Thursday, 11 October 2012

Price Arbitrage: the wrong way round

It's not for the first time I notice a difference between prices for Tech in Nigeria and the UK. But usually it's high cost England that's MORE expensive than Nija, that has to import everything and does so to a large extent from the former imperialists.

So imagine my surprise when I found while trying to buy a phone recently that it was actually cheaper (GBP 388) to buy it through a local website than buying it both in LHR duty free (cost: GBP 480) and on (GBP420). Incredible. I wouldn't usually write about this but to me it's a sign of something bigger. 
Phone on
Phone on
Price converted

The website that ended up selling the phone to me for Madam to use (although I doubt she has), ended up being Jumina the Nigerian arm of the German based Rocket Internet company, which prides itself on efficiency of executing internet start ups in difficult environments. They have over 200 now, most of them with similar business models that were originally copied from prominent Western examples (ebay clone, Amazon clone, stuff like that). 

What that shows me is that the path to improvement is not necessarily as long as people think. What's required is standard improvements in procedures that increase efficiency and raise the overall bar. The required initiative doesn't have to come from abroad, in fact what I've seen in the past few weeks in terms of local entrepreneurship at places such as the CCHub and amongst Angel funding communities makes me cautiously optimistic that we're at the start of a very exciting wave for tech startups in Nigeria.

Jumina meanwhile hasn't proved its staying power yet but it's a glimpse of the potential that's coming this way.

On being asked about Technology and Education

A friend recently asked me to send over some links about technology and education following the recent presentation I made on my experience at Singularity. The thought is - how can tech change education in Nigeria. The experience suggests its not hardware and the most exciting innovations are coming from Khan & Co. Thought it might be of interest to readers here:

  • Huge innovation in education that we didn't talk about. In some US schools teachers now only supervise homework during school hours, and at home the kids watch the school classes from online sites such as Khan Academy. These kind of resources have true leapfrog potential as they allow anybody in the world to access the same content. 
  • Of course you know about the failed One Laptop Per Child initiative (TED video)
  • The founder of this project came to speak to us. I thought the approach very interesting - creating a flexible learning path for students using already available content (there's so much out there already!)
  • HacKidemia - playful technology workshops for kids (get em early). We're bringing a temporary set of workshops to Nigeria around Maker Faire but will be looking to make this permanent there after (need funding/space - let us know if you can help!)
  • Maker Faire Africa, which will highlight African tech ingenuity in Lagos for the first time
  • Most technology transfer is done through incubators/accelerators and the entrepreneurs they raise. Example of an incubator is CCHub in Yaba.
  • There's a small but growing movement of tech angel investors in Nigeria. Nurturing entrepreneurs by providing support and finance is probably the most effective way to get local entrepreneurs to develop or import winning technologies. Ask me for more details if you wish.

Digesting Singularity

It's been a couple of months since I left my new home. Singularity was an amazing, life changing experience - one I wish for everybody alive.

In digesting what I've seen and heard a parting piece of advice from our GSP coordinator, David Roberts, stuck in my head.
"on arriving," he wrote "focus all your attention to understand their summer experience -- and resist the temptation to arrive home, bust in the door, and start first talking about how amazing YOUR summer was -- without them"
So I did, or rather tried to do. As a result I'm only just trying to publicly digest what I've gone through. My first attempt last night was targeted at some wonderful friends we meet with on Wednesday's to discuss things people are involved in. The presentation* was a partial success - I forgot how scared people (including me) are when they first hear about these innovations. So my plan - to make up for Singularity's biggest flaw, and to explore how these great new technologies can be applied to where they are needed most, didn't really work out. Instead we spent most of the time digesting what has happened.

Maybe that's where it's at though now. Shows what a seminal experience Singularity was that now, 2 months later, i still have no clue how to talk about it.

*(watch out, its meant for private consumption so I haven't sorted out the copyright issues)

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Singularity University

13 Days to go! Singularity University's Graduate Summer Programme is just around the corner. 3 months of hanging out with brainy kids, listening to even brainier inventors, entrepreneurs and decision makers, and putting together brain-boggling businesses that will impact 1 billion people in 10 years.

I've never been much of a Techy, but my experience here in Nigeria and in India have shown me that only technology innovations can deliver us the weapons to win the "war against poverty". How corny, how true. Our investment in Pagatech, that is bringing untold financial services to 100,000 people in just 8 months, would not have been possible with mobile phones. In Nigeria, mobile phones brought communication and, more importantly, information to 96 million handsets in less than 10 years. Before that there were less than 300,000 fixed lines and hardly anybody could ever get a dial tone.

Information leads to knowledge, knowledge opens new opportunities and, by extension, wealth. But vital ingredients are missing. Enablers like power and infrastructure for instance, to convert these opportunities into wealth. The leapfrog technologies required to make a real difference to these are different from many innovations in health, microfinance and education that are using existing technologies (mobile phones) as a channel to deliver better services. Enablers need big thinking and huge changes in technology and yet stay relevant and realistic. It's a tall order, but one that Singularity has the promise to scale if any.

