business, hacker spaces, hacking, Internet, Technology & Startups

Why tech startups should not move to Yaba

For all those sitting in traffic right now.
- JASON FRIED

The above quote is from “Remote – office not required”, the latest book from the guys at 37signals. I guess having just finished reading the book and the intense debate that went on here birthed this post.

WHY TECH STARTUPS SHOULD NOT MOVE TO YABA OR ANYWHERE AT ALL.

1. Work doesnt happen at work: We all are guilty of goofing off on facebook, twitter, youtube et.al instead of working. Some employers even go as far as installing blocks to the Internet on office systems (this didnt stop certain adventurous individuals from bypassing it though *cough, cough*).

Programmers, designers etc produce their best work when they are inspired and in a state of flow and this has a 1% chance of ever happening in the office. IM’s, endless emails, co-workers stopping in for mindless chitchat, purposeless staff meetings etc would ensure this never happens.

Inspiration can’t be called up on demand and ordered to deliver. There are days, weeks and even months when I don’t create anything, when looking at code hurts my eyes but oh boy when the inspiration hits, my heart rate would go up, insomniac mode comes on and I just keep at it till its all out of my head. So being forced into a cubicle farm and ordered to produce stuff would be pure torture and a waste of time. Back to the warm embrace of fair lady twitter.

2. Traffic, traffic and more traffic: “Commuting is associated with increase rate of obesity, insomnia, stress, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, heart attacks, depression and even divorce” Study. You wake up very early and jump into the jungle called Lagos to fight the beast called “go slow” and after some hours, bloodied and sweaty you slay the beast and arrive in your office. How long do you think you would need to settle down and then get into that state of mind when you can produce some quality work? driving or commuting via public transport in Lagos can be a really hellish experience, just imagine if your daily commute was a maximum 5 seconds from your bed to your home office?

You could wake up 5am get some stuff done in 1-2 hours, eat, exercise and even go back for a short nap. This is time you would have wasted in traffic. If you live in the Yaba axis, good for you and best of luck if you commute from Okokomaiko to yaba everyday, you would die!!!

3. Yaba isnt the Mecca of Nigerian tech startups: Yaba, Yaba, Yaba, left, right and center (pun intended), thats all you hear. How Yaba is the place to be if you are into technology in Lagos, Nigeria. How CCHUB is the home of all the code ninjas and picasso-ish designers in Lagos. Talent has no hotspot, even infrastructure, i.e. uninterrupted power and fast internet speed found in cchub (my generator, Inverter and Swift modem aka The holy Trinity) and the mainone cable being laid in Yaba doesnt offer a bigger offset to the downside of a long commute.

As an employer, restricting your hiring to a small geographic region means you’re not getting the best people you can. As an employee, restricting your job search to companies within a reasonable commute means you’re not working for the best company you can.

4. Magic doesn’t always happen when we are in the same room location: People who would support the great Yaba march would say that there is strength in the collection of tech heads present in Yaba, there are talent hubs in Yaba (CCHUB, IDEAHUB, UNILAG, YABATECH et. al and other tech companies) etc. Not that I dispute that fact but at the same time we dont need to all move to Yaba to harness these resources.

There are ways we could all collaborate without necessarily being present in Yaba: e.g. github, bitbucket dropbox, IRC, skype, screen sharing, google groups, etc the list is endless.

Some people find the very idea of living in Lagos with her attendant madness reprehensible. Does that mean that those people would miss out on the “gold rush”?

***Original artwork by Mike Rohde***

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funding, hacking, programming, Technology & Startups

Building your startup on the side is freaking hard.

My typical day: I wake up by 5am every weekday, go through my daily ritual and leave my house by 6am to begin my 10 km commute to work (I am a “factory worker”) to get to work almost an hour later [1]. My factory shift resumes by 8am and ends by 6pm officially although this might extend into late hours of the night on some occasions. I do not work on anything IT related (which factory worker does?) so none of the hours I spend at work contributes in any way to gaining startup experience. After work I start another 10 km commute back home which can extend for almost 3 hours most times no thanks to the crazy traffic on Lagos roads, so I get home earliest by 8pm on a very good day. Most days I am so tired I hardly can code or do anything substantial before crashing on my bed. Most times the stuff I can do are only on weekends when I have some few hours to concentrate.

