Monday, December 23, 2013

A Season of Letters- OBJ gets Response from GEJ

I have to say it was finely written letter from President Jonathan to Former President Obasanjo; a well deserved albeit late response.

It was great to see him point to the atrocities committed under Baba including Odi, rigging of elections in 79 and 2007, as well as assassinations and general state of insecurities that began under President Obasanjo's watch which he is now conveniently running from. On the few allegations he denied, It was Obasanjo that made the allegation, let him now submit proofs on all the denials
  • If he has proof of the 1000 hit list, let him produce it and evidence of training of the death squad. He has enough intelligence contact to muster the proof of payment made, and names of personnel being trained.
  • If OBJoke has proof of Atlantic Oil lifting, let him produce the seafaring details and CAC documents and ownership docs linking them to Jonathan. His boys are embedded in NNPC and they can produce these.
  • If OBJoke has proof of GEJ stopping the ADB project, he should muster some whistle blower in ADB to confirm it
Once these three steps are taken, I am confident GEJ will be duly impeached by the House of Rep and all hell will break lose. The laughable part of this letter was when GEJ said he doesn't encourage corruption- well, the reality is blowing in the winds. Or when he claimed he doesn't influence elections in his party, even his state. Sylvia will have one or two things to say on that, as well as Amaechi and G-19 governors. Both of these Presidents are a bunch of liars! Enough of PDP madness.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Madiba Lives ON!

My Other two their own words that guide me, pay tributes to the GREATEST AFRICAN THAT EVER LIVED

·         Violence never settles anything right: apart from injuring your own soul, it injures the best cause. It lingers on long after the object of hate has disappeared from the scene to plague the lives of those who have employed it against their foes.Chief Obafemi Awolowo

·         "Man is the Alpha and Omega, the only dynamic means and the sole end, of all earthly human activities .... All productive activities, if they are to be meaningful, equitable, just and human, should be geared to one and only one goal- the welfare of the individual." 
- The People's Republic, 1970.

·         "I will, more than ever before, subject myself to severe self- discipline. Only men who are masters of themselves become easily masters of others. Therefore, my thoughts, my tongue, 
and my actions shall be brought under strict control always." 
- My March Through Prison, 1985

·         "It is safer and wiser to cure unhealthy rivalry than to suppress it." 
- Thoughts on The Nigerian Constitution, 1966.

·         "Those who desire to reach, and keep their places at the top in any calling must be prepared to do so the hard way." 
- Awo (Autobiography). 1960

·         “Naturally, in the course of my long political activities, I have attracted to myself a sizeable crop of detractors and adversaries…This as it should be…It isn’t life that matters, but the courage you bring to it” – Chief Obafemi Awolowo
·         “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles” – Martin Luther King Jr.
·         "After rain comes sunshine; After darkness comes the glorious dawn. There is no sorrow without its alloy of joy; there is no joy without its admixture of sorrow. Behind the ugly terrible mask of misfortune lies the beautiful soothing countenance of prosperity. So, tear the mask!"
 - Chief Obafemi Awolowo- My Early Life, 1968.

·         "Any system of education which does not help a man to have a healthy and sound body and alert brain, and balanced and disciplined instinctive urges, is both misconceived and dangerous." 
- Chief Obafemi Awolowo, The People's Republic. 1968

·         The Blackman shall be absolute and undisputed master in his own home, and shall enjoy unaffected and un-patronising equality with the other races of the world." 
- Press Statement (196/): Voice of Reason, 1981.

·         I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.Martin Luther King, Jr.
·         May God rule and guide our deliberations here, and endow all the …leaders with the vision, realism, and unselfishness as well as courage and steadfastness in the course of truth, which the present circumstances demand.

·         “Furthermore, the spirit of man knows no barrier, never dies, and can be projected to any part of the world. This being so I am confident that the ideals of social justice and individual liberty which I hold dear will continue to be projected beyond the prison walls and bars until they are realized in our lifetime.” - Chief Obafemi Awolowo

·         “If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. “ – Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lessons for the Next Generation

I do not have a child talkless of a son to begin with, but I can speak of what values were passed on to me by my father. In many respect I am not my father's son. He is emotional, I am dubiously logical. He tends to be pragmatic, I am more idealistic. Dad is also prohibitively moralistic, I am more accomodating. But I am also his son. I was shaped by his stories, his lessons and his thoughts. Dad taught me growing up to perceive new information through the objective prism but never shy away from making up my mind and sticking with it -letting others know clearly where I stand; he asked that I strive to learn new things and to try as much as possible to incorporate a common sense view to life problems. He fostered debate at home: I remember at nine engaging in mind numbing intellectual debates on socialism vs. capitalism with dad. He always would allow you speak your mind, and argue your way through everything: and I mean everything. That lesson have shaped me to this day.

