Why Bitcoin Will Win

Ok, now this is stupid.

I needed to do a transfer from the UK to the US and they told me it will take 2 to 3 days. I thought long and hard about it and I told myself that it was bullshit. Especially when the value was all accessible via the Internet on both sides of the pond.

I then had to send money from my “UK PayPal account” which is tied to my Natwest Debit Card and sent the money to my “US Paypal account” tied to a Mastercard.

The transfer was instant and the cost was less than what Barclays would have charged me to send money to Wells Fargo and what Wells Fargo would have also deducted for receiving a wire transfer.

Yet people keep saying that Bitcoin will not gain massive adoption? This is the type of bullshit that Bitcoin is going to eliminate.

This is not yet the PayPal post I am writing. That one is coming. Africans must not get sucked into the banking money transfer farce. Sadly our techies are not yet smart enough to work together to tame the beast.

Everyone thinks that they are the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg but they forget that there was also a Peter Thiel who is also very wealthy that helped Zuck and others be who they are today.

Now where are these Kitiwa guys?….

TruRating - An "Aha" And "Ouch" Moment

Cupcakes! Hmm..

Yesterday, against all advice by “reasonable people”, I decided to hobble with my one good leg and crutches to the PayExpo event at London Excel. Just outside the exhibition was a stand with some nice cupcakes and even nicer people. I must confess that the cupcakes attracted me first but what I learned about “TruRating” the startup at the stand could not have been arranged by anyone else but a “higher power”.

TruRating is a company providing rating applications for businesses directly on POS terminals. This may not mean much yet to those who do not understand the POS or payments space, it was a very big deal to me. The e-POS business is largely a service business, you don’t really make money from selling devices and the onslaught of mPOS devices starting from Square has not made this any easier.

As partners to ePOS terminal hardware companies, we had long decided to forego selling hardware and pursue the services route. We only provide development and repair services to other services companies. In Africa this did not seem very scalable because of banks and regulators so we had always kept it as a side business. I however always believed that there was much more you can do at the POS devices when you provide services on it to help the merchant. I wrote in a previous blog post that “the Merchant is the biggest change agent” in African payments but few payment companies really offer anything to merchants and just treat them as a revenue source.

Customer and transaction data is very important to forward thinking merchants. The big retailers know this too well and that was why they got together to form MCX in America. They started it to rebuff Google Wallet and others because they believed that they were not really going to do much for them. They also wanted to be in control of their own data.


What TruRating achieved is simply brilliant. With the big retailers in America, I keep seeing links printed on receipts and customers urged to go on the Internet to answer survey questions with the chance to win some money. It is not surprising that I have never bothered to do any of these surveys and that a very small number of people (less than half a percent) actually bother.

TruRating solved that problem by asking simple questions to rate your experience just before you put your PIN to confirm a transaction right on the POS. And oh… they also provide the same prizes for surveys too and can tell you if you won instantly.
This is a service available right on legacy POS, that customers will use and merchants will pay for. The data belongs to the merchant or retailer and can be stored securely offline on the POS. They also provide the same service to online checkout processes and mPOS as well. I was ecstatic as this also opens up a whole new interface at the merchant point of service.

Now we will take POS development very seriously and think up new ideas while we work with awesome companies like TruRating to scale theirs. My friend Andrew Turpin was always right, POS business is just starting in Africa.


I later met Georgina Nelson the founder of TruRating and we had a long chat about her product and how she got the idea. First shocker was that she was a lawyer and not a “techie” or coder. She did not fit into the the regular Silicon Valley sterotype of a young white male founder. What was even more shocking about TruRating I discovered during that conversation was that they were funded mainly MBM Capital Partners, a Private Equity company owned by a Nigerian and the richest Black woman in the world according to Forbes — Mrs Folorunsho Alakija

Now this is another conversation entirely. I had always been against African startups looking for money from Silicon Valley or from foreign impact investors because I KNOW that there are African investors who have the capacity and the willingness to invest in great ideas. Heck! I even wrote a“long” post about this too.

The problem in Africa has always discovery. There are many great ideas and great people who can function on “both sides of the table” but there is usually no table. I cringe when I hear local founders taunting local investors and calling them names like “vulture capitalists”. Investing money is not a charitable function; getting money from the right investors is also not as simple as taking a basket to collect “offerings”.

Raising money is like dating, both sides must come to a table they trust to discuss and get to know each other better. Like dating, there are also “one night stands” and “long relationships”. To get a committed relationship with an investor or a startup, pedigree and signaling are important.

Georgina Nelson did not know Folusrunsho Alakija personally and has never met her, but her cofounder is a friend of her sons and they were able to pitch a great idea to them to get funded. Chances are that there are many great ideas in Nigeria that can be funded by MBM Capital but do they know you or trust you?

On investment, I always tell people this quote from the former Prime Minister of Canada Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien

"There is nothing more nervous than a million dollars — it moves very fast, and it doesn’t speak any language.

I owe Magatte Wade a lot from a 30 minute talk she gave in Nairobi some years ago. I have learned that helping others raise money or showing them how and where to look is not foolishness, it is actually a great strategy to build your own network.
I summarize what I have learned below:

“The best time to raise money is when you don’t need it yet. You position yourself by helping people. Next best time is not now, grow first”

All African founders do is ask for “funding”, they hardly help each other or tell others where to look even when there successful. Georgina’s story is great not because she got funded, it is awesome because she told me it was my own kinsmen who made it happen for her and made me believe that it can happen for even more Nigerians and Africans if we get our shit right.

Cash To "Cashless" in Africa - An Alternative Mobile Payments Hypothesis

Be Like Cash, Beat Cash

The problem with current transaction models in Africa is simple; BIG business entities invest in transaction platforms built by other BIG entities and expect not only to recoup their platform investments but also to continue making a profit. The problem is that they claim they want to defeat cash but they also want to make profit everywhere and from every transaction. Cash does not obey the same rules. To beat cash, you have to imitate cash then innovate beyond current business assumptions and narratives.

