Inside Nigeria’s bustling startup world — where the real ‘hustlers’ live

Earlier this week, Ventureburn unveiled DEMO Africa’s top 30 startups for 2015. While attention is being given to Ivory Coast whose startup scene is making its debut this year on the DEMO Africa stage, the fact that no one was surprised to see Nigeria having more startups than any other country this year, just like last year, is giving credence to the notion that the startup ecosystem in Nigeria is booming.

And it’s not just because of Nigeria’s large population.

Below are a few of key characteristics I’ve picked up over the years, defining the West African country’s as one of the most exciting ecosystems for entrepreneurs.

Nigerian startup founders are optimistic

Few months ago, I made an unscheduled visit to Lagos-based Co-Creation Hub (CcHub). It was in the afternoon and several developers had gone to White House (a popular restaurant in Yaba metropolis) for lunch. While riding the lift to the topmost floor, I was joined by two guys who rejoicing over the demo of their product. One had an afro hairstyle and was slightly taller than his partner who appeared more excited.

“This is the real deal. Look at how other guys were looking us, they couldn’t believe we could make that happen,” he said with a big smile on his face.

His partner nodded in agreement and they began to boast of how the product would perform in the market.

“There has never been anything like this in the market and Africa is going to bow when we finally launched,” he added.

Read more: The West African startup landscape: it’s not just about Nigeria

I haven’t heard of their product release date yet, but their optimism reminded me of what I daily deal with while covering the startup ecosystem in Nigeria.

They are partnering and reiterating

When I finally got to the topmost floor where they have the artificial turf, I saw several groups of tech guys brainstorming on one project or the other. Certainly not as excited as the guys I rode the lift with, it was obvious they were having various kinds of challenges.

I leaned closer and found that one team had a problem with their code. Another couldn’t properly integrate online payment while the rest just got news that they’ll face numerous kinds of lawsuits if they had entered the market they had in mind.

Failure is not an option

The situation at CcHub was similar to what I saw when I visited 440, a VC firm located at Ikoyi on Lagos Island. One after another, I spoke to very intelligent and aspirational Nigerian tech entrepreneurs. They all had one common thread: a passion for their startups and the willpower to go for it despite the tough challenges.

One of the questions I love to ask most startups is their targeted number of users before the end of the year and the response I often get do suggest unusually high optimism — even though they claim they are giving a conservative or pessimism-laden estimate.

They don’t see failure as an option — even though their potential to fail is higher than their tendency to succeed.

There is no Nigerian startup founder that I have interviewed over the past five years that told me his or her product would not dominate the market. They already believe they are the best and will rule the market even before the platform goes live.

Read more: Nigerian VC fund 440 announces Deal Weekend Lagos

This mentality is in sharp contrast to some startups from other parts of the continent who would even admit their product could be threatened by a similar one in Nigeria.

They have people to look up to

Even though the startup space in Nigeria is less than five-years-old, there are several success stories already and mentors abound in the industry. Many startup founders want to be as successful as Jason Njoku of iROKO TV and Sim Shagaya of Konga, among others.

The availability of globally acclaimed success stories gives the struggling startups the confidence that they can also rule continent. But as simple as this may sound, only a few African countries have such a high success rate.

Interestingly though, even though they are starting up, an average Nigerian entrepreneur, from my experience with them, believes he or she is a superstar already. This is why I always smile to myself when they begin to act like VIPs that are difficult to see immediately they’ve gotten their first small feature on CNN’s African Startup.

They are ‘hustlers’

“Hustler” is the street name for startup founders in Nigeria. Nigerian developers see their projects as their means of livelihood and their passport to financial independence. Which is why it is not surprising to see founders giving everything to ensure they succeed.

The quest for success is being driven by the passion to be totally liberated from shackles of unemployment and underemployment — two very popular employment statuses in Nigeria. These are as a result of the availability of more hands than jobs, making entrepreneurship an option the youth are considering instead of civil service.

Read more: 3 unique trends shaping Nigeria’s startup ecosystem

These are some of the active ingredients that are fuelling the startup ecosystem in Nigeria. With easier access to finance, availability of opportunities and more support facilities affordably available, Nigeria’s developers-turned-hustlers are on the right track to dominate the continent’s tech scene.

Over the last two years, I’ve asked some foreign tech guys who’ve visited Nigeria about their perception of the industry. They always have similar answers: “Guys are hungrier for success than anywhere else on the continent”.

This is why most of them are no longer swerved, blown away or satisfied by being among the continent’s 30 best startups. Instead, all that they strategise to achieve is to seal deals and launch across and beyond the continent.

Even though only a handful is doing that, they all believe it is possible for anyone to achieve that feat. After all, anything is possible if you hustle well enough.

Paul Adepoju


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