No. 188: W.E.B. Du Bois |5G Rollout |Oil’s Future

W.E.B. Du Bois and the American Soul

This is a compilation of three beautiful set of conversations on W.E.B Du Bois’ life and impact on society during and after his life. I first understood that a black American living in Africa was an option when I learned that he finished his life in Ghana.

I had a fantastic conversation with friends that covered a range of topics, including the stories black people tell ourselves about where we come from and the impact of those stories on how we live our day-to-day. I’ve long been of the mind that black folks need to connect with our African story. A friend pointed out the importance of learning the complexity of our story here in the U.S. and wherever else in the Diaspora our people have been.

I look forward to spending more time on that, particularly in thinking about my mother’s family history. I learned details about my grandmother and how she grew up just a few months ago and look forward to gaining a deeper understanding of my heritage on that side of the family.

The 5G revolution is coming to Africa

There has been much conversation about the impact 5G technology will have on the ability for applications of self-driving technology, augmented reality and more due to increased speeds. We’ll have to wait a few years for proof of this and I’m curious to see what 5G deployment looks like across Africa. Will carriers like MTN and Vodacom choose to install a bunch of cell sites across a city or put a bunch more antennas on their existing towers? Helios Towers announced it was building 1,000 towers in South Africa to prepare for 5G, so I imagine they anticipate carriers are going for the latter.

I’d be interested in how carriers who plan to deploy dense networks across cities engage with local governments to plan that type of work out. My understanding of these ultra-dense heterogeneous networks is that you essentially have a bunch of pizza box-sized cells that bring the cellular base stations signal closer to users. A constraint of 5G is that the signal doesn’t travel that far and struggles to get through buildings. This kind of network is supposed to improve that. That requires a lot of planning for right-of-way, where in the city is demand greatest, how do you protect the cells, and more. Apparently, more carriers will be rolling out the technology over the next couple years. We’ll see how they deploy the technology and whether African markets serve as a laboratory for innovations in 5G deployment.

Norway Is Walking Away From Billions of Barrels of Oil

When Ghana learned that it had lots of oil off of its coast, officials pointed to Norway as the model for how they would manage the resource. They would avoid the challenges the resource has brought to other African countries that had grown dependent on the cash cow. Nigerian governments have talked for years about how the country needs to diversify its economy to depend on more than oil to drive the economy.

I wonder how African oil officials are responding to this news that the government is choosing not to explore an area that could have significant oil reserves. In addition to this, the Norway’s sovereign wealth fund announced not too long ago that it was selling off its stakes in oil exploration stocks. I don’t know that this is the path for African oil countries right now, but I’m sure it could be a proxy for laying out hard questions about an economy’s relationship to oil:

  1. When is enough enough?
  2. How do we sequence pulling resources away from oil to invest other sectors?
  3. Whose voice will be most important in making the decision on how long we rely on oil?

These sort of questions are probably a generation away. Let’s see how the conversation plays out if it happens.

No. 187: 3 Thoughts – Heartland Visa | GDP-B |Top VCs

From Managing Decline to Building the Future

What would it look like for there to be a visa program that matched skilled immigrants with communities that are especially hard-hit by population decline in the U.S.? The Economic Innovation Group, a think tank founded by Sean Parker of Facebook fame, just published a report outlining this idea. I think the idea is compelling, but there are a few questions that come to mind:

  1. What steps will these communities need to take to make themselves as appealing as possible for immigrants to stay? I wonder how welcoming these communities will be to a new wave of folks coming in. Will they perceive the pie as fixed and these new entrants as eating their share of it?
  2. What role do folks who left these struggling communities have in trying to revive it? Marc Andreessen is from Iowa. Jack Dorsey is from Missouri. Can struggling communities partner with these sorts of folks to help cast vision for a new future and attract talent?

How to redesign GDP for the 21st century

Lots of countries, particularly developing ones, hang their hat on the size of their GDP (gross domestic product) which measures the value of the things we pay for in a year. A lot has changed since the measure was developed in the 1930s and the measure doesn’t quite capture all the value being created in an economy.

There are plenty things we don’t pay for up front – Facebook, the music you streamed on Spotify, etc. GDP measures what you paid for your phone, your laptop, your internet connection. MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson claims to have developed an alternative GDP measure that captures the benefits we receive from the things we don’t pay for – GDP-B.

If this catches on, I’m really interested to see the impact it could have on policymaking. For example, Ghana rebased its GDP last year using a new set of more recent data that included more factors in its economy like oil and technology. On paper, the country’s GDP was $52 billion, about 25% bigger than originally believed. A number of governments in Africa turn off the internet around election time to stave off protests and organizing while they conduct funny business. Imagine getting a better measure of that impact. These past couple years in the U.S., I’ve often wondered what has been the impact on productivity of this president tweeting so much. Perhaps GDP-B could provide an answer.

The Midas List

Forbes puts this list out on the top 100 venture capitalists based on the the following methodology:

To make the list, investors are ranked by their portfolio companies that have gone public or been acquired for at least $200 million over the past five years, or that have raised additional funding at a valuation of $400 million or more. Forbes and TrueBridge put a premium on newer exits, as well as early-stage returns. 


