African Tech startup kit

  1. Innovate around product distribution and find a model that works or make a new one
  2. Most customers are pre-paid and prefer to buy in small denominations.
  3. Payments in cash or via mobile money.
  4. Ability to use a product to generate additional income- eg buy in large quantity and then resell in smaller quantities.
  5. agency/distribution model -reinvent retail models
  6. Mobile phone is a major point of contact
  7. Also recommendations/trust from friends and family is very impactful.
  8. Android platforms 
  9. One of the reasons given for not integrating african markets is that it is very fragmented. eg swahili- 100m, Hausa- 65M, Yoruba- 40M. Oromo- 36M. Zulu- 27M, Igbo-27M. Each market has peculiar habits. 
  10. Cross Border transactions is a golden opportunity for crypto in Africa.  
  11. internet= whatsapp, facebook
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does higher education need radical surgery?

Can you invest in future potential of a person? If current trends are to go by, it is increasingly becoming possible. In the next few decades It will very possible that many will opt for home schooling and might not even undertake normal 4 year university course as they are structured today. If the current developments are anything to go by, the nature of what it means to learn is evolving. The biggest change is happening at the higher education level, post secondary level.

A new model is emerging that promises to ensure graduates not only increase the prospects of getting a job but are in fact assured of getting a job. A silicon-valley based school called Lamda school has generated a lot of focus on social media in the last few weeks.  It is a venture funded school that does not charge fees upfront. Students take the course and only pay the fees after they land a good job. The model is being called Income Share Agreement as explained by New York Times. In this model, education becomes an economic model investment. If graduates don’t get a job, the school loses money. Graduates who get a job paying $50,000 a year and above pay 17% of their salary to the school for 2 years. If they don’t get a job or the salary is lower, they pay nothing!!!Also if the graduate losses a job, they stop paying.

This model is gaining more ground even in Africa.

Andela has model closely related to that. Students enroll for software engineering training and paid during the training. After that they are attached to a top tech company in USA and work as a software developer, mostly remotely. The company takes a cut from the salary.

African Leadership University (ALU) has also a program for training university graduates in courses such as data science and other technical skills. Similar to Andela and Lambda, only when a student gets a job do they pay back the student fees (loan). You can read more here.

Majority of the focus seems to be data science, coding, cybersecurity and related courses. Also they are short term courses of between a few months upto a year. So for now, they are not really a replacement of current 4 year university course system. But with time, if they continue to register, success,  many will start to reconsider whether they should really undertake the 4 year course in the first place in their current form. Also of course the entry requirements are most likely very stringent. They must properly assess that you have the ability to learn and motivated enough in order to avoid losses due to failed job placements.

in USA and maybe the west, the main problem seems to be spiraling student debt which stands at $1.5 Trillion. In Africa on the other hand, it seems the problem is skills gap. But generally, there is growing demand for tech related skills especially coding. It is possible that these models could end up being fully-fledged universities. But the main question that remains what happens to less prestigious courses such as arts which are not necessarily ‘hot-cake’ courses? will they lag behind and what will that have on overall job landscape? I also don’t know yet. Also what will be the role of government seeing that everyday government is being stripped of its traditional roles slowly. Will it still make sense to pay hefty taxes? Or maybe governments will become leaner and more efficient. I think the later is true. What we are seeing with technologies such as bitcoin is that the monetary role of government might be reduced significantly if it works. Now education is following that trend. Governments of the future will be leaner and more decentralized to serve needs of people at grassroots and adopt a bottom up strategy. Time will tell.

 

what xerox past teaches us about new technology adoption

John Brooks book titled ‘Business Adventures’ provides 12 classic tales from the world of Wall Street.  One of them is the rise and rise of xerox during the early days of paper photocopier business.

Xerox stock grew 60X in value between 1959-67, attributed to its product, 914 paper photocopier  that is said to be one of the most successful products in history.

The rise of office production of documents coincided with rise of telephones.  Communication between people whenever it is instituted tends to lead to more ways of communicating instead of one sole purpose.

Just like any other era of mass adoption of new technology, there were fears.

The idea of photocopying was not very well received in the early 1960s, people thought it would lead to disappearance of books. One quote from the book

Various magazine articles have predicted nothing less that disappearance of the book as it now exists, and pictures the library of the future as  sort of monster computer capable of storing and retrieving the contents of books electronically and ‘xerographically”

Authors and publishers feared that photocopying would render them jobless and books would not be valuable anymore and end the very nature of writing itself.

They lobbied the senate not to liberalize fair-use policies of books and publications.

