santa in there for naija

Are Start-up Ideas mostly born in December?

Most Diaspora Nigerians after being removed from the place they love and yearn for after months or years, suddenly have a veil lifted from their eyes once they are reunited with their childhood environs. After the jetlag effect has been overcome and the return to normalcy begins to set in, a rush of ideas, frustrations and light bulb moments occur. Why isn’t this available? Why isn’t that available?

For the savvy business mind, this is the moment to identify the gap in services or products that are non-existent that you can turn into a great startup idea. Most times, we turn to anyone within the immediate setting to poll or inquire about this new found idea. It often ends with disappointing responses like, it won’t work! Nigerian’s won’t use it or where do you think you are?

Be relentless, take a scratch pad or note and begin expanding your ideas/thoughts. Research existing competition or alternatives to the idea you possess and begin a market analysis to exhaust any issues/risks that could make it non-viable.

I once found myself stuck in traffic in a Port Harcourt city cab and began asking the driver what he felt about purchasing a taximeter that billed customers by the hour. We talked about how that could help minimize loss in revenue when the distance travelled by the passenger exceeds the hourly surcharge thus eliminating profitability. We also talked about roadside rescue where you pay N12,000 naira annually and you can get up to 5 non paid service assistance ranging from flat tyre replacements, vehicle towing up to 20km and jumping of your car batteries 24hours a day. We argued about the pros, risks and affordability to low income Nigerians and at the end of a 2 hour ride that should have taken 20mins, we both agreed if introduced it could increase profitability and improve the quality of life for many with the number of new employment opportunities.

Many diaspora Nigerians have conditioned themselves to the efficiency, reliability and comfort of services offered to them in host countries, but does the will to introduce these services in their home country exist? I will argue that it does, however challenges with security, infrastructure and overall market reactions are huge barriers. In an economy where small and large businesses fail with little or no incentives in recouping losses through the existing tax laws, it proves challenging to encourage individuals to introduce services and products that are not familiar to a particular market.

Entrepreneurs are risks takers and in a country like Nigeria that lacks many services and products, it will be asinine for anyone with capital and great startup ideas to subscribe to fear. Loans and capital infusion by banks, venture capitalist or angel investors are very uncommon, so it’s also easy to understand why individuals used to these funding sources can easily point these out as excuses for not attempting startups. I can proudly say every diaspora Nigerian is a small business owner of some sort either through selling electronics, phones, luxury goods, other goods and shipping a car or two for sale.

If the ease of travelling into the country and selling goods at prices with over 400% profit on the average is not so difficult, then why the resistance to startups? Could it be that we all seek short term profitability with low risks or simply want to be removed from the day-to-day operations of steering a startup business towards long term profitability? I would say the latter is the number one reason why most Diasporas are not interested. FYI most Nigerians favour short term profitability over other options.

On a short visit during Christmas or the festive season, it is quite easy to feel removed because you are in a temporary state of mind. After spending over 3months in Nigeria cumulatively, I understood the need to convert my idea into a startup to contribute to the development of my beloved country. The ability to book a hotel room from my base in the U.S or read gossips online was not the idea of someone who came for a 3-week visit during Christmas and never returned but by someone with the same level of fear in starting a business they had no experience with willing to take the risk and applying sound business judgments.

Another reason could be that a few of my country men feel elevated when amongst individuals with less economic power. Irrespective of the age difference, a desired expectation in the form of money or other favours could be easily sought from diaspora/overseas resident and many have become accustomed to this being the treatment they ought to receive while visiting.

I feel a sense of pride, elation and satisfaction when I wake up in the morning knowing that my start up business is the source of hope and accomplishment for young talented graduates. During previous visits as a young adult enrolled in an undergraduate program, I always felt obliged to buy goodies for friends, relatives and neighbours, knowing fully well everyone’s expectations of a returnee during Christmas or the holidays. At the time, I always felt embarrassed being addressed as “Bros” even by strangers who I knew where my dad’s age, an awkward feeling leaving me often confused.

How about being addressed as “Boss man”, a term I was rather confused by the first time an employee addressed me and my partner as such. I didn’t know how to respond initially but after observing the demeanour and intention of my staff, I began feeling comfortable with it. The dream of every budding entrepreneur is to build a profitable enterprise while creating employment opportunities for individuals in his/her community. The pride of walking into an office while knowing that the people working to add value in your business to generate revenue, have a lot of dependency on the business being able to reward their hard work through the wages they earn. As they say, “teach a Man how to fish and provide him with a net”, this is a philosophy most Diasporas rarely adopt.

It is very easy to be consumed by the “Bros” frame of mind and having the need to dole out cash or favours to fellow countrymen while it is convenient. Rather than checking in 6-7 bags of luggage with fancy clothes and electronics, meaningful start-ups or businesses that can provide employment, will find a better place in people’s heart for a longer time. Rather than being that overseas relative who makes the holiday’s fun and exciting for impoverished loved ones, how about bringing in ideas that would create sustainability and also make you an entrepreneur.

Some would argue their countrymen should not be trusted hence the need to avoid the risk of being duped, I would argue that if such fears exists within a particular group, then you have no business associating yourself in the first place. As the Chinese people say “if you suspect a man, don’t employ him, and if you employ him, don’t suspect him”.

I have been burnt, so have other individuals, but the need to be relentless in our desire to open up doors to others has never been greater. Call me an egomaniac but hearing the word “Boss man” from my fellow countryman, gives me greater joy than being addressed as “Bros” for a daily hand-out or favour!

Please be courageous, follow your heart and be business savvy, you will find that hidden treasure yet to be discovered. I hope to read about more start-ups in 2013. GOD’s SPEED!

Post Author: Akin

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