Archives For Business

A few months ago I cam across a fascinating study by Daniel Evans and Dr. Charles Thomas, two researchers at The Network Science Center at West Point. They set out to undertake one of the more ambitious studies of the business space in Africa, a network mapping study about who the key players in each market and how the influence or affect one another. Why? To quantify the entrepreneurial network in such a way that the analysis provides concrete policy recommendations.

The results tend to look something like this, where each node represents different key players or actors in the respective entrepreneurial spaces of each hub or country:

West Point Africa Research

The trip was several months long, taking them to various countries and innovation hubs all over the continent and the results are fascinating. A description from the authors themselves from their first paper “Who do you know?” Developing and Analyzing Entrepreneur Networks:

Our research goal is to quantify the entrepreneurial network in such a way that the analysis provides concrete policy recommendations. Our Center has experimented with several data collection methodologies and we have developed an innovative yet simple technique that allows us to develop quantifiable entrepreneur networks. Our innovation is not to develop each individual entrepreneur’s network but to understand the entire entrepreneurial network of the community in which the entrepreneur lives and operates. In order to develop this model, we have adapted a technique used in sociology to measure social capital called the Position Generator (Lin & Dumin,1986; Lin et al, 2001). This technique circumvents the massive effort of mapping an individual’s social network before locating the social resources in it. By approaching the entrepreneur’s network through the analysis of his connections to prominent structural positions in the community or society, researchers are able to construct measures that obtain information on the strength of ties and structural holes (Lin, 2001).

Dan Evans has been doign a fantastic job blogging his research over at the WestPoint blog but gave us permission to make his work available through our open data portal, Statfrica.  The first of three of their papers are now available for download here.  They are:

  • “Who do you know?”- Developing and Analyzing Entrepreneur Networks
  • Quantifying Entrepreneurial Networks: Data Collection in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Network Science Center Research Team’s Visit to Kampala, Uganda Daniel Evans and Dr. Charles Thomas

Each paper is supported by even more in-depth supplemental material at his blog.  For instiance here, here, here, here, and here…there’s way to much to link to so I encourage those of you who are data-driven to dow your own digging to find out some of of their fascinating discoveries. These papers are freely available here and elsewhere but please contact the authors for citations, references, or future publishing.

We’ll post follow up research of our own based on these papers in the coming months.

Download Network Analysis of Africa’s Tech Hubs and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

For more details on these particular studies, contact: Network Science Center at West Point | http://www.netscience.usma.edu

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida about the changing business landscape of Africa the opportunities that exist on the continent. I shared about the general market trends of the African continent as well as specific examples from the tech sector, from startups to companies worth over $100 million that are still Africa based and African owned. The slides I used can be downloaded from Statfrica.com or here on Slideshare.

For those looking for information on Africa’s internet penetration, visit the deck below…

Africa’s experiencing a bit of a boom in startup activity right now. What’s driving it? Who’s helping to grow the ecosystem? This graphic explores the topic.

Africa's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Infographic available from Statfrica

White lines represent the monetary support organizations like Indigo Trust and Infodev are proving to the innovation hubs of the continent which in turn support entrepreneurs with non-monetary services represented by the gray lines. Mentoring, workshops, events, conferences, investor meetings etc. are the types of things these hubs are responsible for organizing. Meanwhile, Local governments have mostly been responsible for enable policy decisions. Can they become direct financiers of entrepreneurs and/or the network of hubs? The fact that this ecosystem has emerged mostly without their intervention certainly presents that opportunity.

For a more in-depth analysis on startup entrepreneurship as a driver of economic growth in Africa download our latest report New African Business.

Statfrica Africa Research Trends

A portal for learning, sharing and discovering more about Africa.

Over the years we’ve collected more data about Africa than we can hope to ever use as one company. However, we know from meeting many other companies, NGOs, schools, investors and others that there is a huge amount of demand for all things Africa. The problem most of these groups have is not that they can’t find information, but that things are changing so rapidly, they can’t find up-to-date information. Usually articles are three to five years old. Its also hard to find information on topics that is immediately applicable like information on contemporary African social entrepreneurs, consumer behavior, and research around trends that haven’t quite caught the attention of corporates global research firms.