In 1967, a bill was approved that set forth the fair use doctrine and contained no educational-copying exemption.

however, author McLuhan is famously quoted as saying ‘There is no possible protection from technology expect by technology‘ in relation to protection of authors and publishers from free secondary publishing of copies that was available at the time.

These aspects of course have come to pass albeit with a few iterations. Photocopying did not mean end of books, but the monster computer predicted is now what we call Google search.

We are largely correct about the big picture of how technology might be, but most likely miss the finer details or who and how it will unfold. The idea is to be broadly correct and not precisely wrong.

 

 

What they don’t tell you about starting a startup

I am a firm believer in new ideas, innovations and trying to find new ways to solve existing problems. In business, startups do that very well. In the technology era, starting a new company has become easier. There is a lot of information online where you can learn. From my keen observation, the recipe for starting a startup is likely to consist of the following, among others:

  1. Find a good-product market fit
  2. listen to customers and make constant improvements to your product
  3. have a unique distribution channels that offer competitive advantage
  4. great team
  5. superb execution- it’s not just about the idea but how you execute it

These are very important and play a very crucial role but i also think there are other factors that are not highlighted because it is hard to quantify them.

Timing: You can have a great idea, great team, execution etc but i think timing is as important. Some projects fail because they are too early or too late. Specifically, the prevailing market, political, social conditions may not be suitable for the product you are presenting at that particular time.

Leverage: capital, time, networks. Those with better access to capital are better positioned. If you have time to tinker and experiment for along period of time, you are likely to learn a lot. If you have networks in form of some potential investors, colleagues, work background etc. These can play an important role in helping you in initial stages. Networks can also be in terms of initial customers that others may not have access to, at least in the beginning.

emotional capital: you need a good dose of emotional capital in terms of ability to withstand tribulations. This is not necessarily a good thing as much as it is marketed as good thing. If you really care about something, it will not be smooth sailing, You might need to handle heartbreaks and ability to withstand heartbreaking moments and long moments of family and friends who dont understand you, and think you are ruining your life. You might also be broke for long periods of time.

Seasons greetings

See you on the other side.

Hitchhiker’s guide to civilizations: from mesopotamia to atlantis. Manifesto for civilizations.

Two books have really tried to explain the history of the civilizations. ‘Sapiens by Yuval Harari’ and ‘Guns, germs, and steel’ by Jared Diamond.

My main question is ‘why did different parts of the world develop differently’

Here I try to summarize the research done by Jared and Yuval into how the current came to be.

Firstly, it is important to understand the proximate causes and the ultimate causes. Proximate causes are easier and direct. Those regions that had more weapons, military and better organised were able to defeat, conquer when they came into contact with another population. However, ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ tries to explain the ultimate causes.

When the European exploration began in the 1400s, they already had developed capabilities in food production, weapons and other tools. One of the major questions in history is ‘why was it that it was the Eurasia region that developed these competencies and not other regions in Africa, native Americans, aboriginal Australians?’ According to Jared Diamond -different regions had different geographic, climatic conditions. They played different roles in influencing the direction of a region.

Roughly 10,000 years ago humans decided that farming was better than moving from place to place. Initially starting from a region called mesopotamia, present day parts of eastern mediterranean(mainly Iraq but also parts of syria/Iran). It later spread to the nearby regions. The expansive Eurasia region spanning North Africa – China had favorable geographic and climatic conditions for agriculture.  It was the first region for humans to change to agriculture. Initially, we were hunters and gatherers but changing to agriculture had both intended and unintended consequences.

Domestication: most of the wild animals found in the region were also suitable for domestication than other regions. Diffusion of domesticated crops and animals was faster and easier in Eurasia with longer east-west latitude: allowing for similar climatic conditions/day-length, an important ingredient for crops farming.

MigrationAnatomicallyModHumans1

image credit: http://www.transpacificproject.com/index.php/genetic-research/

 

It is largely assumed that most of the other regions continued with hunting and gathering for a while before being forced to adopt agriculture . Agriculture propelled more population growth, leading to different but mostly centralized systems of governance, growth of larger communities, chiefdoms, conflict between people, military and growth of weapons. These were able to be developed since communities settled in one place. While these advancements were being made in Eurasia, most of other regions were still moving from place, largely due to geographic factors, or just because they say no need to settle down.  Subsequently, it was the Eurasians who millenniums later began exploring the world having developed capabilities of conquest and search for new lands. When they came into contact with other groups there was spread of germs and outbreaks such as smallpox eliminated majority of local populations. This coupled with better weapons contributed European conquest in areas of Americas, Australia. They ended up settling in these regions and displacing the local populations, however, in some regions, they were not able to settle down because they were also repelled by local tropical diseases such as malaria in New Guinea and tropical Africa. Furthermore, due to food production and settling down, there was a lot of tinkering and cultural exchange and conflicts in the Eurasia region. These allowed for diffusion of technology in the region faster.