Building a startup on the side is freaking hard, scratch that, extremely hard. Some people do it but it’s no easy feat.

Pros of building your startup on the side.

1. Focus: when you have so few hours to work on your startup per day you tend to focus and prioritize on what is really important and what isn’t. I work an average of 50 hours at my day job and the few hours left have to be spent with laser focus or I might just wake up and discover that 6 months have passed by. [2]

2. Funding: Most Nigerian founders complain about not having funding for their startup ideas so having a day job will actually allow you to funnel part of your salary into your startup till it starts generating income of its own. I have a relatively well paid factory job so I can bootstrap for now until I start generating real income.

3. Work experience: If you are lucky enough to have a day job where you are gaining skills and experiences that are directly transferable into you startup, all well and good but if you are not like I am, you can learn people management or if your day job is so bad, you would learn how not to run a business.

Cons of building your startup on the side.

1. Burnout: Working nothing less than 50 hours per week on a day job for some years can have a terrible toll on you, your health and motivation to work on your startup. Most times I am so tired I can’t do anything reasonable during the week. This directly leads to my second point.

2. Speed: Most times I imagine and wish that the hours I spend on my day job could be funneled into my side project. I imagine where it would be by now. My startup might look slow and lethargic due to the fact that I barely even have time to work on it.

3. Burning hunger: Having a well paid job can actually make you lazy and take away the hunger to having a successful startup. If on the 24th of every month a substantial amount falls into your bank account with a loud bang, putting your all into a startup might not be topmost on your list of priorities. You might wake up after some years to discover that you have become a boring old fart with a receding hairline and your startup, still a pipe dream.

P.S: Thanks to this article on joel.is for inspiring this post.

Notes:

1. I get most idea’s for these blog posts and write them in my head while driving on my long commute to work. It’s a wonder I haven’t hit anyone yet.

2. Talking about focus: I developed my infamous unofficial nairaland API in less than 20 minutes in a frenzied coding spree.

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critic, hacking, programming, Uncategorized

Why the “noise makers” among us can’t code.

Let me tell you a true  story: I would rather spend time coding than going to a tech meetup https://twitter.com/pystar/status/227405814921568256, [1] I hate the very thought of marketing (I probably just  hate the fact that my sales pitch might get turned down). I guess that’s why my start-up hasn’t  “blown” and that of “noise makers” [2] among us, is a tale in the opposite.  But the thing is this, I could probably code rings around these “noise makers”, who probably cant write a line of code at gunpoint, but their start ups actually make me feel inadequate in a perverse way.

Unless you are building a deep Comp.Sci based start up like Google, you probably don’t need to focus so much on your code but invest heavily on marketing. Most problems here in a 3rd world country like Nigeria that can become viable start ups actually don’t require deep science but heavy marketing and legwork to enlighten people and also give them a reason to actually use your product. [3]

Most good programmers I happen to know are introverted to a certain degree and prefer coding than actually going out and meeting people, so how do you then market your product if you don’t go out? Social media doesn’t count.

Doing a quick and dirty survey of the most “up in your face” start ups here in Nigeria will actually tell you that they are started by non coding techies (if I can safely call them that)[4]. These guys are “noise makers” and thats why their start ups do well. These guys can’t code and probably are not interested in learning how to code because coding is a long tedious and lonely task (unless you are pair programming) and the emotional make up of these “noise makers” wont just allow them to do this successfully.

I have discovered that even if you write the best code with the most bleeding edge frameworks and languages and do absolutely no marketing or “noise making”, no one will beat a path to your doorstop begging for the rare privilege to use your app.

After thinking alot about this “phenomenon”, I can actually say that I agree absolutely with MrBankole when he penned http://techloy.com/2012/07/10/im-ceo-bitch/ . How does some techie who probably has a name for his laptop [5] succeed in marketing his start up? The most successful route I can figure out is getting a “noise maker” as a co founder. That way you get the best of  both worlds.[6]

Notes

[1] Probably the reason why I have never been to any tech meetup (apart the 1st ever barcamp held in lagos “09″) and most probably wont in the nearest future is because of my hectic factory day job schedule and organizers of such meetups refusing to fix events on weekends.