He also taught me the lessons of not compromising and being principled. Dad is perhaps the most principled man I know that walks the surface of the earth today: and I am not exaggerating. I remember when we lived in Warri back in the day, and the transformer blew out one phase of the electricity. While the half of the street went without light, donations were quickly made to bribe NEPA officials to come fix the transformer: dad refused to pay. I mean, this was a pariah move. In any case, food was going bad in the freezer, and mom wished light be restored in a quick fashion. Like the neighbors she procured an electrician to switch phases on the light pole. Dad met them midstream of the process and forced the electrician down: considering the act illegal and tampering with government property. Mum was furious, but she knew the man she married. Never compromising, astutely principled and single minded once his mind is made up. These were the lessons handed down to me by dad: always root for the little guy, stand up for the oppressed even when it doesn't pay to do so, have a sense of right and wrong: and always be on the side of right, never look down on others, treat everyone equally, and never take yourself too seriously. These lessons I learnt from the Old man...his laugh is also the most infectitous one only rivalled by mine. Perhaps I am my father's son afterall.

2011: The Year that was...


What will you remember 2011 for? Where were you when OBL was assassinated? Or when Ghadaffi was caught? Or when Mubarak fell? 2011 surely will be remembered as the year of the upheaval; when finally the think fabrics of deception in our society started tearing apart to reveal the ugly under belly of repression, inequality and sometimes greed.

Domestically in Nigeria, it was a year of suicide bombings: now by a different sect (Boko Harem), than the ones that started it (MEND). From two polar opposite corners, these two revolutionary groups (or so they think..actually terrorists) - one for economics, the other for religious purpose- have rained bombs of destruction and maiming upon innocent Nigerians starting form last year's Nigeria independence celebrations which have now become serial bombings on public buildings and house of worships. Unfortunately, the new President is a decided failure; seemingly incompetent and incapable of finding creative solutions to our persistent problem. Simply put, we still have a large leadership deficit. His cabinet, his budget, his few policy decisions be it on tenure elongation or fuel subsidy exposes a clueless president.

Personally, 2011 have been a year of fulfillment. The ideas of 2010 are finally translating into concretes. The incubation model of last year presented at Stockholm is now the first start-up accelerator in Nigeria: the Wennovation Hub. The love story of last year, translated to the engagement  of mid-2011. Indeed, the professional aspirations of 2010 are the licensures and certifications of 2011. On the personal development, the search for service and spiritual growth finally did intersect this year: for which I am very gRateful. It has been personally an eventful year: one that has taken me to places only previously imagined.

Per the usuals: I wrote less, read more and had a lot more meaningful travels in 2011. From NYC to Vegas to Daytona to AbuDhabi/Dubai the first half of the year were filled with those dash around the world that makes your head dizzy. Of course, with three trips to the homeland and two to Ghana and Cameroon in the kitty my visits across the continent are also providing a deeper perspective to my larger body of experiences.

Finally, I Started also to finally pen the book, watch this space as that project evolves. The most transforming literature of 2011? It got to be "This House Has Fallen". Quite a piece.

How Customization Is Revolutionizing Our World

The work I'm almost nearly most excited about within our wide array of services at LoftyInc is our technology incubation and acceleration work at the Wennovation Hub. This past week, I was in Kenya, attending the DEMO Africa Investor's Summit to support one of our teams- OTGPlaya as they pitched their exciting new media platform product, and was opportune to meet various young start-ups doing exciting work. Upon three days in Nairobi, and catching the flight to back to Houston I tried to tie my thoughts around the single underlying trend in the innovations I had seen, and it kept coming back to me: CUSTOMIZATION

With Linda Kozlowski, Evernote's VP, Int Marketing
& Wennovation Hub CEO Wole  at Nairobi. Evernote is
Customizing their Way to Global Billions
Sitting next to a Marketing Executive from a Pyramid Marketing Company, offering Tea Products as a medium for selling wellness and entrepreneurship in Africa, I undertook an analysis of what I was thinking and what she was saying (not that I was buying; but it is nevertheless relevant). 

