What’s Your Company’s Belief System?

As I’ve spent the past year studying whatever I can get my hands on to get insights on the business of media the past year, I’ve come across some fantastic podcasts. The Adlandia podcast is one of them. Their latest episode with Ross Martin, CEO of Blackbird, had a lot of gems. The one that has been rolling around in my head is how to think about my next company’s belief system.

Belief System Framework

What is Big, Simple, Useful, and True about your company’s role in the marketplace, society, etc?

Here’s a link to the interview.

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?

New VC Firm To Fund Women-Led Startups

I was glad to see the news about the launch of Valor Ventures, a VC firm led by women and focused on finding women founders. 

Another firm that excites me is the Impact America Fund. Here’s a good interview it’s founder, Kesha Cash, did with the Andreesen Horowitz team. 

Some time ago, I posted First Round Capital’s findings from its 10 years investing in startups. One of its findings was that women-led startups outperformed those led by men. You wouldn’t guess that by the looks of all the startups getting funding for their ideas. 

The VC landscape is dominated by white men, leading to white men getting the lion’s share of funding. As the debate on diversity in the technology industry continues to heat up, firms like Valor and Impact America getting traction is huge.

I was disappointed to see that Valor’s team was all white women. That’s another ongoing debate as the tech industry tries to figure out its diversity problem. 

Nonetheless, this is exciting news and I look forward to seeing what companies Valor funds.   

Build Something From Nothing

Paul Judge has a mantra – build something from nothing. It’s amazing to watch folks I have met along the way live this out.

Jehiel Oliver’s startup Hello Tractor was profiled in Fast Company today. It wasn’t too long ago when we sat down at Chinatown Coffee and he told me about this idea he was working on. At the time, the concept of using technology to lower the cost of mechanization for small-scale farmers made a lot of sense. He’s raised a couple million dollars to prove out this idea. If Jehiel is right, Hello Tractor is going to catalyze the productivity of a whole lot of farmers across Africa. McKinsey will owe him thanks for making their projection that the continent’s agricultural productivity could reach $880 billion by 2040 look right. As an aside, I hope the continent can generate a lot more productivity than that. I really don’t want to be eating Soylent.

Several years ago, my friend Odini Nwakuche told me that he was going to make ties. As an aspiring dandy, I was super excited about the idea, but could not have imagined where Odini and his partner Josh Moore have taken Res Ipsa.  Some time after Odini told me that they were going to try and make shoes. Res Ipsa now has its shoes in several stores in the southeast and they are just beginning. This weekend, I got to hang out with Josh and Odini (pictured above) as they manned their booth for the MRket New York Show, one of the premier menswear trade shows. Everyone from the convention center set-up staff to fellow exhibitors to buyers were checking out their booth. I found myself grinning ear-to-ear with pride at what Odini and Josh have built and look forward to watching them make their mark in menswear.

Several months ago, Angelina Darrisaw mentioned that she was considering stepping out on her own after distinguishing herself in stints at ESPN and Viacom. I was thrilled to get a LinkedIn notification not long ago indicating that she was Founder of C-Suite Coach. Over the years, I watched Angelina go outside of her comfort zone – joining the track team at Davidson, reach the finals twice in the Miss New York USA. Now, she is stretching herself again as she helps underprivileged millennials achieve professional success.

My brother, Kwadwo, is a builder. As kids, this man lived at Michael’s, convincing my parents to buy items for him to try out different ideas. To this day, he continues to build things – a carbonated juice company. A production company. SapidMedia Productions, has been a labor of love for several years now and he is scratching the surface. He landed his first corporate client and released a short film in the first six months of this year. Look out for more cool stuff from him this year, and the next, and the next.

That goes for all the people listed here. This list could be much longer – Cherae Robinson, Eric Osiakwan, Maame Boakye, Nana Ama Afari-Dwamena, Nina Oduro, Eric Guichard, KJ Blackwell, Billy Fennebresque, Robert Long, Whitney White, Bobby Pittman, my dad.

Who else? Who are some people you know building something from nothing?

President Obama is Going to Kenya: Dumb or Nah?

Witney Schneidman, Fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote this rebuttal of Harvard professor Robert Rotberg’s Politico piece which panned President Obama’s upcoming trip to the country for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit as a bad idea.

Quick thoughts:

  • I’m not sure President Obama tacking on a trip to Ethiopia would go over well with Africa watchers, given the flap over Gayle Smith’s nomination for US AID administrator. Africa watchers…that’s a pretty bad tag line. Who coined it?
  • The parallel between this trip and President Kennedy’s trip to Ireland is a nice one. The country was experiencing violence of its own at the time and was still dealing with Britain not respecting its independence.
  • Professor Rotberg’s analysis of President Obama’s impact on ethnic tensions reinforces President Obama’s remarks last week during Start the Spark, an entrepreneurship initiative the Administration is launching: “And entrepreneurship breaks down barriers between cultures and between faiths at a time when we need more than ever the capacity to understand and work across borders.” Since President Obama is going to Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summitt, this is an opportunity to highlight the breaking down of ethnic tensions.

I’m excited about President Obama going to Kenya. He can’t visit Africa enough in my book. His trip focusing on entrepreneurship at a global scale is really cool and it will be interesting to see African entrepreneurial stories within a global context rather than in something of a vacuum. 

Watch Halt and Catch Fire

The New Yorker profile on Marc Andreessen I wrote about earlier today mentioned an AMC show, Halt and Catch Fire. I had never heard of it, but just…You should watch the show. Messed up people (who isn’t?) build a PC from the ground up in the days when PCs weighed more than your one year old son who was 10lbs at birth. Here’s the link again. Watch it.