Cash may seem to have no cost at lower ends of the value chain because transactions are in smaller values and there is little cost to handling or storage. When it gets higher up in the value chains, the magnitude of cash increases and so does the cost. Those who trade in high volumes daily know this and they happily pay the price to speed up transactions when things become unwieldy. Why is it hard to optimize platforms for this part of the value chain as well? It is because we have all been sold a wrong narrative.

We are trying to beat cash where cash is strongest instead of focussing on where cash is weakest. Mobile payments operators believe the money is to be made in the volume of the transactions rather than the value of the transactions. What if this is turned around? Why don’t we focus on making profit from high value transactions rather than high volume transactions?

Change The Narrative

I have seen African payments evolve over 3 decades and I believe prevalent mobile transactions models adopted by several mobile payments operators in Africa are flawed. Impact investors and their acolytes are forever trying to sell the “send money home to mama” narrative and a lot of mobile money operators seeking money from these investors get stuck with this narrative.

Person to Person (P2P) transactions are very important but it is not enough to make a scheme scale. Those flawed narratives make operators concentrate mainly on the consumer end at the lower parts of the value chain rather than automate entire value chains. The real value may not lie with the retail consumer even though they are an essential part of a scheme.

Most “non-telco operators” miss out the real opportunities for creating value with proper pricing. If we are honest enough to analyse mobile payments transactions dispassionately, we will find out that a bulk of the transactions are high value transactions happening at the higher levels of the value chains where they are mainly B2B value-chain transactions. I have only seen one operator in Nigeria who admitted this and also admitted that all what they have built will not scale.

For a telco using their existing value chain they already know this. They give all their airtime commissions at the top of the chain and the value chain spreads commissions down the hierarchy using its own internal mechanisms. For payments they adopt a similar dynamic for commissions and fees but provide the mechanism for making this happen efficiently and transparently to all parts of the value chain. Telcos are usually already at scale and efficient transaction mechanisms complement existing value chains very well. Telco mobilemoney agents are almost always airtime agents. Mobile payments for a telco is an operational efficiency game and a churn reduction game. It is NOT a transactions revenue game. Transactions revenue is a byproduct of this efficiency and it is not surprising that telco operators scale faster than non telco operators.

Someone who was at the heart of Mpesa in Kenya told me that at the time they reached scale, their largest corridor for payments was “Nairobi to Nairobi” and the average transaction value was higher than your typical P2P transaction.

If we believe the Kenyan “inside-story” above, we can test a new hypothesis and turn the current African mobile transactions model on its head. We could take fees only at the higher levels where real savings are apparent when using electronic transaction mechanisms; then make low value transactions at lower levels free.

Change The Business Model

My hypothesis is simple; it is actually at the higher levels of the value chain that change is driven from and not below. I believe that this is particularly true in economies with significant informal credit flowing down value chains. An agent model works better when there is a hierarchy that mirrors current transaction flows along existing value chains. There is really no free cash for cash-outs at the bottom of the pyramid as it still belongs to those at the top providing some sort of informal credit. If they see value in a platform or a system, they will allow their agents buy into it and use it. The “buy-in” from the top is in turn translated to the consumer.

This probably is story of Nigeria and most of Sub-Saharan Africa where mobile transaction platforms have not scaled significantly. Those who build the transaction platforms and those who buy them do not build their business cases properly. If we look at retail distribution value chains closely, It is possible for transactions to be free at lower levels when those at higher levels pay the price. It is the same way it currently operates with cash.

To change or adopt new models will take patience, skill and very good selling skills. The non-telco operator cannot beat the telcos in the agent game but they can innovate in other very creative ways. They can change the game by crashing or removing fees at the consumer end. This may create adoption faster than agent-led models.

Testing The Hypothesis

Testing any payments hypothesis requires a startup mentality and not a hustler or corporate mentality. I gave a presentation titled Mobile Money as a Startup at the MobileMoney Africa conference in Lagos last year and those sold to the “impact narrative” disagreed. I believe very much in using the narrow but deep approach to payments in Africa. It is easier to build out from a niche than spreading yourself too thin.

Experimentation and business model change requires significant testing and validated learning. Operators are much more flexible when they understand the market and can make platform changes very quickly. It gets harder when they have to wait months or years to perform basic changes and see results. It is also easier when operators don’t pretend to have altruistic motives when they are in reality running a business.

It is not surprising that African banks have not adopted this strategy at scale. They are slow to make any business model change except when faced by an existential threat. I have bank accounts in almost every continent and it is only in African countries like Nigeria that I get charged a “commission on turnover” (COT) for EVERY transaction! This “COT” is separate from card association charges and commissions or even outrageous fees by local switches and payment gateways. Can we really get a cashless society with all these costs? It is impossible. COT is the main reason why African banks don’t innovate, the profit is too easy.

In the UK or US, I can pay a monthly transaction fee in some cases but all my transactions for the period attract no charge. This could also work for African mobile payments and will probably be easier for a consumer to understand. The African mobile payments operator that adopts the zero to minimal transaction cost strategy at the consumer end will not only win cash but beat the banks.

Changing The Game

We may have a real chance at defeating cash if we adopt the same transaction dynamics early adopters of bulk payment platforms used. They penalized people for coming to their banks or agents to do large transactions but allowed all other retail/consumer transactions to happen free. They realized that unless you are a telco, Visa or Mastercard, real profit in payments was in the high value end and not in high volumes.

I believe that rapid change and scalable products for this model built by small startup teams are possible in Africa. I have had the privilege of working with developers of a product (one of them was my co-founder) called SFI, that focussed only on B2B or B2C bulk payments scale to 47 sites in 17 countries. That product has existed for over two decades now. It provides real value and processes millions of dollars monthly within some very smart banks, some as far away as Australia.

In the case of Cash vs Cashless, the BIG will not eat the small; the fast will eat the slow. This is why I am back to looking at small products again, the BIG products and entities are wasting our time.

