Just F*%king Survive.
A young consumer internet founder blocked me recently. What’s your #1 piece of advice for startups in Nigeria? Without missing a beat it was simple. Just F*%king Survive. That’s it. Impossible for me to go deeper than that in my brief encounters. But whatever you are doing. Just f*%king survive.
Hershel was one of the all time most popular characters in The Walking Dead (TWD). While on a scouting mission inside the prison (S3E1), Hershel gets bitten in the leg by a walker (zombie) they had all dismissed as “dead.” Rick instantly hacks off the limb with a hatchet. Rick didn’t have days or even minutes to make a decision. He had to do it in an instant. Hack off his leg or allow it to be infected and die anyway. So as a leader, he did what he essentially had to do. He took a leg. After watching the scene above, I spent 2015–today walking around and talking internally at IROKO about how if needed, IROKO will and must be ready to ‘take a leg’.
Everyone who reads my posts knows I love me some The Walking Dead (TWD) imagery. When we announced our last big transaction two years ago, survival was the theme. I used it many years ago when I announced that it’s snowing in Lagos.
I reread that article over the weekend.
So most internet startups are essentially like the posse of survivors from the show The Walking Dead (TWD). This legendary show I have watched religiously over 2015, as it epitomises for me most closely the actual reality of birthing a startup in Nigeria. Where everyday is literally about survival. Where money isn’t one of many things. It’s the only thing. Making it, saving it or raising it. A brutal nightmare of bad vs worst choices and no real solutions in sight.
At a startup, cash is either an important thing or the only thing that matters — Peter Thiel — Zero to One.
Because of this survival-first mentality, I basically run IROKO on cashflow. I would love to spend my time deep in strategic thinking. But. Naaaaaaw. Right now it’s all tactical. I easily spend 15–20% of my time forecasting, wondering or worrying about cashflow management. To the annoyance of my CFO and awesome finance team, it’s almost impossible to draw me into lengthy debates around balance sheets or P&L statements. But weekly? Show me the motherf*$king money. Where is that money? How much can I hold onto until next week? We manage that cash. Because I am so close to it and because I still see or approve all payments above $50, it’s something we are now trained to be super sensitive to.
That has been the message I have shared over time with all the Spark investees. Just f*cking survive. In order to take a very long term view (at least 10 years) you just basically focus on remaining in the game. You need to Outlast. This may even be on the bench (like IROKOtv was with Nigeria from 2011–2015). Don’t be in the stands (a la Twitter trolls). Be on the bench or warming up on the sidelines. Ready for any indication when the market is almost ready (never be late). Timing your jump into the market is super-duper important. Because this Nigerian market cares not about who you raised money from, or how much, she is willing and ready to literally eat it all. Many years ago I was humbled by the market. Many who have the luxury of too much capital are rarely able to respond in reasonable time. Until they run through said capital without any measurable progress. Iflix Africa came with big dreams. Big noise making and a party self. I told them it would be brutal. Tried to be honest about our struggles. How we see success as another day in the sunlight. Not dead is good enough for now. I stood in iFlix’s gorgeous offices in JoBurg a few weeks back, coincidentally a few days after they had dissolved most of their Africa wide management team and made redundant most of their JoBurg staff.
“Most of the management team was dissolved” at one office, one former iflix Africa exec said. “Things weren’t defined. They didn’t know exactly what they wanted. There was a lot of inconsistencies about what we hoped to achieve.
The tiredness in my eyes are testament to how difficult it is simply staying not dead. IROKOtv is in its 7th year. This shit is hard. Trust.
Mark (hotels.ng) has survived and grown under withering venture backed competition from the likes of Wakanow / Travelstart / JumiaTravel
Fikayo (ToLet.com.ng) has survived and grown under withering venture backed competition. Jumia House
Lanre (Drinks.ng) has survived as venture backed folks entered his category.
Andrew (OgaVenue.com) has survived.
Many others haven’t.
See, the thing is and I only realised this over the last few years, for a relatively small startup, it’s really difficult to not grow. Yes you can lose revenue growth, but for all intents and purposes, you usually just keep growing. So even if you are just surviving, you still end up growing. You are building leadership and organisational muscle which will help you create long term value. It’s highly unlikely your revenues will remain static. From experience, they are usually slightly positive or negative. But static? Very unlikely. The market is still growing. If you respect her, don’t push her too much. She will definitely give you a glimmer of hope. As long as you have cash and are alive. Then you have some say in that.
So I believe I am pretty pessimistic on most things. I have a tendency to see the worst in people and most situations. I have always said that IROKO is not a success. Not even remotely. I always believe we are just experimenting. Rapidly, if you will. We launched IROKOtv in Dec 2011. If we are still here and thriving by 2021, then alas. We have tried. Otherwise, we are still just children. I truly believe the dawn of SVOD in Africa will take another 15–20 years. It is still super early. So it’s just about being patient, having perseverance and being persistent.
Just a quick reminder of IROKO’s values.
Be Bold. Be Customers. Be Fast. Be Honest. Be Awesome. Be Africa.