"Quick And Dirty" Is NOT A Plan - It Is Nothing

"The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized during the lifetime of the opportunity" - Leonard Ravenhill


I woke up this morning asking myself if we have slowly allowed mediocrity into entrepreneurship by trying to make a science out of it? Have we decided to make opportunism a science too?

I am inclined to think that building a great business is an art in learning about human behavior and preference while most of what goes into building a great product is a mixture of art and science. I am wondering if lean thinking and iteration should not be left for tactical maneuvers only after you have really thought through your "great new idea" and actually have a plan that you think will work. I am a strong believer in great design and purpose as the cornerstone of sustainable venture and not "indeterminate optimism" according to Peter Thiel in his famous Stanford lecture. Great entrepreneurs are not gamblers, they dont depend on luck, they have a purpose that drives them towards greatness.

I saw a movie trailer yesterday for a movie coming out in 2013 and asked myself a question, why are these guys not just launching it now instead of giving us these teasers? "The Dark Knight Rises" trailer was out a whole year before the movie was released. I have seen that this happens when the studio is very confident that it will be a blockbuster and it usually is. They get the right story, put together an awesome cast then go for the collective jugular of the public at the right time. Timing is very important in the movie industry and the book "The Long Tail" explains why this is so. I have observed that only very confident studios take their time and stick to a schedule that ensures that they have consistent hits.

Releasing consumer products in technology have started following the same pattern in America. The release of great gadgets is usually timed to coincide with the holiday season when most purchases are made. Apple will only release the newest iPhone around the Thanksgiving holidays and new lines of existing products as well. The iPad was the only exception to this rule but… “Within 90 days of its release, the iPad managed to penetrate 50% of Fortune 100 companies”.

Apple and the major movie studios have one thing in common, they do their homework well. Startup entrepreneurship on the other hand has recently become like gambling. It now seems that “founders” just race to haul dung on the wall first to see what will stick. As much as good timing is important there is also bad timing. Personally I think the best products are those that anticipate need and plan for it well in advance and not those who blunder to see if they can solve some problems. A startup is a business venture and not an just an experiment.

Quick and dirty fixes can sometimes become major hits and some well planned products fail but I am beginning to comprehend that success or failure is not about the product itself but how well the entrepreneur understands the market or even human behavior.  An Apple iPhone repair shop in Agege Lagos will make as much sense as selling surfboards in Iceland.

I am being inundated with apps about the Olympic games all of a sudden. One of them actually wants me to bet money on the chances of the Nigerian Basketball team winning a gold medal. I am beginning to question if this is as a result of a fundamental lack of ambition, ideas or plain laziness. Someone argued that they have to try and fail so that they learn and I told him that there has to be balance. Sometimes people could get addicted to your failure and never expect anything good from you. You could become damaged goods even before you start. I know that this sounds like it goes against my charge to Africans to always aspire and don’t care about failure but there is a thin line between trying hard and ridiculous opportunism.

I believe in Africa and African entrepreneurs have to learn to believe in they can achieve anything if they set their minds to it and prepare. Quick and dirty is not a great strategy and it does not lead to sustainable ventures. You can come up with great ideas on the fly but it takes brilliant and sensible strategy to build a sustainable venture from that idea. Steve Jobs was not a spirit; he was a human being like you and everyone else around you.  I read somewhere that -

“Apple's industrial design group is comprised of 16 'maniacal' individuals who share one singular purpose - imagine products that don't exist – then make them come to life.”

Why cant 100+ million young Africans do better than 16 people?

Apple and the movie theaters care deeply about their brand and they have a sixth sense about what customers want, the hits are a manifestation of that seriousness. Nollywood is filled with mediocre talent today because of the same quick and dirty mentality. The next Universal or DreamWorks will not come out of there anytime soon.

Quick and Dirty is not a plan, it is nothing.

Passion without a plan is personal anarchy. You must have a "Chief Definite Aim". Be like Bruce!

I believe every African entrepreneur should also be a martial arts student. I recently realized that the most productive years of my life was when I was a Shotokan fanatic.

