Slides from my talk at Yale University to current Fellows of the White House’s Young African Leaders Initiative.
Archives For Culture
Appfrica Founder Jon Gosier will be giving a guest lecture at Yale University on June 25th, 2014. The talk, entitled “Investments in African Entrepreneurship: Managing Risk and Failure” will introduce attendees to opportunities for investing in Africa’s growing ecosystem and how to actively mentor or advise companies through various ups and downs…what investor Fred Wilson calls ‘the trough of sorrow’.
The talk is for students, Yale World Fellows, Yale Washington Fellows, and 25 delegates of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) who are at Yale for a 6 week program.
Date – June 25th, 2014
Time – 10:00am to 12:00pm EST
Location – Yale School of Management, Nooyi Classroom 2230, Edward P. Evans Hall, Yale School of Management (165 Whitney Avenue)
Website – http://worldfellows.yale.edu/YALI/week2#25
The following post was originally written by Appfrica’s own Ahmed Maawy. The thoughts and best wishes are with him and our other friends in Kenya in these trying times.
Most times being a Kenyan makes me proud. Proud of our capabilities, proud of our achievements as a nation, proud to be part of a people who understand that they hold the keys to their own success.
I write this after the crisis that has found us recently with the attacks at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi. Why do moments like these make me super proud?
Kenyans for Kenya
“The “Kenyans for Kenya” initiative is a fundraiser that was started in July 2011 by corporate leaders and the Red Cross in response to media reports of famine and deaths from starvation in Turkana District.” – Wikipedia
Back in 2011 the Turkana District faced a huge famine situation. Kenyans were requested to donate to help famine victims in Turkana, and in a joint demonstration of unity and solidarity for the people of Turkana, donate we did. And we saved lives.
Westgate Rescue Efforts, Blood, and Monetary Donations
Following the terrible events at Westgate, it is so pleasing to see yet again how Kenyans united, stood together, laid a helping hand, donated blood, and donated money (in a similar fashion as Kenyans for Kenya) to again prove to the world how we are splendid people who can stand on our two feet and solve our own problems.
Amidst all the issues we face as a country, we stand united in times of need. #WeAreOne.
A Bright Future Ahead of Us
Over the past couple of months, I have been personally involved in setting up a framework for the next generation of technology awareness and capacity in Mombasa as well as the Kenyan Coast. In Mombasa in particular I was key in the formation of the Mombasa Tech Community. The just concluded NaiLab hackathon demonstrated that we were getting things right in Mombasa.
The events that have happened in Kenya (not only one, but twice) go to prove that we hold the keys to solving the problems we face.
The title of the upcoming WikiLeaks biopic THE FIFTH ESTATE invokes the words of French philosopher Montesquieu who left us the concept of the Three Estates of the Realm (Church, Citizens, and The Government). Essentially the three exist to check the power of the others. Edmund Burke argued the Press makes up a Fourth Estate (a check on the aforementioned three). Later William Dutton argued that a Fifth Estate are not just the users of transmedia but all those connected through the internet and who use it to take action. Great recent examples of this ‘Fifth Estate’ at work are WikiLeaks, but also those who opposed SOPA in the U.S., communities like Global Voices, and my former colleagues at Ushahidi and the greater Crisis Mapping community.
In Africa these connections look very different than they do in North America and Europe. The first four estates are roughly the same: The Church, Citizens, The Government, and The Press. But its hard for me to see how those the connections relevant to developed countries, are always relevant to those in developing countries. The needs are different. What it means to accomplish significant change is very different.
So, I argue that Africa isn’t a place, but a space — a state of mind that exists in the diaspora, those who live there, and others connected beyond borders.
The above image was created by Kai Krause to represent the mind-boggling scale of the physical size of Africa. However, I like it because to me it represents how, even when removed and living in other parts of the world, Africans are still the stewards of Africa.
I personally do not see the distinction between people who are African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Kenyan, Uganda, whatever. There only those who take responsibility for participating in the development of the continent and those who don’t. Focusing on to narrowly on where you’re from or where you’re physically at misses the point and further excludes you from a broader community. This difference in ‘connection’ matters, especially when you look at the untapped wealth the African diaspora holds around the world.
So I like to think that the African diaspora, is the real Fifth Estate of Africa. They have the money, the political sway, the mobility, and personal security that allows them to truly affect change in Africa. They aren’t connected specifically through technology (though many are) but mostly through heritage and community. The question is whether or not the Diaspora will exercise this power or not.
