For a while now I’ve been trying to get to grips with the South African (and larger African) technology space. I’ve been trying to understand what makes us what we are and/or what differentiates us from other technology spaces around the globe, good or bad.
Having just returned from a trip to Lagos, Nigeria I think I’ve discovered one of the problems as well as something I’m proud of that I’ve been doing for years.
One of the major problems as I see it right now in the African and South African startup scenes is that we believe that for one to succeed another must fail. I hate this approach to community. In fact, this is not community. This is destructive, short-sighted and not sustainable.
Let me explain. When you hear of a South African company raising money or selling their business, is your first thought congratulatory or bitterness/jealousy? I’m willing to bet that many (if not most) startups feel a sense of jealousy and get that, “Why not me?” feeling. This is going to crush our startup community.
The way I see it, there really is only one way to succeed in a community of startups; We need to start supporting each other and understanding that one success is good for the community. One exit, one investment, one good business deal or case study is good for everyone. Someone doesn’t need to fail for you to succeed. That’s just not the way it works. You can succeed and I can succeed. I can fail, and with your support come back and succeed again. There doesn’t have to be a loser being kicked while he or she is down.
Something I pride myself in doing is connecting people that I think will work well together, make money together or at the very least like one another. My trip to Lagos last week was filled with anxiety and questions about the location, the people, my safety, the industry and a whole lot of other things.
Landing in Lagos I was given the royal treatment by an old friend and ex-business associate and I couldn’t really understand why. I was grateful for the treatment as it made my first trip to Lagos a good one but I was curious about the red carpet.
So I asked.
The answer completely stunned me. An introduction I had made almost 18 months ago had ended up in a great business deal with long-term implications for my friends business. I had forgotten about the introduction but he had not.
Therein lies my message. Sometimes it’s best to connect without asking for anything in return. Business, relationships and success are all built over years and not months. Think about the years and do what is decent. Connect people and connect businesses that you thing will work well together. There is massive potential in Africa and we need to rally together to make it work.