Series V


The term, as used in the 19th century, meant “to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps” and it was often used to describe scaling a fence. (This implied someone was attempting a far-fetched or impossible task).

It is also widely attributed to “The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen” by Rudolph Erich Raspe, where the Baron pulls himself out of a swamp by his hair.

Recently, Alex Konrad of Forbes wrote about how Mailchimp has an estimated valuation of $4.2billion — without a dollar of venture funding, and the consensus was that raising venture capital ≠ success.

Is it possible to build a successful startup on a shoestring budget? Yes, but it depends on what kind it is, and what ‘success’ looks like to you. Some sectors are capital intensive, and it’s unlikely that individuals/FFFs can afford the investments required. But if you’re building, say, an internet startup with a SaaS business model, it’s generally easier to get by without investment — as long as you’re willing to be patient about growth.

Because you can’t launch a startup into a vacuum, you need to figure out where your customers are/where they will come from. So, you either: run ads (expensive) or build your community (longer but cheaper). You have to work as hard as you can to make a dent and get people to notice you. It is also essential to define what success means for your startup and to enjoy what you’re doing.


One thing to keep in mind is you don’t want to have all your money in the bank in the beginning. Sometimes, you can pay for needs as you go. You need to understand how much it will cost you to build, and where it will come from, but you don’t need to have it all at the inception.

A way to save cash is by making small tweaks to your hiring process. For instance, Kendall Ananyi of (VP portfolio) said last year that in the early days, they didn’t hire anyone who didn’t already own a laptop.

Being your company’s sole funder can be both a blessing and a curse (and a choice many businesses don’t have). Every founder should be conscious of the point at which they’re no longer capable of going at it alone. Venture Capital is only one tool in your toolkit, and like any other, you ultimately have to decide whether it matches the use case you imagine for it.

Links from the Internets

  • Podcast: Shola Akinlade on getting into YC, building Paystack, growth, and the future. [Link]
  • Marketing: How trial length affects SaaS conversions. [Link]
  • Product: The art and science of Product development. [Link]
  • Bill Gates on Paul Allen. [Link]

Thanks for reading. Did you like this post? Have Series V delivered to your inbox every Thursday. Subscribe here.

Series V

Healthcare that matters.


“There are perhaps few industries that have more to gain from the Internet revolution than medicine.” — NYTimes

We’ve only just begun to witness the integration of technology into healthcare. It is a fascinating time to see health tech startups leading this charge, using mobile technology, cloud-based infrastructure, machine learning, and a multitude of innovations that will help us impact the lives of many positively.

According to research conducted by Mckinsey and the World Economic Forum, many of the most compelling innovations in the health industry come from emerging markets. This sounds right for two reasons:

  • First, necessity begets invention: in the absence of adequate health care infrastructure, entrepreneurs and existing providers must improvise and innovate.
  • Second, because of the weakness in infrastructure and resources of emerging markets, entrepreneurs face fewer constraints; because the lack of infrastructure means low-entry barrier and change is welcome.

New approaches to healthcare delivery are not in short supply.

In Mexico, for example, telephone-based healthcare advice and triage service, MedicallHome is available to more than one million subscribers and their families for $5 a month, paid by phone bills.

It is not hard to see or explain the use of technology in healthcare but how might these new forms of healthcare delivery drive down costs and effect change within the context of Africa?

First, is by getting closer to the patients; entrepreneurs can lower distribution costs by moving the delivery of care much closer to the homes of patients. For instance, Visionspring’s early work involved training the locals or ‘vision entrepreneurs’ to conduct outreach and sell high-quality, low-cost eyeglasses in their communities.

Another way is to use existing technology to reinvent delivery; repurposing mobile phone systems, call centres, and other current technologies allow innovators to extend access, increase the uniformity of care, and improve labour productivity. In Mali, for example, Pesinet uses SMS to improve detection and early treatment of childhood diseases.

Expanding the skillsets of health workers through training is also necessary. The outcome of this is reduced labour costs and overcoming labour constraints. In Kenya, HealthStore has trained community workers to diagnose and treat the region’s top five diseases which account for more than half of preventable deaths there.

As African entrepreneurs continue to innovate, they need to exploit low and loose hanging fruits — existing technology and community members to implement change.

Links from the Internets

  • Management: Speed as a habit. [Link]
  • Product: Steven Sinofsky on how a company’s structure affects what it builds. [Link]
  • Fred Wilson on first mover disadvantage. [Link]

Thanks for reading. Did you like this post? Have Series V delivered to your inbox every Thursday. Subscribe here.

Series V

On mentorship

Telemachus and Mentor

“Mentor” was a character in Homer’s Odyssey. He was an older friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War in The Iliad, he asked Mentor to look after his household and his son, Telemachus. Because it took so long for King Odysseus to get back, the townspeople assumed he was dead, and moved to split up his vast estate. Telemachus, his rightful heir, was too young to defend his property. So, it was up to Mentor to protect their interests. Homer wrote that Venus decided to intervene, she took the form of Mentor and visited Telemachus, helping to guide him on his journey to find his father.

Because of Mentor’s relationship with Telemachus, and the disguised Athena’s encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal dilemmas, the name Mentor has been adopted in English as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less-experienced colleague.

Starting a company can be a lonely affair, starting entrepreneurs need a listening ear and many incubators, and tech hubs have programs to match startup founders with experienced veterans. In the traditional mentoring model, the engagement between the mentor and the mentee took place in a physical, face to face environment, but thanks to the internet, mentors can now sit in any part of the globe and make themselves available to mentees who are sitting in Lagos, Kigali, Nairobi, or wherever else.

For young entrepreneurs, finding the right mentor can mean the difference. Great mentors keep an entrepreneur honest, and keep their feet on the ground, but can also take them to heights unimaginable.

An ideal mentor has domain expertise and broad experience in a particular area; makes introductions when appropriate; doesn’t ask for anything in return, and shows empathy.

“At least for me, becoming someone’s mentor means a two-way relationship. A mentorship is a back and forth dialogue — it’s as much about giving as it is about getting. It’s a much higher-level conversation than just teaching. Think about what can we learn together? How much are you going to bring to the relationship?” — Steve Blank.

For founders: For each meeting, go with a specific challenge with sufficient homework, and data collection.

Funding is still scarce in these markets, but mentors shouldn’t be. We need more mentors — tech company founders, corporate executives, and captains of industry who will provide a great sounding board, help make tough calls, and help make introductions to potential customers, partners, or even investors.

The ecosystem will be better off for it.

Links from the Internets

  • Design: To mark its 10th birthday, Chrome launched a redesign of its UI. Hannah Lee unboxes it. [Link]
  • Management: Grammarly’s Itamar Goldminz on team diversity. [Link]
  • Marketing: PR advice from Facebook’s Caryn Marooney [Link]