forLoopWeekly 52: The Little Letter That Could
forLoopWeekly is a year old today. I’ve written and sent out 85 letters in the last 52 weeks.
Lol, I’ve sent out 85 of these things?!
It’s been an incredibly fulfilling body of work — even if I do say so myself, and it’s right up there among the coolest projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on in the last one year. 2017 really did turn out bloomingly well for my writing career after all.
How It All Began…
February 2017: I got a call from Ridwan regarding starting a weekly newsletter for forLoop Africa. You know, something to keep the burgeoning dev community informed about events, tools and other dev-related info; something that was unique and would help serve as a rallying point for every dev on the continent, regardless of whether or not they were under the forLoop banner. Yet.
If you’ve ever endured a planning and strategy sesh with Ridwan, you’d know the man is a closer. Once he gets an idea going, there’s almost no stopping it. I wasn’t sure about the entire thing initially, but it didn’t take long to convince me to jump aboard. (By the way, it was also a chance to execute on some ideas I’d nursed and tested 2 years before.) By March, we’d signed up for MailChimp and I was set to write the first one.
We had about 700 emails collected from a previously held forLoop event. Those were our first recipients. The email list has more than quadrupled now, though. And there’s an uptick, still. Pretty swell stuff.
Writing The Newsletter…
I often get questions from people wanting to know my process for writing the newsletter. They don’t usually frame it like so — because one tends to get the “how do you do it?” question sometimes, and you can’t tell if that’s just adulation or a genuine question about process. Well, it’s safe to assume it’s the latter. I shall try to distill over the following paragraphs something that might pass off as my process.
Writing is hard work. Good writers make it seem easy, and the better the writer, the easier it looks. But it is hard, non-sexy, grunt work, especially when you have to put on a different hat than you’re used to. I am not a software developer, designer or founder of a startup. I am a writer with the singular privilege of working in that oh-so-sweet spot that is at the intersection between Media and Tech. Writing forLoop Weekly, I felt like a fraud in the early days. Still do, for the most part, but I can perpetuate the charade better now, I think.
At the start, we had just the Sunday edition; meaning I had to write on Saturdays — nights, usually. The average edition takes me about 2.5-3 hours to slug out. I get a huge chunk of my intel from Twitter, so what I (eventually) did was create a list on there containing a couple of handles where I was more likely to get relevant stories. I called it Dev Ops. Some of you are on the list. I can almost picture your forced grin. Ah, shucks. It’s cool. As the weeks wore on and the newsletter started to take hold, people — and companies — started to reach out to me with news and relevant stuff they were working on.
I get a couple of DMs too. People who either have an event or have built something cool and are looking to share with the class. I know, I know… I’m probably the only guy who has their DMs popping for no-fun reasons :(
By May, we segued nicely into a twice-a-week newsletter. I sent one every Wednesday and Sunday. It grew considerably more tedious to write, but I’ve tried to make it work. I am proud to say that I haven’t not sent out the newsletter on any particular week when it was due— Wednesdays and Sundays. I think this whole project has been a test of grit for me.
If anything, writing forLoopWeekly has earned me the respect — dare I say admiration — of a ton of people I hold in high esteem. I see how people light up at tech meetups when we shake hands and they learn who I am. It usually goes something like:
Me: *shakes their hand* “Hi, I’m Solomon, nice to meet you.”
Them: “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m [their name]. What do you do/what are you working on?
Me: I write forLoopWeekly. I’m that Solomon.
Them: *Their eyes light up and the grip is firmer on the handshake* Oh, you’re that Retired Superhero! Whoa, nice work man [insert other praise]
It never gets old.
I get the occasional email and tweets/DMs from readers, telling me how much they enjoy the newsletter. By Christmas last year, the accolades came in droves and, I’m not even gonna front, I was floored. It felt good to know that this tiny thing I was working on in my little corner of the ecosystem actually had utility for a lot of people. There are people in countries I’ve never been who read the newsletter, know my name and like my work. It’s pretty surreal when I think about it for a minute.
The Next 52…
The African Tech ecosystem is in flux and everything we do contributes to the total entropy. The ecosystem will keep evolving and expanding, as people continue to build interesting stuff and Tech companies continue to sprout across our cities. The convo has moved on from the initial notions around a nebulous “Yabacon Valley” to an overarching African Tech ecosystem (If you’re reading this from another country other than Nigeria and that conversation makes you want to puke, I apologise for the conceitedness. We’ve learnt our lesson now, I think).
It’s weird that it feels like we’ve been doing this Tech thing for a decade. I’ve only actively been in this ecosystem for two-and-a-half years and it feels like I’ve been doing this forever. It’s why I feel like a fraud sometimes. Like, Holy Cow, who am I to be doing what I’m doing, being some kind of voice in this ecosystem? I don’t know what I’m doing.
The forLoop Africa train is rolling on, gaining more grounds. Thanks to all our partners, sponsors and ambassadors, we’ve successfully established our presence beyond Nigeria to Ghana, Uganda and Kenya, and are entering some other countries this year. This whole thing is clearly bigger than anyone of us now. Sometimes I wonder if Ridwan thought this whole thing will get this far when he first started out. But here we are.
I work a 9–5. It’s intense stuff, and I’m always juggling a ton of projects (mostly content related) in tandem. And I live in Lagos, the hardest city in the world — don’t argue with me, please. But I really like doing this stuff. It’s why I do whatever it takes to get it through to you. And I’m glad many of you like it too.
Here’s to the next 52.
Thank you for reading (the newsletter, that is. And this post, of course)