Abuja, Nigeria: According to a recent study, mankind has produced more data in the last two years than has ever been produced since we came into existence.
This means that a child born in the year 2000 has probably come across more information than his parents have in their entire lifetime. There is a certain joy to this. This has a particularly joyous ring to African youths as parents always tell us about having “seen more” in their lives than we ever can.
Despite this massive growth in the flow of information, Africans are not producing enough information. As in other areas of development, we have comfortably taken the seat of consumers, once again leaving the rest of the world to do the producing.
This issue can be illustrated in perhaps the funniest way that I refer to as the “Jollof Rice Syndrome”. The jollof is perhaps Africa’s most beloved rice dish; a one-pot rice stew that often includes meat or shrimp, tomatoes, curry powder and seasoning. The continuous battle between Ghana and Nigeria for jollof superiority can bear witness to this. With this immense love for this dish, you would think a lot of information has been created about jollof. Sadly, not so.
A cursory search on YouTube on how to make jollof will give just over 9,000 results. On the other hand, a search on how to make sandwiches returns about 96,000 results.
So, everyone (everyone in West Africa anyway, which is home to about 367 million people, roughly five percent of the world’s population) is eating jollof rice, everyone is talking about jollof rice, but no one is writing or producing digital information about jollof rice.
This dearth of information has severely affected Africa’s pace of growth in relation to other parts of the world.
Perhaps, the sector which has been most affected is the tech-driven entrepreneurial ecosystem. This ecosystem thrives on the speed with which information can be accessed. Sadly, there is little information pertaining to Africa to access.
Entrepreneurship is by its very nature, a very uncertain venture. Running a start-up in Africa may just very well be the height of this uncertainty. The easiest way to reduce this uncertainty is to hear from those who have done what you seek to do, right? But this is an uphill task in our region as these stories are not being told or disseminated on the world wide web.
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This is mainly because the startups are not documenting and sharing the African people’s journeys. They do not show how they validated their ideas or how they failed to do so and the mistakes they made. Start-ups that raise investment capital often do so in secrecy and rarely if ever share the steps that they took to achieve their entrepreneurial success. The result is that a start-up trying to validate an idea in Nairobi will most likely take his instructions from the playbook of a startup in California. More often than not, the Nairobi start-up gets it wrong. There are nuances in our business environment that were not considered. The idea is not validated.
Does the entrepreneur put it online for others to learn? No he or she doesn’t. The next budding entrepreneur (let’s identify his gender as male in this scenario) comes up with a brilliant idea to set up a business in Lagos. He goes on the internet to seek guidance on how to validate his idea. Does he read the experience of the other Nairobi startup? No, he does not. This entrepreneur will jump online, do his research, and it’s highly probably that he too will take his instructions from some California-based start-up. And the cycle continues – just rinse and repeat.
The only solution to this problem, is to start sharing our stories and experiences. To put them out there as much as possible. The lessons we have each learned can be useful to other entrepreneurs in our country, in our continent.
We are making progress, but there is still so much more that can be done. Initiatives such as Building the Future Podcasts by African entrepreneur Dotun Olowoporoku are huge steps in the right direction. However, we should do more. Every Founder, Co-Founder, Programmer or Marketer should find as many opportunities to share his or her experiences with others. This is the foundation of knowledge upon which we can grow as a people.
In the next few weeks, I will be sharing my own thoughts and experiences in various areas pertaining to startup development in the African continent to shed some light of what progress looks like here and give you a more realistic lens with which you view our continent. I hope you will come on the journey with me.