More great stuff from Bruce Lee can be found in the links below:



“Don't Sell The Steak, Sell The Sizzle”

“Don't sell the steak, sell the sizzle”

I heard this first from Jite Okoloko the founder of Ocean and Oil the precursor to OANDO group after he just raised $3m in Series A funding from a single presentation to prospective investors. Jite is one of my mentors and I admire him greatly. We were traveling from Benin to Lagos by road when he told me of his "war stories".

He started by selling fire alarms in the USA and later started teaching salesmen the art of the sale. He came back to Nigeria to start “Blue Chip Capital” before he hit his mojo with Ocean and Oil. Jite is now also the man behind Notore Industries the largest agro-based venture in Nigeria

Every startup founder should be a good salesman and the pitch is not only about your deck but how you articulate your vision. I have heard many pitches from young people who ramble on about how they want to disrupt an industry and they go on for ages without hitting the point. When you try to correct them they take it personally or try to make excuses. I actually learn more from the mistakes of others before me rather than look for flaws in their advice. I take in the good and the bad.

I learn everyday and I just remembered this quote as I was putting finishing touches to the new Afrinnova deck. I pitched it to Jite on New Years Day this year and he told me to send it to him to critique. I know I have slacked but better late than never :)

Enjoy this article and video.

It’s the sizzle that sells the steak – not the cow.

If you can sell the sizzle then you can always sell the steak

Is GTBank Human or Machine?

There is something troubling me about Nigerian payments and it is not just our poor infrastructure but also our attitude to delivering service. A lot of the work we do as a professional services company is largely proactive support and what that means is that we never let the bad things happen before we fix it. We anticipate possible snags and can tell easily from the rate of growth in traffic that we could possibly hit a bottleneck and advice the client to take proactive measures or we proactively take those measures if we can within our own scope of work.

We became that way because we learned from seeing bad things happen. We have seen the catastrophic effects of downtime on customer confidence. We have seen that if you lose confidence it takes years to try to rebuild it and it is a costlier effort to try to do this than to have proactive support. It has been our biggest selling point to those who have felt the pain and it is also our biggest weakness with those who do not really understand what we do. Some clients will think that we just have a bunch of people sitting and waiting around for bad things to happen but that is very far from the truth. We have those people there to help prevent other people from making bad things happen.

A majority of the time, downtime in Africa is not caused by hardware or software failure but "people failure". You cannot use scripts to monitor people, you have to interact with them and sometimes reason with them to let them know the impact of a seemingly harmless decision further down the line on a transactions platform with multiple integration points.

GTBank probably has the best payment gateway in Nigeria and several people use their service. They used to respond to complaints very quickly but recently it seems their service levels are going down south at an alarmingly increasing rate. Right now their internet banking service works sporadically and I made a complaint almost 24 hours ago and still have no response.

A couple of months ago I tried to buy a ticket online with my Mastercard (via the ghastly Quickteller site that I can barely stand) and was billed 3 times for one ticket. It was obvious the integration points between Slimtrader, QuickTeller, Air Nigeria and GTbank were messed up but I had no business with the merchant or the payment processor but my own bank as the card was theirs.

It took almost two months before I got 86,000 Naira back. Nobody told me sorry after that and nobody paid me back any interest for the loss of income from my money being tied down. All I got was a mail about 2 months later saying that the problem had now been resolved. I actually considered suing them but realized I would spend much more than the 86,000 Naira on the slow Nigerian legal system. Most likely wait years before I got heard and probably by that time all the players would have imploded from consistently bad service.

That experience made me realize the importance of back-office processes more than ever in a place like Nigeria. For any payments or transactions processor, your back-office is the most vital service point. It is not about fancy front ends or all the work we do as technical consultants. It is about human beings interacting with other human beings to quickly solve largely process related problems..

I had a friend talking to me about jointly setting up a payment processor recently with other partners and I asked him who would have responsibility for back-office processes? He did not have a clue the same way he did not have a clue on who actually owned the customer. For a payment that originates from a bank account, the bank or card issuer owns the customer and has primary responsibility of interacting with the processor or gateway provider in the case of any problems.