Forget what you hear that Social Network is the big deal, the even bigger deal is the mad revolution now taking the world of manufacturing, politics, religion, relationships, business, even life-work balance by storm. My discussion with our Tea executive begun from the point of view of exploring various business models for marketing. At our hub, we have companies experimenting with business models that allows individuals sponsor events and as such media access for others (it is a gift after all, and people are more generous on a personal level than on a corporate level). This business model is taking the twist out of the Google Ad for free search model, and personalizing (i.e. customizing) it on the most personal level. Companies will need to customize their business models, the traditional direct sales, pyramid marketing and even online approach will not work. As people demand customization, new paradigm must be explored. Hybrids will need to be developed. 

Take the world of 3-D Printing, and what that will mean for manufacturing in the future. A world where you can instantly design and deliver products customized to meet people's needs, will change the paradigm of distribution networks, payment systems and demand. Indeed, while consumer product manufacturing is taking the wholesome lead with 3-D Printing, its permanent requirement to scale may actually prevent this sector from seeing full customization potentials before others.

Food is one area where I see (talking about my Tea Selling Pyramid Network Executive) an opportunity to disrupt how we eat and what we eat with customization. Imagine a world where you order your food without specific ingredients most in tune to your health profile? Your genomic profile? You can remove those ingredients you don't like or are bad for you, and you can order to fit. You go online on say Nestle website, input your ingredients, and samples get sent to you. You order more, and heck you now have a Busanga Customized Coffee palate and I can get on Twitter to promote just that to friends on my network. Guess what? Will Nestle pay me for that free promotion? Now, I -the consumer -is making money as I have innovated my way by customization and lowered my own procurement cost thereof.

Coke is doing something interesting. Been to the United Kingdom lately? You can order Coke with your own name. Now these are early days, and those names are pre-printed- but it points in one direction: customization.

The sectors where Customization is even disrupting most are the most intangible ones like Politics, Religion and Relationships; and wait a minute: work/life balance. Most individuals I know of, at least my circle, are choosing not to live to work but to work to live. This is forcing employers to device new schedules, new ways to accommodate employees and retain talents. One size fits all company policies don't work for the millennial, and any traditional thinking in this area is bound to lead to failure. At LoftyInc for example, I bet you more people in our organization work after midnight than before it..that is the way they like it, and we thus like it too! 

In Politics, Egypt for example have been demanding a customized leader for the past three years; it has led to some very interesting outcomes. Morsi thought he was a savior, and oh boy was he surprised. The public and electorate are demanding leaders that mirror their demand. This led to the rise of a lanky Senator from Illinois to the world's most powerful position in 2008, and it is checking a whole lot of tyrants around the world. Even Tea Party in the US is a creation of political customization demands! People are demanding customized leaders, and until their desires are satisfied then coup by Twitter will be the norm! Need I go into religion, and how the lines between the world religions are increasingly blurred and how humanism and desire to be the very best person and serve the next man is now leading to massive losses in Church Pews and Mosque Grounds. About time, if you ask me.

All is not well with customization however; followers will demand more, and leaders will be stretched.Convention and culture for all the bad things it yields, serve stable purposes in business, society and among mankind- now those things are endangered. The survivors will be those that can harness the positive energies of customization. Billion dollar companies will declare bankruptcy (ask Blockbuster, as Netflix destroyed its business model and deftly pivoted to another even as Wall Street complained). 

In case you miss it, even your relationships are getting customized. Marriages and dating relationships are no longer what they used to be. If you think they're, then you have a surprise waiting for you!  

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Paradox of Chinanomics

I always wanted to visit China, but thought that trip was few years away. China is world's largest nation; what it puts out is as intriguing as its massive population and land size (third largest, only behind Russia and Canada in the world). But it is also a tough nation to visit. Getting a first time visa can be a serious pain in the behind, and intentionally so. This piece of real estate have always existed for many years without contact with the outside world. The shielded Chinese are still getting used to the "free for all world", and Visas are especially restricted to a traveller from the West. But I was offered a special opportunity to visit when my business partner called about an upcoming Baltimore-Xiamen Sister Cities Trade Mission, which we could be part of; to us, this was China Beckoning. I was ready to go!

Packing my bags after a Summer Work on the Road that had taken me to Lagos, Abuja, Douala, Yaounde, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Aberdeen, London, Orlando and Atlanta, I was just about settling back into work-life swing when China came beckoning. Armed with my broken iPhone (forgive the really back pictures on this trip), I took the trip to Michigan to connect with the Baltimore City Delegation to Shanghai.

