I have spent a good number of hours year in, year out, reading foreign press and blogs covering the tech space in the U.S and in Europe with a focus on companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Uber, Twitter and Samsung and on stories of acquisitions and of billion dollar valuations of startups who seem to be doing the same things and the feeling that you can change the world. There is a lot of money pumped into the U.S tech space yearly that only seems to reinforce the fact that investors and VCs are crazily looking for the next big thing.
The tech space has shown that anything is possible and that with hard work and the right amounts of luck, you can certainly strike it rich but thats in the ideal environment. Then have your face printed on the covers of popular magazines as the Future of Tech, we all dream these things. But this isn’t an ideal environment, I’m Nigerian and in essence that means; I am black and automatically disadvantaged  and I also live in a country where corruption and crime are on the high, life expectancy and the standard of living are quite low. Young people (70%) either take to Scamming  or Prostitution popularly known here as runs  because there are no jobs or because the jobs available can’t pay for the dream sold to them by the television culture. So the question here is have I done myself harm reading these blogs and all ? A good portion of my friends think I have but that doesn’t quite matter. What matters is that the Nigerian tech space needs a fundamentally different approach to producing companies that might solve some of our very basic problems without the pomp of massive evaluations.
That approach, I would like to call the Naija Telecoms Approach. Call it whatever you like, what I am trying infer is the method which Telecoms companies like MTN, ECONET, GLO and co used in getting into that space and the way mobile phones did spread in the country. The idea was to come into the market with a technology that was 20x better than the existing Nitel but without necessarily needing the existing infrastructure and was really a problem that needed to be solved. Developers here can go around trying to build apps that do almost the same things as their foreign counterparts ( an instagram for this or an Uber for that) but none of these apps will ever make a breakthrough in this society because this are not exactly problems, it is more like solutions begging for problems. The real problems begging to be solved are not what developers can necessarily solve at the moment and if they can solve it, they would need a different approach.
What Problems are begging for solutions?
1. Electricity. This is singularly the biggest problem i can think of. Solar is expensive and might not make business sense in it. It makes me hate politicians even more any time I think of this.
2. Transport. Anytime I hear of Uber, I so want the idea working here. \The only problem is that it’s going to be expensive considering the fact that more than half the population live below the dollar. #1500k is a lot of money not too talk of #4000k or more. We need trains and other cheaper & more reliable forms of transport. Air travel is still expensive and I’m sure they are losing money daily because they don’t have that critical masses to drive a profit. This is something you necessarily cannot pull off right now.
3. Employment. There are no jobs! Even if they were jobs, Most people aren’t qualified. Jobberman is doing a fair job connecting people to jobs but the problem here is that not many Nigerians are skilled enough for these jobs. The kind of jobs that can get them off the poverty zone.
4. Healthcare. I spent some time in an emergence ward of a general hospital looking around and couldn’t help thinking of the kind of technology that would be of value them. The wards are crowded, under-staffed etc. Access to quality service that’s affordable is really hard and more and more women for example die yearly from complications in childbirth and old world diseases still plague these parts.
I know that all I have said is obvious and you are probably expecting the less obvious. What I see are numerous opportunities in these spaces. But the approach has to be different. Instead of internet based technologies that expect you to connect all the time or new communication tools or photo-sharing apps that expect you always burn up your bandwidth. Think Analogue! The kinds of technology needed at the moment are more analog than we think. We haven’t exactly made that leap to the digital age in my mind. We are somewhat stuck in the past. Why don’t we find quicker ways to reduce queues at General Hospitals with ingenious devices that can help a check what patients are in more critical need of help or ways to reduce the friction and queues at the bus stop because of change (money) with tools that don’t need internet connection to work but work very fine.
The idea is to simply start looking at problems without our space-age glasses on; because that seems to blind us nerds. It might be a little primitive an approach but the reality is that the hustling man doesn’t give a shit about your app or your design. He just wants to pay his bills and survive. I think VCs if there are any \ out there should start investing in boring analog ideas for now.
\: I haven’t seen any black tech billionaire. The Stats are that blacks are less than 1% the U.S tech space.It’s crazier than you think.
\: This is predominantly what many young males do in these parts. There are over four billion people in the world and certainly lots of people who get greedy and become susceptible to being duped.There is the get rich quick or die trying mentality still strong in the country.
\: The western influence also helps to drive this lifestyle. These girls want to be like their role models who appear in musical videos in pants and portray sex with random men as cool.
\: Blinks and Ferraris cost a fortune, you know !
\: Uber is already working here at the point of this writing.
\: It’s risky investing in companies or startups here. I just didn’t get it before. The odds that the startup will fail are increased by 20x. This isn’t an ideal market.