The Sword Without A Hilt – “The Internet Is Coming”

Lewis Rothschild: You have a deeper love of this country than any man I've ever known. And I want to know what it says to you that in the past seven weeks, 59% of Americans have begun to question your patriotism.

President Andrew Shepherd: Look, if the people want to listen to-...

Lewis Rothschild: They don't have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.

President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.”

 – From the movie “The American President” (1995), starring Michael Douglas.

 The Signal And The Link Bait

I have had many interesting posts lined up in my head after my last visit to San Francisco for Google I/O 2013 but Twitter keeps getting in the way. Lately, I keep get into a lot of interesting conversations on Twitter about the Nigerian tech startup scene and it keeps affirming my belief that the narrative around entrepreneurship and technology innovation in Africa and especially Nigeria needs to change.

Recently, I had to publicly let my feelings known to Bankole Oluwafemi on the fact that only a few stories about a few individuals keep getting repeated over and over again while other interesting and relevant ones never get mentioned. One would think that the only game in town were the three horsemen of Jumia, Konga and Iroko. Those are respected startups doing great stuff but they do not represent the entire ecosystem or even begin to paint a full picture of what is going on beneath the surface in Nigeria.

I was in Nigeria recently and found out firsthand that a lot more is happening than the few stories being flogged to death online and in the media. There are a lot more founders who are doing even bigger things but are not as controversial or press savvy as the few whose stories get repeated over and over again. These new founders with new enterprises (whose stories are not being told enough) I believe are the right role models we should be putting forward for the younger generation to emulate.

I decided to meet with local tech startup founders informally for drinks at FourPoints Sheraton in Lagos instead of the crowded and well-attended Mobile Web West Africa event. I met them at a forum where they could talk freely about their ventures and challenges without the constraints of time and space. Some of those people I met included Gossy Ukanwoke of Beni American University who has just raised $25m in funding locally to build a private university as the next iteration of his online version. Another was Editi Effiong of Anakle who is doing something different and interesting n the digital advertising and content space. Femi Taiwo who a lot of people do not know was responsible for building the platform that ran the last Nigerian general elections, Oo Nwoye himself also showed up as well as Mark Essien of and Lanre of both now part of the fold.

By the way, I really love what SPARK is doing and the spirit is great, but I also believe very much in Tuco’s philosophy in “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”, “…if you want to shoot, shoot don’t talk”. SPARK is a bold (middle-finger-up-in-the-air) challenge to the ecosystem and the community. I will be happier if there are more ventures like SPARK rather than people trying to bring them down or speculate what is going on in there. For a group they are pretty much transparent and people can just ask, they should not depend on “stories”. There should be conversations not speculations.

“The Internet Is Coming”

I wrote a tweet after my visit to Nigeria that felt more bullish about the startup scene than I have been in the past as I have seen real progress being made. There has been a lot more that has happened since Oo Nwoye sent me a mail introducing a group with a funny name calling itself “NigIntEnt” or “Nigerian Internet Entrepreneurs” (later rebranded as TechCircle) and a lot more that has happened since the first Demo Day he organized two years ago that was covered by TechCrunch. Introductions were made that day that changed the Nigerian startup scene forever.

Two years is a very long period in “Internet time” but is a short period in Nigerian time considering the obstacles those founders of companies which ordinarily would have stood no chance have had to overcome. Earlier last decade, I was very hopeful when a similar movement was started by the likes of Wale Tinubu, Jite Okoloko, Bolaji Balogun and the late Osaze Osifo. Before them, my uncle Henry Imasekha and cousin Hakeem Bello Osagie had staged the biggest coup in Nigeria with the take over of UBA and things changed forever. Banking, telecommunications, oil and gas have never remained the same. Raising $285m locally to get a license for an unproven startup was the pinnacle of it all. I was not only lucky to have witnessed it but part of making that magic happen. I believe the magic can be repeated over and over again but it seems that somehow we have stopped thinking big.  

The power had continued to shift to younger and younger generations at an increasing rate until suddenly things slowed down again as the new guard also became the old guard. They became defensive of their new fortunes rather than inspire a new generation who would even do better and change things forever. I read an article recently where someone described Lagos this way:

“Lagos looked to me like a city where aliens had come and built the city and then left, and then just sort of let it decay.”

