Categories
Series V

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly:

How Startup Funding creates more problems

Article by Ololade Otayemi

The good, the bad and the ugly… Remember the movie? The end of the movie holds a big lesson. It shows Blondie riding off into the horizon, leaving Tuco tied up with a bag of Gold in the middle of nowhere. Although Tuco became wealthy, he was stranded… Lesson: Not all money is good money.

A few years ago, a young founder wanted to start a co-working business. He created a fantastic business plan and started seeking capital of about a million dollars. He had a grand plan. Eventually, He was only able to raise about 1 percent of what he was looking for from friends and family. He wasn’t very happy, but that was all he could get so he had to make do. He rented a large space and constructed a small prototype office in the middle of the massive hall. The office was made from dark MDF wood and could only sit 3 persons. He then invited some friends including me, to take a look. Everyone loved the idea but no-one wanted to work in a dark box. So he got white wallpapers and pasted on the wall then invited us again and this time, the feedback was good. We loved it. He sold that one box and now runs a massive co-working business. In retrospect, if he had raised the funds, he would have build dark offices everywhere and probably lost all or most of the money.

This is the story of many startup founders today. They have these fantastic ideas, conceptualize it and start running around seeking funding. They then end up frustrated when they don’t get funded. Some founders are lucky, or unlucky as the case may be; they find ways to raise the money and they end up losing it all and in some cases end up in debt.

Funding is only good at the right time, we’ve seen startups soar after funding. We’ve also seen startups crash and founders getting into debt after massive rounds. Research shows over 75% of VC backed startups fail. This means money wasn’t the issue for these startups. In fact, for most of them, money made them fail quicker. So, when is funding good, when is it bad and when can things get ugly?

The Good

When is fundraising good? The simple answer is when you don’t need to raise money. That doesn’t make sense right? Let me break it down. Investors are not going around looking for startups that need money. They are looking for startups that are growing (in numbers/reach) and are making money (Revenue, and in some cases, Profit). They are looking for traction. Investors find traction sexy. The more traction you have gained, the sexier you appear to investors. For you to get to this point, you must have created an MVP, tested it, have paying customers and possibly reached product-market fit. This doesn’t mean investors can’t spot potential in a startup and decide to fund, but that doesn’t put you in the best position. When funds come in here, it is for scale. To boost what’s already working. This doesn’t also mean things can go wrong at scale. Something might work well at 200 users and not work well at 1000 users. This is why leadership is key for funding to be good. With the right leadership, to scale won’t be an issue.

The Bad

They’ve got the idea. They’ve conceptualized. It’s a great idea but they haven’t tested it. This is not the best time to raise money from an investor. Angel investors usually come in at this point. But here is why it’s not the best place to be. At this stage of the startup, you are not exactly sure of what really works so there is a chance you will pivot. Because you have other people’s money in this, the pressure to hit the market is higher (they didn’t give you money because they are nice). So there are already strings attached to what you’re still figuring out. While this isn’t the worse thing that can happen to a startup, it’s not the best place to be. You will be forced to accept the offer on their own terms and not yours.

The Ugly

The worst thing that can happen to any startup is to raise money when they haven’t figured their craft out. They claim they know what they are doing, they even seem like they do, but they don’t. A lot of times, startups at this stage get desperate after many no’s from investors and most of them end up with debt financing. Some even go ahead to find ways to falsify data and trick investors into giving them money. Then they pump the funds into the business and waste it. When the business model is faulty or the leadership isn’t solid, the startup is already setup to fail. More funds will only amplify the failure. Some founders are just serial fundraisers — raising money until there is enough for them to exit and flex. These guys often focus on valuation since that’s the game they are playing. This isn’t bad if the business model and the idea itself actually works. The scary ones are sensitive startups like health, fin-tech, etc. where lives and wellbeing are at stake. When things go wrong here, it’s usually really ugly. This is another reason why the idea isn’t enough and good leadership is key. Good leadership is the difference between success post MVP and at scale. Managing 2,000 users is not the same as managing 200,000 users. Running operations in one location is totally different from running in 5 locations. The issue with startup leaders is that a number of them start off as developers or experts in certain fields. So the have skills related to their work but not leadership skills. So the business succeeds when it’s just them and a few people but as growth comes, they are not able to step back from being hands-on and become strategic. The biggest issue here is them admitting that they lack the skill and get someone who does to run the show while they improve their ability to lead. This has caused many startups to fail even after massive rounds of funding.

