Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No Limits: Nigerian Internet Business is Only Beginning (and I don’t mean 419)

 image Last week, on the 26th of March, I was privileged to be part of an open discussion on Nigerian Internet Business Opportunities hosted on Skype Public Chat by Wayan Vota of ICTWorks.org. Don’t be fooled by my being one of the headliners (noted internet expert ???), I was certainly the least of the cast of participants in the discussion. I’m just a blogger while most of the people in the “room” were entrepreneurs, developers, designers, and ICT4D (information and communication technology for development) professionals. There was quite a bit of valuable material from this session to fuel discussions for some time to come. I expect to have several posts that feed off that session. I have included the link to the transcript of the discussion here.

The conversation was really multiple streams and recapping it as such just won’t work. The only way I can think to do this is to list what I consider the high points and try and treat different ones in greater depth in my future writings. So, in no particularly coherent order, here goes…

  • Like in so many other areas, there is no limit to the opportunity for creative and successful internet-oriented, internet-hosted and social development-focused internet business in Nigeria.
  • There is quite a bit of narrowness in the way we look at the internet as a business environment in Nigeria. In addition to building our own solutions that face our own Nigerian society, we can outsource design and development skills internationally for a living wage. You could be here in Nigeria and earn Euros and dollars with your PHP skill sets. We need to look beyond what we have seen people do here in Nigeria and explore what other people all over the world are doing such as developing solutions for devices like the iPhone and Blackberry.
  • Like the Alaba traders collaborate to get you that shoe from their warehouse (also known as the guy down the road’s shop), internet entrepreneurs need to collaborate in sharing talent, ideas and lending support to each other in order to make a challenging task easier.
  • In order to take ourselves to the heights we can attain, we need to take the long view on this industry. Instant monetisation should not be a target as it will not build a business that can stand the test of time.
  • The Nigerian internet entrepreneur needs to focus on identifying real problems that can be solved with ICT, solve those and expect to see the cash come in down the road. We really have more important needs to address than creating pure web offerings (“frothware”) that do not enhance us developmentally, economically, culturally or politically.
  • We need to partner with thinkers and doers all over the world including Nigerians in the Diaspora, expatriates invested in seeing development in Africa and local people on the ground already addressing real world problems and determine how we can make them more effective with ICT.
  • ICT is only one component of an arsenal that needs to be brought to bear on our myriad problems in Africa. In my role in corporate IT, I am constantly reminded that IT’s only value is in what it can do in solving real world problems. We must never think that ICT is a silver bullet that slay all demons. At it’s core, ICT’s role is to help us communicate, help us capture and store data, and help us transform data into information usable for decision-making.
  • Those of us passionate about IT need to help as many people as we can become capable of creating things using the technologies we love.
  • The technically minded types among us can look beyond ICT to other technical challenges such as cheap and sustainable electricity provision, healthcare innovations, agriculture, and many more.
  • We need to match technologists with business experts in order to get the best of both skill-sets.
  • There are multiple tiers to the technology possibilities. As much as the Web is the richest, we should not ignore SMS, voice and low-bandwidth optimised internet solutions.
  • Rather than building things from scratch we should take advantage of existing platforms, code libraries and APIs in order to extend existing functionality.
  • Indeed we need schools and incubation programs to better prepare our young people (and the not-so young) to take bright ideas and turn them into viable real world solutions.
  • While governments are a significant factor (even if it is only so we can duck when we see them coming doing the road) in providing some amount of infrastructure and regulation, and providing a stable polity, we cannot wait on them to provide anything and must embark on our missions, whatever they are as if the obstacles will melt away at approach.
  • When we do come face to face with those obstacles, right there is a business opportunity for us or someone else to solve.

There are a lot of very smart technologists out there that are ethnologically, socially, economically and emotionally invested in Nigeria. In the one hour or so that I spent chatting with them I was impressed with the talent in the room and convinced that if more people like this are brought together more often and in ways that we can work on things together, we can make all the difference in the world.

@wayan: you still owe me a knockdown, drag out debate on the East Coast versus West Coast start-ups thing.



Wayan said...

I just looked at your screenshot in detail - got enough Chrome windows open?

Oladejo Fabolude said...

Just about enough.

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