With Statfrica we’re making of our incredible amounts of research on these subjects available to all, for free!

Open Courseware, Open Research, Open Data

Perhaps the biggest opportunity though, is to change how classrooms teach Africa to students. I recently spoke at an international business school where much of the knowledge being offered about Africa was from the 80s and 90s, when the most recent text books were published. There was little information about contemporary phenomena like the growing strength of ‘south-south’ trade (from developing nation to developing nation).

The other problem we noticed was that corporations, universities, bloggers, entrepreneurs etc. were spending their time collecting the same information over-and-over again for different purposes. This is an incredible waste of time and while there are options for hiring firms to do this kind of research for you, it can be unbelievably expensive — obviously not a solution for students, smaller non-profits, or young entrepreneurs.

Many Options

For professional analysts and universities, all of our material is available in a way that is modification friendly. We realized that it was rare to find files that can be completely remixed or modified so that they fit within a lesson. With Statfrica Pro, subscribers can download the raw files used to make each presentation in multiple formats (.pptx, .key, .pdf, .html, .ai, .psd). This gives you 100% control over what you use or don’t use in a classroom, boardroom, or conference presentation. There’s also a lot of supplemental material that isn’t available at the free rate.

Take an infographic like the one above and remix it completely!

Interested in a free or paid subscription? Check out pricing here.

By opening up our research repository, we hope to create a community that’s more aware of Africa, and an Africa that’s more aware of itself. In fact, we like to use the tagline “Africa’s Quantified Self”!

For updates specifically related to our research initiatives, please follow us @statfrica on Twitter or visit statfrica.com.

On July 16th, 2013 Appfrica CEO Jon Gosier had the pleasure of sharing information about the history of Appfrica and business opportunities in Africa with summer fellows at Temple University’s Urban Apps + Maps Studio.

Appfrica Temple University Urban Apps + Maps

Slides from the presentation. Business opportunities across the continent…

On Appfrica and our role…

Join Appfrica/D8A and the OpenGov Hub on August 6th for a special Happy Hour to share the 30-minute THE CHEETAH CODE short and to announce D8A. The event will be held at 1889 F Street, Northwest, Washington, DC 20006 on Tuesday, August 6, 2013 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

The Cheetah Code chronicles young African entrepreneurs who are coming up with disruptive innovations and creating new business models in the technology sector that not employ themselves, but their peers, creating new ecosystems for trade that boost the continent’s productivity.

Cheetah Code: Inside DEMO Africa 2012 [Trailer] from Jon Gos on Vimeo.

The footage was taken at the first annual DEMO Africa 2012, a global trade show highlighting the most promising techpreneurs. Appfrica will also unveil its new parent company, D8A, a full service digital design firm that uses mostly African staff to serve its clients globally.

Please join us from 5-8pm on August 6th and enjoy beer, wine and snacks!

Click here to to RSVP for free!

Bahiyah Yasmeen Robinson

Bahiyah Yasmeen Robinson became involved in social entrepreneurship at a young age, partnering with a friend out of high school to run a fashion line that sourced and imported local fabrics from women’s cooperatives in Tanzania. She went on to explore the world of media and entertainment in order to obtain a well-rounded view of the media industry, eventually returning to her true passion: international affairs and social entrepreneurship.


I had the pleasure of attending the Partnering for Global Impact Conference in beautiful Lugano, Switzerland last week. Something special happened, and I’m not sure if it was because we were nestled between a pristine lake and majestic mountains (we know how environments can shape outcomes) or because of the willingness of the attendees to “approach things differently”.

Lugano

So I’m combining my own personal experience with some step by step advice on how to get the most out of conferences going forward. From those of you who have a lot of experience attending conferences locally and globally, to those of you who may have limited access to these types of events, conferences, at some point, tend to get overwhelming.