Arriving in Shanghai, the weather was hot but not as sultry as Houston. It was a quick check-in, and then three days of dinners- bottoms-up elaborate escapades demanded by our Chinese hosts and really useful business meetings. Shanghai is an elaborate financial capital, with mega-projects feel...I think it competes more than well against Dubai for crazy-projects of the century. Massive new shiny financial district stand aside traditional urban centers of Shanghai's past, and are dwarfed by the seemingly unending rows of unoccupied skyscrapers- more on that later. This is probably the largest construction site in the world.

On Saturday, we left for Xiamen proper where the China International Fair for Investment and Trade was taking place. An annual binge of Chinese fervor and international curiosity. There we ran into the party of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was busy punching away at his smart phone, 90% of the time. Xiamen is a smaller city- Chinese standard, with only 3.5 million people but much laid back with nice party city, tourism thriving and more evenly distributed economy than usual. It seats just across the Taiwanese straits, and benefits enormously from trade with the other China i.e. Taiwan. Though one generally sense a lot of animosity that Chinese has for the Japanese, I think you sense more envy than rivalry for Taiwan. Taiwanese businesses flourish on the mainland, and make regular visits irrespective of the permanent missile aimed at them, and the perpetual military exercises the Red Army uses to delay flights from the sprawling Xiamen Airport. Jokes aside, we were held on the traffic up to 3 hours at a time, flying in or out of Xiamen due to military exercises- note to self: always plan for that.

On Monday, I excused myself to visit Shenzhen from the official delegation. This took me to visit the ICT capital- or Silicon Valley of China as some call it. Shenzhen is gorgeous, as it is more open. Young people here are managers, directors and the tech spirit is alive and well. The manager of a chinese tech company that picked me up the airport, dove into politics without apologies and prompting- and had harsh words for Chinese repressive system, but also a lot of hope for his country and proud of its achievements in keeping most people out of desperate poverty- as large as the country was. Indeed, he talked about India as the alternative with large masses in poverty, and he preferred China. Here he was, only 28 and well travelled to many parts of the world doing sales for his company, and he seem to me to be China's future...not those old bureaucrats we met in Shanghai or Xiamen. The best Chinese Food by the way I had in this country was also in Shenzhen. Very tasty!

It will not be for the business or shiny new buildings I will remember China; it will be for the true personal love they showed me - a brother going around China. It was definitely not uncommon for Chinese women and teenagers- male or female to step up to me to ask for a picture during this trip. The occasional giggle, random request for was simply out of the world! I thought loudly to myself, I need to bottle this stuff before more brothers head to China. Hey, China showed me love.

With respect to China, some key take bullet points as I remember them:

  • China is truly the Far East. For far too long being sterile, it is best imagined as one giant realestate
  • Classical economics does not make sense in China unless the entire country is viewed as one giant corporation with 1.5 billion workers, and 7 member management board - the Politburo's Standing Committee
  • I cannot see how the classical external investor can win in this "market". It is more of a competitor company for every little organization that flies in; no you can't- you will get crushed.
  • Better positioned to make this large organization work with you, or work with one of its many micro-units (Chinese Company) to leverage their low cost and productivity - to win outside.
  • The Chinese Government is the world's largest business incubator- with deep pockets. Like incubators, they will back new ideas, old ideas wrapped in new clothing, and stolen ones too. So be careful with your innovation. You still have to deal with the Chinese government, just be careful.
  • The Chinese person, is both curiously timid as they're confident; equally argumentative as they're docile; imaginative as they're lacking in ingenuity. Go Figure.
  • These proud people have managed to survive 5,000 years and more; I will bet they'll be around for another 5,000. Get used to it.
  • Ability to adapt to many years of changes, will probably see China last longer than most typical world number twos. This is not Russia, a perennial wannabe or India- a perpetual disorganized backwater if you ask me. This is China.
  • The greatest challenge to govern such a sprawling country, was to unite it behind a leader; that is what the "development for freedom" strategy experiments of the Chinese Communist Party has figured. The day China stops developing is bad news for the party.
  • The prospects for China is scary as it is wonderful for America and the rest of the world. America will win provided it can be that place Chinese middle class can escape to, from the repression that it bargained for in their country.
  • Back to the last point, the USA EB-5 business visa/Green card for investment program is hugely popular here. When I asked the Chinese why they do it, and not put the $1million in China, they tell me if they invest in China their kids may lose it or the investment say in real estate reverts back to government in 70 years. If China figures out personal property rights, then this may change. America's free lunch is immigration, wonder why she keeps screwing that up.
  • While the China sceptic will perennially talk about lack of innovation, don't believe it. China may not be innovating for Americans, but is innovating for 1.5 billion people and the developing world. I used a curious wifi making invention in my hotel room..well, that is innovation. Remember BYD?
  • China's greatest strength is her cohesion and order that translates to true National Pride. This natural pride in country is something I don't see every too often around the world even in rich countries. Leaders can't pay for that, and China got it- and it is not forced; it is genuine.
  • China can still blow it; if it gets sucked in by regional rivalries and territorial disputes in Taiwan, Tibet, with Japan..among others, then the success of her experiment will be very short lived.
Let me end by discussing one paradox; the never unending sights of empty skyscrapers in Chinese cities. Many can't help but ask how the developers remain in business. Well, it is simple- those buildings are owned by China Corp. Looking at 500 million people moving from rural areas to the cities in the next 30 years, the country has figured how to create a developer class that build empty ghost cities. The government lend money to banks, who back this buildings, who then buy them back. The government loan is securitized, but it originates from surpluses generated by China Corp as the world's largest factory. Alternative investment? Well, they do that too. But they figured providing for the oncoming population onslaught is much better deal- and heck, those future dwellers may either be working and paying for this at some inflated value to the future, or they will earn the right to live there by working for China Corp. This paragraph if it is confusing to you, is just because you believe that demand-supply crap too much: this is China.