So, Before you fund-raise:

  1. Get the idea right — The idea must solve a real, scalable, and profitable problem.
  2. Test your MVP — Create something users/customers love. It’s best to either bootstrap or to take advantage of family and friends at this point.
  3. Gain traction organically — Get and increase users/customers. Increase revenue organically.
  4. Aim for product-market fit — Get to a point where customers are coming to you. If revenue is increasing organically, this will be easy to achieve.

It will not be easy, but in the end, it will be worth it! Investors will be drawn to you like metal is drawn to a magnet. Then you’d be negotiating on your own terms and that’s where you want to be.


PORTFOLIO CHATTER


The new PiggyVest app is launching soon —

Verto FX

Two female founders from two of our portfolio companies were named in the Quartz Africa’s list of 30 Africans leading the change for the continent’s future! Congratulations to Elizabeth Kperrun of ZenAfri and Odun Eweniyi of PiggyVest!

ThriveAgric

KUDI

The MDaaS Team were guests on the FINCA International Social Enterprise Podcast, talking about their tech-enabled approach to Africa’s health care needs. Please, watch it below.


INSIDE VP

Click here to learn about what we have been up to.

https://mailchi.mp/7c7f4e0a3f05/vp-newsletter-september2019


To keep up with our activities here at Ventures Platform Fund, please, follow us on Twitter @vp_fund. Also, sign up here to receive Series V straight to your email.

https://mailchi.mp/7c7f4e0a3f05/vp-newsletter-september2019


See you next month,

V.

Categories
Series V

Growth: The OKR Way

“An effective goal-setting system starts with disciplined thinking at the top, with leaders who invest the time and energy to choose what counts” ― John Doerr

Companies and founders are always looking for ways to rapidly grow their companies and boost team productivity. One key question we get from founders is “How do I inspire my team and get them to execute effectively?” The OKR is a great framework to inspire your team and get everyone aligned and working towards the big picture.

The acronym OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results, a popular goal management framework created by Andy Grove who has been referred to as one of the best managers of all time but popularized by John Doerr, who was an early investor in Google and he introduced Larry and Sergey to the framework. OKR quickly became an important focus for Google, and other companies such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Airbnb, Uber, and even Walmart have since followed suit.

It’s also increasingly becoming the default framework for lots of fast-growing startups across Africa and interestingly quite a number of companies in our portfolio have also adopted the OKR framework.

OKRs is a goal-setting framework that helps organizations define goals or objectives and then track the outcome. John Doerr’s OKR formula is to set an objective, which is “what I want to have accomplished,” and the key results, which are “how I’m going to get it done.”

Let’s take a dive into what each acronym for better understanding.

What is the Objective?

An Objective is a description of a goal to be achieved in the future, this is usually measured quarterly or annually. An Objective sets a clear direction and provides motivation.

What is a Key Result?

A Key Result is a metric with a starting value and a target value that measures progress towards an Objective. Key results measure the achievement of an objective. You can think of this as a signpost with a distance that shows how close you are to your Objective.

Objectives are typically large, bold and aspirational while key results are aggressive, be difficult but not impossible, but always measurable, time-bound, and limited in number (typically 5).

Examples of Objectives:

  • Become a Market Leader in Payments in Nigeria.
  • Build the best browser in the world.

Let’s take both examples and attempt to set key results for them.


1.

Objective — Become a market leader in Payments in Nigeria

Key Results

  • Grow userbase from 2k merchants to 10k merchants by end of Q2.
  • Launch an offline payment feature for merchants by end of Q2.
  • Reduce customer churn from 30% to 10%

This can be expanded further, but the catch is to have 5 or less Key results.

2.

Objective — Build the best browser in the world

As the true test of this is in the usage, my key result could be something as simple as:

Key Result — Grow user base from 1M to 20 million monthly active users by the end of the year.