Why? Because, if we’re ambitious and have taken the time out of our busy lives to attend a conference, we are always trying to find ways to get the most out of them to maximize our investment of time and capital. But sometimes (I would bet most of the time) we tire ourselves out trying to do too much in a short amount of time.

This last point was one that I learned by talking from everyone to CEOs of some of the world’s leading investment and development organizations to NGO directors that are mandated to start new initiatives on the continent. From the entrepreneur’s perspective, we’re looking for quality connections and investments. On the leadership side, they’re looking for groundbreaking thinking, new processes to add value to their work, and characteristics in entrepreneurs and companies that will drive their sector knowledge.

At PGI, leaders were transparent and willing to share their own challenges, which is a rare thing to witness an entrepreneur. I realized this while watching a panel of the world’s largest investment firms share their desire to integrate more case studies and allow for a more sensible margin of error and experimentation to learn best practices in emerging markets. As much as these leaders are knowledgeable and experienced, no matter how seasoned in a particular sector, most investors don’t have all of the answers (whether they admit it or not). Our humanity is connected.

Quality over Quantity

You don’t have to meet everyone in the room. You should, however, identify 3-5 new companies that either work in your field of expertise or are looking to enter into the region or sector you’re working in. Then, in advance, think about ways you may be able to contribute to their work or knowledge. This will create a much stronger bond then handing out cards and playing the numbers game. One core component of a successful entrepreneur is to create and maintain meaningful relationships.

Value Alignment over Hard Numbers

What is it that you, individually, value? How does that align with your company’s values? This is the internal work that should be done before you attend any conference. The ones that have done this work can always tell if someone is unclear and/or grasping for straws. Desperation comes across as the willingness to do ANYTHING for a buck. I’ve learned that this is exactly what impact investors and development agencies are trying to move away from. You may meet people that are still stuck in the “money at any cost” mindset, but this is not the path to integration and sustainability that most of us are trying to strive. Know what you can bring to the table, and stick to it.

Don’t sell Yourself, Be Yourself

Building on tip #2, our world is becoming more people generated than company generated. Which is to say, don’t underestimate the value of YOU, as a person, as an integral component of your business or company. The strongest leaders have started and/or worked in various companies, and their ability to reinvent themselves was because they could both separate and integrate themselves with the products and/or services being sold. What is your unique, personal value proposition? What do you bring to the table that few others can? Trust in your abilities and values, and be honest with yourself about some of your difficiencies. Also remember, sometimes people see more in you than you see in yourself (which is a whole other blog post)! Stay true to your mission and the companies mission, and do your best to build trust and integrity with your connections.

Perspective versus Planning

These conferences, if done right, give the conference goer the opportunity to learn something to take away a gem of insight, either through the conference programming or a via a new professional connection. You want to plan a few meetings while at the conference, sure, but you also want to be open to listen to everyone you come into contact with- from program associates to industry leaders. First, because you never know what conversation might convert to a business idea, or a lead. And second, because, if you have the right value system and you hold to the belief that everyone has value, and is worth investing in, you won’t just look for people that can help you. You will, hopefully, have something (knowledge, insight, business opportunities) to offer that’s of value to someone else.

by Bahiyah Robinson (bahiyah@appfrica.com)

British Airways has announced UnGrounded, the first-ever innovation lab in the sky designed to connect Silicon Valley’s most notable business leaders and creative minds for the purpose of tackling challenges that affect the next generation of global innovators.

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 7.51.54 AM

In some places in the world, an entire generation of brilliant minds don’t have the opportunities or partnerships they need. In other places, there are more opportunities than qualified people. It’s called the “global misalignment of talent.”

The British Airways team, in partnership with the United Nations and DNA (Decide Now Act), is hand-picking 100 of the most forward-thinking founders, CEOs, venture capitalists, and Silicon Valley game-changers, and putting them on a flight from San Francisco to London. On board, they’ll do what they do best—innovate and collaborate to find an effective solution to this growing global challenge. Once back on land, they’ll present their ideas to ranking delegates from the United Nations.