This list needs to look a lot different 10 years from now. More melanin would be nice. Lo Toney closed his Plexo Capital I fund at $35.1M last month. Charles Hudson closed his second Precursor Ventures fund at $31m last month as well. Education seems to be getting hot in the startup world, hopefully Shantel Garvey notches a win. Perhaps Ken Chenault will notch a big win at General Catalyst. The list needs more black folks.

No. 186: 3 Thoughts – Time | A16Z, a VC No More | Opportunity Zones

In his acceptance speech at the NAACP Image Awards this weekend, Jay-Z recited a quote that struck me: “It’s not the number of years in your life that count. It’s the amount of life in your years.” The quote echoed a question I had been pondering a couple days before I saw his acceptance speech on Sunday: “If today was your last, how would you assess the extent to which you’ve lived a full life?” Later Sunday evening, I learned Nipsey Hussle was murdered. I’ve had several conversations with friends about his death. This man was having a real impact in his neighborhood, and had a big vision. He wasn’t finished yet. His death is a reminder to remain focused on the reason we’re on this earth and handle our business there.

Andreessen Horowitz Is Blowing Up The Venture Capital Model (Again)

So, Andreessen Horowitz isn’t a venture capital firm anymore. Wow. The firm recently registered all of its employees as financial advisors and gave up its venture capital exemptions in order to be able to invest deeper in the cryptocurrency space. I’m not quite sure what to make of this, but I am curious to see how it impacts recruiting. I don’t get the sense that folks interested in VC are particularly interested in taking financial advisor reviews and being audited.

The Real Roots of ‘Black Capitalism’

I’ve been skeptical of opportunity zones for some time now, and this piece reinforces my feelings. It’s been quite distressing watching firm’s like Anthony Scaramucci’s Skybridge Capital lay the groundwork for massive funds to take advantage of the incentives in program. The opportunity zone program is supposed to foster investment in distressed communities, but I worry that firms like Skybridge will muscle out investors like Nipsey Hussle who was also laying the groundwork to take advantage of the program. This article does a nice job laying out the roots of the opportunity zone program about which I knew little. I look forward to learning more here.

No. 138: How Does Africa’s Innovation Economy Tap Into Africa’s Wealth?

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend who is raising a fund for her Lagos-based startup. At one point in our conversation, she shared the effort she has had to go through to get people she has met with in Silicon Valley up to speed on what is happening in Nigeria’s tech space.

This has been a refrain from a number of entrepreneurs and investors who are already tuned in on what is happening in Africa’s innovation economy. Fortunately, the tide seems to be trending towards Silicon Valley getting more hip to what is happening in Nigeria, Kenya, and to a lesser extent South Africa (Cape Town-based Naspers has led some massive investments that I am sure Silicon Valley investors have noticed.)

While we chatted, my mind went to some research I saw this weekend on Africa’s high net worth individuals. Capgemini’s annual World Wealth Report pegs the wealth of the 150,000 high net worth individuals across Africa at $1.4 trillion for 2016. These are people who have at least $1 million in investable assets, excluding primary residence, collectibles, non-durable goods like sweet potato pie, and durable goods like automobiles.

This is serious capital. I wonder what percentage of this wealth has gone into Africa’s innovation economy since 2009. The Capgemini report highlights three industries that are going to drive wealth accumulation globally through 2025 – financial services, technology, and healthcare. There are startups across Africa doing interesting things in all three of these areas, yet the challenges of getting Africa’s wealthy to invest in the continent’s startups has been a conversation for several years now. I think we’re trending to those conversations being fewer and fewer.

There are several people working to build a critical mass of wealthy investors across Africa committed to investing in Africa’s innovation economy, and these initiatives are gaining real traction. Further, some African governments have developed initiatives to support innovation economies within their borders. Two years ago, I watched Something Ventured, and it really got me thinking about how African governments could level up their involvement in Africa’s innovation economy. I’ll share where I’m at on that at some point.

In the meantime, what is your assessment of Africa’s wealthy investing in Africa’s innovation economy?

No. 132: Bill Janeway Knows a Lot about Technology and Economics

Barry Ritholtz did a fascinating interview with Bill Janeway, Managing Director at Warburb Pincus, a private equity shop whose name you may have seen when Timothy Geithner joined as President a few years ago.

Side note: Warburg Pincus is the largest shareholder in Kosmos Energy, the exploration company that was part of the discovery of the Jubilee oil field in Ghana nearly a decade ago. Wow. Time flies. Check out Big Men if you’re looking for a movie to watch this weekend. 

Janeway draws on economic theory and the history of the US technology sector over the course of the interview. This is one of those interviews I will listen to a couple more times to be sure I caught all the events, people, and companies I should look up, such as Ferdinand Eberstadt. Check out the interview below.

No. 79: Mother Ghana is Struggling

My neck hurts after shaking my head while reading this Economist piece on Ghana’s economic woes. Some highlights:

  • Public debt could reach 70 percent this year
  • The Ghana Cedi has lost over 99 percent of its value to the dollar (Keep in mind Ghana switched from the New Cedi to the Ghana Cedi)
  • Since 1966, Ghana has sought IMF help 16 times

Elections are coming up next year, so we will probably see more spending. President Mahama has a lot of work on his hands in the lead-up. I imagine he will cite progress made on addressing power issues and the exploding budget, and that he should be re-elected to continue righting the ship.

Elections are a lot of work. Perhaps, the better move would be to not seek re-election, double down and get reforms right over the next 18 months, and hand off an improving situation to his successor.