The rise of the returnees

Anyone ever wondered why it seems a good chunk of the new tech ventures in Nigeria getting funded and enjoying a nice slice of attention seem to be led mostly by people who have gone off to live abroad and come back home? While I don’t have an opinion whether this is good or bad, I’ll throw some ideas up in the air as to why I think this is so and what the Surulere-bred man can do.

1. People would rather trust their cash to someone they have some sort of common ground with. Think of it… I am a foreigner looking to get into an unknown market and I need a guide into that market, I’d rather it’s someone that can speak my lingo and connect with my experiences and expectations while still being able to relate with the environment/market I am trying to get into. Based on this, it’s easier for an American based fund to finance a Nigerian-born Ivy league Grad for a venture in Nigeria.

2. Distrust of the Nigerian education system. I am not sure of this, but I think the average western businessman still wonders what exactly the Nigerian education system produces. I do too! And so do you. If I assume the system is producing people that can’t draw up a simple cash flow statement, then I most definitely will prefer to give my cash to someone who has gone through a system verified for quality.

3. No historical record of success by local entrepreneurs. I have a million to dole out, I am approached by an entrepreneur born and raised in Nigeria, on his first venture. Though the idea and numbers don’t look bad, I cannot point to anything in the past that the entrepreneur has done that’s significant to use as a predictor of future success. Remember, people invest mostly in people, not their ideas or business plans. On the other hand, I am also approached by yet another entrepreneur who went to MIT and served a year or two at JP Morgan. I will likely ask around about the person’s results while at those institutions. If they look good, they seem to me as a predictor of future success.

I believe though, that as the IJGB set start to make successes out of their ventures and possibly become investors of their own, it would start to go round. Also, as one or two “locals” get funded and make successes of what is entrusted to them, problem 3 will slowly get solved.

One solution for the born-and-bred-in-surulere entrepreneur is to put some money together, go spend some time abroad and come back later. Another is to forget trying to compete for oyinbo funding, face your business and just run a successful operation. With time, your success will become your badge of trust.

Good luck!


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Dear Product Manager, your winning idea will likely not be yours…

A number of times, I have been asked if Quickteller was my original idea. The answer is no. NO. Mba! I’m just a guy that was pulled in to help marshal the effort to make it happen. Someday, I’ll pen down a proper origin story as I remember it from my own end of the pitch.

Also, looking back over the time that I served on the team, and the major milestone releases, I can see a pattern that looks like:

  1. Someone says something in the corridor or an email thread
  2. Someone else pokes around for data to back or challenge it
  3. Someone else describes how it may be implemented
  4. Someone else midwifes the process of seeing it done
  5. Someone hits the road to envangelise it

A lot of times, these could be different people. From the executive with the “you guys must do this” posture, to the customer service guy with the timid “I’m not too sure if this is a good idea for you guys to consider” presentation. For a PM to do well, he has to run a shop that makes these kinds of conversation easy to have, and his primary job is to supply input to the process of refining the ideas into something tangible and practical.


Some of the times I had assumed that my job was to come up with the ideas and the job of other people was to execute on those, I either came up with foolish ideas or I couldn’t drive buy-in across board to the very end.

This is not to say that a PM shouldn’t try to be an idea generation machine (hell no! I still came to work every monday morning spinning a brand new idea in our internal email thread all the time, and some of it worked out fine), it just means that she should learn to generate, throw it out there and let others help to refine. Or, let others generate and she fills in any of the other actions that help to refine an idea and drive it to execution.

In fact, the more diverse the group with regards to experiences & background, the better the quality of perspectives from which a problem will be approached. And the better the quality of options that will be put on the table.

So, as a PM, step back a little, let others be the geniuses, guide the process, help with the grunt work.

Then watch magic happen.


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