The participants have been divided into several teams that will focus on tackling different issues. Team Ground Control’s goal is to take on the question of how to grow STEM in emerging economies around the world. The members of Team Ground Control:

Penny Abeywardena, Associate Director, Clinton Global Initiative
Lisa Anderson, Founder & CEO, Werqit
Ian Brady, Co-Founder, Social Finance
Kimberlie Cerrone, CEO, Tiatros Inc.
Simon Franks, Chairman, Franks Family Foundation
Marguerite Gong Hancock, Associate Director, SPRIE, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Jon Gosier, Founder & CEO, Appfrica
Richard Irving, Managing Partner, Pond Venture Partners
Ramana Jonnala, CEO, Convergent IO Technologies Inc.
Mark Kamau, Director, iHub
Nadeem Kassam, CEO, BioBeats
Erica Kochi, Co-Lead, UNICEF Innovation
Michael Levin, User Experience Designer, Google
Duncan Logan, CEO, RocketSpace
Lesley Mansford, CEO, Razoo Global Corporation
Eoin McMillan, Founder, SF DEV LABS
Hugh Molotsi, VP Intuit Labs, Intuit
Raymond Nasr, Advisor, Innovation Endeavors
Craig Newmark, Founder & Customer Service Rep, Craigslist, Inc.
Jeniffer Padgett, Executive Director, Community Technology Alliance
Laura Pincus Hartman, Professor and Board Chair, DePaul University & School of Choice (Haiti)
Jason Putorti, Creative Director, Causes
William Senyo, CEO, SliceBiz
Derek Shanahan, VP Marketing, Playerize/SuperRewards
Peter Sheehan, Regional Sales Director, TeraMedica
Nicholas Skytland, Entrepreneur
Michael Smolens, Founder & Chairman, Dotsub
Roy Sosa, CEO, Rêv Worldwide, Inc.
Christopher Supko, Principal, The Supko Group
Eze Vidra, Head of Campus, Google

Team Altitude will be tacking the challenge of how to foster women in STEM positions. The members of that team:

Beau Bergeron, Communications Director, IDEO
Sue Black, Founder, The goto Foundation
Kimberly Bryant, Founder & Executive Director, Black Girls Code
Baldwin Cunnigham, CEO & Co-Founder, Sponsorfield
Brian Doll, VP of Marketing, Git Hub
Keren Douek, Director of Recruitment Solutions, Jobdreaming
Denzyl Feigelson, CEO, Next Step
Gary Fowlie, Head of Liaison Office to UN, International Telecommunication Union
Tom Friel, Board Chair, Silicon Vally Community Foundation
Lauren Hasson, iOS Software Engineer, Bottle Rocket Apps
Sejal Hathi, Co-Founder & Strategic Partnerships Director, Girltank
Kelly Hoey, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Women Innovate Mobile
William Hurley, Co-Founder, Chaotic Moon
Kay Koplovitz, Chairman, Koplovitz & Co LLC
Todd Lutwak, Partner, Andreessen Horowitz
Jonathan Meiri, CEO, Superfly
Glenn Morgan, Head of Service Transformation, British Airways
Nellie Morris, Co-Founder, Kantian Advisors
Jason Oshiokpekhai, Manager, Strategic Partnership (Startups & SMEs), American Airlines
Cindy Padnos, Founder & Managing Partner, Illuminate Ventures
Peter Ragone, President, Exiles, Inc.
Johanna Schlereth, Strategy – Foresight – Deutsche Telekom
Guy Schory, Head of New Ventures, eBay
Leor Stern, Head of Business Development, IFTTT
Daniel Walmsley, VP of Engineering, NationBuilder
Cassidy Williams, Student, Iowa State University
Will Young, Director of Zappos Labs/General Partner, Zappos/VegasTechFund
Mike Zuckerman, Culture Hacker, Innovation Endeavors

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 7.27.45 AM

Partnering for Global Impact™ (PGI) is a landmark initiative to facilitate transactions in impact investing and philanthropy through one-to-one meetings. The annual PGI conference is a unique forum that encourages participants to share knowledge, engage with issues, explore investment opportunities and partner with one another. Our goal is to create a dynamic community of leaders that will increase the capital directed to scalable and sustainable solutions for global impact.