Everything Changes

“Observation and perception are two separate things; the observing eye is stronger, the perceiving eye is weaker” — Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

I have not written a blog post since my son was born last year and I haven’t mainly because everything changed. I have decided to observe more and perceive less.

You never really figure out that everything has changed until a little helpless child grips your finger firmly 20 minutes after he is born then suddenly it all becomes real. I used to perceive and act but now I observe and plan.

For me life had been an ongoing experiment and my first Facebook and Twitter Bio was “I Will Die Happy”. My sister and my mum bugged me about it endlessly until I finally changed it. In Africa we rarely speak about death but I always accepted the inevitability of it and it has been my plan to live life fully without any regrets. I believe I have done a good job of that so far.

My life has always been full of optimism and everything could be debated or tested. I lived a “lean-startup existence”. In my previous blog posts, I wrote my sometimes-extreme (but truthful) views and expected people to actually engage in debate but few did meaningfully. People actually called my views “harsh”. The truth is always harsh and sugarcoating it served no purpose.

“Unless you really understand others, you can hardly attain your own self-understanding”

I have however come to the realization that not having regrets is just not enough; having a legacy mindset is even more profound. I have had close calls and escaped death several times; I believed that surviving always meant that there was still a purpose I was yet to fulfill. I think that purpose has finally come and it is to raise a better man than I ever was or ever will be. I will teach him to observe more and perceive less. Too much perception leads to emotional judgments and my worst mistakes have been emotional calls.

The truth and experimentation will still be a part of me but now there is more accountability. Gone are the days of stoking the beast just to get a reaction, it is not enough. I would much rather play chess with the beast now and ensure it is soundly beaten.

“Do not do anything useless.”

A lot more has changed beyond the birth of “Small Chief”. I have lost friends to death and to lies. I have made less enemies and made more friends as well. I will continue to write about all these and more.

I now study more Bushido and retracing my steps back to the martial arts. I realize that the most progress I ever made in my life was when I was a student of the ways of war. Progress was not made during the act of war itself. A lot of what I write will now be influenced by the Japanese way of the warrior.

I have always loved the Japanese and they share a lot in common with my Edo tribe. Even Tokyo was known as Edo and there are many similarities in culture and beliefs. The author James Clavell’s books have also been my all time favorites.

The science of martial arts can be distilled in the immortal words of Samurai Miyamoto Mushashi as follows.

1.Think of what is right and true.

2.Practice and cultivate the science.

3.Become acquainted with the arts.

4.Know the principles of the crafts.

5.Understand the harm and benefit in everything.

6.Learn to see everything accurately.

7.Become aware of what is not obvious.

8.Be careful even in small matters.

9.Do not do anything useless.

The last point is now my creed; “leave all useless things behind”. Everything I say or do has always had a purpose but now I am even more conscious of that purpose.

Imaginary Connections?

Friends And Followers

My wife hates social media. She may have Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts but she hardly uses them and does not engage there as much as I do. She keeps taunting me about my interactions with “imaginary friends” and “imaginary followers”. The only reason she goes on Facebook at all is probably to see me clown around. I try to prove her wrong and defend myself but really, how many of my 800+ Facebook friends have I met in person? How many of the cumulative 2000+ Twitter and Google followers have I had real life interactions with in the physical world?

If I am honest, less than 10% of those connections are actual relationships where we know enough about each other enough to interact in a meaningful way. Social media has a lot of positives as it allows us to indirectly hear and relate with more diverse opinions and viewpoints but it also has a lot of negatives. The negatives probably outweigh the positive benefits.It allows for healthy debate but also can be used for personal and corporate spin. A recent article (sent to me by my wife) is damning of a majority of social media posts especially Facebook and their motives.

As the Westgate attack in Nairobi was in progress, I never thought to call my cousin or friends living in Nairobi to find out if they were OK and even if they weren't I could not have done much on the plane from London to Accra. I only waited to see them post something on social media to confirm proof of life. Social media has gradually replaced actual connections with people we know.

Yesterday I saw a sad post here on Medium titled “A friend died nearly 2 years ago. I had no idea”. The title is self explanatory.


I remember the time I was actively pushing for information technology security in Nigeria early in the last decade. We set up a local chapter of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) and I was the communications officer. We met physically monthly at various locations in Lagos and it was at one of those meetings that I complained to Emeka Okoye about my headache searching for an office space near my client MTN in Lagos.

Emeka introduced me to a gentleman who allowed us to share and get our first proper office. He probably would not have taken me seriously or known the extent of my pain if we had not met physically at those meetings. I am sure there were many other problems that were solved professionally by complete strangers at those events. Sadly the physical meet-ups started giving way to texts and e-mails and finally it all stopped. Social Media killed the Social Meetup. I was very happy when the Nigeria tech community decided recently that it was best to have actual meetings instead of having “beer parlour” type discussions in social media.

One other sad story from Nairobi, which ironically I also found out from social media, was the death of Idd Salim a member of the tech community there. Most people did not even know he was ill until he had passed away. Rest in peace Idd Salim.

Gradually the virtual perception of community has replaced actual community and social contact. We may seem to share common interests with people online but community is much more than common interests and objectives. It is about caring for each other. It is the reason why religious communities remain stronger than political or social arrangements. Meeting each other once a week in church, synagogue or mosque helped build a support system that social media has almost completely eroded.


Mark Zuckerberg is not just the lucky founder of a platform with over a Billion people; he is a true visionary. His original vision was to facilitate more connections and not to eliminate those we already have. While we may use his platform in ways he may not have intended, he realizes that meeting real people in person everyday is actually a healthy social habit.

His two goals for 2013 are very interesting. The first is to meet one real person outside Facebook everyday; that is at least 365 people in one year. An almost invisible fraction of Facebook’s user base but it is a great start. The numbers may seem small but the implications in terms of new learning for Zuckerberg are far reaching. The second goal is to teach at Middle school. Doing that alone made him more aware of the plight of migrant children and led to his recent activism on US immigration reform.

