This evening (21/04/2017), i went to meetup with Ivan Mworozi, Co-founder of Akiba, at Outbox Hub. This highly anticipated meeting has been pending for a while ever since Ivan returned from Geneva where he had gone to represent Akiba and Uganda at the Seedstars World Summit- the winners of the 2016 Seedstars Kampala edition.
The main intention was to feature Akiba in the follow-up section of SDA. This is a section where we get startups and contributors to the Ugandan startup ecosystem to account for any "hand" or help they've had in the past. So this was Akiba's time to!
Uganda at the #SeedstarsSummit repped by @soloopio from Outbox & Ivan from Akiba. Akiba won the 2016 @Seedstars Kampala Credit: @OutboxHub pic.twitter.com/zHWnYODNtP
— SDA (@DigestAfrica) April 5, 2017
As we started talking, the conversation slowly drifted away from Akiba to the fintech climate in Uganda - a story of its own - and later the entire Ugandan startup ecosystem, which i am to focus on. First of all, we don't have an ecosystem - if its there, then its at conception stage.
Startups in Uganda operate under some of the harshest environments in the world. This means running a startup in this country isn't for the fainthearted. Even the mightiest have fallen off the wagon. I mean we have all heard those stories of what seemed like a successful startup founder abandoning their startup and instead decide to take up a corporate job.
They are not to blame in most cases, because the fire is too hot in entrepreneurship. Its even hotter for those who are in it for short term success or the limelight.
You see, being an entrepreneur in Uganda is already hard yet our families and friends won't also let it be any easier. We are in a society that is accustomed to fast results in everything we do. I mean just look at how people drive - everyone wants to be ahead of the one ahead of them in the traffic jam.
Yet this is different when it comes to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship in itself represents patience and discipline. But take a good look around you, a keen look. Most of the people are struggling to pay off bills, loans, looking for a job or something related to that. This has created a sense of urgency in everything we do. Everyone needs the money now or the bank takes their car, they need the money now else they won't eat lunch, they need the money now else they won't be able to go for the job interview.
So when one decides to become an entrepreneur, then they are not normal. They're not fitting into the society of urgency anymore. They are no-longer "cool" simply because they're willing to bet today for a better tomorrow.
That's when those annoying questions, mostly of ridicule, start coming up when you arrive at parties where former classmates or family members are driving or have something "better" like a plot of land to show off. In fact, very few will try to understand when you tell them that you're working on something that'll bring in money 5-10 years from today. All they're interested in hearing about is what you have on-ground.
But, honestly, you can not blame such people. Probably if we were in their shoes we would think the same. Plus, no one likes associating with "failures". That's why a person who has a boda boda bringing in UGX. 15,000 per day will have a bigger say in such conversations compared to a startup founder whose idea/product might scale across the continent in the 5 or more years they're not sure about. The reason is simple, the other guy who owns a boda boda has something to make reference to.
So, as a startup founder in Uganda, what do you reference to? We need success stories, something that can make people shut up. They say, nothing shuts people up more than success.
[caption id="attachment_950" align="aligncenter" width="595"] Ugandan Youths checking out results at one of the betting Centers in Kampala[/caption]
You know why youths in Sub-saharan Africa spend most of their time on betting? Because there are success stories to reference to. At least i have witnessed someone win UGX 65,000,000 in betting - just three years ago. But i haven't witnessed a Ugandan startup founder sell it for anything close to that.
Do we ever ask ourselves why youths keep going back to betting? Because they have seen results. They have seen their peers win millions but have never seen anyone they know sell their startup or scale it across the continent. The closest they come to seeing entrepreneurs or startup founders get money is the stories they read online of people over 10,000 miles away in Silicon Valley, Berlin, London, Israel and many more.
All they're used to when it comes to Uganda is someone being featured on BBC, CNN or NTV as a promising young entrepreneur and then a few years down the road both the entrepreneur and their product can never be traced.
How do we expect people to trust us with their money or any form of support when there is no history of success at all? We badly need something to show off whenever someone pauses such a question. Just imagine you woke up and the headline for the Daily Monitor or New Vision is "Ugandan startup founder makes $10,000,000 after buy out". How many people will be now excited to tap into the next startup to be bought?
This will make people pay attention! People will then listen when someone pitched to them an idea, parents will pay attention when their kids told them their desire to become entrepreneurs. I know i am asking for a lot from the entrepreneurs, because i know you're already giving in a lot despite the conditions under which you're operating, but that's the reason you chose this path.
As an upcoming ecosystem, we now have an obligation of pulling our time, money, expertise and each and every resource we can to ensure we at least register a success story. I care don't who it will be, but we badly need it to shut up all the naysayers. Because you know what they say, SUCCESS SHUTS UP THE CRITICS. Until then, we should put up with the ridicule and anything all those outside the entrepreneurship sphere have to say.