[2] The phrase “Noise maker” as is used in this blog post is actually used in a positive context. A noise maker is someone who is a natural extrovert, a born marketer, with little or no technical chops, i.e. someone in the mould of Steve Jobs.

[3] Imagine a start up with a Seun Osewa and Jason Njoku combo? yeah I can, in my dreams.

[4] Bloovue, dealdey, IrokoTv, Jobberman, wakanow all have non coding founders. (Correct me if I am wrong)

[5] I am guilty as charged.

[6] Don’t do this alone, collaborate, collaborate. Get someone who can pick your slack and is strong where you are weak.

Steve Wozniak (awesome technical chops) + Steve Jobs (most prolific tech marketer ever) == Apple(World domination)

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critic, hacking, programming, Technology & Startups

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.

Notes

[1]. Disclosure: I am working on something in this space.

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programming, Technology & Startups

A Nigerian Startup: Not thinking mobile? you are so wrong!!!

Any Nigerian startup that wants to get some form of traction and probably produce a mass product but isn’t doing or thinking about doing mobile is so so wrong. And when I say mobile, I am not talking about the approximately 150,000 blackberry users spread across the major GSM networks in the country, I am talking about the baseline population i.e. people with $50 Nokia phones.  Here are some reasons why you should be going down the mobile route.

1. Nigeria has a population of 154.7million people, approximately 80million mobile subscribers and an estimated 10million Internet subscribers. Any startup that goes the mobile route has opened itself to a potential market of 80million people. Even if such a startup decides to go freemium and have a business model based on advertising, its still a huge market to mine from and make profits.

2. With approximately 10 million Internet subscribers, if out of this number, 5 million access the web through their mobile devices, this leaves 75 million mobile subscribers without access to the web. Any startup that decides to target this demographic with mobile services like mobile alerts, sms search, sms coupons etc will be extremely profitable. Taking a site like Nairalist (a site with huge potential, but hasn’t really taken off) as a case study, if the owners of Nairalist could allow me setup mobile alerts via SMS against keywords of stuff I am interested in buying on the site and then alert me when ever posts which match my keywords are posted by advertisers, this would make the site extremely useful to me and weave itself into the fabric of my daily routine. This is a “sticky feature” which will make me want to use the website more and more.

3. Most people lunge around with their phones and other mobile devices wherever the go, hence sending SMS alerts, coupons or other mobile VAS (value added services) from your application or website will definitely be seen by this users and acted upon almost immediately. This can not be said of pure web services like emails and other web alerts which will only be seen by users only if they log onto your website.

4. For startups looking for that killer idea, I can name so many that involve SMS and other mobile features e.g. SMS alerts, SMS search, Traffic Reports, Mobile Coupons (think Groupon via SMS), SMS news service and alerts, the list goes on and on.

Incorporating mobile features into a website or application isn’t difficult and it exposes your startup to a huge untapped market.

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programming

Most Programmers cant solve this (2)

This is the 2nd part of a previous blog post. I have included more programming puzzles which most “programmers” usually fail to solve in programming interviews.

They are sorted in order of increasing complexity.
1. Write a program that prints out in reverse order, every multiple of 3 between 1 and 100.
2. Reverse a string.
3. Reverse a sentence “Bob likes dogs” to become “Dogs likes Bob”. please note the capitalization of the words.
4. Find the minimum value in a list. (hint create your own list of items containing both words and integers)
5. Find the maximum value in the list created in (4).
6. Return distinct values from a list that includes duplicates (i.e. 1, 3, 5, 3, 7, 3, 1, 1, 5) -> (1, 3, 5, 7).
7. Return distinct values from the list in (6) including the number of times each distinct item appears in the list. “(1)3, (3)3, (5)2, (7)1.

P.S: Easter egg: If you are interviewing a horde of “programmers” and want to prune the number by at least 60% give them this puzzle to solve in longhand: “Swap the value of 2 variables”. You would be amazed at the result.

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