I visited Nigeria sometime last year and in an attempt to avoid Lagos traffic on 3rd Mainland Bridge while coming back from the airport, we ended up in a high population density area called Iwaya. I had worked very near Iwaya before but never really gone in there so I was not really prepared for what I encountered. “Social media” could not have revealed any of it to me.

I decided to meet the airtime dealers and agents as I always did and it seemed to me that all the presumptions we sometimes made and the way we look at agent and dealer hierarchy and structure was very different from the reality on the ground. It made me appreciate the work sales and distribution people do more and realize that technology was the easy part. These agents and dealers don’t care if you are using the best or worst platform; they just want things to work. If it doesn't work they will switch quickly because all they want to do is make money. In my opinion the power these street people have over consumer preference is grossly underestimated.

People ask me why I use an MTN prepaid phone in Nigeria but have all other lines for other operators on postpaid plans? I tell them that it I use it because it lets me buy prepaid airtime regularly via VTU and gives me a better understanding of the actual issues subscribers and dealers face. I can’t be a good service provider without knowing how well my service is performing. VTU also works on contract phones but a majority of the users are prepaid. Using the service myself also gives me a chance to interact with the prepaid dealerships and vendors. The first thing I do at the airport when I arrive is to goto the MTN dealer and top-up using VTU. If there is an issue I notify our support team and it keeps them on their toes. I do this at every country where we have active implementations for Mobile Money as well. If there is no agent at an airport it worries me.

In Ghana, last year I decided to stop driving on Sundays, for most of the year I only took local taxicabs to church and always did my best to have conversations with the drivers. It was from those conversations that I found out that the drivers found a way to use much cheaper LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) instead of gasoline to power their cars when fuel prices increased. Probably the reason why they Ghana did not have their own version of “Occupy Nigeria Riots” when fuel subsidies were removed. The prices of LPG powered generators actually tripled when there was a power crisis earlier this year.


There are actual opportunities waiting to be revealed in Africa just by moving around, observing and meeting people. I do not think a lot of investors actually understand the African streets and the entrepreneurs rarely know how to convey the message to them. Those entrepreneurs selling the same old “social impact” narrative and the non-commercial investors buying them may be in for a rude shock in the near future. It is hard to get out of air-conditioned offices and bulletproofed cars to listen to the actual music from the streets. I came from those streets and the music is very different from that being played in social media. Vanity metrics mean nothing.

I was fortunate to be asked by ccHub recently to mentor a team developing a location based point of interest search app. I saw that they did not put the option of airtime dealers or mobile money agents in their interface. I asked them why? They told me honestly that they had not actually seen any mobile money agents around them but the airtime agents are very easy to spot. Maybe it is time the regulators providing Nigeria’s new found “glowing” mobile money statistics actually visit the streets to see the reality for themselves. I sometimes wonder why banks and mobile money operators invest so much time and effort in getting social media feedback when the real battle is on the streets. 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs don’t use Social Media and I think I am beginning to see their logic.

Agent statistics provided by Gates Foundation in their portal“www.fspmaps.com” vary wildly from those being reported by the various operators. While it is probably easier to believe an independent survey instead of operator claims, we really don’t care about those numbers, we just want to actually see agents on the streets and use them. Agent locations should be published for people to see and be informed. I worked with an investor as part of the founding team of Econet Nigeria and the first thing we did even before we launched then was let people know where the actual Econet shops and agents were. This education was big boost for GSM adoption in Nigeria. Mobile Money Agents are not terrorist sleeper cells waiting to be activated, they are meant to be an integral part of a robust communications and product awareness strategy.

As entrepreneurs, we really need payments to work in Nigeria because a lot depends on it. I don’t care who does it best, I just want it done well. We want to hear the music from the streets and not the noise from social media.

To help with agent discovery and actual statistics, I have asked Emeka Okoye and the guys at ccHub to join in an OpenData project to map actual agent locations in Nigeria. They have accepted.We will be complementing and not replicating the excellent work already done by Gates Foundation and also give the operators a chance to showcase their “brick and mortar” (or umbrella) agents. Financial inclusion should be driven by actual connections and not imaginary ones.

The Broken Ones

Crazy, twisted then broken

My friend Kimo used to summarize life in Africa as a statement –

“Where there is no plan, that is the plan”

We take life a day at a time and just seem to drift and “go with the flow”. It is difficult to plan where nothing seems normal and everything seems broken but somehow some people seem to find a way through the chaos to make something out of nothing. Those people who create some sort of order out of seeming chaos are the exception not the rule. They become leaders or they become rich.

The people who make things work when everything seems broken are probably the twisted ones. They refuse to accept norms and they force change. George Bernard Shaw calls these people “Unreasonable” and I wrote about a typical African that exhibits those traits in a previous blog post I wrote titled “The Unreasonable New African”.

At this year’s Google I/O event, Naval Ravikant was asked why he decided instead to start Angellist and focus more on supporting entrepreneurship? His response was that “you have to be fundamentally broken to be in this game” and he believes each entrepreneur and investor is “broken” in some way as they refuse to accept “normal” as the rule. Meaning — there is something in each person that follows this path that questions the norms then try in their own way to make change happen.

I read a post yesterday on Medium titled “Why I left Google” and had a discussion with my wife about the driving forces behind career choices we have made. My wife is also a superstar, 1st class graduate with Ivy league MBA who decided to come back to an obscure corner of Africa, her response was that she too wanted to go out and change the world but she realized that it can actually start from making her own corner brighter and for all to see and learn.

Personally, I have never really looked back and wondered what could have been different had I taken an alternative route. I don’t do post-mortems; I keep looking at future possibilities from where I am standing, and there are awesome possibilities. I believe this is the case because I do not see career as a short journey towards any particular “happy destination”, it is a subset of long marathon called life. My career is my life they are not separate but intertwined.

I am in the midst of all I feel that is wrong and I try to be the exception always than become part of the norm. Maybe if everything becomes different and conforms to what I believe is ideal then I will seek change again. Yes I know it; I am broken. My happiness comes from “fixing things”.

