Hey guys….please do me a favor. STEAL THIS IDEA!!!

I just heard that the Central bank of Nigeria recently awarded licenses to 8 new additional mobile money operators bringing them to a grand total of 24 (if so many licenses are being given out, maybe I should just apply for one). On a serious note though, I would be extremely hard pressed to name any of the 24 apart from mypaga which to me has been a very big disappointment. To me, these guys are somewhat bereft of ideas, so I have some questions to ask the “24 wise men of the mobile money industry”  which I hope would get their creative juices flowing.

1. My Phone or My Wallet: Why cant my mobile phone be turned into my wallet? that would allow me use my mobile phone airtime to buy stuff both on the web or offline i.e. in the real world? In other words, why cant I go to a site xyz.com, select stuff I want to buy, check out and be presented with a payment option where I can enter my mobile phone number and PIN and have the total cost of my purchases deducted from mobile phone airtime? So whenever I load credit on my phone, it would be the same as funding my account without actually having an account. Or why cant I go to a local market buy stuff and send a text containing my phone number, PIN, cost of what I bought and the traders phone number to my mobile money operator and have the trader’s account credited with the cost of what I bought? This idea would require you hobnobbing and doing some serious ass kissing to the major TelCos. Nigeria is going to go cashless, whether you guys like it or not, so the earlier you jump on the train with real innovative solutions the better, because that man called Sanusi “wont back down”.

2. eCommerce for Dummies: Since you guys are untested without a track record and your sector is new, it would make much sense if you make the barrier of entry as low as possible to website owners, eCommerce merchants and other people interested in using your solutions. And please scrap the dumb idea of charging a sign up fee, think solely of transaction volume, i.e. charge a cut on each processed transaction, so the higher the transaction volume, the more revenue rolls in. This business model could be likened to a company that gives out shaving sticks but charges for shaving blades or makes its printers free but sells ink and toners. The bottom line is you getting your foot into the door and taking the whole process from there.

I know you guys came into the market on the premise of doing money transfers and the likes, but there are now 24 of you, would it really hurt if just one of you could really be creative and turn the whole industry on its head by tweaking a little the terms of your license by offering a web payment gateway? Since the “big for nothing, monopoly seeking” companies like INTERSWITCH et al have been caught napping in that aspect? The sector is in dire need of innovation and is the number one reason why Nigeria’s tech industry is still in a comatose state.

P.S: I had an interesting conversation with someone today and he asked me a thought provoking question:

“If you implement something like Paypal here in Nigeria without a CBN license, would they send you a ‘cease and desist’ or would they just arrest everyone involved and throw them into jail?”

So, CBN Guv….what would you do if a train of young unlicensed tech innovators ran head first into this sector? what would you do? what???


Dear Nigerian wannabe startup founder….

Please for the love of god, drop that idea of creating another social network, throw that idea of another “SIMPLEMACHINES” forum out of the window of the nearest high rise and watch it fall to its death 30 stories below without regret. There are some areas in Nigeria and Lagos in particular that require a much needed shot of some “source code” into its veins. These include:

1. Property leasing/letting/rental: In a city of more than 9 million people, getting a property for lease or rent in Lagos is like going through the proverbial eye of the needle. It doesn’t just make sense that in the 21st century I still have to go through some semi illiterate middle men called “Estate Agents” with their exploitative charges and fees, before I can get a property to lease or rent. I don’t see the reason why I cant do the whole process of searching, viewing and paying for a property via the web. This sector is hot and needs a startup with excellent implementation to just “nail” it.

2. News and information services: Why I cant get real time, localized news and information via the web or by sms kind of beats me. For example, why do I have to get stuck in traffic on Ikorodu road when FRSC or LASTMA can just send me alerts and advice me on alternative routes to take? Why do I also have to get stuck in between the cross fire of rampaging thugs in Fadeyi area on my way back from work, when security forces like the police can alert me and advice me to steer clear of the area? I surely would not mind paying for a service like this. [1]

3. Web payment gateways: This sector is a no brainer but the players in this sector are either bereft of ideas or have some sort of hidden agenda. There cant be innovation in the sector if developers are not making money from what they are doing. I do not see the reason why we can’t have our own “Nigerian Paypal” since Paypal has refused to come to Nigeria. The only very high barrier to entry of anyone interested in going into this sector is CBN’s bureaucratic bottlenecks and red tape bullshit before you can get licensed. But its hot and ripe for innovation.


[1]. Disclosure: I am working on something in this space.
I am no longer working on something in this space.

A Nigerian Hacker’s Wish (4): Business Models

“How will this generate income?”

“Can it stay afloat?”

“Is this economically viable?”

These questions and more are what I get tossed at me whenever I pitch a new idea or project. To the average Nigerian startup founder, the most likely answer to such questions would be “Google adwords/adsense”, which is the most popular ad network in the world today. Since a business model based on advertising might not be the best option for some startups, I have listed below some business models that Nigerian startups can adopt.

1. Subscription: This means charging users of your site right from the very beginning. This requires a lot of gumption and courage as most would be users might not be so well disposed to paying for a service that has not yet tried and tested. Also most web users have been spoilt by the FREEMIUM model which is the most popular business model on the web, hence it would be extremely difficult to get those kind of people to pay for what you have to offer. The success of the SUBSCRIPTION model depends on some factors:

(i.) Your Product: Can your product offer enough value to would be user’s to convince them to pay for it?

