#Startup #Africa: How to leave a legacy instead of playing “catch-up”
My favourite startup story will always be the Wattpad story. I was reading about it online but unfortunately, I don't remember where. What I'll never forget is how glued I was to it from the first line of the post, all the way to the comments section.
In summary: Allen & Ivan (the founders) found themselves sitting in a coffee shop one afternoon, sharing one cup of coffee between them. That cup was bought using the last of their 12 month runway capital they set aside after their first meeting and conceptualization of the Wattpad we know today. Although most of us already know that it's now the most successful publishing platform for creative writing, I still wanted to know what went wrong and how they fixed it.
At the time: they got the build right, the "flowology" was perfect and they had a good business model to avoid scaring away large VCs. So, what exactly happened to make them fall to such depths before rising again? The answer hit me like an 18 wheeler-truck.
You see, when they were sitting in that coffee shop, mobile phones boasted lcd screens with heights that could only fit a maximum of 4-5 lines of text at a time. Reading and writing large volumes of literature on your phone was exhausting and rather annoying. After smartphones took over the electronics market two years later, Wattpad's user metrics grew exponentially, which gave them a solid VC pitch. Today, it's worth just under 100 million dollars (Google the specs) and has an average of 6 billion minutes a month user spendature.
Allow me to further elaborate my findings. You see, Allen and Ivan didn't do anything wrong prior to the coffee shop meeting. Their idea and product was simply ahead of its time. The Smartphones today let you read up to 25 lines of text at a time. Which makes reading and writing on your phone more attractive and logical. The reality they live in now was not built yet, therefore, Wattpad seemed like a rather tedious project and a waste of time.
The downside of building something that's too ahead of itself is that it becomes hard to innovate further. The Wattpad in existence today, hasn't grown much in the last 4 years. Sure, they have a lot of money now. But they're stagnant. The only way from there, is down.
Once was blind..but now I see!
Their story gave me a better understanding of the startup culture here in Africa. We have the most capable minds on the planet living on this great continent of ours. It’s only natural that we feel as though we have to compete with the western diaspora, which is a world yet to be built here in Africa. What we often forget is that the world that surrounds us has the opportunity we’re looking for, and will never find anywhere else on the planet. We’re inventing slack-bots and plugins when Africa doesn’t have it’s very own Slack-like product. We’re generating and promoting our content on Facebook, forgetting that Africa only accounts for just under 10% of its usage. We didn’t build these things, therefore we don’t live there. We’re competing in foreign markets while continuously overlooking the need to establish them here at home.
I say this again: we have the most capable minds in the world, born and raised right here in Africa. Before we build our twitter bots, we need to build our own twitter. Before we perfect Netflix APIs, let’s invent our own Netflix. Let’s create the tech eutopia we live in, with our very own tech! Like Chika Onyeani says, "lets create and use: Purely African." By us, for us. Let us create our own value instead of increasing the western diaspora’s.
We can accomplish great things by leveraging modern-day democracy. Ironically: Africa’s tech industry needs awareness to firmly plant its roots as a powerful economic growth generator. When we start slamming our business registration and licensing agencies with tech company memorandums, our governments will wake up and realise that these crazy kids are on to something.
I don't have the blueprints to making it in this industry, nor do I know someone who does. But the brilliant thing is that we forge our own paths. We take different routes in pursuit of success and share that journey to inspire others. We need one African success story, just one, to unlock the tales of millions of people crazy enough to dare.
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