Yaba was always right
Silicon Valley — The Tables
According to Wikipedia: The Round Table is King Arthur’s famed table in the Arthurian legend, around which he and his Knights congregate. As its name suggests, it has no head, implying that everyone who sits there has equal status.
It is very common to hear the term “both sides of the table” in Silicon Valley stories and “mythology.” It presupposes that founders and teams are on one side of a proverbial table while investors are at the other end. Bargaining to find common ground or optimal terms.
I have always believed that over time, as the Silicon Valley ecosystem evolved, the table lost its sides and became round. It became easy for an entrepreneur to become an investor and vice versa. Investment companies and accelerators are also themselves start-ups, using the same start-up principles as the companies they fund.
The reality of Silicon Valley is a co-dependent ecosystem. Without Google’s Android, Facebook would not have scaled on Mobile and WhatsApp or Instagram would not exist. Paul Allen of Microsoft was once on Apple’s Board and in 1997, Microsoft invested $150m in Apple. The PayPal Mafia regularly invest in and support each other’s ventures.
Yaba 1.0 — The Abyss
Entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa seemed to have been different from Silicon Valley. Instead of tables, we appear to have had “Both Sides of The Abyss”. The abyss represented the void in understanding between founders or innovators and potential local investors. Chukwuemeka Afigbo of Facebook first used the term “Abyss of the Great Outdoors” to represent “the vast wide gulf that exists between the tech entrepreneur and his/her end user.”.
This abyss is deeper and wider between those entrepreneurs and potential local investors. With a paternalistic culture where pedagogy was encouraged and widespread, the conventional wisdom was that founders are found not just on the opposite side of the divide, those who overreach usually ended up at the bottom of the abyss. There was a table alright; it was just on one side of the gap. The investor side. Others were content to feed off the crumbs that fell off the furniture.
People “stayed in their lane” and were happy to be given attention by “benevolent” financiers. I have seen some term-sheets in Lagos that are borderline acts of criminality on helpless and unsuspecting founders. Distrust became entrenched as one side gained the upper hand and those at the other end kept shouting to outsiders and insiders with a conscience for help.
Yaba 1.0 was about finance, accounting, and banking. I was witness to one of the biggest takeovers in Nigerian banking history and a principal actor ended up with only a fraction of the business and was muscled out into the abyss in a game of high stakes. The table was meant only for the rich, powerful and their children.
This actor is my relative and father figure. He led the very first Yaba renaissance in the 1980’s by starting MAYO Associates. The institution that democratized education in Nigerian accountancy and banking. There was a huge demand for this talent at that time, and MAYO created the best. MAYO students typically won 10 out of 11 ICAN prizes in a Diet’s examinations. Okey Enelamah, our current Honorable Minister for Industry, Trade & Investment, was one of my classmates at MAYO in my NYSC year there.
My uncle was a boy “not from the city”, who tried to use his intelligence alone to get himself on “the table”. Stories similar to what happened to my relative are common in Nigeria, and it made people paranoid and did not let a proper ecosystem take root until Yaba happened again.
YABA 2.0 — The Stack is The Future
A technology stack is a collection of products and infrastructure that make a solution or another product possible. Uber, for instance, depends on Google Maps and Smartphone Operating systems. The smartphone OS will not work with without the hardware device and vice versa.
I believe that emerging market ecosystems should not be about tables anymore. Those tables broke Silicon Valley. There is a great opportunity now to reinvent everything. Even Silicon Valley knows that Africa is the last frontier.
The music industry is a typical example of where stacks occur. In my opinion, the best work of hip-hop musicians and rappers happen when they collaborate. Even when they have their public feuds, they are indirect collaborations; they are mutually selling their egos to a customer base. Music is now more about showmanship than melody.
Just like Silicon Valley start-ups, rappers understand very well that the only way to win customers is to keep the reality distortion field running. They use their peers to prop themselves up and in the process, they also prop up their peers.
Silicon Valley has a long history of such collaborations. The tech media has typically played the role of “ecosystem hype men”. They announce launches, report on feuds, etc.We are finally beginning to see that happening in the Lagos ecosystem. People no longer see themselves as adversaries but collaborators. We also now have our local “hype men” A lot of this collaboration has been made possible by locations such as CcHub. It became a denominator and a rallying point.
Even Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg (The Facebook Founder) had to come to CcHUB first when he visited Nigeria. It was not just validation but a signal. The signal that we have the opportunity to do things very differently because we now have a clean slate.
Ecosystems succeed when players see themselves as support for one another. It is interesting that the most popular payments gateway with most Nigerian start-ups is named — PayStack!Silicon Valley has already started to look towards Africa; they have begun investing in our local start-ups. Some Nigerian start-ups (PayStack and Flutterwave included) are now part of the main valley accelerators. Mark Zuckerberg himself invested a whopping $24 million dollars in one Yaba based start-up named Andela. If such validation does not jump- start an ecosystem, nothing else will. From the 80s till now, Yaba has always been right. Zuckerberg just came to confirm that for himself.