In Conclusion, this is a world set apart and is somewhat insular. While China may not have ambition to dominate the world actively, its soft cultural ambition are formidable. Bullish on Chinanomics, doubtful it can lead a political and diverse world.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

It is the Infrastructure Stupid!

What is the difference between a country on the path to greatness, and one permanently stuck in the underdevelopment trap? Well, I say it is the infrastructure stupid. Let me say, a visit UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai particularly) will convince you. Flying in from any direction, UAE is an amazing constructor's dream compared to Africa, and it was all but a swath of desert land few decades ago: an often forgotten desert backwater where nomads wandered and poverty was rife. In 2013, it is a descent into Lagos from overseas that looks like peering into a massive village with very little visible planning, network of roads and infrastructure  Compared to other African countries indeed, Lagos is like London. Flying into Lome or Contonu will remind one of a war zone even though no battle have been fought in either in any recent memory.

Infrastructure does four amazing things for Nation's stuck in underdeveloped state, for one it creates direct jobs. Building massive highways around a large country, airports as well as power stations, public water works, ports and rail require massive physical manpower that range from skilled to semi skilled and unskilled. Aside from direct jobs created, the families of employed laborers create more jobs, and demands of construction result in the rise of related industries if properly executed with in-country expertise. Speaking of expertise, infrastructure also cause technology and knowledge transfer. Potentially transforming big consumers to cheap manufacturers in the process of building. A combination of jobs and knowledge also often mean a rapid reduction in security challenges for any country. 

The last two advantages of infrastructure are experienced once the infrastructure is in place. Because it amounts to a massive tax cut on business as the cost of the lack of infrastructure is far greater to the aggregate of the individual players in the economy than it is when funded by the collective, it reduces the cost of doing business and reinvigorates the economy. Indeed, this is the definition of infrastructure. Whereas the infrastructure conceived for a country is beyond ordinary and bold, and it encourages business by reducing the cost of doing the industry of Tourism naturally develops wrapped around a revitalized back-bone; as the Brits will tell you- this is the only free money about town. Tourism money is free money and herein, is where Africa is really missing out! 

For Africa's teeming population with brawns it is time to tap into this muscle power to rebuild the continent. Africa's government have for far too long been high on promises and low on delivery - all attributable to lack of vision, corruption and poor planning. Infrastructure projects have to be prioritized for highest cost to job creation ratio, and sustainable impact. On the surface, transportation projects by far deliver on this metric more than power, public water and social infrastructure. But those can be equally expensive, and can take far too long to implement with no measurable multiplier effect as much as Power. 

While funding may be said to be a challenge, it is on record that trust and vision is actually the biggest impediment to the rise of Africa's infrastructure. Africans need to believe their leaders once again, and infrastructure is as much a social contract as it is a technical endeavor. The Three Gorges Dam Project as much as the Hoover Dam revitalized the hopes of China and American people respectively in their leaders and in themselves. Herein, lies the opportunity. Africa needs few good men of vision, comitted to changing the continent from a reputation of a basket case, with leaders dipping their hands in the basket for the funding to truly be secured. 

