I was reading an article by Aaron Schaap about why IT startups don’t need a programmer to make it.
A programmer is the most useless person a startup can have. If you are a programmer at a start-up, then you are as dispensable as a napkin.
This reminded me of a very candid talk I once had with an entreprenueress at iHub. I met this pulchritudinous lady who was full of zeal and zest.
She came to me with a very solid business idea. She had figured out how her solution will work, how it will help people, how it will charge and be sustainable, how it will create employment etc.
All she needed was me to refer her to a computer programmer who will work with her for a month or 3, to develop the solution.
She wanted someone she will pay. Preferably a very technically astute freelancer. Someone she will just hire to get the job done.
“How much percentage of the shareholding have you set aside for the programmer?”, I asked her. She was shocked. “None. I just want someone I will pay to code, and they leave me with my system!”. How can a mere computer programmer dare to require shares in my GRAND plan. I am the thinker here. The creator. The Brains. All the programmer will do is just write code and my BRILLIANT idea will come to life. My awesomeness will manifest itself. Muhahahahah!
Well, I gave her props. She wanted to PAY a programmer. She is different from people I have met who think programmers just fart code. And will happily do it for free. She was different from the “I am going for a meeting, wewe andika tu hiyo code, doo inakam. Mob kama fudhi. Wewe relax” crew that I meet every day. But, I decided to educate her.
I am yet to hear of a single IT business that has succeeded because of the brilliance of a business person, albeit having a poor technical setup. or vice versa.
Businesses need BOTH. Not one. Not 2 of one. But at least ONE of BOTH the tech and biz skills. And good ones at that.
So, you have a combination of both. But still there are no success stories in Kenya to write about. All we hear about are the Seven Seas and the like, who are not innovators in any way. The only resell already developed software. Just like a software supermarket. Why are Kenyan start-ups dying? The major causes of start-ups closing shop, to me, are:
Inflated Egos: This starts when one individual becomes bigger than the team. Than the core business. Happens mostly after being mentioned on TV or on print. Or after attending a conference or 2 as a speaker about technology.
Then comes the lack of discipline required to keep ones head down and continue working as a team member. Then the techie or the business person is made to believe that they are indispensable and that the rest are just tools and toys to help them achieve their dream. This, my friends, is a dead start-up.
Greed: So, some little money starts trickling in. Suddenly, checks of amounts like 300k, 500k starts coming in. Yes, small amounts to big businesses, but to the start-ups, this is a DREAM! Tastes so sweet. Then the real faces of the business partners start manifesting.
It becomes a competition of how much more than the others one should earn. Who does more than the other. How little, if any, the others should be paid. With greed, one partner starts a side company and starts siphoning company revenues, projects and ideas created with the other partners input for years; there.
Financial mismanagement: In most setups, techies always leave the ‘business running’ to the business person. Sometimes, including finances and bank signatory roles. To the weak at heart, with absolute power, comes absolute corruption. Personal expenses become business expenses.
I always tell start-ups, “If one business partner pays a rent of KSHS 50, 000 and it is termed as a company expense, then the other should get a rent-allowance of EXACTLY KSHS 50, 000, even if they live in a KSHS 10, 000 shack.”. All expenses handled by the company MUST be spread equally. Lest, one feels more important; a bad thing, and the other one feels under-valued; a bad thing.
Hubris and Shortsightedness: A plaque. I have seen this happen alot of times and it makes me cry myself to sleep. Another promising start-up getting derailed. The founders suddenly get numbers and contacts of people who have made it in techbiz over the years.
Just because a millionaire was humble enough to have a beer with you while siphoning ideas from you, you see them as your peers. Your equals. Names start getting dropped. I was with Macharia at Que Pasa last week. Kamal has a nice dog. Sorry I could not attend the system testing session last weekend at Nailab, I was playing golf with Waibochi. Big talk. Still, no contracts for your start-up from these ‘friends’. Nothing to show. Contacts with no value.
Lost focus: “What is your MS Office?”, I always ask people. Are you a Web Design Company? Are you a Mobile Games company? Are you an SMS Messaging Company? Are you a payment gateway? Are you a hosting company? Are you professional motherboard dust-wipers? Or are you all that plus a bag of chips? Decide today.
Most start-ups that I know have been start-ups for so long, that they need to be called stalls. They have stalled. if the 5 vices I have listed are put to check, then we will have more than just mPesa to blurb about every time all these tourists come here to take amazing pictures of Africans using a computer.
The opposite of the argument above applies. In equal weight and measure. Techies also should not think that all they need to do is launch an app. It is a MUST to have a business/marketing co-founders. It is absolute lunacy and unforgivable idiocy to assume that all one needs is a great app.
Back to code.