That observation is very apt as it explains what happened after the growth in the 80s. A few people made a lot of money then took it out without reinvesting it, leaving the infrastructure to decay while they still keep skimming off profits. The money that is being made in Lagos or indeed Nigeria is mind blowing but just think of how much more could be made if things could work a lot better? That is where thinking big comes in.

The state of entrepreneurship (or rather “opportunism”) in Nigeria seems to be a “zero-sum-game” and a “winner-takes-it-all” mentality is pervasive. For every great idea, there are 100 other competitors eager and willing to take you down so people allow barriers to be in place so that others cannot challenge them rather than remove them so that they can scale to an even greater magnitude. I always hear that Nigeria is unique and Nigerian problems are different from others elsewhere and I agree but I also believe that they are because Nigerians continue to make it that way. Things remain the way they are not because people are thirsty in the desert and they drink sand, it is because they do not know the difference between sand and water. They will continue to drink sand when they see water beside it; it has become second nature. 

I have seen great products from Nigeria die because they were over-customized to meet local constraints therefore creating a barrier for them to scale effectively beyond Nigeria.  What happened to thinking local and acting global? Thinking about the Nigerian market alone is where great companies go to die. I know because I killed one myself then resurrected it by thinking beyond Nigeria. Thinking big is not only about geography; it could also be about market. I do not see any reason why I would go into a crowded pool reddened with the blood of those that have been slain when there are blue oceans to explore.

I wrote a tweet recently that "it is not a crime to try to kill your competition by outmaneuvering them, what is a great crime is not doing it with new ideas". The difference between success and failure in Nigeria is not always about efficient execution but more of anti-competitive practices and artificial barriers. We love trying to play mogul and attempt to build monopolies but the truth is that monopolies are usually limited by geography and scarcely scale. Even Dangote our biggest monopolist has seen the value of scaling beyond Nigeria.

The good news to borrow an analogy from the George RR Martin’s bestselling books now a famous TV series “The Game of Thrones” - “The Internet Is Coming”. The Internet removes barriers to access not just for content and data; it also empowers those who build on it to solve real problems with applications that can scale very rapidly. I agree that the Internet cannot solve all problems in Nigeria or even Africa, the beauty of it is that it makes knowledge distributed and people can learn how to solve their own local problems by seeing how others have solved it elsewhere. The winners in the long term are those who provide platforms that allow this to happen rather than barriers that prevent it. The Internet opens up many blue oceans and is the monopolist's greatest nightmare. 

Nigerian founders have to start making big bets on the Internet, as it is the great leveler. The cost of getting an Internet startup off the ground has continued to shrink and is still shrinking. Not every idea has to do with disrupting incumbents or replacing brick and mortar processes. I was appalled to discover that with online advertising in Nigeria, the problem is not with inventory of ads but where to place them. Advertisers are getting tired of the same usual suspects. Not every idea also should be content or e-commerce related, a lot of thinking out of the box is required. Don Tapscott the author of “Wikinomics” mentioned that the scarcest and most finite commodity in the world is human attention. 170 Million units of human attention can build great fortunes.

The Sword Without A Hilt

Doing business in Nigeria in the short term however remains a real challenge. The obstacles are real and the problems daunting. There is a conversation also from The Game Of Thrones that describes it very accurately:

“We free folk know things you kneelers have forgotten. Sometimes the short road is not the safest, Jon Snow. The Horned Lord once said that sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it”.- Dalla, to Jon Snow

I believe the few successes currently being witnessed in Nigeria are short-term successes requiring tremendous effort. Getting results when everything conspires against your success is very much like sorcery; the fundamental truth is that things cannot continue to remain that way forever. Successes will bring attention and attention will bring further investment. Just like sorcery in the middle ages was replaced by renaissance, things will definitely change in Nigeria. It was human creativity and enterprise that made the renaissance happen and reduced the secrets of druids, sorcerers and alchemists to science.

Patriarchs like the Medicis of Florence bankrolled the renaissance and I believe more of those type of people will emerge to fund the Nigerian renaissance as they see beyond “The Great Wall” that “The Internet Is Coming”.

For now, we are like “The Men Of The Night’s Watch” and also like Jon Snow “we know nothin', nothin' at all”.

