Have you ever had a discussion with a developer and / or startup founder without the issue of funding coming out? Yes…it has virtually become a slogan now. “The reason why I have not been able to launch that product is lack of funding”.
Everybody seems to believe that lack of funding is the reason why we don’t have many success stories in the country. Well…this may be one of the reasons, but is it the actual problem? Is it the main reason why our startup ecosystem is still underdeveloped?
According to Seyi Taylor, if you build a business, funding will come. So, are you building business or just marking time? If indeed you are building a business, there are some things that have to be in place. Some boxes need to be checked correctly if you must succeed. Your focus should be how to acquire and keep customers. Some people must be willing to pay for the service or product that you offer. Else, you are not in business. It doesn’t matter the amount of funding you have access to, if these basics things are not in place, your story will not change. In fact, you might find yourself on the same spot in few weeks.
The interesting thing is that while these basics are very important to the success of any business, many people don’t take them seriously or just overlook them. Just because we focus too much on the funding issue.
So, what are these missing links?
The Importance of Team
In the past few months, I have had discussions with different investors and key stakeholders and the issue of team keeps coming up. Most investors (Angel or VC) will not invest in one-man Startup team. You must have heard the phrase, “we invest in teams only” before.
Opinions differ on the number of co-founders a startup/business should have and this post is not to address that. I leave that decision to you. Just find out what works for you and go for it. According to VentureHacks, two is the right number. Our world is full of companies which were started by two people. Yes, Jobs and Wozniak (Apple), Allen and Gates (Microsoft), Ellison and Lane (Oracle), Larry and Sergei (Google), Yang and Filo (Yahoo) are some of the names that come to mind. Venturehacks also feels 3 founders may work (as seen in the case Twitter) but argues against having 4 founders or going alone.
We needn’t even look too far, there are local examples all around us. Think Jobberman, Prowork, Saya - the Ghanaian startup that just competed at TC Disrupt, Bloovue, Twinpine, to mention a few — all have more than one founder. These people would not have gotten to where they are today without the team factor. As a lone ranger, there are higher chances that you’ll be overwhelmed by the challenges.
The fact that you have co-founders doesn’t mean that all of you have to be at the fore front. One can be the face of the company while the others can work from behind. Everyone knows Steve Jobs, but I am sure most people may not have heard of Steve Wozniak. Yet, it doesn’t belittle his contribution to the company – Apple. If you are still wondering why you need to work in a team, read on. While one of the founders focuses on technical issues, the others can on business-related issues – Sales and Operations. Even when it seems everyone in the team has the same skillsets, there are other ways you can complete one another.
I think the problem with most of us is what I called “ME Inc” mentality. An average African man wants to own everything. While there is nothing wrong with owning everything, it actually places a limit on how far you can go with your business. Just think of what you could achieve with just having an extra person on your board. What most people call startups are actually child’s play. It is high time we broke loose from this mentality.
Every week I see similar start-ups being launched by different people. And the question that keeps coming to my mind each time is…”why can’t these people collaborate?”. Is it that we are bad at collaborating? Or we just want to own 100%?
You want to hear the truth? For you to succeed in any business, you have to focus on closing sales and at the same time delivering a great product experience to the users. And you think that you can do all these alone? Handling technical issues, managing operations and closing sales? You need to get real.
You may still argue that you can do it alone but if you are sincere with yourself, you will acknowledge your limitations and the need to bring a partner on-board ASAP. You may not necessary want to have a partner under the same company. You can choose to outsource some functions by partnering with another company. Just ensure that you are not a lone ranger. Collaborate.
Organisations like Co-creation hub and Mobile Monday Nigeria are making this possible. If you are looking for someone to partner with, these two organisations are your starting point. And if you need help getting a reliable partner, drop me a line. You never know what could happen. I may be able to connect you with someone
And What About Relevant Skills?
Some people will argue that this should have been the first item on my list. Well…it makes it to number two position. I have my reason for starting with team as my number 1. Any skill that you lack can be overlooked if you have a very strong team. And point of caution…the fact that you can code doesn’t mean that you have what it takes to run business. That is actually the beginning. The skills you need to start the business may not sustain you on the journey. Oh Yes…Bankole already did justice to this and I can’t fault his argument. He is definitely spot on and if you missed his write-up, you may need to go back to read that here before you continue. It will help you to understand my thinking. And be warned…I am not going to repeat everything he has said here :). I am just going to continue from where he stopped.
I saw an interesting tweet sometimes last week from Mark Essien, the brain behind Hotels.com.ng and it keeps ringing a bell even till now. Most people think they have the ticket to start and run a business just because they are very good programmers. While this is required, it takes much more than that. As Mark rightly pointed out, you need to pay attention to details for you to have a successful business. Little details as what colour and font size to use on your website do matter a lot.
And there is one disease that is common to most people now…jack of all trades. An average developer wants to handle every aspect of the project. He is the front-end guy as well as the person handling the back-end. He just wants to control everything. Have you now seen the reason why there are very few good developers around here? Yes, having good developers alone in your team doesn’t mean you will have a successful business but it will surely contributes to the success. Good user interface, great user experience are all products of good thinking and attention to details. And just before you hit the launch button for your new start-up / business, check the details again. Will it make more sense for you to just hold for some more weeks to sort out these little details? This may be the determinant of whether people will use your service / product or not
All these point to one BIG QUESTION…”do we have a growing and supporting ecosystem?” Silicon Valley is what it is today because of the ecosystem. Starting a business is enough work on itself and if the ecosystem is not there to support, it makes the work even harder. The more we develop the ecosystem, the higher the chance of African Start-ups to succeed and compete globally. And off course, the easier it becomes to receive funding. It takes a commitment from all stakeholders - start-ups, developers, investors, private companies, universities government agencies, technology hubs and off course whoever you are to develop this ecosystem.
So, what are you doing to develop the ecosystem? Yes, YOU!
Image credits: Work With Christy