Where are the Techpreneur role models that the average Nigerian can identify with?
[Possible controversy/polarisation alert here... again. Sorry ]
Let's just put this out there first... I suspect I'm secretly jealous of folks who may have had some sort of advantage around upbringing, social class, oyinbo education, TFBs, etc. and that may have likely colored my thinking. With that out of the way, let's move on to the main marra...
This is Tuface. Tuface is street. Tuface went into music. Music worked and Tuface hammered. Now, lots of boys (and girls) from the streets have gone into music. Some have hammered. They felt if Tuface can do it, they can do it too. They could relate with Tuface's story. Tuface is (kindof) a role model. He gave them a reason to hustle.
To inspire people to pursue a course of action, at times, it helps to show them someone like them who has gone down that road and has achieved what they hope to achieve.
It seems it's sort of hard to find such a role model in the tech world for the Nigerian undergraduate. At least from where I'm perched.
My guy called me and said his company was coming up with something and was looking for "successful techpreneur types" to showcase and can I suggest? A few of the usual "TechCabal celebrities" were mentioned but we both didn't feel very convinced, so we quickly drew up a small checklist and tried to run names through it. It was hard!
Grass to Grace
The typical middle class Nigerian person went to OAU or Unilag or OSU or ABU or UNIBEN or UNN, etc. Maybe these days places like Covenant also count.. They didn't finish secondary school and get shipped to some American college or European University. Doesn't matter that it's through savings or daddy's money or scholarship, they just didn't.
Therefore, if the example you show them of Nigeria's Zuck whose path they should try and emulate had these kinds of advantages, they will probably give excuses and say "it's not that easy, I'm a local boy". It turns out though, that a large chunk of our usual suspects that my guy and I wanted to use as proof that techpreneurship is a way (because they have done fairly visibly okay), had these advantage at some point. Were either born "thoroughly" upper middle class with a source of livelihood guaranteed (whether they go and hustle for work or not, Daddy has assets that they can draw an income on) or they had foreign education and lived quite some time abroad in the right circles.
Not that this is bad; in fact, it's good. It's just that it reduces the relatability factor for the regular guy. Check am, these days all techpreneur wannabees hope to get funded with VC dollars, right? How do we explain the fact that quite some of the VC dollars we've seen floating around have been to returnees and then in the same breath tell the local guy he'd get some of it? Statistics may suggest otherwise. I've heard more than a few of the "local" founders grumble quietly and more than one suggest they'd simply close shop to go get an Ivy MBA and come back to try again afterwards.
So, checklist item 1: To be able to tell a regular Nigerian undegrad that he can do it too, it would be nice to show her someone with roughly the same conditions and variables that applies to them. A few of our "local breed" tech entrepreneurs need to get there quickly.
Interestingly though, I think the older generation tech entrepreneurs (Systempecs, Interswitch, etc) kinda fit this bill, but that's like trying to sell King Sunny Ade as a poster child to an 18 year old.
Socially impactful venture
No. The venture cannot be a "fart app". Or a gossip blog. Or a video streaming website that helps rich VI people watch movies on the go while the driver is taking them home from work. The venture connected with our role model must have a ring of good for humanity to it. Maybe a job finding website. Maybe something that helps reduce WAEC failure rates. Maybe something that cures cancer. You get the drift.
These days, in a bid to be like Silicon valley, we may be forgetting to solve our society's unique problems and find ourselves creating either clones of what works abroad or ventures targeted at offering more convenience to the middle class internet crowd (therefore the primary motivation is profit). Once again, don't get me wrong; I'm a sucker for building for the quickest path to profit, I'm just suggesting that if you want to sell a feel-good story to a young dreamy-eyed guy, saying "see that guy, he used technology to solve Nigeria's leadership problems and got rich doing it" can give the cause a boost.
That's checklist item number 2. We found a few good ones here, but checklist item 1 and 3 knocked them off the list.
This is very important. It's the reason why Bez is a great musician but Olamide is the one who inspires street kids to try music. You gerrit! The test we used here is: We'd organise an event on a campus and ask Mr XXX to come and speak and he won't really need an introduction. Last last, we'd mention Company YYY was founded by Mr XXX and the kids would get it. So, this is hard. The whole tech community sef never really go mainstream for my cousin in Kwara Poly to relate with. My cousin though, knows a few of the big e-commerce websites and betting sites.
My cousin definitely knows Linda Ikeji's Blog.
Yeah, that came up.
We threw this one up and everyone said "bleh!". Definitely mainstream. Definitely grass to grace. Kids can relate. Okay, maybe even social impact (at least carrying dirty laundry of politicians at times). But tech? But role model? ROLE MODEL?? We didn't think so.
This is checklist number 3 that knocked off most of the ventures and people we thought of and liked. And we really wanted to lock on BudgIT.
Once again, this is not to knock the hustle of some of our good friends or to suggest that we are not moving forward as a community.
It's just to draw attention to the fact that if we step out of our "ecosystem" cocoon and plan to inspire kids in school to see tech entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to non-existent jobs, it would help us to create a few role models that they can relate with and blow up their profile as much as possible. Those who fund and support tech businesses need to consider backing the non-abroadians and all my "local breed" entrepreneurs need to get fired up and hammer quickly so we can sell them as poster children to the next gen.
Please if you know examples that fit the checklist and you are comfortable with putting mouth, please put mouth.