The Barber's Pitch


I am a creature of habit and I am very risk averse when it comes to personal grooming and my choice in clothes. It is the silly reason why I have shopped for formal shirts at Austin Reed and Thomas Pink in London for over a decade and only buy trousers from GAP.  It is also why I only have two barbers I subject my head to in the entire world. One of those barbers is Chika and he was in Victoria Island, Lagos. You can imagine my distress when I visited Nigeria recently with a head and face full of hair and discovered he quit the business.

Chika quit the business for two reasons and the first one is very easy to guess – electricity problems. He was without power for 3 months as the building owner decided that fixing the generator was no longer a priority. Secondly he was losing his very valuable client base and decided it was time to capitalize on the contacts he had made over the years to start a new business venture.

He had a very exclusive client base he had grown carefully from personal referrals and word of mouth. His shop had actually become a meeting point for a lot of my friends. In the middle of discussing politics and football, serious business was also being done. I personally sealed a deal after I took one of my clients there and paid for his haircut. That former client became converted and visited the place regularly, bringing in more people. Chika was also a great customer service person. He had everyone’s contact details in his laptop and knew the frequency of your haircuts. He never failed to call you when you were due for one and he also made great conversation while doing his job.

I called him after I found out that he had gone out of the “hair assassination” business, (I often jokingly called him a hair assassin) he came to see me at my office that evening to explain why and also to get me in as an investor in his new venture. He came with his laptop and the pitch he made using "PowerPoint slides" with graphs and stats that took the wind out of me. Chika did not have university education but be obviously had learned a lot from listening in on conversations after all these years. He had also done his homework very well. Something  techies should learn from.

He was moving into the office equipment and supply business and he gave a very convincing picture of the current state of things and why he was in a great position to disrupt the current “island” players. He also had an interesting funding structure that guaranteed him control and allowed regular exits and entry of various investors. He basically had developed a hybrid crowd funded model and had 10 people committed to raising him at least 5 Million Naira already. He actually came to our office for a secondary reason, to determine our needs and give better-priced alternatives. He was also building this new business on existing relationships.

Half a million Naira investment in his company can either be a prepayment for inventory which is replenished over time and still guaranteeing you interest for financing his working capital or it could be something you put in there initially that gives you capital gains when you cash out after bringing in another investor at a higher valuation. He painted a win-win picture and made sure that most of the investors were people who already knew and trusted each other.


I asked him why he did not use the same model to scale his previous service business that did not require capital tied up into inventory and probably had higher margins? His response was that in Nigeria, scaling a business using more people was a bigger headache than getting more warehouse space. Trust and service were things he could not continue to guarantee as he brought more associates into a growing “hair assassination” business.

That last explanation actually hit home as it was had been personal problem for me in the past being in the service business and a headache I also see others African entrepreneurs have. In a service business, the human resource is the most valuable and the quality of the people you work with also translates to the quality of the output of your business. Maintaining that quality in Africa means that you may not scale as fast as you would want to if the business is bootstrapped. You may end up perpetually bootstrapped because very few investors invest in service businesses because of this scaling problem and they would rather back a product company. The intangibility of the offering does not help even if you are showing revenue growth. This is not peculiar to Africa, even in the UK; the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) also frowns on service businesses and gives priority to investments into product companies. The Angel investors and VCs also echo the same preference.

The paradox is that your product is actually nothing without service and most “product companies” are inherently service businesses. I look at the new ecommerce businesses in Nigeria for example, the inventory is useless if delivery is not prompt or if there is bad customer service. Telcos may have huge investments in infrastructure but those investments mean nothing without the people providing service. Quality of service has more of a people component to it than infrastructure. My uncle used to tell me that in Africa, people believe that the hotel is the building but it is not, the hotel is the people and the service. A huge hotel and expensively furnished hotel may have very low occupancy because of bad service.


For me to make a decision to invest in Chika’s company, I would still be investing in Chika and his ability to win over customers with his charm and humility. He does not manufacture those products and is only a middle man providing "service". I however did not invest because I believed he had not learned how to “scale this charm”. I believe management and leadership are more about replicating positive traits and qualities than getting people to do things. Business is a contact sport and those who win have more people who can continue to build relationships.

