In Africa, failure is a peculiar thing. It essentially somehow manages to not exist. We don’t celebrate it. We don’t pour scorn on it. We do worse. We barely acknowledge it. We quietly find ways to bury it. We dress her up for her to appear successful. But exist it does. I am a big fan of embracing my failures. Where possible, publicly. My ambition (and something that terrifies my wife) is to retain the ability to be bold and put everything on black when the moment arises. I would love in 5 years (when I am 40) or 15 years (when I am 50) to be able to literally bet the house on something bold, something dastardly, something which literally has a 100 times payoff or utter failure. I like those odds.
I remember when I started iroko. Everyone thought I was an idiot. That’s fine, it wasn’t a bad conclusion. I was x10 failure in startup hits. When we started making investments in Nigeria back in 2012, that seemed stupid. We were way too early. Pretty stupid. I agree. Consumer internet in Nigeria is so early it’s pretty scary today. Breaking rocks and bleeding stones for every Naira of revenue is the least fun thing to do. The vast majority of startups we funded with Spark actually had sub-optimal outcomes. They are near dead, dead or non-active. I publicly embraced that.
People reached out to me and told me it was not the right thing to do. Fuck it. I don’t celebrate the wins. I don’t dwell on the losses. But embrace the failure, I must do. It’s part of my being. Amongst all the failure of Kuluya, in that cluster came Hotels / Tolet / Drinks. We put no more than $300k in any of the three surviving startups. I think (can’t even remember) Kuluya (our very first investment) received a similar amount. And it failed. Does that make me a failure? Yes. Does that make the team a failure? Yes. But 90% of those are still working at iroko or in our universe. Because business failure doesn’t mean personal failure. They are very very different things. If you mix that up and embrace the view that personal failure and business failure are one, you are doomed. Doomed, doomed, doomed to never get past that and build something great in the first place. That threat of failure will terrify you.
Kuluya came up in a recent discussion topic on TechCabal’s Radar. As expected, it was overwhelmingly negative. Mocking me. How wrong was I? The Hubris of me for writing this article [have some fucking respect for Nollywood], wanting to crush my competition in gaming, managing a business from TechCrunch etc etc. I reread that article I wrote. I like the old me. Very vicious. Very aggressive. I miss him. Age, marriage and kids have mellowed me. I still stand by everything I said. But this time I am less than bothered about the ecosystem at large. I care deeply about individual entrepreneurs and those toiling in obscurity to try and build amazing. Aside from Spark, I quietly support a lot of local startups. BUYNAIJA? Been doing that since 2010 when I landed on these shores. But the wider tech community? I care nothing of. It’s just too negative and navel gazing for me to bother even getting emotional about it anymore.
On failure. It’s really important that one remains able to make those mistakes and keep it moving. Otherwise as people we remain arguing about yesterday. And my belief is that this is the sad state of the ‘tech community’ in Nigeria. Everything descends into a base argument which yields zero tangible output. I have relegated it to tribe, sports, politics and religions, as things to avoid getting into a debate about with a Nigerian.