The CEO As a Delivery Boy | Doing Startup in Africa’s Brutal Part II

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1 _bxQwRswv5wS9AOlefekGwBy Dr. Olumide Olusanya,  Founder, CEO & Service Architect, @gloo_ng.

This post is the second in a series on building tech upstarts in Africa. The first was published here.

“IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son! ”

—Rudyard Kipling

I know. You think I have a thing for long opening quotes, since I opened the first part of this post with a long quote as well? Not exactly. As it was with the earlier one, this quotation by Rudyard poetically sums up everything I am about to say here. I am therefore constrained to take away from it.

I seek with this post to answer my closing question from the earlier post with same subject heading: “So whose perspective will it be from?” I also seek to define and circumscribe who my primary audience in my blog posts will be. (I pretty much care less for others that fall outside of this primary audience.) My message is for this audience—the young and aspiring African techipreneur, my African brother/sister who has a passion and fire in his/her belly to build something impactful and big enough to leave a dent on Africa but yet cannot seem to find a book or a place where the body of knowledge to build such seems to reside, unlike the copious body of knowledge and support systems and structures amply available for building something comparable in the Western world.

To this audience I bring the perspective of someone who developed interest in doing startups as a medical doctor, who preferred not be a doctor even after practicing medicine for 8 years+, whose passion for learning ultimately led him back to his first love—technology. I bring the perspective of someone who later found that his love for technology was not enough to build a successful and viable technology business, one who eventually learnt—and internalized—that the business in technology business is more important that the technology in technology business.

I come with the perspective of one who led a very young, inexperienced team, against all odds, without any training and purely from reading books and materials and putting to work what was learnt from such into building Nigeria’s first online-realtime Point of Sale (POS) electronic payment system (in 2003) as well as West Africa’s first locally-issued and processed online-realtime international payment card—Ecobank MasterCard (in 2004). I come with the perspective of one who is a pioneer in building an entirely new technology-related industry in Nigeria, the electronic payments industry. I come with the perspective of one who eventually learnt—and internalized—that Porter’s Five Forces framework for industry structure and evolution is indeed a veritable and practical tool for understanding and studying an industry and, therefore, in how one should position one’s startup business in any industry, especially in one such as Nigeria.

Furthermore, I come with the perspective of one who sat on many Central Bank of Nigeria’s payments system committees in Nigeria, including the committee that conceptualized the National Central Switch (NCS), which is the foundation and cornerstone for the present Cashless Nigeria push by that bank and upon which the principle of collaboration and shared services in the Nigerian electronic payments space evolved from. I also come with the perspective of one who was influential in regulatory policy formulation for a nascent industry and who eventually learnt—and internalized—how HARD it is to bring Nigerian players in a nascent technology-related industry together in a collaborative manner to build a larger cake that could be more beneficial to the consumers, and ultimately their own shareholders, rather than the respective narrow agendas of such players.

I also come with the perspective of one who has sat, as a young CEO of a pioneer electronic payments business, at several fund-raising meetings back in 2006/7 with the former and late MD of GTBank, and raised $2million equity financing from that bank, as well as with the former MD of then Ecobank—and later of Union Bank—and raised another $2million equity financing from that bank; one who took a 70% pay cut to work with a doyen of banking in Africa and observed and studied at very close quarters—and internalized—how this doyen stayed hungry and very focused, even after building out his vision of Africa’s Global Bank, UBA; and one who thereby eventually learnt—and internalized—that raising funding for your startup business is not as critically vital as building one with a viable and ultimately profitable unique proposition, underpinned by a scalable, repeatable and defensible business model and that the real problems actually arrive AFTER fund-raising and not before. (Back-slapping after fund-raising is for amateurs: the chickens of fund-raising will eventually come home to roost. You had better have a profitable and sustainable business by the time those chickens start arriving home.)

Going on, I come with the perspective of one who squeezed out time to go brush up his business knowledge and skills by studying for two years for an Executive MBA in Nigeria’s prestigious business school, Lagos Business School (LBS) for his technology business career; one who was strongly restrained from dropping out from that school in his second year by pressures from his partner and MBA group members; and one who later went for 2-week courses in IESE Business School, Barcelona and Said Business School, Oxford University, only to eventually learn—and internalize—that what he ultimately gained by himself from reading widely from magazines and books and from the practical experience the nutraceutical venture he started during his second academic year in LBS to put what he was reading in magazines and books to work, a venture that eventually failed, were so much more valuable in learning—and internalizing—what it takes to start a viable business in Nigeria than what lies within the four walls of a formal school, either locally or abroad.

Finally, I come with the perspective of one, who after all the foregoing, chose to “retire” just before hitting 40 years, inspired by reading the book “The Making of An American Capitalist,” a biography of the life of Warren Buffett, to personally manage and grow what he had been able to save from all the above into something that would become tangible in future, from the comfort of his home, and with which he could make an impact in what he believes God’s purpose is for his being on this planet earth at such a time as this; one who cast aside all the “glory” of the foregoing and wagered EVERYTHING that he had saved in his entire life on a then apparently flimsy vision of building Nigeria’s BIGGEST Supermarket—and ultimately Africa’s Quidsi Inc—on the back of technology, via, now Nigeria’s biggest online supermarket; one who carried all this internalized learning to start this vision from the living room of his house and did not feel any iota of shame or debasement, but rather fun and joy, in starting off as the first delivery boy of the business in the first three months of testing and iterating on the idea, in order to connect with customers and understand better their pain-points as well as evolve a viable business model for the idea; and one who raised the seed round for this venture from a handful of Nigerians holding down every day professional positions in Nigeria, whom he met on social media in Nigeria, and actually received this seed investment from these angels for over six months before ever meeting a couple of them physically. (He is yet to meet a couple of others physically.)


In conclusion, dear aspiring African techipreneur, I come with the perspective, according to the opening quote by Rudyard Kipling, of a man, a man like you—and a simple one too. My purpose in starting this blog is so I can be a light to shine upon the darkness you may feel from time to time as you navigate these brutally, mortally choppy waters of doing startup in Africa. And who knows? Maybe this little light of mine may shine enough to light your own path and prevent you from dashing your foot against one of the many stones I have dashed mine against in arriving at this ultimate journey of this life of mine, on my way to leaving my own dent on Africa—by building out this vision of “The Quidsi of Africa.” Here is wishing you a massively prosperous year 2014—THE year of THE Gloo!

(My next post will be on “Generating and Selecting $100million+ Startup Ideas for the African Market.” Stay tuned.)

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