Before writing an OKR, you need a good understanding of what you want to accomplish. Think of the potential objective you would like to achieve and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the objective help achieve the company goal?
  • Is it inspiring?
  • Does it move the company forward?
  • Is it timebound?

Managers and teams across board should also set their OKRs in-line with the objective of the organization, individual team members should be allowed to come up with their own OKR and review with their managers to ensure it aligns with the wider company objective.

The framework is designed to help organizations establish far-reaching goals and when implemented effectively has the potential to accelerate growth.

You can read more here and here.


Inside VP

Come 13th October 2019, Ventures Platform, in partnership with Endeavor, will host Efosa Ojomo, co-author of The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty in an event (Startup Insights) themed “Innovating for the Mass Market”. Attendees will get a chance to learn about how the private sector, particularly startups, can unlock the potential of under-served sectors and populations by building market-creating innovations and tackling non-consumption.

Click on this link to apply for a slot — https://bit.ly/2zbtEu8


Portfolio Chatter

Reliance HMO — Friends don’t let friends live without health insurance. Send this 10% discount code FRIEND to someone you care about today. Shine the light on all of your friends. Read about it here.


TroveApp — Looking for global investment opportunities? Look no further!! Trove is your one-stop-shop to global access…Invest in stocks, ETFs & more across the globe (US Markets, Chinese, Nigerian Markets) with the tap of a button.


Paystack has released an early access integration with Zapier, which means that it’s a relatively small release with the primary goal of understanding how people use it. This will inform future updates to the integration. Please let them know what you think!. Read about it here.


ThankUCash — Get as much as 50% cashback from Merchants! With ThankUCash, you get money back EVERYTIME. Download the app here to find Merchants and start getting cash back!


What We Are Reading

The Mystery of Market Size in Nigeria

Navigating the Shift from first-time founder to seasoned Exec

Measure What Matters by John Doerr. Find here.


See you next month,

V.

Categories
Series V

Boring Things That Makes Startups Fail

“An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.”― Reid Hoffman

Successfully starting and growing a startup is probably one of the most arduous undertakings on the planet. Typically, building a startup requires coming up with an idea that solves a problem, validating it, developing and testing prototypes, gaining traction, getting investment and working to scale the startup- all the while dealing with uncertainty, late nights, and overcoming the hurdles that arise when going through the stages of the startup lifecycle.

Startups are meant to grow rapidly and the mechanics required for this means that they should be able to innovate quickly and flexibly adapt in response to their environments. These necessities are evident in the makeup of most startups: small team size with a non-hierarchical, largely unstructured and informal form that engenders fast communication and decision-making. Many of the most successful startups in the world are evidence of the power of this model- a close-knit team buoyed by innovation, grit and a shared vision, working together to build a company that changes the world.

For many early-stage startup founders, this model is a frame of reference, a motivator, and a necessity. Startup founders thus tend to eschew structure and processes, viewing it as a hamper to the innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and ownership that bolsters startups in their early days. The implication of this is that usually, during a startup’s nascency, structures such as HR, legal, procurement, and accounting are largely non-existent.

Once a startup starts to grow in team size, investment and scale, however, the cracks that inherently accompany an unstructured organization start to come to the fore and deficiencies in structure begin to affect organizational performance. In some cases, chaotic operations and unpredictable performances in startups have led to combustion from within.

Based on experience, there are a number of areas that startups need to particularly focus on and develop a strategy for so as to be in good stead to avoid the negatives that accompany the absence of structure and processes in an organization:

  • Human resources
  • Accounting and book-keeping
  • Legal compliance

Human Resources: As more and more people join a startup, things that were previously easy such as communication, common knowledge, and decision-making begin to become more challenging.[1] Founders thus need to be strategic in their approach to managing the people who comprise the organization. For one, startups in their early stages are typically comprised of generalists that are able to carry out a wide range of functions in order to meet objectives. However, as the team size expands, it becomes necessary to define roles and expectations, hire specialists in select functions and demarcate team units.

Accounting and book-keeping: In the early days of a startup, accounting and book-keeping are not as integral as say, developing an MVP, however, as the startup grows, it is imperative that accounting and book-keeping measures are instituted in order to ensure that the startup is able to track all financial records, as well as interpret financial records that will serve as the basis for activities such as paying the right amount of taxes and making strategic business decisions based on numbers.

