On making entrepreneurs

Late last year I joined a panel organized by the Association of African Universities in collaboration with the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST). We had gathered to discuss (I use discuss very loosely) ways to breed more local entrepreneurs. By local entrepreneurs I mean entrepreneurs working hard to knock out local problems (those ugly problems with tiny or no market size hence fly under the radar of institutional investors). I think I was invited because my good friend Emmanuel was (in fact, he has always been) a key man during the organization. And he was the moderator too. He invited me to represent the community of practice. It’s probably something he coined (I won’t be surprised since he’s fantastic at words) but put succinctly, inhabitants of the community of practice are people who walk the talk, people with GitHub accounts, everybody who isn’t Mac-Jordan Degadjor or Donald Ward. I thought that was a smart move. Every forum needs a skeptic and/or empiricist and Emmanuel had found his Sextus Empiricus in me. What a privilege! But let me add that my appointment was slightly on merit, too (if you ask me).

First, second, third, and fourth, I co-founded DevCongress, the biggest (emphasis by popular demand) tech community in Ghana. As at the time of writing DevCongress is a fucking big deal. In every sense of the words fucking, big, and deal. Trust me. And by the time you’re reading this it will be an even bigger deal. Watch this space. In the past I used to say that DevCongress was arguably the biggest tech community in Ghana. How cowardly! Not anymore. I’ve grown a pair of balls and dropped arguably. Now I call DevCongress what it is without fear or favor: the biggest and most important community for practitioners. More on DevCongress later.

As at the time of writing DevCongress is a fucking big deal. In every sense of the words fucking, big, and deal. Trust me. And by the time you’re reading this it will be an even bigger deal.

Fifth, I spend my productive hours teaching programming to young Africans looking for unicorns in Africa’s rainforests, a corner of Earth filled with an abundance of bush rats and antelopes. I’ve taught them Ruby on Rails, the same framework used to build Airbnb, Kickstarter, Square, and Twitter. (A certain dead philosopher is restless in his grave because I said I taught them. Please, substitute taught and replace with introduced and continue.) Hopefully one day they’ll build a globally successful business the size of your favorite social media.

Sixth, I do petty but once-in-a-while useful open source work, on which, more later.

Last time Chris, Facebook’s C3PO, was in the country he visited MEST and met EDDYMENS and Julius of Devless
Hopefully, one day, they’ll build a globally successful business the size of your favorite social media.

Anyways.

I arrived on the panel with a combination of original and googled ideas, in that order, more original than borrowed. I arrived well-prepared to answer one question well: how do we create more entrepreneurs? When I say I arrived on the panel I mean I had just returned from visiting my girlfriend in Nigeria, her home country. And it was there, on the second floor of a budget hotel in Surulere, Lagos, overlooking a scantily lit suburb, that I sampled the internet’s opinion (mainly tried methods and untested theories) on the question at hand. When the question, how do we create more local entrepreneurs, came on the radio I was third in line to offer a reasonable and positive answer. This is what I said. Wait, let’s replay Let’s pretend Q: is Emmanuel asking the quintessential question.

Q: How do we create more local entrepreneurs?

Me: I don’t know, but more importantly I know nobody knows either ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Ha, just kidding. That would have been the last time my good friend invited me to anything he hosted. (He has since included me on another panel he hosted for Yale.) I actually said things; I think I made a lot of sense judging by the number of people who spoke to me or wanted to continue the conversation after the forum was over: zero. To be fair a few people approached me but they either wanted to know what the spring roll was filled with (because they were vegetarian) or attack the question from a different angle (talk of points of view). Definitely not the kind of conversations I anticipated. But, you know, people, when they feel you’ve wasted their time (not brainpower), invoke the Golden Rule and charge at you. For my atheist brethren and sistren and Kelechi, the Golden Rule is the Christian version of tit for tat. Its competitive advantage is that it’s sanctioned by a holy book.

So here, I’ll repeat, but, with a major twist. I have slightly refined what I originally said (to take advantage of the days that have since passed) while maintaining the spiritus. I still believe in all the experiments I proposed hence nothing has changed in that sense. During the panel discussion I only talked about what we should do and what questions we should be answering. Here, as the biggest refinement, I attempt to submit the how, i.e. implementation.

When it was my turn to speak, this is what I said or think I said:

Ladies and gentlemen and Tsatsu, we have entrepreneurs among us today. (I wasn’t bullshitting — there was real entrepreneurs among us) So we’re not here to introduce something new (such as how to eat fufu with a spoon). Entrepreneurship isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s been around much longer than apprenticeship, and apprenticeship is very old. (Here, maybe I needed citation but in the heat of the moment we’re allowed to make shit up on the fly). Makes me believe that the object of the forum today is to discuss ways to churn out much larger numbers. While holding a respectable quality threshold (this shouldn’t be a requirement). We’re talking about replacing the loom with a factory. Because we’re already producing entrepreneurs, but only for our subsistence. First of all I think that’s both legitimate and possible.

In the face of a problem, what do I offer?

In my opinion, entrepreneurs solve problems, either individually or as part of a team. My bias for this definition rests solidly on my experience: all entrepreneurs I’ve met in my life worked hard to solve a problem or are hard at work on one. Thus, we (both present and future entrepreneurs) should ask ourselves this question: in the face of a problem, what do you offer beyond talk? To help us answer the question confidently I suggest that we be two characters: observers (to spot the problem) and creators (to implement our ideas). I submit that by being observers who quickly follow through with a working solution, we exhibit the 2 most important attributes of the entrepreneur. If the previous statement is true then our shortage of entrepreneurs merely translates to a shortage of people who can both observe and create. Thus, our job, as a thinking generation, which by the way is shameful, is to help the younger generation become better (also clinical) observers and ruthless creators (the trial and error kind). And, and, it’s not hard to do either. Let me show you how.