We have AIPS being spewed out for Mobile Payment companies but in their evaluation process, has anyone bothered to check if they have strong back-office processes put in place? For Mobile Payments it is easy for anyone including the Mobile Payment company to blame the infrastructure provider which in the case of Nigeria will be the telcos and they should ideally own the customer as any failure will be blamed on them. So why cant the MNOs just be given licenses as this clearly can affect their business? I digress…. that matter is left for another post.

We saw how the multiple issues of fraud made banks in Nigeria have a rethink about magnetic stripe cards and it was not just pressure from the regulator that made that happen, it was more of pressure from the consumers and the pressure on those nice customer service people who sit in banking halls and call-centers trying to manage all hell breaking lose around them. It was not Visa, MasterCard, Interswitch or even CBN that forced that call to be made, it was “the customer”.

Waiting for the customer to force you to make a call isn’t just “not proactive” it could be termed as negligent. It should be anticipated by any proactive organization that transaction levels will increase during peak transaction times like the end of the month and it would be very prudent to ensure that things don’t break at those peak periods. If GTBank with all its mature processes can make this kind of mistake then is there hope for Firstbank, Ecobank and others?

We recently heard of the fiasco that happened with the cutover to new systems after the ECOBANK and OCEANIC merger and people were too quick to start blaming platforms and bank software vendors had a field day spreading FUD. That fiasco happened not because one platform was better than the other but because people did not plan proactively for what could go wrong.

As support people we believe seriously in “Murphy’s law”. Murphy's law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". For the transactions business you have to take this very seriously and try to keep Mr Murphy far away from your platforms. It is because of Murphy’s law that I worry very much about NIBSS being the sole switch interconnecting all players in Nigerian payments.

What happens if NIBSS fails at peak periods the same way GTBank Internet banking is failing now at the end of the month? Has any stress testing been done to look at doomsday scenarios on our financial sector if some catastrophic event happens in Lagos or specifically Victoria Island? What kind of disaster recovery plans do payment providers and banks have in place to protect consumers from losing everything if all their systems collapse and they lose all data? These are valid questions I must ask as a consumer and I think we must all start asking the right questions.

I think it is time the consumer starts being proactive too and we should help crowd source downtime information not only to help ourselves but also to force the hands of these providers to take service seriously. Yes, I am not totally altruistic about it as it will mean more business for people like us who don’t go to weddings and miss all family functions because "we just make things work". In the meantime we should take a look at this site and see how we can do something similar for Nigerian commerce and banking sites. http://downrightnow.com/

I think I may have found a slogan for another startup I am setting up. “We just make things work” and by the way, GTBank Internet Banking is still down. It makes me really wonder if GTBank is human or machine. If they were human then they would have responded to me by now.



 Picture is courtesy of http://standardtimespress.org/?p=2186



Dear Young African Entrepreneur..... Part 1 - "The Co-Founder".

I was asked by a tech blogger a simple question on how to get a good co-founder and I ended up rambling into a blog post. 

Salil Narayanan should not let his head swell too much :)

A co-founder is probably your most vital strategic decision as an African entrepreneur. It is even more important in Africa as I have seen from experience that a lot of great ideas and startups die not because of market forces but because the founders break up the companies prematurely.

I cannot honestly say there is an art or science to getting the best co-founder as I have had the same one for roughly 20 years now. We have tremendous chemistry and a great working relationship all these years.However from the discussions I have had with other fellow entrepreneurs who are in an equally good place, the consensus is that the qualities have to be more about you than the other person. 

To summarize, according to Amaete Umanah “you have to earn the best co-founder”. It is a premium as truly great co-founders are hard to find. To get a great one you also have to be a darn good founder yourself.

As strategic as the co-founder decision is, it is not a magic bullet that will solve your problems. You need to think of it as a long-term relationship and not a short one so you must basically love working with each other. My wife sometimes gets jealous when I spend a lot of time having conversations with my co-founder on-line and she calls him “my boyfriend”. He is far away in Australia running another startup in the energy business but I consult him on all matters and all my major decisions and copy him on routine e-mails. He was the first person I told when I decided to get married to my wife.

