I am usually very careful when using the word ‘startup’. The growing tech media in Nigeria have adopted the word ‘startup’ wholly as it is being used in Silicon Valley for every tech idea someone’s trying to execute. I am of the opinion that this generalisation isn’t fair for most ‘startups’ in Nigeria.
According to Wikipedia:
“a startup company or startup is a company, a partnership or temporary organisation designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model…A critical task in setting up a business is to conduct research in order to validate, assess and develop the ideas or business concepts in addition to opportunities to establish further and deeper understanding on the ideas or business concepts as well as their commercial potential”
You don’t do the above with water and air. You need some resources which include some tech skills (depending on what you’re trying to achieve), some cash and human resources (business guy or guys, mentors etc). While it is possible to start with an idea, usually ideas alone are not enough.
There are two categories of ‘startups’ in Nigeria.
The first group, you can actually call the startups. They deserve the sticker ‘startups’. There are actually only a handful of these in Nigeria as at today. They actually have some resources to throw around. They have a handful of developers and they can go to market very fast. Because they have some resources to play with, they launch startups serially, with all their startups running from the same pool of resources. These group know their numbers, they have business guys and can brandish graphs, stats and figures to prove their point. These group can actually afford to go from idea to execution and they represent the people behind the startup rhetorics/wave in Nigeria. But they are sadly very very few.
(PS: These guys are also domain hoppers. They have probably registered all conceivable .ng domain names)
The other group (startup-wannabes) consists of young, talented, ambitious and often inexperienced folks who have the raw ideas of changing the world. They are hip, skilled in one of two programming languages, they are often in touch with the latest in tech. They have broad knowledge of technologies but not deep enough to create something outstanding. Off course they sabi clone too.
These group however haven’t learnt the art of execution. They tend to start multiple projects without seeing any of them through. They jump from event to event, project to project, idea to idea, depending on which catches their fancy at any point in time. The folks in these group launch Betas that stay Beta for many months, and even years with no concrete plans for the next level.
Also, rather then wait it out with one good idea, they move on to other ideas without spending enough time to see their first idea/project gain traction. Unfortunately, they also call themselves startups. Putting themselves in the same category as the first group. This group should rather be called pre-startups. Some can graduate to startup level, while others just implode.
Enough said. I have 3 advice for the second group, the pre-startups. If you think you or your ‘startup’ fall in the second group, take note of these things. Unfortunately, folks with plenty tech skills tend to fall into the second group. So this advice is for me as well.
1. Starting and not finishing
I hardly visit Facebook these days, but when I do, I read through silicon Africa and Creative Tech groups. On these groups, I see a lot of hurriedly executed projects discussed that never gets finished. Some of them very good and others, not so good. A handful of them go under even after people have taken time to give them ideas on how to make their product or service better.
Its either the Facebook or twitter login is not working or a page outrightly says “under construction”. I tried one with an invalid email and it got the email registered. This is totally unfair on users who are trying to check out and possibly sign up for the service. I’d like to see more projects actually get completed. A nice sounding domain name is not enough, we need to learn to start finishing whatever it is we start guys.
2. Trying to do more than one thing
Another reason ’startups’ in the second group never make it to production is because they try to do many things. They try to add many assumed features which delays launch. I look forward to when startups wannabe in the second group focus on one thing and do it very well. Off course, it is natural to be afraid a competitor will clone your service and add your missing features. Yup, but then, competition is good and you’d better launch with 1 functionality and gain some users rather than not launching because you aren’t ready with the 65th feature.
3. Terrible UI
Common guys its 2014!. I have also noticed we have a pathetic UI problem. There are templates written all over the sites launched by these second group of startups. Arguably because of limited time and resources and not having a dedicated UI Engineer. Templates are not bad, it’s the art of beautifully integrating them into your own logic/functionality that is still missing.
If you are short of UI designers or you can’t afford one, frameworks like Twitter Bootstrap and Zurb foundation are out there to help you out. Please use them.