Legal Compliance: Legal compliance and its importance is often overlooked by some early-stage startups due to a lack of awareness of existing laws. Failure to adequately ensure legal compliance can affect a startup in many ways including; attractiveness to potential investors, issues with cap table and equity, as well as issues with intellectual property and regulatory authorities.

“Organization is the devil’s work” — Linda Medley

To avoid the pitfalls that arise due to a lack of structure, it is imperative that founders are cognizant of the beneficial role of structure and processes in startups, keeping a finger on the pulse of the startup and increasingly instituting structure as the startup grows. The differing needs and context of startups mean that there is no one-size fits all approach to instituting structures and processes, as such, it is advisable that startups:

  • Speak to experienced founders who have successfully grown startups
  • Develop a structure and process culture using DIY technology tools
  • Speak to experts that can provide specialist advice

Speak to experienced founders who have successfully grown startups: Founders of successful startups are likely to have experience of instituting structure and processes in their startups and might be able to provide anecdotal insight on the intricacies involved. By talking to them, early-stage founders are able to learn from the experiences of their more experienced peers.

Develop a structure and process culture using DIY technology tools: In the early stages of a startup, a lack of resources usually means that specialist functions such as accounting cannot be hired for. However, founders can instill a culture of structure and process by introducing the use of DIY tools to carry out these functions. Accounteer, for instance, is a simple accounting software that helps entrepreneurs to create invoices, track expenses and receive online payments.

Speak to experts that can provide specialist advice: By speaking to experts, startups are able to get tailored specialist advice on how to institute structure and processes in their startups. Ventoven- a sister company of Ventures Platform- is a shared services company that focuses on providing advisory and services in the areas of HR, Accounting, Procurement, IT and Audit to startups.

As stated at the beginning of this article, successfully starting and growing a startup is no mean feat. While it is tempting for founders to fall in love with the informality and flexibility that are the hallmarks of a startup in its early days, it is essential to ensure that the appropriate structures and processes are instituted in the startup as they become necessary. For startups, humble beginnings make for a great story but true greatness lies in the ability to adapt, transcend and radically change paradigms. Doing this requires cohesiveness and long term thinking that can only be achieved through efficient structures and processes.


[1] “Taking the Mystery out of Scaling a Company — Andreessen Horowitz.” 2 Aug. 2010, https://a16z.com/2010/08/02/taking-the-mystery-out-of-scaling-a-company/.


Inside VP

ARM presented equity free funding of N3Million to the 6 participating companies of their corporate acceleration program, LabsByArm.

The participating companies were Asusu Technology Limited, PayDayInvestor, FINT, Think First Technologies Ltd, Trove Finance, and Tsaron Technologies. Read more here.


Portfolio Chatter

Congratulations to VP portfolio company mdaas global on closing their latest funding round to power the next chapter of growth.

Congratulations to VP portfolio company Kudi as they hit 1B Naira in daily transaction value! Read here.

VP portfolio company, Printivo has introduced Thrive. Thrive is about sharing the ideas and the secrets of making small businesses great. Read about it here.

VP portfolio company, VertoFX wrote about Bridging the International Business Corridor in Africa. Its an insightful 3 minutes read.


What are we reading?

Lessons from Keith Rabois Essay 4: How to run an Effective Board Meeting and make an Effective Board Deck. Read here.

Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow. Read here.


See you next month,

V.

Categories
Series V

Fundraising: Markets, Models, and more.

By NeONBRAND on Unsplash

We started Series V in March to talk about the things we care about that we think you should. The things we spend our days talking about and our nights thinking about. Some of it comes from our investment application pipeline, some of it, from the people we meet, and some of it, from the things we read and listen to. But if there is one topic that underpins all the work we do in the service of great founders, it is this: fundraising.

According to Partech Ventures’ Funding Report, African startups raised a total of $560 million in 2017. For context, that’s only a little more than Toyota pumped into Uber this week. This is an unfair comparison, of course. The market conditions are not analogous — apples to groundnuts — but that’s exactly the point! The fact that this market is an untamed beast: hard, inefficient, and illiquid, means that the founders (and the firms) that figure out how to make these stones bleed will do very well for themselves.