I have been fortunate to be in the company of very great achievers and there is a common trait I see about them that is unique. They first simplify the things the other people obsess about (appearance, self esteem, achievement) to the point of irreverence then they go after real problems and tackle them. More often than not they win and are celebrated but they do not revel in those achievements, they keep on winning and they become heroes or villains. They are broken.

I see that trait in people who are cut out for greatness especially in members of our team. If someone gets a brand new laptop and the first thing he does is get rid of Windows 8 to install Ubuntu, he is “fundamentally broken” but in a very good way. Our team members are fanatical about “fixing things” and get to the root of problems. They are not satisfied with good when great is an option. Our people are not carried away with shiny objects, they are on a path to greatness and cannot be stopped, they are the type of people Paul Graham describes in his essay as “formidable”. They know their sh!t.

What I saw from the article “Why I left Google” goes to the heart of the argument I tried to make in another post titled “The future of the enterprise, global innovation and brands?. I wrote –

“The institutions of the future must also live what they sell…. — Disruption must start from within the enterprise before it can as an entity become an agent of disruption in the marketplace.”

Fundamentally disruptive organizations are also broken. They do not fit the normal mold. They keep changing and raising the bar.

The change in the structure of the enterprise and nature of human capital is only just beginning. HCL and Google may just be intermediate stages of something bigger and more distributed, more broken. Another article from medium titled “distributed everything” puts this future possibility in proper perspective.

Just like the lady that wrote in the blog post on why she left, she kept on having the recurrent dream of something chasing her, I also had a recurrent dream of building a structure that will collapse under its own weight. I decided to change that by starting Afrinnova to create a platform for “formidable people” to achieve their dreams. Maybe more organizations have to explore platform thinking when it comes to the human resource.

Most large organizations tend to collapse under their weight over time as they grow. They become part of the norm rather than the exception. Steve Jobs himself sounded that warning in an old WWDC video sent to me by our CTO. The cost of coordinating very large teams grows exponentially and adding one team member could become the last straw that breaks everything. 

According to Steve Jobs —

“Apple suffered for many years from lousy engineering management… created a large farm with animals going into different directions. …The total became less than the sum of the parts… ….Focussing is about saying No!

It sounds crazy and counterintuitive but to keep growing yet getting better, organizations must stay broken. While strategy and objectives require cohesion, the way we structure organizations to achieve them do not necessarily have to become a hindrance to achieving those objectives. Great products are built because people feel a personal pain and not just because they are told by their bosses to build them. 

Organizations should strive to be not just “different” but “better as Jobs said, “the sum of all the parts must be greater than the whole”. Sometimes you just have to break things to fix them and make them “better”. The best description for this structure is from the Dee Hock the founder of Visa, it is “Charodic”

Visa is huge and probably one of the largest man-made organizations on the face of the earth but it has not been crushed by its own weight. Over time, organizations will become more and more like natural ecosystems. We were created individuals for a reason, nature is “Charodic”, and nature is broken.

UPDATE: One great quote from a friend that inspired this post is the one I actually forgot to mention:

"Accept your past with no regrets, handle your present with confidence, and face your future with no fear."  - Tunde Jinadu

Moving On

Ray Charles and Silicon Valley

Back in school there was term we used to tell each other when to "move on" after a relationship break-up, we told the person to do a “Ray Charles”. What we meant precisely was that they should heed the lyrics of his hit song “Hit The Road Jack”. It also became a euphemism for telling people to get a grip and move on with life. Each time I hit an obstacle the first thing that comes to my mind is “Ray Charles”.

Bessemer Venture Partners is a well-known Silicon Valley VC company and they also have a great sense of humor. They acknowledge the fact that in Silicon Valley you can never always be right and they illustrate it with their “anti-portfolio”, a list of misses they made as they went on their investment journey. One notable one was Google:

Cowan’s college friend rented her garage to Sergey and Larry for their first year. In 1999 and 2000 she tried to introduce Cowan to “these two really smart Stanford students writing a search engine”. Students? A new search engine? In the most important moment ever for Bessemer’s anti-portfolio, Cowan asked her, “How can I get out of this house without going anywhere near your garage?”

What is important to note here is that they have a sense of humor about it as they have moved on and realized that “you can’t always win everything”. They have other notable successes like Skype and Twillio in their curent portfolio. Startup founders must also have the same mentality. Aaron Levie the co-founder and CEO of the enterprise cloud company Box puts this very simply in a tweet

Entrepreneurship: 90% proving others wrong, 10% everything else.

Successful entrepreneurs usually have astronomical odds stacked against them, and what separates them from others is the conviction (sometimes delusion) that they can surmount those odds. They work tirelessly at this 90% of the time. It is better to channel your energy and emotion towards making your venture a success than wasting it on trivial pursuits. In simple terms, “Hit the road Jack”.

Those two perspectives from “both sides of the table” above sum up why Silicon Valley is a unique ecosystem and according to Kingsley Idehen the founder of Openlink Software “One of the luckiest places in the world”. In a recent conversation I had with him in Boston a couple of weeks ago, he said that Silicon Valley is fortunate not because anyone purposely designed a place where really good investors and really great entrepreneurs meet to build great companies, everything evolved from a fortunate series of events. Serendipity and discovery is easier when the best of both sides of the table are in close proximity.

The Internet has however made this proximity an even less relevant factor when it comes to discovery and tools like Angellist have taken the lead in facilitating serendipity. Angellist is still not perfect but evolving, it has however succeeded in proving that discovery is possible by building platforms that depend on data rather than magic or alchemy. Techcrunch also has Crunchbase, it is a useful resource for background research in the community and their stories add to the repository of data. When data is used wisely, Silicon Valley’s success can be replicated anywhere.


While Silicon Valley is rapidly evolving and qualitative methods are being rapidly replaced by quantitative metrics, Africa still lags behind.According to Bosun Tijani founder of ccHUB in Nigeria, we are still in the stone age. In most parts of Africa, we still believe that maybe successful entrepreneurs have some secret potion or shortcut to their success and we all try to emulate them, cry to them for help or even worship them rather than finding out the first principles and doing even better than they did.