We scaled our businesses to several countries because we empowered people to build those relationships themselves. Our CTO has a better relationship with some of our the CEOs at client locations than I have and a field engineer is made aware that they can even build relationships with presidents of countries if they desire. Our first business cards stated that everyone was a “partner” in the business and it continues to be true till today. I always tell my colleagues that Accenture and the other big 4 consulting companies grew their businesses based not only on reputation but relationships. There are Harvard Business School Case studies of professional services companies that have achieved tremendous success based on allowing relationship building to be the one of the core skills of all consultants.

While I agree that all around Africa, there are quite a few rude assholes who are incorrigible and cannot be true team players, I believe a greater proportion of our people are simple and easy going people who really are hungry for leadership and direction. I think that even in tech business the problem is that we have very few true leaders and the efforts should be made to grow more leaders as we grow the talent base. Good leadership will grow talent faster than bad leadership.


I believe Chika will succeed but only up to a point then the same people issues will come up. For years now, I have been preaching that in Africa, we do not have a “Startup” problem but a “Scale up” problem. Ideas are everywhere and people start businesses daily, scaling them is the big issue.  Scaling up has a direct correlation to leadership and it is not always about money. Editi Effiong summed it up nicely in a recent tweet conversation:

This is the same in the developed countries as notable scholars in entrepreneurship and startups like Brad Feld and Dan Isenberg have recently seen the light. I believe we have always had startup communities but they were not given fancy names. The Igbo Man’s “Imu Ahia” is an example of such. Entrepreneurship is also not a new concept in Africa but scaling up has not been done properly in the past. Scaling up is not limited to only Internet companies, it is applicable to all companies including service based ones. The key to scaling up is leadership and people and not just money. Scaling up in Africa is limited primarily by "people issues".

I will be writing more shortly on this blog about "Scaling Up" in Africa and how we intend to help companies to do that at Afrinnova.

Saka Wars

Yesterday a guy I never heard about became the focus of my attention. His name is Saka and apparently he was (until yesterday) Etisalat Nigeria’s Ambassador to the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) consumers and a popular local comic/comedy actor

Not knowing about him was unpardonable for me as it meant that I was no longer as close to the pulse of the telco market in Nigeria as I thought.  He must have been a very big deal to have been a target by MTN and used for the inaugural advert to launch their fight to retain market share as “Mobile Number Portability” (MNP) was flagged off by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). 

MTN's 45 seconds of brilliance can be seen in the video below: 

While I was reviewing my market information gathering mechanisms, I could not but feel sorry for the guys at Etisalat Nigeria Marketing who seemed to have been totally blindsided by the MTN advert. It went viral in social media very rapidly. Etisalat may also have responded with the advert below which was equally humorous and a great comeback.

“Saka Wars” (apologies to George Lucas) as I have dubbed it reminds me of the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” move by MTN against Airtel and it should make people understand one fundamental thing; MTN Nigeria did not get to where they are today just by luck and they are also not ready to give up their advantage.


MNP came into my radar 2 years ago as a friend came to me and wanted help with partnering Telecordia (now part of Ericsson) who were the technical company selected by the regulator to interface with the telcos and run the process. Personally, I was (and still am) very skeptical of the project and its ability to create significant market shifts in Sub Saharan Africa (especially in a place like Nigeria) because consumers have already adapted to the quality of service QoS issues plaguing all networks by having multiple phone lines. Everyone sucks almost equally and I told my friend that Telecordia should look for our help as we are on the ground and not the other way round.

MNP is already in place in Ghana and the same fanfare currently being experienced in Nigeria greeted it as it was launched. Many people predicted the end of MTN’s dominance in that market and the media was in frenzy as they were reporting that people were leaving MTN for others in droves. Suddenly there was silence. What happened?

I can explain what happened with an experience in my own family. My wife just came back from France after being away in school for a while and got caught up by the hype. She ported her phone from MTN to Tigo but quickly found out that Tigo was only good in heart of Accra but not outside of Accra or in the suburbs. She also realized that she had a lot of difficulty connecting to others (like me) she left behind at MTN. In a few months she ported back to MTN and the various posters at the competitors’ stores urging people to “port” disappeared.