That process can begin by committing to transparently spend by consensus the resource revenues of our governments on infrastructure and do away with large security spending and big civil service that are payoff for the boys and spend where it is needed. For a population willing to sustain the current level of recurrent expenditure, such should only be funded with tax monies. Only when this effective link between the governed and the governors is restored will the core leakage of corruption be sealed: once and for all- helping the push for infrastructure. Once in place, private monies - concessions and PPP arrangements including BOOT (Build, Own, Operate and Transfer) or its variants will fund the much needed infrastructure for a continent badly in need of one!

Hence, the time is ripe for the right thinking generation of leaders. There is lot of free money out there- including the just announced Power Initiative by the United States to restart the engine of economic growth in Africa by investing proactively in infrastructure without siphoning millions into the pockets of kleptomaniac leaders. But can this generation be trusted? 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

7 Market Entry Pointers for Starts-Ups : Why Better Place Failed & Tesla Succeeded

Last week, the inevitable happened- the famed Israeli company- Better Place, often touted as a symbol of the ingenuity and resilience of the nation (read, Start-Up Nation) failed. Touted at its beginning as a home grown solution to hydrocarbon fueled economy, after many years of support and nearly a billion dollars invested it will be closing shop and liquidating. This is a blow in many respect to the world of green technology and above all futuristic automobiles- or not?. In many ways however, it is also a big lessons learned- to the next big dreamer out there. Better Place cellphone business model to car making, was to sell specially co-branded vehicles that came with batteries that is swapped out by consumers at charge stations on depletion just like refueling. The idea? Pure electric vehicle without the distance/refueling fright! And cheaper, since consumers don't own the batteries outright!
Dreams as big as remaking two gigantic industries- automobile and petroleum - by itself are big; but they become dumb when braggadacio is not well thought out and the innovator fails to understand first the status quo it seeks to supplant - especially its consumer (or "would-be" consumer). The story of Better Place stand anachronistically diametric to that of Tesla Motors, started by the Billionaire African - Mr. Elon Musk and who seem to have pursued this the right way and are now in the black for the first time ever- selling cars and driver trains! I will contrast both companies in the next few, and identify few reasons why some start-ups succeed while others fail even with $850 million!