Someone I know told me once that every 10 years in Africa there is a new set of Billionaires and his goal in the next 10 years is to be among the next group. He is on track, as he does not chase targets, he doubles them. He does this well because he depends on data and not magic. That is the spirit I admire.

The data is all around us yet we make blunders. We listen to narratives and form opinions without testing them for validity. I made a presentation at the recent MobileMoney Africa event in Lagos titled “Startup Lessons for Mobilemoney” and someone told me bluntly that those ideas in Silicon Valley will not work in Nigeria. I asked him how sure he would be if he has not tried or tested them? His only answer was “This is Africa not America, lean methods will not work here”.

Yes it is Africa but it is my hypothesis based on experience and I plan to continue testing my assumptions. His dismissal based on anecdotes did not make it less or more likely that the results of my tests would yield a particular outcome. My success in proving people wrong all depends on the data and my determination to gain validated knowledge.


The Nigerian Startup scene is a unique one, unique in the sense that there is latent opportunity but with very bad actors. I actually wrote a post titled “Rich Man, Poor Man, BeggarMan, King” based on Noam Wasserman’s bestselling “Founder’s Dilemma” and my observations of the Nigerian ecosystem. I decided against publishing it yet as too much has been said about one issue. Maybe I will still publish that post at a future date, but right now it just serves no purpose as too many sentiments emotions have been whipped up to frenzy. There is no need to go into the dramatis personae involved in recent events but there is something curious to note; everyone has an opinion but few (including myself) have facts.

Facts are very interesting as they can be presented in a variety of ways to bolster a weak argument or sometimes to try to defend one’s actions. According to Mark Twain, “There are lies, damned lies and Statistics”. Ultimately all opinions including those backed by “facts” are subjective but results do not lie. Results add to the pool of data from which people can perform experiments to prove or disprove hypotheses.

How well do we really know the Nigerian technology ecosystem? What data do we really have there beyond self-serving stories from entrepreneurs and lists from competitions that are glorified schoolyard pissing-contests?

“Hit The Road Jack”

My favorite Michalangelo Quote is “Criticize by creating”, indictments and observations about an ecosystem do not make a difference without contributing to its improvement. The problem with serendipity and discovery in Africa and to a large extent Nigeria is not with a shortage of talent resources or ideas, it is a data problem. I realized that Angellist and VC4Africa’s platform are aggregate platforms that serve a core demographic primarily and only have a peripheral utility to others who don’t fit into that demographic. A further level of granularity and context is required to facilitate discovery at the ecosystem level.

I have since registered the domains Afrigraph.com and Startups.ng and when I did them, my goal was to create platforms for discovery similar to AngelList for the aggregate African and Nigeria specific ecosystems. I became distracted and did nothing about those projects. I still believe such a platform is a good idea and a great mechanism for aggregating data for discovery purposes. I would like to now make it open-source by inviting others to join to make this happen. I will be providing more information about this initiative shortly.

I admire recent founder meetups organized by Techcabal and led by Iyionluwa Aboyeji of Fora. I praise Bosun Tijani and Femi Longe for the great work they have been doing and continue to do with ccHUB. We must move from anecdotes and talk to actual experimentation and sharing of results. That is what made Silicon Valley great. It was not the link-bait by tech blogs, founder battles or endless prattle in social media. It was serendipity and discovery; it was data. One story or a few stories do not define a great ecosystem; it is the aggregate results of people’s actions. We must keep producing results, we must move on.

There is a tweet from Bosun Tijani below which sums up all I have said above:

I read an awesome Medium article this morning titled “Accelerating Serendipity”. It is highly recommended.

Skype Of Payments?

Future payment possibilities of Skype and messaging

Today I tried to catch-up on my mail after a long recovery period from illness. I got tired of responding in detail and decided it would be better to actually just speak with a number of the people who sent me mails. It occurred to me after my 5th conversation that I just sent some of these people I was speaking with for the first time my Skype ID and did not ask if they used Skype or not, it was a given. I don’t know if I am making assumptions but is there really any serious person who does not use Skype? My 70 year old mother uses Skype daily and it is probably the most efficient means of communication over long distances.

I admit that my Skype usage is a bit extreme as it is probably more likely that my phone batteries are dead and I never bother to charge them. I am always online and I am on Skype, it is the best place to catch me. Even when the phone is working, 99% of my conversations are online. My wife thinks I am a very weird and I have completely lost social skills as a result. I recollect her telling me once that she had to leave me in Accra and travel to Lome so she could get my attention on Skype. Sad.

I remember clearly when I got introduced to Skype and I was ecstatic! Free International calls? Who wouldn’t be excited? My girlfriend at that time lived far away in Ottawa, Canada and it was what kept the relationship alive. I was always fascinated when I saw the indicator showing the number of people online and using it. I was part of a global community that had discovered the freedom of “Voice Over Internet Protocol”.

My big brother Austin on the other hand was very paranoid about security, he was (at that time) a Microsoft Solutions Architect. He refused to use anything that could bypass his firewalls and made it his duty and mission to find ingenious ways to block it. Austin did not trust any software from the same people who produced spyware laden Kazaa one of the earliest p2p (person-to-person) file sharing platforms. It is ironic that Skype has now been acquired by Microsoft and is now mainstream, accepted by the same corporations who once did everything to block it. It is interesting also now that most of my conversations with Austin are also now on Skype.

I actually use Skype to make more than just free calls these days; I use “SkypeOut” for paid calls as well. I have subscription bundles for countries and even use Skype Manager to allocate Skype credit to my wife and my mother – bad mistake, not advisable. 

Skype can also let you use Internet on hotspots like Boingo and since your payment details are stored anyway, it can basically be used to pay for anything. I still wonder why Starbucks did not just buy Skype and allowed Microsoft to grab it.