MTN’s “Everywhere You Go” strategy is a lesson in scaling consumer brands in Africa. They focused more on ubiquity first by providing infrastructure everywhere then scaling distribution on existing FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) distribution networks. While people may complain now about their quality of service, their ubiquity means that they win the battle for larger market share while conceding certain markets to competitors. Early last decade, Econet Wireless Nigeria won Lagos but eventually MTN won Nigeria. It is the same play in all the markets where they are dominant.

In Nigeria, Etisalat did a fantastic job of targeting young adults, who are the fastest growing segment of the market and their growth rate has been commendable. The typical Etisalat customer is young, in the urban area and uses data a lot. That also means that they are the most vocal on social media but the real battle is not in social media but at the BOP where the rubber meets the road.

MTN’s Saka play was to choke off Etisalat’s foray into the hallowed BOP market and it was brilliant. The jingle is catchy and I am sure will be repeated on radios “everywhere you go”. The guy that planned and executed that move deserves an award from Sifiso Dabengwa the MTN group CEO. MTN will not go quietly into the night; they will fight this out with the others and have the resources to do so. In the end the competition will mean that the customer gains the most. I hope The Central Bank of Nigeria will learn this from the NCC.


Disclosure: I consult for MTN "everywhere you go” in Africa but then again one of my relatives is Chairman of Etisalat.  Personally I use Etisalat for data because they provide me with decent coverage in Lagos. Outside Lagos however, it is a different matter and I depend on MTN more. Glo is my problem as they can’t let me roam my contract line without paying a fortune first. If I will port any line I have, it will be from Glo to Airtel. “One Network” is the best thing that ever happened to an African Nomad like me.

Keep Calm And Make A Decision

A lot of people keep asking me one question “Why did you leave Nigeria for Ghana?”, my quick answer is usually “they have light (or electricity) and fast Internet”. The real reasons however are not that simple. My simple answer is just part of a lot of complex factors that led to my decision. Most of those reasons are not just because of the comparative advantages as Nigeria still has a lot of advantages over other places in Africa. Nigerians are admired, feared and hated all over but they still overcome all odds because “hate” is a mere inconvenience compared to what we have been made to go through back home. It is that tenacity that sets us apart and makes us most likely to succeed and thrive.

Moving had more to do with that tenacity and making pragmatic decisions about our future. I do not regret being born in Nigeria or spending my formative years there. I also do not regret starting a business there as well; it was a good learning ground. It was the Nigerian in me that also made me realize that it was time to move on when I did. It is the same reason we have many other Nigerians in the Diaspora doing very well in their chosen careers. They knew when to make the right choices.


While Nigerians are pragmatic and persevering, our kryptonite is “time”.  We believe there is an abundance of it but really there isn’t.  Time to me is the most valuable resource that an entrepreneur has and if used effectively it translates to productivity and progress. If wasted it leads to failure and regret. All the potential Nigeria has mean nothing if it takes 100 years to get things done. The culture and infrastructure constraints create a big drain in productive time and we could not afford the luxury.

Salil Narayanan and I started a business while we were both still in school at the University of Benin in the 90s. Frequent strikes and uncertainty about the academic calendar made Salil relocate to South Africa and that was probably the best decision he made for both of us.

He encouraged me to do the same after I had finished my MBA. I went to South Africa a number of times but always came back to Nigeria because I felt that there was still a lot of opportunity and potential. While we were chasing the golden fleece by bidding for Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) projects and chasing banks around in Nigeria, Salil’s company (Sagacious) in South Africa had grown their client base to 45 sites in 17 countries around Africa and the Carribean. We were still wasting time going for site visits with CBN officials for the ACH (as they collected estacode) , wining and dining bank executives while Sagacious was "doing stuff". They were increasing the value of their company and growing Salil’s networth to millions of multiples of mine.

In 2002 shortly after the Y2K hysteria that created most of the African "tech billionaires" (in local currency), Nigerian banks decided that Internet Banking was the next fad and we believed them.  We also realized that security was important in making transactions happen and we partnered with a small South African Information Security Company called Sensepost to deliver on consulting assignments.

Sensepost were very happy, as this was a big break for them. They had not yet done work at that time for clients as big as those we offered them. Together we quickly did work with two major clients including one of the largest banks. Our first two assignments were very successful and we looked forward to scaling the success within Nigeria but it never happened. Our existing clients now wanted us to do “inappropriate things” to get continuous business and the rest of the industry was not immune to this blackmail. While we were fighting these “demons”, Sensepost had in one year scored almost 200 other assignments all outside Nigeria and were scaling like gangbusters. It was funny that Nigeria was their biggest break but became quickly irrelevant as the business continued to drag.

