Pivot25-10 Lessons Learned

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What a week, what events, you can’t make these things up and only in Nairobi. Well that is me not Jeff Koinange. Seriously speaking it was one of the best weeks ever seen in Nairobi in the tech World. There is nothing I love to see more than Nairobi becoming the tech nerve center of Africa and eventually of the World in my lifetime.  In Africa we are not far if not yet there although my friends from down cape my want to differ.   I will not go into the details of what happened at the opening of mlab, or Afritech or Nokia Developers’ Happy Hours. This is about what I learned during Pivot25, the mother of them all. The reason why I love attending some of these tech events is not just to blog about them but what I gain from them. Priceless.   Before I go to those lessons let me do away with the announcements of who won what and which category.  The prize money of $5000 was awarded to the winners of each category, five in total.

Mobile Gaming, Entertainment and Utilities- Whive by Space Kenya kudos to John Karanja

Mobile Payments/Commerce: mShop by MTL Systems (Kenya)

Business and Enterprise: Uhasibu by PlusPeople

Government, Agriculture and Education: SchoolSMS by Tusqee Systems

Health: MedKenya by Shimba Technologies (Overal Winner)

MedKenya the overall winner will go to pitch at the Demo conference in California on top of $30k cash for being the best of the best. Congrats to the Shimba Technologies team.

Back to my experience from Pivot25:

In Business learn the art of speaking.

You can have the best idea or product ever but if you can’t sell it successfully in front of huge and complicated audience like the one witnessed at Pivot25, you are doomed. Ok doomed might not be the right word to use here but the truth is, guys with ideas or products which are not that good might just take the pie while you are left wondering what went wrong there.  If you can take time to Trace and watch my friend Mbugua Njihia Presenting MedKenya compared to others and you understand what I mean here. Some of the people pitching were plain boring, leaving some outspoken tweeps to complain about the quality of some Presenters:

@Juuchini: The guys makin the presentations on #pivot25 are killing the mood here. We are in need of more eloquent peeps in marketing

Again MedKenya was not the best idea in the house according to me but was the best presented idea during the whole event.  @Mbuguanjihia understood the art of pitching, knew what to say and how to say it. He had the numbers ready; you know the investors love that. They want to hear how you are going to make money and how much. Whether wrong or right that is neither here or there, just give them the numbers. If you asking people to give you $300k, tell them how you are going to spend it in the first place and how you will get it back to them. Yeeeaah nothing for Free here!

Lesson 1: Learn to speak your way to Success…

Localized Solutions Global Thinking

Africa Problems need Africans to think harder and come up with the solutions. Yes the world is now global village but there is no way someone sitting in New York would understand the pothole just in front of my door.  True to the sense most of the solutions provided did not disappoint.  I was in particular impressed with health category pitches and in the end very happy that MedKenya won.  We need a healthy working nation. Sick and dying population is of no use to anybody or to the betterment of the Africa future.

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Leave alone the winning team, some of the losers had some great ideas, great products and great solutions to the common health problems around.   I like in particular the M-Chanjo idea, which was described by somebody on twitter as a solution to solve ignorance in mothers using sms about vaccinations sent by the community health workers.

And creativity was not limited to the health sector alone. Look at the idea like Uhasibu , the cloud based accounting system for East Africa. On the face of it you think why build a local based accounting system while we have Quickbooks, Sage, Pastel and others, but the truth is , those accounting system were never meant for East Africa. They were created with the country of origin in mind, no local consideration of East Africa tax system and culture. At the end some of the ideas might look like clones but they are great clones for the local situation and environment.

Pivot25 brought out clearly the fact that many Kenyans and people in East Africa region at large are thinking and thinking hard.

Lesson2:  Think your way to a better future and the sky is the limit..

You have the means and you are better than what you think you are

This was a bit covered here by Kachwanya.com blogger Muthoni Maingi (@NonieMG).  It Is like everyone is looking for funding and forgetting the fact that all you need in business are clients which you can satisfy.  We saw some ideas being launched or going live at Pivot25 . My question is who do you expect to fund idea which has never been tested on the ground and you are not sure whether even one person will buy  the product or service. Some presentations were asking for six figures funding but at the same time they can’t clearly state how they are going to make money  after that.   The keen watchers would have realized that some presentations like Uhasibu were not specifically looking for funding but partners. They already have some funds to move to next level.   I know they won and that might make it look like to whom much has been given much is added. Yeah, the idea of you have to have money to be added more or the rich get richer while the poor kaa ngumu.  Naaaah. World over the investors, Vcs will never throw out their money to ideas or people and not sure how they will get their money back.

I like what Richard Bell said. We are focusing too much on Silicon Valley which is not helpful at all. Punch line from Richard “Who cares about Silicon Valley? When they wake up let them come and pay the premium”

Concentrate in getting customers or clients and for funding look for it from your friends and family members. Surely if you believe idea that much someone among them might do too. Plus if you can’t convince those close to you to buy into your idea, then who else can you convince?