You need to have mutual respect for each other and must be genuinely passionate about your goals as well as each other’s opinions. I probably will hate my co-founder today for not letting me execute "YhelloPages.com", an idea that was before Facebook and Eskimi for a telco based social network. He believed portals were a bad idea at that time. I also acknowlwdge however that the idea would not have worked if he did not support me. We were not in competition with each other but in collaboration and "complementary" to each other. He is still the best coder I know on the face of the planet even though he has sold his soul to Bill Gates. His soul is now beginning to yield dividends asit is rumoured that Bill G is taking a stake in his Australian venture with other amazing people.

As close as you need to be, you also need to be able to work independently of each other and realize that you can have other interests as well. You need to be different enough from each other not to have polarizing views but a stabilizing influence. My co-founder decided to move to South Africa in 1996 just 3 years after we started and I knew it was something he had to do. He tried hard to convince me to move as well but I just was not ready but his move opened the way to all the great partnerships we have with South African companies today and I owe every single thing we are doing now to his courage to take a plunge into the unknown. Salil introduced me to some of my best friends in South Africa and probably the greatest business partners on the planet.

In all, I can say that what has been the most important thing that has helped us was trust, honesty, tolerance and openness. Salil is an Atheist Indian who was born in Ethiopia, grew up in Nigeria and South Africa and now lives in Australia. He is married to a devout Hindu vegetarian. I am a bush Benin boy from Edo state who was fortunate to have some rich relatives and supportive parents. I am now married to a Ghanaian 1st class Finance graduate and an MBA from INSEAD, we could not all have had more diverse backgrounds but we have a great friendship that transcends business and I guess that is what you really need; a friendship that surpasses business and even enhances it.

....Oh Chale! I also realized his wife was born in Ghana so maybe that is the common link :) So try to get some Ghana luck as well! 

The Rich Also Die And Sometimes Techies Die Faster.

2008 was the year I was probably the fittest in my entire life as I found my “mojo” in tech. We were making real money as we started doing several projects at once. I worked very hard and played even harder, I played tennis 3 times a week and swam twice that same week as well.  

2008 was also the year I had my biggest health scare as I arrived in Nigeria 20th December from the US via South Africa. I left News Café at the Palms and ended up in hospital early in the morning as a result of serious abdominal pains. 

The first hospital I went to was an upscale one at Victoria Island in Lagos where the guys charged me the equivalent of $1,200 for being foolish enough to come there as an emergency patient. The guys were too eager to conclude that it was appendicitis and were eagerly awaiting another payment of $2000 for surgery.

Prior to that day I had never done any surgery and because my father was one of the people running a teaching hospital, I always had privileged healthcare and took it for granted. I decided wisely that it was better to take my chance with the same teaching hospital in Benin City instead of the “shylock” private hospital in Lagos. That decision was one of many that saved my life.

On my way to the airport the next day heavily sedated, I made a detour to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital because I realized through my pain-induced drowsiness that I had friends there. In spite of my “connections”, I was still on a hard bed at the accident and emergency unit for four hours before I finally got an ultra sound examination at the radiology unit.

All the talk from the doctors after the ultrasound exam scared the hell out of me and didn’t make any sense. They were not so sure of what they were seeing and had 5 different interpretations. I decided to call my closest friend and brother – Fidelis Osuide, who happened to be a urologist in the UK for a “sixth opinion”. He insisted that I do a CT scan as he suspected I had kidney stones. It was 48 hours later before the CT scan was done and it was indeed confirmed that I had a stone in one of my kidneys.

You would think that was the end of the problem? Well, that was just the beginning. I discovered that they had no lithotripsy machine in the hospital to help break the stone with sound waves and instead they were thinking of surgery. I asked around and also found out that there was no such machine in Lagos and even the rest of Nigeria. One nice registrar came one night to talk to me about it and told me point blank that if I could leave Nigeria to go sort it out elsewhere it would be wise for me to do so without messing up my kidney and tubes. I had a UK student visa that was expiring but luckily I could still stay in the UK for 2 more years and still had health coverage thanks to the NHS. I ran like a bat out of hell from Nigeria to the UK where in an outpatient procedure they discovered that the stone had now passed.