The initial head start by the region is still being witnessed today. Regions surrounding the areas where agriculture first began are still have influence in the world today – modern China, european region, Japan, Korea. States repopulated by overseas immigrants such as America, Australia as well. Based on this theory, the perfect recipe for building a civilization is: develop key competency in one area- spread it to as many people as possible- establish structures to enjoy the first mover advantage.

however, some points to note:

Majority of ancient history focuses on empires of Rome. In Africa, Egypt is mainly the focus due to the great pyramids. The above two books and majority of others focus mainly on European conquest, however, there is much much more.

Islam influence is thought to have been flourishing in the so called dark ages in Europe. Some great innovations and progress was made in the Islam world that spread to parts of north Africa, middle east to present day central European region. Some of trials such as compass, camera, flying etc laid the foundation for improvements and innovations later on.

Chinese were actually among the first to explore the old world not the Europeans. They were the first to develop ships and sailed across vast parts of the world. However, for some reason they tended to resist interfering with other cultures and preferred not to share and influence other cultures. Some sources say that the cause could be local politics that led to them abandoning their quests. However, some major innovations such as gunpowder, wheelbarrow, windmills, block printing and paper are thought to have originated from the Chinese.

Also, some parts of west Africa show some impressive old world progress and innovations. Some of the old kingdoms that existed in Africa include: Great Zimbabwe, It was an impressive ancient Kingdom that had huge stone walls and most powerful kingdom in the region. The robust architectural designs used at that time are incredible and exist today as ruins. Archaeological evidence shows that they were constructed by local people in the area. There are stories of how it grew even further with trade with the Arabs, Indians, with Swahili coast serving as entry point. The great merchant trade existed between Egypt, India and coast of East Africa to the Great Zimbabwe. The enormous and expansive trade route was among the first published descriptions of ancient trades, centuries before the arrival of Europeans. One of the hot-stops was Kilwa that even invented its own currency in the 11th century in order to facilitate international trade. You can find more here.Today, the place remains and is a great tourist attraction. Impressive how some 900 years ago they were able to build such fortifications with remarkable fashion.

kilwa

The Bantu expansion in Africa is also a major historical event that has led to occupation of major regions of modern day Africa from the Congo basin. The original inhabitants are thought to be the Khoisan and African pygmies. They still exists today but it very small numbers.

The Kingdom of Benin was also among the most developed. Not be confused with modern day Benin, the Kingdom was located in modern day Nigeria. It had some impressive structures and showed the prowess of the local people in making them. Apart from art, it had sophisticated methods of art, trade, government, rule  among others.

A wonder in its own time

.benin

 

Ajuran Sultanate: was an ancient powerful Kingdom of the somali empire in the horn of Africa. It was flosuring in the middle ages. They were able to resist invaders for long periods of time, even fighting the Portuguese invasion of the Indian Ocean coast and winning several times. They had sophisticated methods of architecture, trade and governance that enabled them to trade with other empires.

Africa’s history is a puzzle of grand propositions and could only have been unraveled partly. There’s still a lot that we still don’t know. Africa has an estimated 1500-2000 languages, making it harbor about 25% of all languages spoken in the world today. There is a lot of mix and match in Africa and probably not all history is recorded correctly and maybe there is more to discover.

For example, whereas it might be largely known that Egypt was the first place to start Agriculture and farming in Africa, some other archaeological evidence suggests it could be the Sahara, specifically the Sahel region. In the past, The Sahara was not as dry as it is today. If that is true, then there is probably a lot we don’t know about the region yet. A lot of information could have been lost or misinterpreted, history became legend and legend became myths. Like the ancient lost city of Atlantis. could it be in west sahara?

There are other great ancient kingdoms such as

Kingdom of Kush (Sudan)

Aksum empire

Mali Empire ( Mansa Musa).

Ethiopian Empire: the Ethiopians were able to defeat Italian invasion during the scramble for Africa in the Battle of Adwa in the 1890s.  Before that, it has rich history of powerful dynasties such as Zagwe dynasty and solomonic dynasty.  One of the other figures in the modern times was Emperor Haile Selassie who was even the Time Man of the year in 1935 after his world-moving speech at the League of Nations calling for ‘collective security’ and resisting the renewed Italian invasion.