Worst case I come back to investing in Africa in 4 months with a more open mind to what technology can do. Or I start the next MTN for power. Who knows? I'll be sharing my journey and finding ways to make it yours here so stay tuned!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Peju Alatise - Material Witness

Miss this at your peril!

Monday, 16 January 2012

It's not over

Today the government unilaterally announced a partial revocation of its previous fuel subsidy removal, as well as a few nominal concessions to tidying up government. It then put soldiers on the street to make sure nobody protested, shot in the air and fired teargas at protesters to keep them quiet, and temporarily closed down the CNN and BBC offices in Lagos. It had already paid off PENGASSAN, the oil union, not to go on strike as it had previously announced. The general labour unions first suspended street protests and then the strike in a climb down that did not represent the protesters feelings.

Though the totalitarian methods used surprised many, including governors, an ending with unfinished business was to be expected. The protests were of a scale never previously seen under a non-military government, and the awakening of a new, active, young, technologically savvy, middle class protesting group is likely the most important outcome. Discussions were ongoing about how this momentum could be preserved and used in the days ahead, right up to the next general election. There is certainly a lot for this group and others to work towards: Less corruption, better distribution of oil wealth, infrastructure investments, reduced government costs, better representation and reduced costs of living to name but a few. Groups like EIE and Save Nigeria are already uniquely positioned to carry on the protest movement, but others will have to be born to channel the energy.

Importantly the protest needs success: None of the demands expressed in the video below have been achieved. Citizens will now be watching with new found confidence whether the promises governments makes are implemented and sufficient. If our reforming instincts are met with even some success, then the protesters of today will be uniquely positioned to lead change through the 2015 elections.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A new dawn?

I'm way behind on this one, I have to apologize. In part I've been holding back, observing: This is not my battle no matter how much I support it. In part I am as surprised by the intensity of the battle as the politicians clearly are: The military got a pay rise, 24 hourcurfews are in place, salaries are being withdrawn for striking workers, some might even face the sack - the People in Power are worried: This no longer looks like a controlled "saving face" union action we had thought it to be.

The People in Power might well be worried. The subsidy removal is just the tip of a very big iceberg that has been growing for the last 50 years, and has only grown more rapidly since military rule ended. I hesitate to speak about the advent of democracy, because you can't really call it that if those elected into power fail to represent the people that did so. The social contract that ties government to tax paying citizens has long since vanished, washed away by oil money. It has left the life of the 99% a daily, basic, violent struggle for survival. 

Others can and have more eloquently described the ongoing battle for a better Nigeria. But in the face of the sacrifices some people have made for this cause I cannot be silent. While I seek more effective ways to support the protest, I have to at least try to make my voice heard and highlight others. Meanwhile I weep for every soul lost to the defense of their basic rights. The blatant murder of civilians, and the collective shrug which seems to have followed, is the real tragedy of this saga. 

What now? If all we come away with from this is a reduction in fuel prices, then the protesters will have lost. The real target is the leadership rot that got the country into this mess in the first place: 'We are not broke', say the protesters, paraphrasing the finance ministers's justification of the subsidy removal, 'we are mismanaged'. They demand a slashing of exorbitant government wages (MP's reportedly earn 12 TIMES what their highest paid European counterparts, the Italians, earn), an analysis of where the money's gone and punishments for those driving and those benefiting from the emptying of state coffers, and, more than anything, a clear and decisive plan to getting basic services up and running pronto.

But how is this to happen? Right now it's not clear: Unions are said to be paid off by governments, the Twitter elite can't carry the masses, and the intellectuals get caught up in "grammar". There doesn’t even seem to be a collective manifesto of demands, though some try. There is currently no uniting force, and so I fear the governments hold strategy will work in the end: Things will peter out for lack of leadership, in the face of adversity, attention diverted by another disaster, and driven by the sheer necessity to get back to work, to earn a few cents, to get some food. But maybe not, maybe the countries rightly enraged citizens can transform some of that anger into real change. Inspired by the Arab Spring, goaded by the ostentatious wealth that surrounds them, provoked by the violence and fear they encounter every day, maybe Nigerian’s can craft a better future for themselves. I certainly hope so. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


I started posting in the Our Lagos series only a month or so back, but the feedback has been phenomenal. There's clearly demand for positive stories coming out of Lagos. And yet, I'm not the only one living on the Lagos bright side. Thus, I've decided to move Our Lagos stories to a different website ( and open it up to other contributors. If you or anybody you know wants to contribute, just hit me up. In the meantime I've  removed the relevant posts from this blog and will continue to post intermittently on other interesting stuff I've come across.

Hope you enjoy it.