We learned from both experiences above and realized that Nigeria may take time to crack but we did not have that luxury as a small company. It is important to note that almost 10 years after, there is still no significant Internet banking footprint amongst Nigerian banks.


As part of growing the Information Security consulting and professional services business, we had to attend a number of trade shows. One of those was Infosec World, which held at Orlando, Florida in spring of 2002. At this event I met a guy from RSA security and we were discussing about tokens and two factor authentication. I believed that with all the issues with scam in Africa it was something that would definitely become a necessity. He was impressed about how much I knew on the subject in the early days and asked for my business card. I gave it to him and he read the address out slowly. When he got to …”Lagos, Nigeria”, he handed the card back to me and walked away without uttering a word.

I had never realized how bad our reputation was till that very moment. I tried many times during the event to meet with him but he avoided me and seemed to have spread the word as others now also did the same in a more polite manner. For me, there was no point in hitting my head against a brick wall. I knew that this sort of discrimination was without basis and I thought that they were making a big mistake but people act based on what they know. There were not very many success stories coming out of Africa that were not tied to corruption or government patronage. 419 was and is still a big downer and it is real.


While Nigerians are very pragmatic and tenacious, our culture makes a lot of things seem as if we re still in the Stone Age. In India it is about caste but in Nigeria a lot has to do with age. I learned a bitter lesson when we tried to scale by partnering with other companies to explore opportunities in the enterprise space. I learned that people get emotional for no reason when a younger person calls out their flaws. I believed everyone was accountable irrespective of age and I did not play the game of Nigerian politics well.

I do not think older people are expected to be subject to different standards because they have been around long enough to make enough mistakes and probably are still making them. Nigerians believe in paying dues and waiting for “their time” to do the same thing to others after them and I believe that is the reason why a lot of our problems still persist.  Any progressive culture learns and adapts but we use culture as a means of promoting selfish motives. This problem is not unique to Nigeria as I see it all over Africa but you could be pardoned as a foreigner (even in Nigeria) if you do not understand the etiquette but those dinosaurs are less forgiving of locals.


Almost all the medical students I went to school with now live and practice medicine outside Nigeria. An entire generation that are probably never coming back to pass their knowledge to the next generation. You cannot blame them as they had very little reason to stay behind. I wrote in a previous post about the health problems I had in 2008 and how it was the last straw. Things have still not improved since then and sadly I lost my father because of those very problems.

The healthcare problem is not unique to Nigeria as other African countries still have their issues to varying degrees. In Ghana, the problem is with the messed up health insurance system and with emergency care. My mother in-law (a medical doctor) died in Accra late last year because an ambulance did not arrive on time. This healthcare issue is a very fundamental one for me, as it may become the reason why we relocate the business out of Africa completely. The clinic at the airport in Dubai is more equipped than any hospital I have ever been to in Africa.


There are many more minor reasons (crime rate, corruption etc) that added up to a final decision to make the move but we had to make a scientific decision about it and developed a strategic framework to make that decision. We used a simple SWOT analysis for different locations and objectively assessed our strengths and weaknesses compared to the opportunities as well as threats. We found out from our SWOT analysis that the threats in Nigeria not only magnified our weaknesses but also made our strengths insignificant. There are also an abundance of opportunities (probably more than anywhere else) but the threats cancelled them all out.

Before I came back to Nigeria in 2006, I also did a personal SWOT landscape analysis for different locations before deciding to come back home. I think however that I was not very objective in assessing the real threats and there were some I never anticipated like the healthcare issues. I am sharing this not because I want others to do exactly what we did but for people to understand the real issues and do an objective assessment of their situation and look at alternatives.

Of all the reasons I mentioned above, the most important is "Time". It is the most finite resource we have and it is best to make judicious use of it. Time unfortunately means nothing to a lot of people in Nigeria and that constituted the biggest threat to our existence as an entity. We were owed on invoices for years and that is still something I cannot understand. How do larger companies expect their suppliers to survive or be honest with pricing if processes are so slow and payments delayed? A lot more can be achieved if internal processes are optimized for timely payment when it comes to large companies and it will save a lot of small companies from collapsing.