The high population that lines pitch decks comes with high poverty rates. The increasing mobile penetration is not turning as quickly into internet usage. Founders from these parts have to pay an ‘Africa tax’ when fundraising to grow their businesses. But these gaps, these challenges are all opportunities for the best of us.

In the coming weeks, we will explore this topic in depth. What funding models work best for our ecosystem? How to manage expectations during the fundraising process? How to do investor communication and relations? How to think about legal? How to think about valuations? And so on.

For now, here’s some low hanging fruit to get us started, based on our investment conversations:

  1. Start early. Always be raising: You shouldn’t wait until you need money to start raising. It is better to think about it as an ongoing process that yields results periodically.
  2. Think about liquidity: Your investors care a lot about this, and you should too. How does the equity stake you are selling to them turn into a healthy return for their own investors?
  3. Numeracy: Show that you have a firm grasp of the key metrics that drive your business. Learn to speak authoritatively about your numbers, now and in the future. Aside from memorizing them, you should also maintain a data room, where investors and investment analysts can access all the information they need to take a decision. (This should be obvious but is missing in too many cases.)
  4. Spatial awareness: Show that you don’t have your head in the sand. Beyond your immediate concerns, what does the broader business landscape look like today and how will it evolve in the future? What does that mean for your business?


Links from the Internets

  • The informal cooperative society for handcart pullers of East Africa. [Link]
  • Samir Kaji on the key components of an emerging VC. [Link]
  • “Sometimes you need to consider a cycle of change that fluctuates between doing things differently”. [Link]
  • Protecting against groupthink. [Link]

Access opportunities at VP’s portfolio companies. If you want to join an early-stage startup fill out this application and our founders will be able to get in touch with you.

Categories
Series V

Not another post about mobile apps

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

One story you could tell about mobile is that the smartphone ‘ate up’ all the single-function physical devices around us. From the calculator, to the calendar, to the notepad, and so on, each one became reduced to a logo on a home screen. In 2008, Apple started promoting this idea with the slogan, “There’s an app for that!”. The implication being that every service that could be delivered via a mobile app, should be delivered via a mobile app.

In developing countries, things are less straightforward. Mobile data is still expensive, and many users manually turn off internet access when away from WiFi. Power supply is not as reliable as it is elsewhere, so battery-draining services are a public enemy. Low-cost [smart]phones have limited storage, so every new app installed must earn its place via a complex economic calculus in the user’s mind. Money transfer apps compete with Facebook. Lending apps compete with Xender. And so on.

This creates a quagmire for product owners looking to reach a large audience. On one hand, app stores are a beaten path to billions of mobile phones on earth. On the other, the owners of said mobile phones are incentivized to install *fewer* apps. Meanwhile, each one increases in size as it gains functionality (total available storage does not). Meanwhile, every development dollar spent must return itself and a dollar more. Companies can goad users to download their apps — yay, growth hacks! — but may soon find them unused and uninstalled. Something has to give. But what does?

Ben Horowitz has a simple but effective framework for thinking about this:

f(p,t) = c

That is, the distribution channel, c, is a function of the product, p, and the target, t. (Of course, this is a post about distribution.) The product, p, is not the app. It is the solution to the user’s identified problem. It is the ‘job’ your company is built to do. Target, t, is whoever will take the decision about adopting the product. What contexts do they exist in? What do they most care about? Where do they spend most of their time? Viewing the options through these lenses might lead to different conclusions than “let’s build an app!” You might decide, for example, that your service is best delivered through USSD. Or you might decide it works best as a YouTube channel (much like the MVP for IrokoTV). Or you might decide it works best as a WhatsApp number people can text to access the service. Or you might decide that your digital service is best distributed offline!

Through all this, the most important thing to do is test and stay agnostic about the outcome. Design for the consumer, not yourself. Prioritize their preferences, not your own. Following that rainbow might lead you to a pot of gold.


Links from the Internets

  • Strive Masiyiwa on the importance of understanding business models for entrepreneurs and policy makers. [Link]
  • Bill Gurley advises against obsessing over the LTV formula. [Link]
  • Maintaining first mover advantage is not as easy as you think it is. [Link]
  • Building a repeatable, scalable, & profitable growth process. [Link]
Categories
Series V

The Upside of Constraints

Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash

“Lucky is the man who doesn’t believe every opportunity is open to him.”