I left Nigeria for good after the 2008 incident but I also left my father there and he was not so lucky. He was pressured into surgery at an expensive private hospital in Benin City against the advice of doctors at the same teaching hospital where he had worked for decades. He died of cardiac arrest from complications after surgery. It seemed the expensive private hospital where he died did not hire a good anesthetist.

Recently I also had another health scare this time in Ghana. I had malaria off and on for months because of improper management at another private hospital. This time around, I did not run back to the UK but I took the advice of another friend and went elsewhere to get it sorted. I went to a local pharmacy where the pharmacist had more experience and gave me the right drugs to clear everything from my system.

Not all private hospitals are bad and I know that because my mother in-law is also a doctor and she runs one. She is probably one of the hardest working doctors I know in Africa and the first time in Ghana I ever got malaria cured was at her hospital. I always “stubbornly and foolishly” felt it was not a good idea to allow friends and family members to treat you but now I know better. They have saved me more than once but the only downside is that my father also relied on the advice of friends and family.

Today I sit down and I realize that I have lost weeks even months of productivity and plenty of money to private hospitals in Africa yet very few of them have ever solved any problem for me. Most of them have only compounded my problems and resulted in the death of my father. A friend of mine joked recently that if you put your symptoms in Google, you could come up with better diagnosis than a lot of the doctors in private hospitals in Africa. Medicine has now become one big scam and moneymaker for opportunists.

We can blame the government we can blame the heartless doctors but first we should blame ourselves because this thing continues to happen and we never do anything about it. I ran away after I discovered we had serious healthcare issues in Nigeria and grieved after my father died but did nothing. I am tired of blaming other people for problems that we cause by ourselves from complacency. I want to do something about it but did not know where to start till today. I decided I was going to start by talking about it. We take “preventive measures” and “pray” that’s all but we never realize that we are just a rat’s whisker away from being wiped out by the next unknown epidemic.

A lot of hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa are not being regulated properly, lack basic equipment and are killing people daily. The funny thing is that it is not only the poor people they kill, the rich also die. It is not only a shame that I could not find one lithotripsy machine in a populous and oil rich nation; it is also a big risk.

The problem with our people is that we have seriously misplaced priorities. There is no nation in this world that develops while neglecting healthcare. A lot of the debate in America today is not about the quality of healthcare but about the cost to the citizens. Healthcare in America is a huge and profitable industry and I probably personally know more millionaires who are healthcare practitioners in America than technology people.

We also have our priorities misplaced in the African tech ecosystem as well. People talk about e-commerce and payments yet they forget that the basic and fundamental needs of the citizen are food, shelter and healthcare. It is easier for you to make more money from the needs of millions of people rather than the wants of some thousands.

Even in India, healthcare is a HUGE industry and it is pathetic that each time I am at the Indian High Commission in Lagos, a lot of the visa applicants are traveling to India for healthcare related reasons. I have little respect for opportunists but great respect for innovators and the current crop of so-called African techies are just greedy self-centered opportunists.

As from this month, I am putting aside $3,000 every month ($36,000 annually) as part of my personal seed fund for healthcare related startups. I will take no personal stake in those companies and I invite all others who have made money from tech to put their money where their mouth is and fund startups innovating in healthcare, food and shelter. My mother in-law has a hospital and it will serve as a good incubator for the ideas. Heck! Afrinnova will even get involved in this!!

Why cant we also fight for a MobileMoney tax in African countries for merchant transactions above a certain threshold going towards improving healthcare and education?

The rich also die and sometimes techies die faster. The beer and caffeine will kill you faster than most people. We live a very stressful life with a lot of health risks. I finally did surgery last year in France to repair a detached retina and that came from looking at the small screen for too long. I now have 40” screens but messed up sight. The next person could be you and you may be blind before you get to the Hotel’Dieu Hospital in France.

It seems Nigeria has started exporting “healthcare” to other countries, enjoy the PM News article below


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