Think of it like this. Africa has vast quantities of land, minerals, solar energy, wildlife and agriculture that has been commoditized to its own exclusion and detriment. The only thing left to be exploited is its own agency and human capital. Its no wonder then that ‘The Diaspora’ is now who development agencies are turning to as a resource to fund projects and programatic work. Same story but hopefully with a different ending.
You can view the slides below or download them here.
This presentation was given at the Kongossa Web Series 2013 in Montreal, Canada. thanks for inviting me!
On Tuesday August 6th, 2013 we were honored to host a pre-screening of our documentary THE CHEETAH CODE at the social impact/civic hack space the OpenGov Hub!
THE CHEETAH CODE is a web series and forthcoming documentary featuring interviews with the creative entrepreneurs and technologists who are changing the face of business in Africa. ‘Inside DEMO Africa’ is an excerpt of the film that was shown at the screening, it chronicles entrepreneurs from across the African continent as they arrive at DEMO Africa 2012 to pitch investors and network. You can watch this excerpt in its entirety on Vimeo.
Jon Gosier (Founder of Appfrica & Director of THE CHEETAH CODE) with Kaushal Jhalla (World Bank Innovation Team)
Christina Crawley welcomes guests to the OpenGov Hub.
Reggie Showers of Urban Youth having a conversation.
Thomas Genton of the United States Department of State watching himself on screen.
Many thanks to Wayan Vota of Kurante who helped us get set up for the event.
Guests chatting before the screening.
Appfrica is excited to be participating in the United Nation’s Innovation Fair next week in Geneva, Switzerland.
The United Nations will organize an Innovation Fair during the Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) at the High-level segment of the annual substantive session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which will be devoted to “Science, technology and innovation (STI), and the potential of culture, for promoting sustainable development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)”. The primary objective of the Fair is to showcase innovative practices, approaches and projects in science, technology, innovation and culture from around the world.
Objectives of the Fair
The Innovation Fair will contribute to the objectives of the 2013 AMR, in particular, by:
- Sharing innovative products and projects in the area of STI and culture for promoting global and sustainable development;
- Demonstrating the strong links between STI and the potential of culture for promoting sustainable development and achieving the MDGs;
- Encouraging interaction among participants taking part in the Fair and Member States, which could possibly lead to the replication and scaling up of successful projects and encourage the creation of partnerships; and
- Promoting broad multi-stakeholder engagement in the work of the Council.
I was extremely humbled to be invited and proud to participate in the British Airways Ungrounded flight from SFO to LHR. It was certainly the craziest 11 hours I’ve ever spent above the Atlantic Ocean.
The UnGrounded concept began as a partnership between the United Kingdom Trade and Investment council, British Airways, the G8 Summit and IDEO. The goal was to spend the 11 hour flight brainstorming about how to encourage the pursuit of STEM careers in emerging markets. Obviously, quite relevant to Appfrica given our role in accelerating the growth of Africa’s technology sector.
The participants literally spent the entire 11 hour flight running up and down the plane, scribbling down their ideas on how to address increasing women participation in STEM careers, STEM in emerging markets, Western companies and their relationship with talent in emerging markets, and STEM in education. The end result was around 20 ideas for companies and projects that can address these issues that were presented to attendees at the G8 Summit.
How did the UnGrounded flight come about?
Participants were nominated by global technology leaders in both Silicon Valley and London, with primary input from the UnGrounded advisory board. The advisory board is made up of senior representation from RocketSpace, Silicon Valley Bank, Andreessen Horowitz, Stanford University and Innovation Endeavors. All participants have been hand-selected to participate based on their experience and passion for driving the acceleration of innovation within developed and emerging communities across the world.
Upon landing, the ideas and solutions created on the flight were received by the United Nations ITU Secretary General at the DNA Summit, in association with the G8 Innovation Conference, in London.
You can find out more at ungroundedthinking.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.
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
This quote from acclaimed film Director and Producer Steven Soderbergh struck me as immensely applicable to the fields of entrepreneurship and social impact.
The quote recalls another, by John Galsworthy, “Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem.”
Passion without pragmatism is often ineffective…at worse reckless. We may all have our ideas on how things should work, but those who do successfully change things do work do so by embracing things that an idealist cannot, because by definition to an idealist compromise represents a form of defeat.
The lesson here for entrepreneurs (social or otherwise) is that it’s important to check your own ego when attempting to confront the challenges before you. Deconstruct your assumptions, validate your own opinions, and be willing to consider that at some point on your journey you’ve been wrong and that you’ll likely be wrong again.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.