And then there are quack vcs..People who will waste your time for months , only for you to realize that they have no money.. Cough cough cough not all people from abroad are loaded as many people believe them to be….

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Lesson3: Who cares about Silicon Valley?

Women in tech are smart and Beautiful

The fireside chat about the role of women in ICT generated probably the most heated debate of the whole event. The question asked and not only in Kenya is why do women shy away from tech stuffs? If you are guy you have to tread carefully on this one else you come out as patronizing which women don’t like . What came out clearly is that women do not want some sort of quota system or preferential treatment due to their gender. They want to go through the same front door, fight their way up the ladder. And  when you look at the panel of  Juliana Rotich,  Isis Nyongo, Agatha Gikunda, Njeri Riunge you know what we are talking about here. They are smart and capable, and they have earned their positions.

I liked the points raised by Linet Kwamboka popularly known as @g33kmate. According to her the problem with women is that they keep on thinking they are women. When face with problems the first thought in their minds is ooooh I am a woman instead of looking straight away for the solutions.

Punch line from Linet “No quota system..no double standards, women should stop thinking that they are women ..equal opportunities for all”

Lesson4: My daughter will have to be a techie..mmmmh I hope so

You need to keep them pay them well

So most companies are losing techies or coders almost in daily basis and they are wondering what is wrong! This one left me shaking my head. The reason why these people are leaving is quite obvious. The joke going around among the coders and developers in Kenya is that they are considered Ksh.40K products. Yeah that is their standard salary. Really and you expect them to stay while out there the most bad or scratched CMS website can be created for around that within one day?

You can’t be paying these people that badly and expect them to stay. For real they would either flee to large corporate like Safaricom, Nokia or start their own freelancing companies. It is the reason why you find so many people just from colleges running around with empty companies as CEOs or Directors. The reality is these guys need to learn their trade in some established companies before they go there to start something with no idea how to run it.

Lesson5: Coders and techies worth much much more

Scramble for incubation Spaces in Nairobi

The word scramble with its historical meaning as far as Africa is concern might scare most people but probably I am using it in the wrong place. This is one of the best developments taking place in Kenya at the moment.  Most of companies which we popularly call startups in Kenya are in their earliest stages of growth. Actually some of them are at the idea stages and need to be on the ground to test the waters. The typical investors and VCs will most likely not look at those companies twice. What are needed in Kenya at the moment are the angel investors and incubation spaces.

That why I was happy about the launch of mlab, and also to learn of the incubation spaces being worked on by Kamal of Craft Silicon, Njeri Riunge of Ignite Consulting , the Equity Bank and of course by the Government.

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Lesson6: My dream of Nairobi being the leading tech nerve center in the World might be becoming a reality sooner than I had expected

Move away from the current system to interoperabile payment system

Ideally, the current payment system favors telcos and with that some sort of cartel or monopoly being created. They control the products, payment, and the channels. In other words they control everything and there is no room for the outsiders.   That is the reason why many developers have been crying about MPESA API for very long time now. Nobody has been listening to them.  People do not need to know whether the payment is from Mpesa or Airtel money or Bank. They just need to know from whom, as in the person and that is all.

As we have seen with Safaricom Mpesa, they are not going to open it up anytime soon. So the Government needs to do something on this, in order to spur more growth and creativity on the mobile payment industry.   The need for interoperable payment system came from John Staley of Equity  Bank. For a long time developers have been in forefront for this, but now even a company like Equity which has been doing business with almost all telcos in partnership arrangements has seen the light.

Lesson7: Interoperabile is hard word to pronounce but highly necessary in Kenya mobile payment industry.

Msomething..meverything..mnothing…mloo, mwashrooms..mkachwanya

Common guys naming everything to do with mobile “msomething”  is getting boring. Seriously it does not have to be msomething. Just get a unique name, market it and people will warm up to it if it provides them with value. Those who grew up during the peak of ecommerce, did not hear everything being named “esomething”   Yes we know Mpesa worked but really?

Lesson8: The death of creativity when come to product or service naming or branding

Established vs Real startups

I know it is might not make sense but if every year you put Mbugua Njihia to present vs University students, we can always tell who will win that contest. As I have mentioned up, which of course should be taken into account ,winning is based on how best you market your ideas to the judges. But again we have the university students vs the seasoned presenters , by some reasonable standards that might not  be thaaaat fair. One of the questions  asked during the final fireside chat panel discussion was how to bring up the next generation of entrepreneurs. That can never happen unless there is a room for the new guys in the market to gain their grounds, without being boxed off balance by the established entrepreneurs.

Some positivity from the great roomthinker on twitter:

@roomthinker: Suggestion for the next #Pivot25 – split the established companies from the startups to level the playing field

Lesson9 : My favorite presenter was the most nervous girl in the room, but I knew she had no chance of winning. Don’t give up Mukeli Matei

World Class Event

Pivot25 was superbly organized event, the best I have seen around.  Great speakers, great ideas, great attendance , great MC… Big thanks to @whiteafrica @jaybhalla

Lesson10: That is how to organize an event

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