will execute the first jobs and maybe a strategy for scaling recruitment and training.

Everyone will work hand in hand to get the first set of jobs.

At the end of the incubation period, we would expect that 30-40 painting jobs must have been done with say 8 new jobs a week coming through and growing weekly. Growth is extremely important.

That will be the core focus. That is what we will hand over to be accelerated. If per chance it is moving much faster, then we’ll seek higher level of funding or if sustainable, no funding at all.

It all depends on circumstance.

Mentors

After selection of such a startup, we’ll seek mentors that have experience in the building maintenance space. Say an executive in Berger Paints or someone that has executed on something similar in a different country like Adaora, the co founder of HomeJoy (no, she’s not Igbo) . Such people can be a source of finance or important strategic partnerships later on

This differs from the popular model of pooling mentors for the numbers before knowing if their skills will be relevant to the starups selected. Although someone that has scaled and exited a web hosting company is cool to have around, that experience is most likely irrelevant in the case of building an artisan on demand company.

Conclusion

The above captures the high level of my general idea. While still very theoretical and easier to write than execute, it is the way I’d try to do it if I were doing it.

Epilogue

My retirement plan was always to fund and run an incubator after my first exit. It is so much easier for two reasons, I would have the money to kick-start the process and secondly, I would have the authority and trust when speaking and convincing founders, potential investors, partners and most importantly myself.

But since that is taking much longer, I’ll brain dump my theory until it’s time 🙂

PS: Do check out Callbase, one of the products of the startup where I’m co founder.

Thanks to Ope, Banke and Mark for feedback.

6 comments | Categories: Startups, Technology | Tags: , , , ,

So What Is An African Startup?

22 August 2012 by Oo Nwoye

While attending Pivot East in Nairobi a few months ago, I learnt about the Savannah Fund, a Silicon Valley backed fund. As described on their website,

Savannah Fund is a seed capital fund specializing in US$25,000-US$500,000 investments in early stage high growth technology (web and mobile) startups in sub-Saharan Africa. Initially focused on East Africa, the fund aims to bridge the early stage/angel and venture capital investment gap that currently exists in Africa

I was excited the funding challenges facing African startups were slowly coming to an end even though I was a bit jealous that their initial focus was East Africa. So I was rather surprised when I read on TechLoy that Savannah’s first investment was in an Australian company called biNu. But here’s the twist, their product is targeted towards Africa and other ‘developing countries’. There’s more, a founder of bINu is from Zimbabwe.

So here is the question. What criteria do we use to define an ‘African Startup’? Location? Target Market? Founder’s origin? ⅔ of the above?

Is Eskimi an African startup considering that a vast majority of their users are on this continent?

Here’s why it might matter

First of all, I have to acknowledge the venture investing is a capitalist venture (obviously!). The main aim is to maximize returns.

I do not believe in “hand-out” styled charity, however, I do believe in impact investing. I believe for Africa to be self sufficient, we need to start producing more. In this software-eating age, the products are digital and the factories, startups.

The reality of the situation is that the ‘western world’ is far ahead of us in terms of human and capital resources required to tackle “African opportunities”. Based on pure competence, I think African based technology startups are at a disadvantage to their western counterparts.  Which is why Wired Magazine titled their famous article “Want to become an internet billionaire, move to Africa”. The operating words are “move to”. Meaning the people to tackle such opportunities are not on the continent.

The Questions

  1. What is the best approach in reducing this  competitive gap African startups face from a financing perspective?
  2. Should we push to have more ‘African funds’ focused on the continent?
  3. What criteria should be used to define African startups?

Personally, I’d prefer extra support and incentives for Africa based internet companies regardless of founder’s origin or target market. Also, my criteria of being based on the continent would mean that majority of ‘production’ (design and programming) is done here on the continent.

I’d like to know what other people think.

To be very clear, I am in no way criticizing Savannah’s funding philosophy. I think they are doing something amazing. I also consider Erik, one of Savannah’s partners, as the singular most important startup supporter we have on this continent. I just thought I should put my thoughts out there to get a better perspective.

BTW, the application for Savannah’s Nairobi based accelerator program is closing soon.

 

Update:

Mbwana, Managing partner of Savannah Fund has responded below.

11 comments | Categories: Commentary, Startups | Tags: , ,

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