Sarah Lacy might have come and gone but the lessons I learned from her (directly and indirectly) have stayed with me and I thought I should share them.
1. No Excuses: The first thing I and several startup guys in Nigeria used to welcome Sarah was a litany of challenges we are having in Nigeria; preventing us from succeeding. No light, no broadband, no VC’s, government is not helping, no good developers, Nigerian girls use weave-on too much (ok, I sort of made that up).
Her response was concise: No excuses, the best entrepreneurs thrive in constraints. Constrains are what create opportunities that allow the best of entrepreneurs to make it big.
When you think in terms of opportunity, you will find yourself making a business out of what is constraining other people.
I will blog about one idea that came up the very day I stopped looking at the absence of light as a limitation but an opportunity.
2. Accept/Embrace Reality: When Sarah called Computer Village the ‘Nigerian Best Best Buy’ and showed the ‘Nigerian app store’ quite a number of people were offended. In fact at Garage48 one accosted me and told me if I saw the way Sarah was insulting Nigeria. I asked him the following questions.
Where did you buy this your laptop?
Where did you buy your phone?
Where did you buy Microsoft office and photoshop?
He smiled and said “kai! na wa o!”. I asked over 10 people on the table the same questions and it was an ‘aha moment’ for them all.
So why is this important?
If you do not understand your market you cannot take advantage of it.
A few people who still believe in Nigeria’s pseudo modernity wanted Mega Plaza to be shown as our main distribution nerve of computers, mobile phones and peripherals, but that would be lying to our selves. An error in that thought was learnt by Nokia and co when they came to Nigeria.
Nokia opened their shops on the Island, people strolled in played with the phones there took a ride to computer village and made their purchases.
So how does this affect us a startup entrepreneurs? If you are selling software, or creating hardware; if you do not have a presence or your main distribution in computer village, you might be doing it wrong. (*cough* INYE *cough*).
When I met Jason of NollywoodLove, naive me asked him why he was in FESTAC and not on the island, he told me plain and simple (and in Bri ish accent) “I have to be near Alaba. That is where my money is”. Of course the pseudo mordenites would say Silverbird is our ‘wood’, set up shop there and wonder why they are out of business in 3 months.
So I guess you now see the importance of the hawkers, they are Nigeria’s Vending Machine.
3. Don’t read TechCrunch: This one surprisingly caused quite a fuss with some people. Of course You are not banned from reading TechCrunch. What was meant is that you should pay more attention to other markets that are similar to yours so when the information that is influencing manifests itself, you will not be cloning Twitter but will be cloning (Bangladesh classifieds market)
On TechCrunch you will not read about the fact that 70% of Nigerians are unbanked and the startups that are working to take advantage of that opportunity. On TechCrunch you did not hear about how no single Nollywood video was on-line legally; you/we kept wondering how on earth we could compete with Netflix while Jason did the obvious: get a Partnership with Google; Buy Rights of Nollywood Videos put them on YouTube and is on run to hit $1m revenue this year.
On TechCrunch you will read about Square but that cannot be big in Nigeria yet (5% of banking population have cards), you should be reading Kenyan Tech blogs to learn about how companies are taking advantage of the new economy Mobile Money is bringing. You will not read about how people in some countries use Taxi’s a a payment distribution system. e.g Give the RedCab guy N1,500 Naira) and he credits your Facebook account with $8.
Of course another reason she said we “should not read TC” is the stories written there are not a true representation of startup reality even in Silicon Valley.
She just wants to stop you from feeling suicidal when you cannot raise $41million for your photo sharing Nokia app.
NB: Don’t read Mashable. As in.. Don’t.
5. Embrace the Foreign Companies: This one is personal. BSL (Before Sarah Lacy) I was ‘angry’ that Google, Microsoft and co were not doing enough to develop the ecosystem. Irritated with the elaborate marketing activities being organized by Google in the name of ‘developer days’; offended that Google was promoting creating content farms and slapping adwords as ‘startup ideas’; suspicious of their ‘Greek Gift’ of fiber/broadband to Nigerian Universities. Worried about the impact Google’s creation of competing startup products would impact our little guys (hello Google Trader, Baraza, Free SMS). She made me realize that proper engagement will allow us harness the potential FDI. Welcome engage and learn from them like China did. Because you know what? They do not owe you nada.
6. Do your own PR: This is an indirect lesson. When I read Sarah’s account of her brush with danger at Alaba, I smiled to myself. The very same story using the same facts could be written from a different perspective.
“Alaba Security forces were informed of suspicious looking foreigners walking briskly and taking pictures. Considering the recent invasion of Alaba market and a swoop by copyright agencies which caused traders losses ammonting to several millions of dollars, Bones and his team had to act fast. they accosted the people, who had no coherent explanation about their mission at Alaba market. They had to be taken away for further screening… blah blah blah”
What I am trying to get here is that if she wanted, she could have ‘spun’ the story in a way that favored Nigeria and made the bones and co. heroes’. But in reality, she needed to make the story interesting to her readers (I enjoyed it).
The fact of the matter is that most Nigerian are always looking for who will do PR for them. They get angry when BBC does a Lagos Documentary and does not focus it on Lekki Phase 1. We look up to Guardian UK or New York times to do favorable stories on us or write stories from our perspective. Now, we look at SABC to do the same for us. Una no dey shame?
Well, let me break it to you; if NTA was not a PILE of SHIT that is what they are supposed to be doing. If Thisday and co were not the Nigerian Government’s Press Release companies, that is what they should have been doing.
When CNN and co were instigating hatred towards the Arab world, you know their response?