The internet has removed geographical barriers, yet we still sit in our tiny corner of the world, accusing ourselves of building "X for Africa"


#1

@SkweiRd spent the welcome part of today’s Techcabal Digest, contemplating why Nigerian founders tend to build for local audiences.

I can answer for the people I know personally. It sucks to be from a broken system / useless country, where even basic things don’t work / work well. This especially gets worse after some exposure to working systems, and many people develop a complex to fix stuff where they’re from.

Sometimes, it’s just plain wanting to fix a problem that you really need solved for yourself. Why can’t I do X in my country? This means so many people can’t do X, so maybe I should build Y to provide X. From an impact point of view, it makes sense too, I guess. Local champions are champions regardless.

I don’t know what startups East Africans are building, but a good number of Nigerian startups solve basic problems.


#3

I don’t get this complaint, esp if there’s a market for it. There are many American startups that don’t serve people outside of a geographical region or serve Nigerians at all. Now there are obviously some things that can be kind of pointless especially where there’s a wide local usage, like Facebook for Nigeria (how many of those did people try to make), but why does anyone have to ‘scale’ to locations they don’t want/need to? Africa is a massive continent. It’s not really like the EU or the US in terms of shared policies and structure.

I was in a chat with Mark Essien yesterday and somebody asked him about Nigerian startups expanding to other African countries, and he said, frankly, that most of the time it’s not worth it because in Sub Saharan Africa there aren’t a ton of cities with a sizable, internet-literate population. Many aren’t a tenth of Lagos/Abuja put together. Then considering the hoops some countries make you jump through as a foreign entity, the returns may not really be worth the investment. And that’s fair. Most of our biggest local startups haven’t even covered a sizable fraction of the Nigerian population yet, why the pressure to go elsewhere already? Let’s solve our local problems before chasing bragging rights.


#4

I think there are two parts to this; first you have to start somewhere so If you take New Zealand for example, you can see startups like Xero, VendHQ, etc who from a small country dominate their country before moving on to the next stop - Australia. Before the world. They test their hypothesis, refine their product, etc before looking elsewhere. That’s a reasonable approach that shows Nigerian focused startups makes sense as well.

The point is if you have a reasonable population, educated 18 - 25 yrs old, decent internet, etc, it makes sense to actually start from here before you go upwards.

Where it all breaks down is the second part. Where startups that are ‘matured’ can’t go beyond that initial market. I think this might be for various reasons but in my mind a lot of it will revolve around operations (do you need partnerships, physical presence, regulatory constraints, etc) & technical (internalisation, designs gap, etc). Which of course might make it too much of a burden to do anything about it.

Generally, I would like to think there are some startups that will struggle to go beyond Africa due to the nature of their business. E.g location services like food startups, logistics & delivery, etc might not be able to translate well. On the other hand, pure software e.g. SaaS might stand a better chance.


#5

How a business expands over geo-fences is determined by its answer to an old question: are we selling water or refreshment?

Take for instance, Ushahidi of Kenya which recognized that their solution isn’t just ‘tracking Kenyan elections’. A current Nigerian way of thinking would be to double down on elections, making more efficient the gathering of election data from polling stations around the country. Ushahidi has thought of more problems their tool can solve: earthquakes in Haiti and Chile among other disasters.

This choice is not for everyone. Some ideas are more specific and need a lot more brainstorming to grow a wider base e.g hotels.


#6

Talking bout businesses that could scale across the continent… do you think a SaaS solution for Hawkers or Mobile Business Providers could be a good idea? Been thinking about a solution that could help governements integrate this workforce, account for their taxes and levies and get permits. While street hawking is not standard in certain regions of the world, it is quite prevalent in ours and I imagine there are ways to improve work conditions, and ultimately prepare for the future without the phenomenon when our economies improve.


#7

American startups build for America first. I mean, Facebook was only for college kids when they launched. There’s a bigger discussion to be had on how American culture is exported (i.e. America = the world) and how they build products, but i’m not smart enough to start it.

Speaking of, given how Nigerian culture is widely exported, there might be something to building just for Nigeria


#8

I think this is a great idea. And yes, one will have to figure out a good price point but can see this working if properly executed.

Now i’m not too sure about this approach. Are you building for the government or the hawkers? It might look like a small distinction but I think this will affect the final product and company you build. E.g are you helping the govt to collet taxes or hawkers to sell? Sounds to me like two different objectives.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why Nigerian startups don’t grow past their immediate markets as we solve problems in a way that makes it hard to scale.


#9

The solution will be for hawkers - seamless payment, less time chasing customers and for customers- better shopping experience, get points, keep track of purchases, have a record of who sold what to them and possible returns if necessary etc… but another indirect value add would be data collection that could help governments keep track of hawkers’ contribution to the economy - taxes, levies etc.


#10

Paul Graham in his start-up advice for lazy people said- “You can either build something a large number of people want a small amount, or something a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter”. His example was Mark Zuckerberg built for his local community first. Harvard. However, @SkweiRd wants us to play this game at a different level. He wants us to have ambition and jump in with the big dogs. My only issue is- capital. We’re still really just ‘up and coming artistes’ here and we need to pick our battles. This game is not just about an idea converted to profit. Its about having competitive advantage in emerging technologies. We need to crawl before we can walk. Enough said.