Betting on Africa’s Talent

This is slide #1 on our fundraising pitch deck. Wish us luck!

In 2019 life offers more possibilities for more people than at any other time in recorded history. But still, nowhere close to equitably.

Lyft, the other more huggable ride share startup from San Francisco IPO’d yesterday. Two college friends who started offering rides on campus via a Facebook app less than 10 years ago are now newly minted billionaires, and in their success wake dragging a cackle of over the moon billionaires, multi millionaires, and millionaires.

Before ride sharing the taxi industry with it’s prohibitively high capital requirements and gatekeeper cartels was a tough business for anyone to get into, let alone a couple of college kids. But it never stood a chance against a smart phone, an app, and free lancer energy. It was like watching a very old tall tree in the middle of the forest fall in that slow motion way they tend to after the chain saw had worked it’s way far enough into the trunk. Timbeeerrrrrr!

I remember when Lfyt showed up on the streets of SF. Their cars were cheekily emblazoned with a full on pink moustache clear across the bumper. They had me at Hello. I fell in love with the brand. They were signalling their brand position as the anti Uber, which, at the time still presented itself as an exclusive, black car limo service with the besuited, door opening driver to match. Sounds a bit much today no? Darth Varder vs Luke.

At that time in SF, people were very much either Uber or Lyft people. It was an identity thing. Uber people were generally insufferable. Lyft people were easy going and fun.

But I digress. Back to the lecture at hand.

The world is very much in the throws of a generational wealth transfer driven by the digital revolution. This irrepressible force will leave no industry or institution unscathed. Software and the internet are indeed eating the world and the tools of the trade are firmly in the hands of a younger generation of digital natives.

Sub-Saharan Africa, more than any other region of the world is well positioned to ride this wave of change. With a population with a median age of 19.5 - teaming with energy, talent, and high expectations; a consumer market growing at $160B annually, an operating environment entirely ignored by previous waves of innovation (desktops didn’t really happen here), SSA is primed to birth many great companies.

The only question that remains to be answered is how to catalyse all this potential into actual results. Young people by virtue of their station in life do not have access to resources, networks, and experience required to make things happen. In Africa especially, where aggregate wealth is still quite low and extremely unevenly distributed, talented digital natives almost never get a fair shot at building their version of Lyft.

Supporting innovation and entrepreneurship is no simple matter. According to the 2018 Endeavor report, despite receiving significant attention and funding over the past 10 years, Nairobi’s startup ecosystem failed to convert a meaningful number of startups in scale-ups.

What may have been missed with all that attention may have been the critical cultural nuances that define reality for people. Building startups is a complex matter which requires depth of experience and support across many dimensions which most people under estimate to their detriment. Silicon Valley is 70 years old.

However, my bet is firmly on Silicon Savanna coming of age over the next 10 years. There are simply too many problems to solve, capital looking to play in Africa, and talent aggregating itself in this city for it to be any other way.

I spent many years working with startups in the Bay Area and almost always was the only Afro face in the room. Wherever I looked across that ecosystem I could nary find an individual who looked like me in a higher position who I could reach out to for mentorship, commiseration, and maybe opportunity. I lived in a social desert surrounded by people. It was hard and it affected my career and happiness.

Impact Africa Network is setup to ensure that the opportunity for the digital transformation of Africa is readily accessible to African digital natives. In my view we cannot afford to take anything for granted and must engineer the outcomes we want. History has a stubborn habit of repeating itself. If we blink, the digital transformation of Africa will end up resembling the original scramble for Africa, in many ways, it already is.

Just like Silicon Valley VCs placed their bets on the Lyft founders allowing them to pursue the ride sharing market. I am placing my chips on the young African talent side betting on that to drive the digital transformation of Africa! Watch this space.

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