PGI brings leading families, private investors and organizations together with practitioners and entrepreneurs to generate solutions for the world’s less fortunate. The event is designed to enable participants to learn about and pursue investment opportunities with both a social and a financial return. This strategy, known as “impact investing”, is one of the most significant new investment paradigms to emerge in recent times. Interest is growing exponentially as investors seek to achieve more meaningful returns in their portfolios and as philanthropists introduce business models into their activities.

Bahiyah Yasmeen Robinson

Bahiyah Yasmeen, Executive Director of Appfrica, will proudly represent our company at PGI 2013 in Lugano, Switzerland.

Appfrica provides technology solutions that address problems in three areas: lack of accessible data about African markets, lack of communications infrastructure in rural parts of the continent, and lack of access to capital for African technology ventures.

Bahiyah Yasmeen Robinson became involved in social entrepreneurship at a young age, partnering with a friend out of high school to run a fashion line that sourced and imported local fabrics from women’s cooperatives in Tanzania. She went on to explore the world of media and entertainment in order to obtain a well-rounded view of the media industry, eventually returning to her true passion: international affairs and social entrepreneurship.

Find out more about Appfrica at PGI2013 by clicking here.

The Ones That Fail

Jon Gosier —  January 30, 2013 — 4 Comments

It’s always great to look at one’s current or past successes, but what about the failures? Every entrepreneur (hell, every person person) has failed at something….even if it’s failing at being humble enough to admit it!

So here are 11 projects from the past five years that I tried to launch, either on my own or with colleagues, that failed for whatever reason.  I’ve also included the business lessons I learned from each project.

==

Afridex.net

Afridex (2008 to 2010)

The Idea: Back in 2008, there was little information about the various companies across the pan-African business sector. It also featured micro-format compatible ‘cards’ that businesses could place on their website. Definitely not one that had APIs or fancy design. So I set out to create one by modeling it after Tech Crunch’s CrunchBase. (Photo Above)

Why it failed: There was no clear business model (that I’d identified at the time) and I never came up with a strong enough data acquisition strategy – just because you say you’re going to crowdsource data doesn’t mean the crowd is going to volunteer to source the data for you!

Lesson: ‘Buzzwords’ like crowd-sourcing are usually based on a lot of hard work that is easy to overlook.

A.fricame.me (2010 to 2012)

The Idea: To create Techmeme-like destination site for information on all things tech, business, and policy related in Africa.

Why it failed: To make it sustainable, this type of project requires a lot of time on behalf of the founder. That said, I never cared about making this project profitable but I underestimated how much of my own time it would take to keep it functioning an relevant.

Lesson: Don’t take on side-projects without fully investigating how much time they will take away from your priamry proejcts.

Infostate of Africa 2009

Appfrica 1 (2008 to 2010)

The Idea: Appfrica began as a blog and long-form investigative research site all about what was going in Africa.  The goal was to be something akin to GigaOm Pro for the African audience with high-quality blog posts, market reports, infographics and the like.

Why it failed: This eventually worked in the form of other projects (Appfrica still does market research) but it takes a degree of critical mass in demand before pursuing a business model like this.  Doing it for no money was too time-consuming and draining to be sustainable. At one point I even hired a few writers, but because there was no revenue, that didn’t last long.

Lesson: Know your customer before you launch a product. And if possible, make every attempt to reach out to them to make sales as soon as (or even before) you start. This is now known as the ‘lean startup’ model, but I assure you that philosophy is as old as commerce itself.

Command Line

Appfrica 2 (2009 to 2011)

The Idea: In parallel to trying to make Appfrica a successful blog, I was also running a small developer shop in Kampala.  The idea was to follow the example of companies that earned their business from corporations in North America and Europe who wanted out-source to Asia.  Why not out-source to Africa?

Why it failed: While Appfrica had very high visibility, press, and market awareness at the time, scaling a consultancy is hard.