-Walker Percy

Founders think they need more. More money, more employees, more features. But sometimes, not having enough is a good thing.

Here’s why: constraints force focus. When resources are scarce, they only get spent on the most necessary things. You are forced to take a detailed look at your company and its operations, eliminate all unneeded elements, then isolate what makes it work and do just that. Also, you are pushed to ask “what assumption is this business hinging on?”

For instance, companies make money by increasing sales and reducing costs. Now, imagine you have a product with ten features and 80% of your customers only use two features. The intelligent thing to do is kill the other eight features and risk 20% of your customers who may or may not leave. BUT you are guaranteed to have more resources for your top two features. And this may lead to higher retention of your core customers.

Resource constraints aren’t necessarily the limiter preventing you from doing great things. What’s deadly is not doing enough with what’s available or not doing what’s required. “Most startups don’t die from starvation; they die from indigestion.”

Constraints force founders to carefully allocate time and resources to find creative solutions. Some entrepreneurs never get past the victim stage. They see every restraint as an inhibitor to their ability to realise their ambition and an excuse for not persevering. The smart ones become transformers. They translate constraints to new approaches and breakthrough solutions.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then it makes sense that constraints will yield something new.

“And I don’t believe capital has ever helped a company win a market. Many have tried that approach, and it always ends badly.

So I encourage all of you entrepreneurs out there to embrace being resource constrained and learn to love operating with less.”

-Fred Wilson


Access opportunities at VP’s portfolio companies. If you want to join an early-stage startup fill out this application and our founders will be able to get in touch with you.

Categories
Series V

Much ado about PR (Pt. 3)

Today’s edition of Series V is the third of a multi-part series on press and public relations for startups in Africa. You can catch up on the past two editions here and here. This week, we’ve called in the calvary. JessicaHope, Founder & Managing director of Wimbart, a boutique public relations company with a heavy emphasis on emerging markets, shares how early-stage companies can win at PR.

Jessica has worked with companies like Iroko, Andela, Piggybank.ng, Itanna, Farmcrowdy, and other well-known companies and brands.

Please forward to a friend and share on your social media. We love to get feedback and suggestions, you can send them here.

Jessica Hope. Photocredit: @rotimishotit

On getting your feet off the ground.

For a lot of startups, getting on the press ladder is difficult. So what they should do first is start engaging with the local press. Start reaching out to Techpoint, TechCabal and other local publications. Don’t be fixated on Techcrunch or CNN. Working with local media (including journalists from newspapers) will help startups get an idea of the kinds of questions journalists ask and how to engage them.

If your local tech community isn’t writing about you, then I’d be surprised if international tech writers do. Being in local press opens the door to international news because they can get a picture of what you are doing from a google search. Start from your local community, and begin building those relationships. Retweet their articles, pitch to them, go to their events [it’s critical to have an elevator pitch ready]. Try and meet them face-to-face and that makes it easier to start engaging with the international press.

On profiling and picking the right reporters.

I say to startups, especially in their early days, that they should consume the media they want to be in and attend events where they think the journalists are going to be. The idea is to start developing a personal relationship with them. You don’t always have to pitch a story. Sometimes you might want to tell a journalist about what you’re doing, so when you eventually have a story, they can make that connection. But I think it is essential to be targeted in your approach when sending out press releases.

So, if you’re a fintech company, you need to find journalists who write about fintech, tech, or finance. I wouldn’t even try and pitch a fintech story to the entertainment editor at the Guardian. It’s about doing your research. These days, It is easy to build a picture of journalists and reporters because of Twitter, so you can find out what their primary area of interest is and then figure out how to engage them. So, you might do things like start liking or retweeting their tweets or engaging them in meaningful debate. It’s important to get on people’s radar in a right way.

Major key: when emailing journalists, try and use personal names, so they know it’s not just a mail blast.

