For a new start up looking to ride the wave of excitement and buzz stirred up by the web community and press, what are the secrets to penetrating this circle or “Cabal” as we refer to it nowadays in Nigeria to get mentioned or receive recognition?
As new startups emerge in the Nigerian technology space it is very easy to begin wondering who gets the star breakthrough and notoriety from prominent media sites and bloggers. It’s easy to assume friends, relatives, business partners, acquaintances of new startups controlling access or platforms willing to provide support often have the privilege to provide instant visibility to these newcomers. Far from that it could possibly be well meaning tech editors and bloggers looking for the next “big thing” that equates to big brands in the West, seeking to provide a feeling of euphoria to their audience on discovering what their blog or news competitor hasn’t uncovered.
In a country where the connected, privileged and individuals with the key to unlock destinies often favor relatives, fellow tribesman or people with mutual interests, how can an outsider be rewarded by millions of Nigerians when a few individuals hold the keys to unlock this potential?
I often scout Guardiannews, Punch, Thisday, Nairaland.com and other Nigerian tech blogs looking for the next startup with limitless potentials to unlock opportunities for millions of unemployed youths through their ideas and add to the maturity of the Nigerian tech space sought after by many observers outside the country. This research often leaves a bad taste in my mouth because I am left with reading about repackaged services or products being pushed down the throats of Nigerians by existing companies. I acknowledge the fact that quite a few news outlets and tech blogs go out of their way to reveal newcomers with a niche and innovation surpassing expectations (I won’t name any to avoid being partial).
Based on my experience with building a startup from the ground in a market space with very few competitors and being a first entrant into the markets we operate, I truly understand why tech startups don’t last. Nigeria is a country where “nothing goes for nothing” and to get that visibility you are seeking or exposure needed to give you a boost, you must be willing to part with some Naira. A startup requiring high market penetration and targeting early adopters with a low cost strategy should definitely rethink this strategy, as the Nigerian economy has little room to accommodate such. Radio, TV and Billboard ads are the most effective ways to reach millions of potential customers in both densely and sparsely populated areas in Nigeria.
Strong online advertisement or web marketing has to be directed at the right audience and with vague analytics available to indicate demographics or location of web users, it is difficult to determine if the intended audience is being reached consistently. Paying for ad spots on Nigerian sites with high traffic will cost a decent “kobo” as the average site with 100,000 page views or more cost upwards of N50, 000+ weekly. From my experience Facebook and Google ads might prove to be effective but these two require time and money with lots of patience. Startups with a huge capital base can afford to go the traditional route of radio, TV and billboard to gain immediate boost however, they must ensure they can stay the course. Even after investing all this fortune, a return on investment is not guaranteed or customers may not even develop confidence to adopt your product or service within the first few years. Nigerians are late product adopters or laggards and typically fall into the observability column of the “product adoption curve” placing a lot of skepticism on new startups, which are forced to prove their longevity and relevance over a long period of time.
As a new startup you must be prepared to weather the storm and understand that the dynamics are different in Nigeria. With little access to venture capitalist, Angel investors or other capital funding available in many countries, you are pretty much “on your own”. Being discouraged or disappointed about not scoring reviews, props or mentions from news outlets should not be a reason to quit. A resilient and aggressive spirit combined with a true passion for your startup, mixed with well thought out strategies and realistic objectives for profitability, visibility and growth over time will get you the attention of the “Media and blog Cabal”.
If a startup doesn’t have access to such capital or has friends in high places and can’t wait around for high adoption over a long period but has tremendous potential to change the landscape, I wonder who’s looking out for them!