Skype is an excellent platform for payments and if Microsoft does not see this opportunity they are truly done. They should just turn over and die. It already stores payment details so PCIDSS compliance is not an issue. It has encryption and it is available on mobile and desktop. It also accepts multiple payment types across continents and converts them to Skype Credits. Skype is already being used to pay for access time at hotspots so I don’t see why that functionality cannot be extended.

Google has pulled the mother of all stunts with Google Wallet for Gmail. It is definitely going to be huge as it is a no-brainer. They are also chasing Skype with “hangouts”. P2P payments fit nicely with the tools you use to communicate with people daily. I told someone recently that the day Whatsapp decides to add P2P payments, I will go back to farming as the game is over.

These platforms have tremendous reach and great potential. There is no point trying to build the next P2P payments platform when all these guys need to do is just add your entire product as a feature. The real opportunities for payments startups are in B2B (business to business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) and it is rapidly getting crowded. Maybe it is time to start talking to WeChat, Saya, 2Go and others.

The current state of the payment industry is pathetic. It is reminiscent of the early gold prospecting days by pioneers in California; totally chaotic. I believe that all the consumer wants is simplicity and if payments are already woven into everyday processes like messaging, there is a higher chance that they will use it than install yet another app or get another card. Maybe the messaging companies are the railroad barons of future payments.

If Microsoft does not see the advantage of using Skype as payments platform, they just leave a wide opportunity for Google Wallet to become the “Skype of payments”

Dear Rocket… Please Save Nigerian Internet From Itself

This post was originally on my Medium. I hate Posthaven :(

Dear Rocket…

Please save Nigerian Internet from itself

Dear Rocket Internet,

I have followed your interest in Africa (especially my home country Nigeria) initially with some amusement, which rapidly evolved, into concern and trepidation, now with resignation. You have come to stay and we must deal with you even if we do not like to do so.

I read the article on your recent foray into the online business in Nigeria and a certain quote by your founder caught my attention, “I don’t build boats, I build aircraft carriers,”

We in Africa and especially Nigeria are no strangers to boats from Europe and as a Benin Man who remembers the British punitive expedition that led to the great Benin Massacre in 1897, we also know the difference between merchant ships, slave ships and war boats. Aircraft carriers are a different breed as their presence on our coasts can only mean one thing – war.

We do not understand why you would want to be at war with us as we are not the enemy. We expected you to come like the missionaries with the guise of evangelization before springing the surprise of colonization and amalgamation upon us. We shall pretend we did not hear that quote and will pretend that you are here bringing good tidings like missionaries or ready to trade like the merchants.

Just as the missionaries built hospitals and churches, merchants built roads and infrastructure that probably are still the only civil infrastructure present in many parts of Africa today, we invite you to also help us build our Internet infrastructure. The colonial-era infrastructure not only helped trade and evangelization, it became the foundation for modern infrastructure we all benefit from till today.

In Nigeria we claim to have 40 million people on the Internet but figures from Facebook and other sources make that doubtful. What is however not in question is the need for better Internet. Mainone Cable and others have accomplished the difficult task of bringing submarine cables and wholesale Internet (to the same shores where you have landed) but the last-mile seems to be a very difficult hurdle to cross. Eric Schmidt of Google already knows about this problem, as Google is supposed to be very "bullish" on Nigeria’s prospects.

Yes this business does not fit your normal business model but indulge us a bit. All your businesses in Nigeria and Africa depend on Internet ubiquity and we know that you came to Nigeria first before Kenya and others because of the sheer numbers. While we may have the population and Internet usage growth figures are mind blowing, really stupendous growth will be seen when we start measuring bandwidth in “Mega” rather than “Kilo” units. This can only help your numerous businesses to grow. The real “Boom Time” is still far away.

We need to be able to use smart phones and devices capable of accessing richer content as feature phones will not help your business. If you need help in getting into the last mile business, just ask Millicom to buy out an existing ISP and also use that as a beachhead into Nigeria’s telecoms space. Current Nigerian ISPs are fat and lazy, they have not innovated since the ISP revolution was launched by Infoweb and Linkserve almost two decades ago. They deserve to be disrupted. The existing telcos are also not your foes, they are your friends as they will only benefit from more data usage all round. Whatsapp bundles alone will not save them.

Once again, we are all part of an ecosystem that needs to evolve and we are not enemies. We implore you to beat your swords into ploughshares to till the land and yield a bountiful harvest or in your case convert your “aircraft carriers” to fishing trawlers. There is enough for all of us if we can see beyond the myopia of tech blogs.


Concerned Nigerian Techie

The "Well Dressed" Entrepreneur

Growing up, whenever we had to go for an outing, my mother always repeated the adage "you never get a second chance to make a first impression". I always remembered that when I was meeting new contacts for the first time and I have been very conscious of what I wear. I try hard to strike a balance between what I am comfortable with and what passes as "acceptable". I can never be caught looking stiff and uncomfortable. I have never been a fan of "dressing up" to impress anyone. The last time I wore something close to a tie (a clip on cravat) was my wedding day. Even on that day, I could not wait to take it off and went for a "kente" waistcoat to replace the formal one I wore in church. I learned from an old friend that "clean, neat and simple" was always a winner over expensive, tacky and not well put together.

 My default mode for business outings has always been what is described in this rather hilarious Entrepreneur.com article as "Sprezzatura!". I prefer wearing blazers and chinos or slacks to dress suits; I am also addicted to specific brands. Gap and Austin Reed store attendants in Manchester and London don't even have to ask, as they always know what I want. My everyday attire primarily consists of jeans and short-sleeved shirts and I have always avoided occasions with an explicit formal dress code. I however do not do "hoodies" (RIP Trayvon) or sag my trousers.