Another thing I could not understand is companies that owe staff salaries for months while waiting for those who owe them to pay. Meeting payroll every month should be one of the top priorities of any business but it seems that in Nigeria uncertainty of income is accepted as the norm. It is the very reason why people seek jobs in larger companies and what kills entrepreneurship. When we found out that a client in Guinea Bissau was more efficient at making payments than the bigger ones in Nigeria, we decided to look for more clients in the smaller countries.

A lot of people still seem to be thriving in Nigeria in spite of all these constraints. Maybe they should tell us the secrets and share their own story as my relative Hakeem Bello Osagie did here at the ALN event. He speaks about "Courage","Fraternity","State" and "The Short Sprint To Prosperity". We had the courage to try to change things but we have realized that it takes a much longer time now to change things in Nigeria as a lot of the problems have become entrenched. Time is a valuable resource and we are arrogant and ambitious in our dreams to conquer Africa. 

Leaving Nigeria was a calm and thoughtful decision and it was not a knee jerk reaction. It took courage to seek the unknown, it took determination and not wishful thinking. Keep calm and make your own choices.

Thanks to Bankole Oluwafemi aka "LordBanks" for the "Keep Calm" Poster

What Is E-mail?

One of the joys of going back to Manchester is spending time with 4-year-old Michael (my God son), he is at that age where he asks questions that make you laugh and think at the same time. As usual he is always a handful and was trying to show me his accomplishments on his Nintendo 3DS while I was trying to get some work done. I told him to give me some time and he asked me what I was doing? I told him I was trying to send an email. He then asked me a simple question that made me stop in my tracks. “What is email?”

The first thought that came to my head was that he would find out soon enough as he will most likely start using it sooner than we did but then I asked myself if that statement was really true? Some years before Michael was born, nobody knew anything about Facebook, Twitter and the term “Social Media” had not even been coined yet. Those online platforms now dominate digital existence.

Email itself has evolved from one of the services bundled by your ISP with your Internet service to a commodity freely available as a cloud service. E-mail was fundamental as a notification service for social media and it is still a part of it till this day. However, with mobile coming of age, those notifications via e-mail became less important as we moved rapidly into the post-PC era. The “red dot” or “exclamation mark” became more important than an email message. The only place where email still thrives strongly as a means of communication is within the enterprise. The question in my mind was “what will e-mail and messaging evolve into when Michael comes of age?”

Email is arguably the “killer app” of the Internet as it enabled a lot of things to happen especially collaboration on a global scale. Few realize its fundamental importance, as it has become a commodity and a default feature. Asynchronous messaging made a lot more collaboration happen than we can imagine and as we did not (and still do not) all have great Internet all round the world. Email was a great leveler. It also has its downside as it made Nigerian 419 scam a global phenomenon. The efforts of fraudsters became more efficient. Scam and Spam are still the Achilles heel of e-mail and a tremendous amount of resources and effort are also now being required to combat the menace.

For some of the “Digital Natives”, email has only become a place where you get school notices or send your homework to your teacher. In many cases it is bundled as part of a collaborative service (e.g Google Apps) and it is increasingly getting subsumed into those services. Google may have been the first technology company to realize that the nature of collaboration will probably not remain the same and e-mail as we know it now will lose relevance in the long term as your identity in the Web becomes more important than a storage space for asynchronous messages. I confess that I still do not understand fully the Google+ game plan and how it fits into the way we will collaborate in the future but I guess Michael and others will.

Right now I am @asemota on Twitter, several aliases in other social media and e-mail addresses. Any service that is able to provide a common platform for all the disparate parts of my identity yet still somehow allow me to maintain the walls between my personal and professional life will probably be the winner in the future. Such a service should also be able to allow me communicate asynchronously and in real time. Whatever that service is, it will definitely not be referred to as “e-mail” as the nature of collaboration has evolved. Skype is now part of Microsoft Outlook or vice versa, chat is embedded in Gmail and Yahoo mail. The convergence began long ago and will continue.

After all these thoughts ran through my mind, I told Michael that “e-mail” was how adults send messages to each other on the Internet. You guess what the next question was….. “What is the Internet?”