Nigeria’s tech ecosystem is getting attention from within and outside Africa even though the ecosystem is less than a decade old. The successes of ecommerce giants, Jumia and Konga, were an eye opener to the potentials of the tech market in Nigeria yet few startups are profitable, very few are scaling up and expanding to other markets.
Simeon Ononobi, Founder and CEO of MyAds.ng, an advertising platform that recently expanded to India and plans to roll out in more countries outside Africa, believes that the chance of Nigerian startups growing to become ‘unicorns’ such as Google, Facebook and Twitter is very slim if the startups are only focusing on solving local problems.
“Nigeria currently has social startups that are doing very well and helping the economy grow; there are also some small startups that are striving to solve problems. What I’ve learnt so far is because we don’t think global, we think local first and I think it’s causing a lot of problems for us. We should start looking at the future,” Ononobi said.
“At a recent tech conference, guys from Russia and the USA talked about how they can expand globally first before expanding their local presence. I think we should start thinking in that direction where we don’t solve local problems but we solve a global problem.”
Even though a lot could be achieved in the tech space, Ononobi said Nigerian startup founders should stop blaming government for everything and strive to grow their startups even with the challenges. Furthermore, he said startups can identify the numerous challenges and develop their own solutions for them.
“Policies are always going to be there, it’s always going to be an issue but my theme has always been don’t blame everybody else for our problems. The government is not going to be doing everything for us – we’ve been at the same spot for forever, our problems remain the same and we will always talk about the same problems when we have conversations. We do have more problems than many developed countries of the world and these problems are what startups can pick and develop solutions for them. You don’t want to solve problems that Facebook and Twitter have already solved, you can talk about electricity and the rest,” he said.
“We are seen as the giant of Africa. We should take our position as giants and take Africa by storm and take the world.’
Nigerian startups should help the average man on the street
Using MyAds as an example, Ononobi said it was a solution to a problem he personally had – a problem that several other people across the world are facing on a daily basis.
“It’s something that is going to solve a lot of problems. It’s a solution I developed myself, it was meant to solve my advertising needs. I found a way to help people on the street and to help myself to advertise. It’s like helping businesses and helping the people on the street. The bus conductor can make money from his phone and I discovered that I don’t need to start just in Nigeria – it’s the same problem in India, Pakistan, and Philippines where people on the street don’t get to earn big bucks,” he said.
Startups that can scale globally
Ononobi observed that the startups that can easily scale globally are those that are solving a problem being faced in their local market and elsewhere.
“If a startup is solving a problem here, that same startup can solve the same problem in Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and elsewhere. Such potentially scalable services include products for transportation, and aggregation platforms for menial jobs,” he said.
Experience launching a startup outside Nigeria
Ononobi’s startup MyAds recently launched in India and plans are underway to launch in more countries across the world. Recounting how the experience has been so far, Ononobi said a startup that has the potential to succeed in other countries are those that solve the problems faced by the people in those countries.
“If your startup is not doing what the India environment needs, it is not really necessary to expand to India. MyAds allows you to earn money every time you see ads when you receive calls. It is the same everywhere in the world – everyone in Nigeria, India, and Malaysia wants to earn money. But it’s a different thing when you want to start ecommerce platform or a blog for instance,” Ononobi said.
Advice for Nigerian startups
While admitting that Nigerian startups are battling numerous challenges, Ononobi said they can still make progress and achieve phenomenal results if they take the right steps.
“Stop thinking about it, hit it at the head, go straight out in the market and start selling your product. Don’t worry about the problems because there is always going to be challenges. If you’re a startup, you will face challenges. Let us all help ourselves. Owners of Facebook, Twitter, and Google are already billionaires, they are unicorns. Let’s help local guys succeed. Let the 180 million Nigerians help us to also become unicorns so that we can also help grow this economy. If seven Nigerian startups go global, we will be talking about helping other countries grow,” Ononobi concluded.