Family, friends and technology
Long ago, when I was studying for ICAN exams at MAYO in Yaba, I observed something which at that time seemed illogical. Those who appeared to visibly be working the hardest by coming straight to lectures from work and sleeping in class while suffering all manner of inconvenience were NOT the ones who passed the examinations. They typically failed. Those who were more comfortable, who lived not too far from MAYO and even had cars, were the ones who passed effortlessly. It seemed to me that stress and suffering did not necessarily lead to success. All the “grass to grace” stories of “the overcoming underdog” seemed to be myths.
I decide to look deeper into why this was happening? I realised that most of those who passed were given full support and encouragement by their families, while most of those who failed did not have any family in Lagos. They usually had families outside Lagos that they were also working to support. I realised that suffering did not necessarily guarantee success at learning. It hampered it.
Technology startups have similar characteristics. They are learning endeavours. Founders are doing behavioural change experiments in the market, and they need a lot of support to make them work. We make the mistake of thinking money itself solves all problems with startups; I believe that it is the stability that money provides in the business and at home that makes startups successful. The home front is the most important as it is where the greatest distractions emerge.
Family and Friends Support
Idris Ayodeji Bello is an Afropreneur (a word he coined and trademarked to define entrepreneurs with an African focus) and a Nigerian Angel investor who founded Wennovation Hub.The first time I heard of him was when I read a speech he gave on poverty. Something Idris said struck a chord. He mentioned that the only truly poor people are those who are without family and friends. Our African societies have thrived for centuries on the support that families and friends give each other. The Igbo extended it to business and the apprenticeship model called Imu Ahia was established.
Idris lives true to his word and is a member of a group called “Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance”; the same group that includes founders like Iyinoluwa Aboyeji of Flutterwave. Idris and the Harambe network have supported Iyinoluwa in all his startups, from Fora and Andela to Flutterwave. Harambe is probably one of the most the most important and effective African entrepreneurship support platforms, with membership cutting across all of Africa.
The interesting part of Harambe is that they even give scholarships and start helping potential entrepreneurs from school. Harambe is more than an alliance; it is a powerful “family”.
When it comes to business, the friends who help you sometimes become much more important than family. They become your family. I have been a great beneficiary of support from my immediate and extended family. We could not have started a technology company while still in school without them. I have also benefited greatly from an informal network of friends who have helped me both personally and in business. My friends have a table at a Victoria Island restaurant in Lagos. If I am in Lagos, I am there most evenings. That table has been there for over a decade. Some of the people on it most nights started as bank workers and eventually owned banks. Others became captains of industry. No matter who and what they have become, they leave all their “importance” outside the door as they get to the restaurant. That table is our support network. Those men there are like family to me. I even met my wife through one of them.
These support networks are vital for Africans. It is because of the help that I have received that I believe in providing assistance to others. I have “Office Hours” with founders daily, including weekends. It is not always about giving money. Mentorship is also a significant part of support.
Family and Friends Investments
I mentioned to a YCombinator partner that the first thing I look out for in an African startup before I commit to supporting them is to find out if they have done a “Friends and Family” funding round. He could not understand why I did that and his belief was that it would exclude a lot of poorer but brilliant people. I mentioned to him that our market was different. The problem was not with starting; it is with continuing or finishing. I believe that founders without a support system are more prone to fail. Family and friends are the ones who will help entrepreneurs when things get tough as it most likely would happen. It is important that they believe and buy-in early.
I also think that if founders can’t even convince their friends and relatives to invest, it is probably going to be harder to convince outside investors. The “they don’t understand” excuse, means that the founders cannot sell or communicate properly or that the product is still too early to make sense. It is also true that not all families may have the resources to invest in startups directly. That is where friendships and support networks become important. I try to make as many entrepreneurs as possible, my friends.
One of the most important qualities a startup founder must learn is how to make useful friends and belong to the right support networks. Helplessness is a negative attribute, especially in Africa. There is little data, and most of the work a founder will have to do involves education and conviction. If we look closely at our personal successes, friends and family, have been somehow involved. All the breakthroughs I have had came from my friends or clients that I eventually made my friends.
An investor like Idris is not just a member of Harambe; he is an Angel investor who is also part of the Nigerian Diaspora. The Nigerian Diaspora is undoubtedly Africa’s largest friends and family network.