Note: This article was first published in 2016. Celestine Omin has since o
Towards the end of 2015, there was a barrage of tweets from experts about all that is wrong with the current tech (read startup) ecosystem in Nigeria. I have followed these tweets with keen interest.
What’s amazing, or rather amusing, about those calling the new generation technologists and startups out is that one can’t easily point to what they are doing, have done, or their singular efforts to move this community forward. The conversation started from why Yaba and Lagos at large aren't an ideal place to run a startup to how every startup today runs on either failed or untested business models.
The conversation then moved to who is qualified to be called a tech company and how the current breed of software engineers and developers is bereft of direction, saucy, and without mentorship. I find these things annoying and exhausting.
First, they will fight you
A couple of days ago, I read a beautiful post from M.G Siegler, a general partner at Google Ventures.
In his post, Siegler opens with a catchy subtitle - what you are working on sucks, give up, they said.
Siegler talked about the struggles of Facebook, to that of Square, and how people deride Uber and Instagram as stupid and doomed ideas. Sadly, I’m beginning to see the same attitude back home.
It’s hard to run a business in Nigeria, harder to run a tech company in this country. The challenges, though surmountable, is enough to bury the faint-hearted. Power, bandwidth, skyrocketing rent, human capital are some of the things you have to deal with.
The least anyone can do for those slugging it out daily is to at least encourage them or just let them be all together.
There is a fine line between healthy criticism and outrightly lambasting someone else’s work. If you think there’s a gap in the market and the current players leave so much to be desired of their current services, do the honorable thing, roll your sleeves, and jump in.
The best form of criticism is building/offering a better and more competitive service.
I'm Bullish about Lagos
Lagos has so many things going for it.
I was in Calabar in June 2015, it took the intervention of a very popular hotel for me to find a 512kbps connection. Yaba (in Lagos) has fiber running through Herbert Macaulay.
Tertiary institutions with above par Computer Science curriculum are not far off. I attended the University of Calabar and the best we had in my days was Introduction to DBMS and C++ in my 3rd year, Networking during my final year. We had to figure the rest for ourselves.
I have colleagues that attended schools in the southwestern part of Nigeria, from my conversation with them, you’d notice that their own curriculum was in a class of its own, not sure why.
Every major tech conference in Nigeria either starts in Lagos or has its roots here. I attended my first major tech conference here in Lagos (GDays 2011). These and many other reasons give this city a natural advantage. Nobody’s fault. That being said, it's easier to find talent here. No, Lagos does not have the exclusive reserve to smart people, but it is a lot easier here.
What can be done
The old guys, our forerunners can help us in so many ways.
- Document experiences from their days. Medium is free, go there and write.
- Mentor the younger generations, I don’t think we are all heady and set in our ways. Someone will listen.
- Build again, instead of tearing down, build.
- Show genuine appreciation and empathy for what people are doing.
You see, the time has changed and will continue to, the current startups may not be making money, but I think it’s way too early to discredit their effort. Too early. There’s no blueprint to follow, at least none that I know of. We are all figuring things out as we go. We will make mistakes, that’s a given, fingers will be burnt, lessons learned, through it all, we will come out stronger.
Makinde Adeagbo wrote an excellent article recently aptly titled - No one knows what they are doing. I can relate to his sentiments.
A part of me is excited about the current trends in technology in Nigeria, particularly in a time such as this.
Not necessarily because I work in this industry, but because I think we have a fresh opportunity to (re)write some parts of history. It is our duty to pass the baton to the next generation. We have to build and become role models to those that will take after us. We owe it to them. We need our own Andy Grove. We must start celebrating our own.
Collectively, I’d put the current number of people employed directly in tech at 3,000, it could be higher. Now that counts for something.
Skills are currently being developed and lives are being transformed. I’ve learned so much in 3,6yrs than I did my entire 6yrs in the University. I’ve seen people come in as novices and become semi-experts at how to manage and run a 120,000sqft warehouse, understand digital marketing, UX, and learn how to become better software engineers.
New career paths are being defined.
It’s hard, encourage people. I admire what the likes of hotels.ng is doing with regards to hospitality, Andela is filling a much-needed gap, DealDey, iRoko, One Africa Media, MAX, ACE, and a host of others, who, either are in stealth or just running their things quietly are doing awesome stuff and should be encouraged. The work these companies are doing is directly impacting the lives of people.
That merchant who never dreamt of selling beyond his/her vicinity but can now sell all across Nigeria because of the work Konga is doing is another reason why people should be encouraged.
This isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon with no finish line in sight. We need each other to grow. This industry is young and fragile, if we encourage and manage it well, we have everything to gain. If we don’t, we have everything to lose. Nigeria is at a cusp, no better time to be in tech.
— By Celestine Omin