(ii.) Means of Payment: How easy is it to pay for your service? In a place like Nigeria, where e-commerce and e-payment platforms are either complacent or not interested in offering mobile/web payments, this can be a huge challenge.

2. Incentive Marketing: This business model involves offering discount coupons to users as an incentive to using your website. The income generated from this is shared between you and the merchants/advertisers.

3. Affiliates: This is a variation of the advertising model, and it works by having the website owner advertise goods and services for merchants, thereby providing customers to such merchants and taking a percentage of the sales generated.

A Nigerian Hacker’s Wish (3): Funding

The average hacker here in Nigeria has almost zero access to funding for his startup, from either angels, venture capital firms, banks or even the government. At best if his idea looks promising, he might be able to convince friends and family to invest in his startup i.e. if they have the means to do so. But to face the facts, most hackers might not be able to go this route so I have listed some ways to circumvent this barrier.

Alternatives to Traditional Funding

1. Grow Organically: This mostly depends on the idea behind the startup. This is one reason why I am against hackers creating clones of popular websites here in the Nigerian web space. The idea behind any would be Nigerian startup should have the innate ability to grow organically, i.e. it should be a viable idea and should be able to generate revenue immediately from the time of launch. This would allow the startup to stay “lean”, prioritize on features and stay focused on what is absolutely necessary to the growth of the startup.

2. Freelance: Another word I could have used is to “consult or offer consulting services” i.e. provide services to individuals or corporate bodies based on your skills set. e.g. web design/development, database administration etc. This will allow you to plough back money generated from this activities into the startup, allowing it to stay afloat until it starts to generate income of its own.

3. Day Job: I am absolutely sure this is the path most hackers here in Nigeria are on. Having a day job means the hacker has access to steady income out of which he can dedicate a certain percentage to the daily running of the startup until it starts to generate enough income for him to take the full time plunge into it. One advantage of this path is that you as a startup founder gets to keep your 100% equity stake in the startup.

Since angels, VC firms, banks and the government are still blind to the gold mine they have left fallow in the form of web startups in Nigeria, I just have this to say: “Let’s become so good, that they can no longer ignore us!”.

A Nigerian Hacker’s Wish (2)

In part 1 of this series, I wrote about a place in Lagos where I could code without thinking about power cuts from the power company, my laptop battery dying, my generator running out of fuel or my inverter battery running down. I made this point number 1 on my list because of its relevance to flow and a hacker’s productivity.

What is Flow exactly? According to Wikipedia:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing andlearning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.

A hacker being in the Flow while coding is usually at the peak of his productivity. Flow is that elusive state in which a hacker is so immersed in what he is working on that he looses all sense of time and space, everything else is a blur, as he has “tunnel vision” on the problem he is developing a solution for. To most hacker’s who have to hack at work, they will tell you that they hardly ever if not never get into the state of Flow, which is why the 37signals guys will tell you that the typical workplace is antithetical to productivity. Flow once gotten into is very easy easy to break out of and harder to get back into once distracted.

How to stay in the Flow

1. A conducive workplace, i.e. a place where the hacker doesn’t have to think/bother about mundane things like infrastructure, e.g. power, Internet etc. Also the hacker should have all the stuff he might need during the hacking session like food and drinks, notepad and pen, reference materials and manuals at arms length  to avoid breaking out of the flow just to get these stuff.

2. Avoid distractions like emails, IM’s, phone calls, co workers, meetings etc and also have a certain period of the day when he can code for a solid stretch of time without interruptions.

3. If the hacker is in a noisy place with lots of people, using high quality noise canceling earphones would be ideal as it would serve the dual purpose of shutting out external noise and also dissuade people from talking to you.

Why are Nigerian Hackers So Smart?

Foreword: This is not a post about fraud or 419, if you came here looking for information about that, you will be highly disappointed.

The $1 million question is why are Nigerian hackers so smart? The number of hackers/programmers/geeks in Nigeria is increasing by the day. And a vibrant but small community is being brought to life as was evidenced in the recent Barcamp Nigeria, held in Lagos, Nigeria.

But my main grouse with the hacking community in Nigeria is that it seems to lack any trace of innovation or creativity. Does Nigeria need another “Facebook” ala “Naijapals”, “legwork”, or “Craigslist” ala “Nairalist”, or “Social book marking site” ala “sturvs” ? One might argue that these are localized versions of these sites which strive to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the average Nigeria, but I disagree.

There are a lot of problems in Nigeria that can be solved with the use of technology, rather than wasting man hours and energy cloning popular sites and infringing on IP rights of the owners. Problems like:

  1. Monitoring of governments spending, and delivery of democratic dividends
  2. Unbiased and uncensored news reporting
  3. Educating rural/poor children
  4. Banking facilities for poor/illiterate people

I know that the average Nigerian hacker faces a myriad of challenges, like poor power supply, Internet access, security, VC capital and basic infrastructure like housing, good roads etc which are taken for granted in developed countries. But with these challenges would it not be worthwhile to create stuff that would benefit the hacker himself and the country at large Instead of cloning “Facebook” which adds little or no value to the average Nigerian?

This is a call to arms to the Nigerian hacker to use technology to change the dire situation of the country that he has found himself in.

Aito (Pystar) Ehigie