On Founder-led PR

The first step is keeping track of the growth story through a blog, or Medium page. It comes in handy when you do get big. Also, writing helps you collect your thoughts. If you don’t use a PR agency, that’s absolutely fine. A lot of companies in the early stages can’t do that, but it is at that stage you at least go to some events or find someone within your company who is a good advocate for your company who can speak authoritatively about what you do. You should look at how other press releases are structured, so if you’re writing your own press release, you could use templates of other reputable press releases. Next, you need to make sure that you target the press releases to the key outlets and engage on a local level.

More importantly, you need to figure out why you need PR. Ask yourself “what do we need? What’s our business case right now?” if your business case is you need more for consumers, the next set of questions are: how are we going to get more consumers? What do we think our consumers are reading? How do we think they are going to be influenced? You have to understand your market and be smart about how you target them.

Storytelling for founders.

It is basically being able to paint a picture of the problem you’re tackling and how you’re addressing it. It doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Or a story of scale and growth, providing data is useful as well. If for example, you’ve partnered with a huge bank, that’s interesting and adds weight to your story. If you’ve secured investment from a famous investor or VC, that is of interest as well. So there’s a lot of different aspects that make up a good story and also providing numbers help. A lot of startups say “we are the number one this or we are the leading that” but they can’t provide evidence to back up that claim. And a journalist isn’t going to believe you just because you say it.

On how to decide on and craft interesting news.

An excellent deciding factor will be if you are recording some fantastic results, that will be one of the first things or if you’re doing something entirely different. For example, the most recent campaign we worked on was PiggybankNG (a VP portfolio company), we did their fundraise announcement. They have a fascinating story. The company essentially started from a twitter conversation because people wanted a savings platform and then fast-forward to a year and a half after, they have 53,000+ users on their platform. Having that traction is evidence that the platform works. Then on top of that, they raised 1.1 million dollars which again adds another layer of interest to the story. And importantly, they also actually started engaging with local media by themselves before they engaged with Wimbart. By engaging with local media, they were able to open the doors and start having conversations with investors.

Finally…

Keep reading local and international outlets and figure out what are common things that make up an exciting story and try to work out how you and your company with limited resources and budget can try and achieve that.


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Categories
Series V

Much ado about PR (Pt. 1)

There is an established pattern for African startups that break out of the valley of death:

Start company > Establish demand > Raise $1m+ (usually with some validation from international accelerators) > Announce to the world via TechCrunch or Forbes that you exist and that the work you are doing matters.

This has created two extreme positions; the people who see press coverage as the ultimate validation (forget the customers), and the people who hide from it, in fear that engaging with the public means you’re really not doing the work. As with most things, the truth is somewhere in between.

In the coming weeks, we will ask and answer many questions about PR: how to think about it, when (not) to think about it, how to pick the right reporters, how to get them interested in your story, etc.

But first, we think it’s important to introduce a framework that shows how journalists decide what to cover. It’s a simple formula:

Interestingness = Who? x What? x So, what?

“Who?” here is obviously you, the startup founder. “What?” is whatever you are building. “So, what?” is the broader context or any additional information that makes it important. For any startup, the value of each variable will be different. But all that matters is the total score once all factors are multiplied. For example:

1. Logistics or on-demand delivery startups in Nigeria [What?] may not be interesting on their own to a reporter. The space is crowded, and there is little differentiation between each player. But if Jason Njoku, founder of Iroko [Who?] left his company to start one today, that would automatically make it noteworthy.

2. Kangpe/RelianceHMO, a VP portfolio company, offers a brilliant solution to a problem felt by the 97% of Nigerians [link] who don’t have access to health insurance [What?; So, what?]. That guarantees coverage for anybody credible who offers cheap cover to consumers.

3. A business reporter may just not find cryptocurrencies interesting [What?], and the founder of an African crypto-exchange [Who?] may not have enough clout to guarantee coverage …until they show them this graph [So, what?]:


Understanding this process allows founders and even investors to position their companies in the best-possible light, and increase the chances that a respected reporter will tell their story. But what is this story, and how does one come up with it?