Lesson: Hire too many people too fast and client work may not come in fast enough to sustain your staff, resulting in your going bankrupt or having to lay off people.  If you fail to hire enough people quick enough, you’re stuck with an avalanche of projects, and no one to work on them.

Appfrica 3 (2009 to 2010)

The Idea: In ’09-’10 I wanted to find ways of offering capital to early stage African entrepreneurs. By leveraging profits from our consulting business, and partnering with experienced VCs, we could make investments, or at the very least introduce entrepreneurs to the investors.

Why it failed: Ultimately it came down to my lack of experience in the investment sector.

Lesson: Experience matters. I got better at it pretty quickly. Now Appfrica has found several ways of solving the problem of lack of access to early-stage financing.  One is through our competitive funding program Apps4Africa, the other is through our SeedCapitalAfrica fund.

images

FricaFact (2009)

The Idea: A Twitter account that tweeted one fact about Africa each day an and accompanying podcast that shared one interesting fact about Africa each episode.

Why it failed: It was actually quite popular, but my own attention for researching and producing the show is what waned.

Lesson: If you want it to last work with others.

LocaleMotive (2010 – 2011)

The Idea: An ambitious location-based edu-tech startup that aimed to use gamification and parent/peer interaction to improve the way study groups work in the U.S.

Why it failed: While this is still something that I’d like to see done, it was a capital intensive project to startup.  I would have needed an angel investor almost right out the gate.

Lesson: Seeking investment isn’t bad, but if even starting your idea depends upon the benevolence of an investor, you may never get the opportunity to do anything.
Status.ug Green

Status.ug (2009 to 2010)

The Idea: A feature-phone accessible mobile-social network that leveraged mobile money for social m-commerce in Uganda.

Why it failed: Actually, this was a by-product of the ‘Appfrica 3′ experiment in angel investing. Also, I think I loved the concept more than the entrepreneur did.

Lesson: A founder needs to be a founder first.  An investor needs to be an investor first.  If those stars are misaligned, expect the worst.

Wheragi (2009 to 2010)

The Idea: Location based note-dropping and discovery. Essentially like Foursquare, but using short-codes and natural language so that it could work on feature phones. Also toyed with the idea of doing an Augmented Reality version for development aid workers using smart phones.

Why it failed: I made it too complicated to build by trying to do everything at once. Also, such an ambitious project requires one to show that they can actually execute.

Lesson: No one can ever (convincingly) argue the viability of something that is already functioning and that already has traction.  This project had a lot of interest, but I should have started small and got the basics working before looking for funding in a major way.

WeworkforFree

WeWorkForFree.com (2006 to 2008)

The Idea: Create an online community of artists and graphic designers who sell or donate their art and services to help generate money for charity.

Why it failed: Where do I start? First, artists and designers are already an exploited bunch on the web.  Now someone was asking them to compete to give their stuff away for free?  Meanwhile our site was going to then auction work, not to make a profit but to donate to charities and do projects in developing countries.

Lesson: A business that means well is not necessarily a business. It needs to mean well, do good, and sustain itself. If you’ve read anything I’ve written after 2008 now you’ll understand partly why that message has become a personal mantra of mine.

10KSpace (2010)

The Idea: To create an African Incubation hub (like ccHub, I-Hub, or ActiveSpaces) for the 16 and under demographic.

Why it failed: Too dependent upon the parents ability to afford or appreciate aftercare education for their kids. In other words, the concept though interesting, did not consider the needs of the user (the students and their parents).

Lesson: Users first. Always.

==

The ultimate lesson in all of this is failure is only a permanent condition if you let it stop you, otherwise it’s a temporary ailment. Keep trying. The horizon only looks like like the edge of the earth, if you keep heading in that direction, I’m pretty sure you won’t fall off. ;-)

So when you email me or call me to ask about how projects MetaLayer, Appfrica, Apps4Africa and/or Abayima have all been so well received, please know that none of those would have been possible without the experience gained from failing so often and and not giving up.