 A lot of people claim to admire my "moderate irreverence" and refusal to wear ties but others like my uncle (a retired career banker) probably secretly despise me for it. I had somehow always survived the stern glances whenever I had to accompany him for meetings. He was initially trained as an accountant in England and is very "British" in his ways. My wife (also a banker) calls me a "Kubolor", a Ghanaian term for "vagabond" or "outlaw", and I see it as a term of endearment as she also becomes "Mrs Kubolor". She says I sometimes dress as an "Igbo trader" or "Ewe tradesman". I refuse to conform not only because I feel that wearing ties and suits in the tropics is a dumb idea, I also believe that we actually should be wearing our own African attire but I have not yet reached the level of Herman Chinerry-Hesse who refuses to wear anything non-African.

When I visited San Francisco and Silicon Valley for the first time a couple of years ago, I was happy to meet fellow "Kubolors" who are making Millions and Billions of dollars in spite of wearing flip flops, sweaters and hoodies. I never saw Steve Jobs wearing a suit and tie, yet he built one of the most successful and valuable businesses in the world. I was at peace and balance was restored to my existence.

I have been to a lot of technology events involving startups and attended by entrepreneurs in America, the dress code, as always was "no dress code". Jeans and sneakers are encouraged. The first time I made the mistake of wearing a jacket to Techcrunch Disrupt, I looked overdressed and pretentious. I learned quickly and got rid of it and folded my sleeves. I even looked cool and "GQ model like", which to me was “age appropriate”. I never also could pull off "ambivalent casual" as well as the much younger Disrupt crowd. I somehow feel that the older I get, the more ridiculous I think they seem. I am gradually joining Dvorak and co. as one of the grumpy old techies.

London as usual was the opposite of Silicon Valley. I attended "Cloud World Forum" early this month and on the first day I went as a "Kubolor". I made the mistake of thinking that the techies in London would be as liberal as those in California. I was mistaken as I forgot that most of the people here went to English Public schools with a long tradition of wearing ties even to school. I stood out from the suit-wearing crowd and was in most cases politely avoided. London has not received the memo from Silicon Valley yet and they seem to have no Dave McClure.

 There seemed to be an expected dress code at the event to which I definitely did not conform and I was sort of politely ostracized. Someone from a company selling VDI products actually asked me if I knew what cloud technology was all about? I played along and feigned ignorance; in a condescending manner he referred me to a junior colleague, as he couldn't be bothered with the "poorly dressed African". The lady he referred me to, had a good laugh when she realized what I had done. It gave me an insight to why London will continue to struggle as a hub for technology innovation.

I amused myself thoroughly the first day of the event and was amazed by the behavior of people towards me because I did not conform to the unspoken dress code. The next day however, I had to do serious business and I could not afford being ignored so I learned and "suited up". The transformation in the reaction from those I met there was unbelievable! It was as if I had changed from Clark Kent to SuperMan. I went to a Bitcoin event at Canary Wharf the next week and it was largely the same with a few humorous exceptions.  This got me thinking and bothered. Are we all really that shallow and cannot see beyond appearances? Is that shallowness probably the reason why some ecosystems are held back while locations like Silicon Valley flourish? Do certain cultures push away truly innovative people because they don't fit the mould? I wonder if there is a real correlation between "bohemian" behavior and appearance with innovation.

Richard Branson the very different and quintessential symbol of new British entrepreneurship put it very clearly here: "Suits and ties in an office are just another type of uniform, but in an arena where uniforms no longer serve any useful purpose. At one time they probably showed that the wearer was, at the very least, able to purchase and maintain a fairly expensive piece of fabric. Now, however, in an individualized, interconnected culture, your achievements speak for themselves. The suit and tie is an anachronism."

Culture is a strange and powerful thing; we may not understand how unconsciously we are helping to perpetuate a specific behavior or bias. All human beings to some degree probably have the fatal flaw of stereotyping but I expected more tolerance from those involved with technology. Maybe I expected too much as I may also be guilty of the same biases. I remember when a group of young startup founders I agreed to advise came to pitch to me recently in Accra. They were all wearing black suits, I burst out laughing when I saw them and asked "who died?” they did not get the joke and also did not get any money or referrals. I am sure they were surprised when I insisted on meeting them at the mall and not the office. They still came in suits anyway and probably were shocked that I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts at 11am on a Monday.

Normally I see excessive vanity as a bad sign in tech entrepreneurship but sloppiness is even worse. Maybe subconsciously I have a bias against those wearing suits but I am sure that my decision with the case of the Accra crew was based on the quality of their pitch and not their suits. I actually did not employ a guy once when I saw that his expensive crocodile skin shoes did not match his income from the job he wanted to leave. Maybe I am also shallow too like that. It turned out that my hunch was right, as the guy had lied in his CV. I see overcompensation in appearances as a sign of deep-seated insecurity. There is an inverse relationship between dressing to impress and confidence in product. It probably explains why bankers focus more on dressing as they all offer the same products with little innovation.

The London experience however made me realize that my mother was probably right. First experiences matter and for a lot of people the perception they get are the only reality that matters to them. One could lose a big opportunity if dressing or appearance is not "culture or age appropriate". It seems we all carry around our own biases and it is always better to err on the side of caution than to think irreverence will always be acceptable. In San Francisco, people could have laughed at me afterwards for wearing a suit but would still have been open to talk to me. In London, maybe if I had gone to extremes and grew dreadlocks they probably would have treated me even better as I would be a novelty. Victor Okigbo seems to pull off dreadlocks well. For him, there is a reason he wears his hair that way and his achievements and family pedigree speaks volumes.

I will never know how much my "Kubolor dress mode" has cost me in the past or if it has actually helped. The lesson I have learned from London is that if you are not yet as rich and powerful as Steve Jobs or as influential as Mark Zuckerberg, you cannot afford irreverence at all times. You may have to bite the bullet occasionally to conform. Conforming for certain reasons and for short periods will not kill innovation in you. I am writing this post now wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt but earlier today I had to wear a suit as I attended the AITEC Banking and MobileMoney event. Even the crazy founders of Rap Genius also suit up when they have to. 

As a tech entrepreneur please keep a suit or jacket handy, you may need it. Also try to read the Entrepreneur.com article as it provides sound advice that I had to find out myself the hard way. Try not to be like "Mr TieTus".