Next week, we will take a step back and talk about when press/PR is valuable, when it’s not, and how to approach it. Watch this space and share this newsletter, if you found this useful. ^_^


Links from the Internets

  • Nigeria’s telco/ISP industry in charts and tweets. [Link]
  • Conservation of Invent: The hidden reason why A/B tests aren’t as effective as they look [Link]
  • Asch’s Conformity Experiment — CEOs and Investors might want to pay attention to this one [Link]
  • A History of Currency in Kenya, as told by the Central Bank [Link]

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Series V

“I have an idea”

Conventional wisdom says that with the right startup idea, success for a founder is all but guaranteed. Eureka moment -> Startup -> Cha-ching. Everything else is a matter of details. But the devil is in those details.

It’s easy to come up with the idea of a food delivery service, for example. Obviously, people need to eat to stay alive and they don’t always have the time to go buy food for themselves. Obviously. But it’s not as straightforward to make deals with restaurants who were doing fine before you came along. It’s not as easy to get permits, or manage a fleet of blue-collar delivery staff, or design scale-proof processes. The idea, in itself, is incomplete.

This has led the startup community to the other extreme: “ideas don’t matter; execution is everything”.

One reason why execution is valued higher is that ideas are often replicable. As soon as a market gets proven and a product starts making money, it will get copied to the ends of the earth. This is expected, and so the only difference between all the many versions of the product is how well they were executed.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean the ideas themselves are worthless. But the execution is what makes them valuable. Those little actions and decisions add up to make the whole. As Sam Altman said, “What being a founder means, is signing up for this years-long grind on execution — and you can’t outsource this.”

Here’s an interesting comment from Mike Sellers on processes first-time entrepreneurs are completely blind to:

An idea is not a mockup

A mockup is not a prototype

A prototype is not a program

A program is not a product

A product is not a business

And a business is not profits

Profits are not an exit

And an exit is not happiness.

All in all, good products involve a series of ideas executed continuously.


Links from the Internets

  • Mindshare before market share. [Link]
  • Management is a deeply, deeply personal thing + other lessons [Link]
  • The today and tomorrow of Machine Learning. [Link]
  • Leading the people. [Link]
  • Money. [Link]

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Series V

You vs. Yourself

Companies don’t get killed by competition, they usually find creative ways to commit suicide.

Competition is a curious thing. It can make founders go crazy. It can turn them into obsessive, win-at-all-costs lunatics. “How much did they just raise?”. “Who did they just hire to run marketing?”. “What did they add to their latest release?”. “Who just offered to buy them? How much?”.

Measuring your company against competitors is an absolute waste of time. Even if you’re in an extremely competitive space, your competition should never act as the measuring stick for your success.

The key to successfully growing your business is to have a healthy obsession with constantly measuring and improving a handful of metrics that determine the health of your business.

The existence of competing products is a meaningful signal and you should by no means ignore them — look over your shoulder every now and then — but make it a few times a year, not a few times a week.

If the real validation of any business is its customers (and it is), then it makes more sense to keep the focus on them. One of the advantages of this approach is that customers lead you to down interesting paths to interesting discoveries. Keeping a finger on their pulse helps you work out what next to build. For example, Steward Butterfield started Flickr started as an online game but observed customer interactions and realized that the inbuilt photo sharing tool was a more compelling product.

Note: being customer-centric doesn’t imply that you ask customers for every feature to build — it’s looking at their pain points and asking yourself with making the experience 10x better for them. It’s not asking if customers want a faster horse, it’s figuring out the problem — in this case, faster, more efficient mobility — and creating something that gets people to their destinations 20x faster with less work required on their part.

In reality, the fight with competition is for market share. That said, you’ll sooner die from failing to provide a valuable service than from your competition taking all your share of the pie, leaving you to starve to death.

Strong brand names and brand value in itself only carry a passing weight. Rather, the new economy will be defined by those who sit closer to the customer, who really “get” them, and who anticipate a solution before customers can even visualize or express it themselves. Strong brands are customer obsessed brands.

The business model canvas is designed with this in mind, keeping the customer segment and the value proposition at the heart of the business while giving only a cursory nod to the competition.

In the end, it is not your purpose to beat another company. The only thing that matters is that you win over more and more customers.


Links from the Internets

  • Finance as a strategy. [Link]
  • Much ado about valuation. [Link]
  • Insights from code conference 2018. [Link]
  • Lessons from Toys R Us. [Link]
  • Join The Hustle Bootcamp by Starta. [Link]

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