Building a World Class Startup (The Nigerian story)

      Nigeria is a country of 140 million people, 60 million mobile subscribers (the fastest growing telecommunications market in the world), 10 million Internet users (debatable figure). As Justin Hartman noted in the recent BarCamp held in Lagos, its strange that a country with such huge potential doesn’t have a world class Internet Company. The reasonfor this I will try to expose in this post.

  1. Nigerian hackers have a “Me-Too” mentality: Most programmers/geeks in Nigeria always want to do what others are doing, which to me smacks of lack of innovation and creativity . They try to ride on a wave that has already passed them by, entering an oversaturated market that is already dominated by established leaders (e.g. “Naijapals” versus “Facebook”).  There is a quote I read somewhere “good hackers code, while great hackers copy”, I believe its not a sin to copy, but copying blindly isn’t going to stand you out and attract users to your web property, even if you want to copy an idea there should be a new twist in your own copy and not just a 100% copy. At least Facebook was not the first social networking site on the web and neither was Google the first search engine, the only thing was that they introduced a new angle into what they did which stood them out of the crowd.
  2. Means of accessing the Internet: In a recent survey, it was discovered that Nigeria has a population of about 10 million Internet users, a figure that I find highly debatable. The primary means by which Nigerians access the Internet is through cybercafés and Internet centers, home and personal access is very low at this point. Also, mobile phones are more ubiquitous than computers (60 million mobile users with an average of 2 mobile handsets per user), hence if any Nigerian hacker wants to develop a web property that would become world class, he has to take into cognizance the mobile phone and target his application to both the web and the mobile phone platforms.
  3. Essential Services: In Nigeria, about 70% of the population lives below the poverty line i.e. $1 per day, which means that money is scare and the people are very poor, hence any would be developer hoping to go world class should develop “essential” web properties i.e. web applications that add value to the lives of the average Nigerian. Probably along the line of the 3 basic needs of man i.e. food, clothing and shelter. Take for example, creating a local search engine that would give information about cheap and quality housing facilities or price information about food items to local farmers via sms messages, useful and ultra targeted news and information to people via sms messages. I believe such a web property would quickly reach critical mass because it adds immediate value to people’s lives.

Ehigie (Pystar) Aito