1. Know your stuff: Anyone that knows the journey of Elon Musk with electric vehicles will realize he was never a Shai Agassi driven by pure idealistic underpinnings in a summer camp for future entrepreneurs. For one, Elon understood the art of the impossible when it comes to breaking boundaries and building machines. Granted he made his money from software- founding Paypal; formerly, just like Agassi was a former SAP Executive; but he also built Space X- the first private sector answer to NASA. Imagine that, the man has remade the way we buy stuff online, how we go to space and now how we drive. He understood machines and disruption. Reading the book Start-Up Nation, it was clear Agassi didn't even understand car making! He just understood how hydrocarbon hurt the world (environmentally, geopolotically), and was convinced electric vehicles were the future; well, so do I. But I shouldn't be building cars verily! So coding is not enough to start an online ticketing platform; do you even know the event creation and event management world?
2. Patience Is a Virtue: After knowing your stuff, patience and how that impacts your strategy (fundraising, market entry or otherwise) is particularly germane to the success of a start-up. Victories don't come over night; they come in bits and pieces. While Better Place's Agassi was all about landing that big government support, buzz and investor dollar, Mr. Musk labored away to sell 120 pieces of the first version of Tesla Roadster to the high end. He also knew the idea will need some mini-testing and pilot. He wasn't rushing to expand; from 120 cars, it is now selling 4,800 and power trains to its auto maker partners. Hey, it couldn't land BMW without earning some respect and credibility as a man that knows his stuff! I always tell our entrepreneurs at Wennovation, they will go from prototype, to working prototype, to commercial pilot to market ready products; you can shorten the period between each stage but that natural evolution cannot be skipped; do so, at your own peril!
3. Right Capital, Right Sense: He knew this was a long game; as a result he didn't go about raising investor money to back just an idea/ideal; he first used his own money and sweat equity to prove the idea! Entrepreneurs? Learn anything? Don't come to the pitch without a commercial pilot; investment raised to incubate an idea is a dangerous one because it comes with lots of risk. Ask Better Place. Of course, Elan Musk raised the right capital when it took government grant over investor money prior to its latest IPO and payback. Taxpayers were backers of Tesla, we're just never gonna get the upside!  Investor money is not for learning (see 1 above) or experimenting! If need be when still pre-commercial pilot: go for grant money, FFF Network, small angels- those folks will understand when you lose their money experimenting. Even if you get a large VC, tread with caution.
4. Under Promise, Over Deliver: If anything, this is the secret of Elon Musk. Always working away unapologetically away from the kleiglights, he was the master of the UPOD strategy. His products (at Paypal, Tesla or SpaceX) were nearly always unveiled once the hard work of R&D, fixing the bugs and knowing the market was done. When he releases a pre-market product like early versions of Telsa Roadster- you found them in New Orleans Jackson square being used by the NO Police, and just stationed in the sunlight to the admiration of passersby. He didn't take them to the race course! Smart guy. Better Place on the other hand, could never wait to deploy to Denmark, Los Angeles and these other places even when still figuring out how to swap batteries and parotting to the media with the help of President Shimon Peres. And by the way, Agassi promised 52 minutes  to swap batteries when Better Place started; he was able to deliver 6 minutes at best according to many users! Entrepreneurs can learn that friendly media is not always friendly; talk less, deliver more!
5. Diversify the Revenue Stream: Especially if you're planning to disrupt two giant industries! Heck, you have targets on your back, so you better be making money in more ways than one. Just imagine what the $850 million Better Place raised can be used for. It can cure malaria, fix schools, develop an oil field whose revenue can be used to fund climate change research (lol), and heck, fund a million other start-ups like a crap shot with better chances of success! In restrospect of course. Tesla makes money not just from selling cars, but also selling power trains. Agassi's singular revenue plan, the direct to consumer battery plans were his ultimate undoing. Only 800 or so customers, when he promised 100,000 - four years later. Lessons to would be entrepreneurs out there- make money from everything. Thou shall not come to me with a single revenue stream plan!
6. Understand the Status Quo: Lesson number 6 is as connected to Number 1 as jam is to bread. Better Place ultimate undoing was that it ignored its number one barrier to business: the consumer. Lets for a minute ignore the refuelling fright consumers are likely to experience with this new technology, do you seriously think an Audi addicted buyer will buy a Renault simply to go all electric? I doubt it. Car buying is about brands and brand loyalty. Tesla got it; they started from the high end. They curated the customer. They grew that loyal base and can backward integrate in the future by creating a lower end line from a high end maker just like BMW and Mercedes Benz. They did not delude themselves to thinking consumers will buy high performance vehicle from just any partner, so they went about learning how to build vehicles themselves. This was a fundamental flaw in Better Place's business model. It may have been better off in fact partnering with a company like Tesla to design that battery swap technology, and offering the station like a car wash. Now that is a better use of $800 million! Lessons for Entrepreneurs- know your customers!
7. Right Market Entry Strategies: The combination of one through six can be summarized in a solid market entry strategy. Market Entry Strategy encompasses how you plan your product development, fundraising to support it, customer group(s) to target out of the door, business vertical to focus on and even how you manage your PR Coverage (UPOD?) and Branding Strategy. Start-Ups are fond of screwing this up, hence 8 out of 10 are bound to fail. Tesla is not resting on its oars; it is going about changing the way consumers buy cars. Direct online, bypassing the middle man! This again is necessary for it as an upstart to survive. Just imagine, an automaker without inventory and a car that is always customized to your taste after you test drive in a local display center! This is Just In Time turned on its head with Afro-American; I mean South African bravado!

Michael Oluwagbemi is Co-Founder of Lagos Based Start-Up Incubator- the Wennovation Hub

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Does Mali Prove the Need for an African Super State?

One thing is clear as the French hurriedly mobilized to save Mali's besieged capital last week, African current weak states lack capacity. Many being product of colonial power deals and the Berlin Conference lack the cohesive semblance of state or economic status to sustain cohesive nations that can defend territory or people. Africa is filled with separatist groups. Check this interactive map, and this in itself shows that Africans are not satisfied with the current configuration of Africa!

African General Takes Instruction from French Colonel..LOL

Think of it, France? The fact is many states in Africa are just mere post-colonial outposts of their ex-colonial masters. What the ex-colonialists have done was to cut off the expensive appendages of colonial administration and potential influx of immigrants a collapsing world structure will bring if that relationship were still in place and replaced it with a cheaper structure of weak states governed with military bases and commercial exploitation. The new task masters are Africa's diabolical elites- educated abroad, turned internal warlords or thieving political class that does the bidding of the Europeans! This classic mis-governance of the past 40 years have led to an even weaker state filled with intrigues that ensure uprising that a weaker state with no capacity to stand up to rebellion can beat back. This is the story of Mali and many other African nations.

