How we built it ………
One great podcast series is “How I built this business”. You are exposed to loads of founders who have gone through interesting experiences building businesses. As expected, most of the businesses are American. I am excited about the companies that are now coming out of Africa with real stories and not built on flimsy government favours. These companies will start telling their stories and we need the stories to encourage a new generation of dreamers.
I have a very big soft spot for enterprise solutions building in Africa. This is what I believe we should be focussing on in Africa and not only doing consumer applications. Whilst consumer applications are great, the foundation most times is enterprise. Imagine that most of the software that powers the financial services, Telecoms, Oil/Gas, etc are foreign software solutions. Every year, the money spent buying/paying licenses for foreign software licenses in Nigeria alone cannot be less than a few billions of US Dollars. Multiply that by 54 and you’d realize that in talking about the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), one of the biggest focus should be enterprise software. There are short, mid and long-term opportunities in this area.
The major problem though is that enterprise software business is tough. I mean, tough might actually be an understatement. It is tough because it requires years of building great software. It is tough because you need deep domain expertise to build a good enterprise software product. You need talented business experts, business analysts, solutions architects, data scientists, software developers, UI/UX designers, project managers/scrum masters, product managers, security experts, infrastructure experts, testers, etc depending on the complexity of the software.
Sadly, most investor money in Africa isn’t patient enough to get African software houses to that level. The traction most investor money want is fast revenue but in enterprise, it might need to follow another trajectory. I also think that for Africa to be free indeed and become a power house, we must change our attitude and build/own our own technology. The recent episode of Github removing Iranian software engineers from using Github should be an eye opener. The Google issue with Huawei should also get us thinking. Huawei was not totally caught napping because they have been building their own mobile OS. If Huawei was an African company, they would mostly be preparing to die now. What these examples show is that we cannot keep relying on foreign technology as there are always risks of the Huawei or Iranian treatment in future.
I believe that the solution is not very difficult. It involves big companies operating in Africa waking up and deciding to act. On an episode of “how we built this business”, a founder of an enterprise software business recounted how hard it was to build the business until a big company that needed their software decided to give them money to build the software. They worked with this company solely for almost two years and delivered a good product. Now, I don’t want the significance of this gesture to be lost. This is a big bank in America who decided to trust a team of less than 10 to deliver a great software product. What the start-up needed was a real company they could build for and that is why enterprise is difficult. Unlike consumer businesses you can build by just solving customer problems from research, most enterprise solution requirements and testing need real companies willing to be a laboratory. It is a win-win for the big company eventually as they get a great software tested in their environment at a fraction of what a global technology vendor would have charged. These guys now have more companies asking for the same software. This is the sure banker way of building enterprise solutions.
I am looking forward to the day big Telecoms, Banking, Oil/Gas companies will sort of incubate enterprising start-ups who can solve their problems and go on to become industry leaders in Africa providing same solutions to other companies. We need to keep a good chunk of African money in Africa to have any chances of surviving and thriving in the global economy. There is also no reason African technology should not be exported more to the world.
I have some war stories on some enterprise software solutions my team and I have built over the years in multiple countries. It follows similar trajectories of getting an opportunity to build in a particular big company. I will also share lessons learned and why we did not scale those software solutions to the levels it could have reached today. From the lessons, I also will take actions to correct some of the mistakes of the past. This will be my own form of – “How we built it”. I believe you’d be inspired and decide to do it even better and scale bigger. Stay tuned.