There are many others. I hope one day we get to see such depictions in popular culture.

Like other places in ancient Europe and Asia, Africa also had empires and kingdoms that flourished. There were periods of conquest, rise and decline just like in other parts of the world. People developed in different parts based on the region they were in. Innovations were largely based on culture, environment and climate needs. However, what is true is that talent, human ingenuity existed in all parts of the world.

Education Odyssey: a class of notables: makers of a nation

The Kenyan students airlifts to study in America in the late 1950s and early 1960s could as well been one of the most defining moments of Kenya at the cusp of new independent Kenya. The impact of the airlifts, which boost an incredible alumni pool, has had reverberations for Kenya for decades even after the programme ended. The foresight, dedication of the organizers catapulted Kenya to become one of the few African countries that was ready for post-independence Kenya.

The term ‘class of notables’ is thought to have famously been uttered by Carey Francis, in reference to Alliance High School class of 1945. They blazed the trail to what become one of the most consequential achieving alumni class of that time.

The spillover effect in terms of economic, political and social ramifications for Kenya and the region has been phenomenal to say the least. The airlifts helped Kenya prepare for what happened after independence in 1963. It laid the groundwork for Kenya’s political and economic take-off for the newly independent nation.

Most of them came back and took important positions in the newly formed government. the policies, and strategies put forward by majority of these men and women propelled Kenya to become a leader in the region and Africa as a whole.

It could as well have been Kenya’s finest ‘hour’ in terms quest for education and spearheaded by the late Tom Mboya. Though there were challenges shortly after independence especially with assassination of Tom Mboya and period of slower growth, corruption, ethnic divisions later on, Kenya still laid a firm foundation in terms of ability of Kenya’s to take over from the Brits in terms leadership and steering the country into the future. By 1965, there was a considerable number of people who had a university degree and were absorbed into government ministries and local universities as they came up later in the next decade. Educating the populace, and at a fast pace, was important ingredient to enable the African nations propel their own destiny after independence. DRC, at the time of independence, some studies show that only 16 people had a university education. In Kenya, between 1959-63 more than 500 students were part of the airlifts.

At the Centre of the Airlift was Tom Mboya, Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano and several others.

The period boosts men and women who went on to do great things. All those who went to study abroad during that period were not direct beneficiaries of the airlifts since some like Barack Obama snr went on their own but can be summed up as being part of the airlift generation:

Tom Mboya: Firebrand and main advocate for the programme. even met John F Kennedy, when he was senator who later became president. JFK gave a $100,000 grant. Mboya’s also looped in other key personalities to support the programme: Sidney Poitier, Jackie Robinson.

Julius Gikonyo Kiano (first kenyan to obtain a doctorate degree, 1956).

Prof Wangari Maathai: Left in the 1961 airlift. first African woman to win Nobel Prize. Also a lecturer at university of Nairobi and later assistant mister in Kibaki’s government in 2002.

Barack Obama Senior: made his own way to US not through the airlift but is considered to be part of period of high number of Kenyans seeking education abroad at the period.

Others who had early influence on African modern education:

Aggrey James: from Ghana, earned a PHd from Columbia university in 1898. Sometimes called, Booker T Washington of Africa or ‘Father of African education’.

Jaramogi also organized other programmes mainly from the Soviet Union.

At the time there was ideological differences about western American versus Soviet education.

anyhow,

‘Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it’-
― Frantz Fanon

Ability to foresee the new world developments and ensure the people anticipate and are ready is one of core pillars of advancements in modern world. I would marry this viewpoint with generational shift thinking. Either people can be optimistic or pessimistic about the future and they can plan for it or just roll by. When the future is deemed to be better than the present, there is  more rigid planning for it and anticipation. There are also better frameworks, better politics and institutions. When the future seems bleak, there is a culture of taking shortcuts in order to get out as soon as possible before everything comes crumbling down. I think the period 1950s-1960s there was a lot of optimism, followed by pessimism period between 1970s through to early 1990s. The early 2000s were period of optimism leading up to Kibaki coming to power. This was again followed by period of pessimism post election violence and all. I think we might be still in that period but maybe not evenly distributed, i think many might disagree with this.