Even the relatively stronger ones like Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt or South Africa can barely manage internal uprisings as evidenced by the recent history of these foursome. One of the former Super-Giants- Sudan, had to eventually crack into two under the weight of its own state of misnomer , and Darfur is still brewing within a much smaller Sudan. And the new South Sudan is spiraling fast into the pit of poverty, internal rivalries, corruption and reality of being a landlocked state that most of its older brethren are learning to cope with!

Fact is even the much vaunted African Powers can only brutishly deal with some form of internal rebellion, and can barely handle external aggression like Egypt (remember 1967 territory loss to Israel and uprising in the Arab Spring?), Algeria (we were just reminded of how brutish it can be with internal rebellions) and Nigeria (Oh the mighty crippled by Boko Harem and won't bat an eye lid as Cameroon took Bakassi).

Clearly, it is time to rethink African states. Most of them are failing. Somalia, CAR, the Sudans (40 years conflict),  both Congos, Angola- many of these states much larger than entire Western Europe have been in perpetual state of war for decades! Internal strife and insecurity is the order of the day in West, North, Central and Horn of Africa. Political tension is wrecking East Africa as it is increasingly drawn into the Horn of Africa conflict. Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger are hapless as their vast desert territories are overran by eager jihadists seeking their own Afghanistan base to fight their insane holy war.

Perhaps if Obama wants to do something transformative in his second term, he can take Africa more seriously and double cross the European- as a true son of the soil, that can make this new Africa morning become a truism. Sub-Sahara Africa's border can be redrawn into 5-7 more sustainable Federal Nations, at least anything below Algeria-Egypt-Morocco line. These states will be democratic  they will elect sensible leaders; they will practice true federalism that acknowledges their diversity and internal ethnic configurations; they will be larger and have access to sea; they will also be multi-lingual and work towards adopting new, generous identities beyond what the crazy 60s left them. They will have stronger and effective security apparatus, that can respond to the challenges of terrorism without borders.

A new Trans-African national order aided by a true son that emerged the most powerful man in the world. Even if he doesn't finish it, he can help start the conversation. Africa must Unite.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Let them eat cake! Happy New Year!

Here is Krugman saying it was a good deal, but still complaining. Of course, now we get defense cuts and across board spending cuts while getting higher taxes on wealthy and no cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Indeed, Dems also get unemployment taxes, payroll tax rightly expire and child credits are back in. The 250k limits to deductions, capital gains also stay in place.  I think this is a very good deal, even he now agrees- depending on what happens in March!

The only part I wish the Dems got right was Estate tax. At least they could have insisted on fixing the carried interest loophole for that. Some say they needed to leave that and capping deductions which could raise another $500bn on the table, and eliminating corporate welfare for March discussions on sequesterization and debt ceiling debate.

However, the more I read blogs on the left - I think folks forget get confused between the sequesterization and the fiscal cliff (sequesterization + tax cut expiry) . This tax deal had nothing to do with the first debt ceiling debate where Dems basically ate shit to avoid hostage taking agreeing to 1.2 trillion in advance cuts (mostly in freezes in program growth and savings from Afghan) plus 1.2 trillion in painful sequesterization in return for 2.4 trillion raise. It was all 1.2 trillion in spending cuts then, now this is 600 billion in tax raises which they get in return with little or no spending cuts. The game is now 1-1 or may be 1-2 if you assume Liberals cried for Afghan war ending.

The next game is when the 1.2 trillion in sequesterization which are the real spending cuts in both discretionary and defense spending will kick in about March (about time for Debt Limit raise again). Today GOP is claiming they don't like those sequesterization, and the defense industries will die if it happens. There is no way Dems will just let those pain sequesterization go away in March without obtaining revenue in return or save their own programs. So there will have to be an even negotiation on what gives of the 1.2 trillion just happen and everyone cries. 

So either there is a mutual disarmament (which basically means everyone agrees deficit don't matter), or adults come to the table to negotiate evenly in March, or there is mutual assured destruction (the 1.2 trillion cuts over 10 years hitting both GOP and Dem programs evenly). I sense you will get A or C. There are no adults left anymore. In fact my bets is on C, and hey who cares? Everyone keeps their tax cuts, and government cuts defense and some welfare programs. Medicare and Social Security stays intact, the selfish baby boomers win. LOL

And yes, the right strategy for Obama is to separate the debt ceiling from deficit talks. Debt ceiling should be routine and he must insist so; thank goodness there is no Triple A credit to protect again. I like the tactic of reminding the country they racked up the debt, and stop acting like kids. Let them eat cake! 

Happy New Year Folks!


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