The organizers,benefactors of the Kenyan Airlift programme did what they deemed fit for themselves and their people. In the end their impact reverberated beyond themselves. We might not know it yet, but our actions now will be judged years to come as to whether we contributed to betterment of ourselves and our people or not. It’s good to have a longer term vision once in a while even if we might not achieve it, but we dared to dream: and that might just be enough.

ed. Note: Although i praise the efforts made to gain formal education, it by no means indicate that there was no education by Kenyans/Africans in general before the European colonisation. It would be very naive to assume/conclude that. Evidence exists to show the technological progress by many African regions prior, eg Ancient Benin City.  But that’s a long story to cover in another post, maybe. However, the gist of this article is appreciating the need for people to harness new realities in order to survive in the modern world. The context is therefore based on and after the independence.

The title and overview is partly inspired  by the book: Kenyan Airlifts to America 1959-1961 An educational odyssey. more here.

Skin in the game

In his ongoing war with journalists, policy makers, bankers, Nobel prize for economics winners, the establishment and New York Times, Nassim Nicholas Taleb outlines why majority of  people who have immense control over a lot of people have no real ‘skin in the game’;meaning that they only benefit from upsides and not the downside. The book can be alienating and I find it hard to agree with everything but also eye-opening into understanding dynamics.

IMAG20180727085918~2

Let me summarize what stood out for me:

  1. when thinking about solutions, think about how they relate with each other, asymmetries. for example, in international intervention policies, think about local alternative not international standard

2. bureaucrats and decision making. some who give advice/make policy have no downside to the decisions made but only upside. He makes a close linkage between financial crisis of 2008. banks get bailed out by taxpayers when they make unsound decisions, so ordinary people face downsides for bad decisions made by managers, but manager get paid nonetheless. Also, when politics become so detached from the ground, it ends up being about policies that have nothing to do with welfare of people it was meant to serve in the fist place; and become a game of musical chairs for the elite and bureaucrats.

3. Always look out for ‘what’s in their portfolio’. ie why people like hedge fund managers are best winners when their fund succeed and also losers when it fails: because they have put their money in the fund. So look out for biases when receiving/giving advice.

4. Don’t tell me about your politics, show me how you live your life. It is very easy to become political without really doing anything about it.

5. Decentralization reduces large structured asymmetries. When responsibility is spread over large area, ownership of projects, communities, it increases stability of the system, same with political systems, should work from the ground up.

6. On Solutions: interventionist solutions are not as good as they are painted to be. Most times, the solution is simple and direct. If you have to make countless presentations, graphs, completely altering the way people live and behave, it’s probably not the most appropriate solution.

7. What matters is not how many times you are right about outcomes, but how much gains are achieved when you are right.

8. Peer reviews: beware of making things to impress peers, colleagues and missing the real target audience. Same with some donor policies, architects to impress other architects and so on..

9. have deep understanding of the problem before writing the equation.

10. TORTS; common law regulating how people relate with each other is better than complicated bureaucratic regulations that only seek to create more ‘positions’ for bureaucrats when they are solving the cases. This is particularly in the case of new industries. When we are not aware of all the consequences, sometimes it’s better to have sandboxes, rather than outright ban and those that harm others are directly held responsible not blanket regulations: this is cue to crypto. lol , beware of ‘administrator’ whose job is to over complicate a problem in order to benefit from interpreting it.

11. Sometimes, better fences make better neighbours/ you are more likely to get along with your neighbour than your roommate.

12. Word of mouth from a genuine and satisfied users beats any ads all the time. This is the ultimate goal when making any product.

13. You can be different things at different stages/states.

14. we are prone to transfer risk from present to the future, even if the future is catastrophic. delaying risk somehow makes us think, it wouldn’t happen.

15. Minority rule: we live my minority rule, they are the revolutionaries, the change makers, from food industry, activists, etc. It just takes time, but they are usually the spark. Never underestimate the power of active, intolerant and courageous minority.

16. Asymmetries of life: for things that move,(eg market forces) the average does not matter. The extreme outcomes shatter all the preconceived expectations

17. Observe things in dynamics not statics alone. Relationships with each other rather than one-sided. Not everything is black or white. Just because you don’t see/understand it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. argumentum ad ignorantiam: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. sometimes it could mean that no careful research has been done yet, or not the right tools were used.

18. Freedom is never free, it entails some level of risk.

19. In ever changing and dynamic world of work, aim to be judged by your outputs not inputs. Because of asymmetries/power laws, sometimes inputs are not directly related to outputs. Sometimes outputs can be 10x. Outputs and inputs only work for structured work; machine like.

20. Lindy effect: the longer you wait, the more you will be expected to wait. or simply, for a technology, idea, book, art, that has been existence for 100 years, any additional time that it exists means  extension of life span for a longer period.

21. If you want peace, make people trade with each other.