No. 3: Thursday AM Reads and Listens

No. A little over a year ago, Jehiel was telling me about this idea he had for smart tractors. A few days ago, he talked about what Hello Tractor is doing while moderating a panel with President Obama. Amazing.

It is so frustrating to read story after story on America’s failing infrastructure.

Great post by Mark Suster on startup failure.

Barry Ritholtz’s Masters in Business podcast is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Here’s a great one with Dambisa Moyo, though he interrupted her a lot.

Mind boggling graphics on China’s investment around the world.

Nice rundown of the latest in the startup scene across Africa.

First Round Capital looked at ten years worth of data from its time investing in startups at the seed stage. The findings are interesting, though I don’t feel comfortable with the “Where You Went to School Matters” finding. I think that propagates some of the diversity issues in the US technology startup scene.

I highly recommend you read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, Between the World and Me. I’ve been struggling with writing a post on it, so I’m just going to sit with it for a while. Perhaps I’ll have something of substance to say later.

No. 1: Thursday Morning Reads 

Tidjane Thiam gets off to a nice start at Credit Suisse

Silicon Valley’s Political End Game

Rocket Internet’s portfolio value has grown $2.5 billion in nine months 

Wistia founder shares how not being fake helped them close an account with a big customer 

Not sure I buy the analysis that Eurobond issuances among African countries with increase in the second half of this year 

Interesting points on what DC needs to do to prepare for population growth to 800k

Ethiopia centralizes coffee regulation; Nigeria rice industry dealing with Dangote’s push to eliminate imports; Ghana giving sugar another shot

New York fast food workers get their salary doubled 

Anthony Scaramucci and Henry Blodget on Failure

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of adversity. Psalm 24:16

I discovered a new podcast earlier this week, Masters in Business, with Barry Ritholtz. Two of his recent interviews were with Anthony Scaramucci, head of Skybridge Capital, a hedge fund and host of the SALT Conference, probably the biggest conference for the hedge fund industry. I have found him to be fascinating for the past several years just because he seems to be everywhere – raising money for presidential candidates, running his firm, putting together this massive conference, hosting television shows. So, here was a great opportunity to learn more about the man. He talks a lot about failure in his interview with Ritholtz, beginning with getting fired from Goldman Sachs about 18 months after joining the firm.

Henry Blodget is co-founder and CEO of Businessinsider.com is wired into my finger tips. It is literally the first thing I type when I open my browser. Their coverage of business, technology, finance, and other news is fast and accessible, though I have been critical of their Africa coverage. Henry Blodget was formerly a star technology analyst on Wall Street. His claim to fame was making a predicting that Amazon’s one-year price target was $400. Amazon surpassed that not long after his call. During the tech bust, Blodget got caught up in an SEC investigation for civil securities fraud, coughing up a total of $4 million and accepting a lifetime ban from Wall Street. His conversation with Ritholtz covers his recovery from that failure.

Both Blodget and Scaramucci failed at various points in their careers. Both got up. Helpful stories to hear.

President Obama’s Business in Africa Advisory Council Held First Meeting This Week

Last year, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker stood up the President’s Doing Business in Africa Advisory Council, a group of small, medium and large US businesses currently engaged in business on the continent and tasked with helping shape U.S. policy for business engagement with the continent. 

The makeup of the council is very interesting. You’ve got people ranging from Dominic Barton, head of McKinsey, to Kevon Makell, head of a renewable energy consultancy based in Charlotte, to Karen Daniel, CFO at Black and Veatch. 

If you’re as slow as I am at washing dishes, that two hours will give you enough time to watch this two-part recording of the advisory council’s first meeting on April 8. 

Part 1

Part 2 

Three things caught my attention during the meeting:

  1. Mr. Barton challenged the Council to think big, specifically in positioning the US to double its share global trade with the continent in five years. In 2013, our share was down to 7 percent from 13 percent in 2001. Compare that with China which has gone from 3 percent to 14 percent in the same window. 
  2. Wal-Mart was very clear in communicating that African countries not meeting its logistical needs amongst others should not expect partnerships equal to what countries that did meet their needs would experience. 
  3. The various US agencies that have significant engagement on the continent don’t really know what tools they have respectively for engagement on the continent. This includes OPIC, USAID, the State Department, and the U.S. Ex-Im Bank. Their representatives seemed to agree on the need for better coordination. 

One of the recommendations that stood out was a US-Africa Infrastructure Center which would equip US infrastructure developers to more effectively compete for deals on the continent. This struck me as a platform that could be helpful in tracking progress in closing the gap on the World Bank’s projection of $93B per year for 10 years investment in infrastructure across the continent

Further, the platform could serve as a helpful marketing tool in showing the effectiveness of US infrastructure developers in terms of time to completion, total project cost, lifespan of finished projects before maintenance, among other metrics.  Then again, it may be a better move to invest in the work already done by the African Development Bank, World Bank, and other stakeholders in setting up a platform focused on infrastructure development. 

The council meets next in September or October. I look forward to tracking their progress. Hopefully, I would have figured out how to be helpful to their work in some way by then. 

Reflections from NYU Africa Economic Forum

“I don’t feel pressure from being the President of the Toronto Raptors. I feel pressure from Africa.”  The energy that entered the room when Masai Ujiri said that at yesterday’s NYU Africa Economic Forum is why I am still awake.

Masai went on to say that his work would be a waste if he didn’t have any impact in Africa to show for being NBA Executive of the Year or potentially winning an NBA championship. Boom!

Masai’s speech was the highlight of the NYU Africa Economic Forum, though three ideas from other speakers really got my brain going and I may dive deeper on them later this week.

Makhtar Diop, World Bank VP for Africa, explained how pursuing a credit rating for Senegal while he was Minister of Finance provided investors data they could understand, subsequently increasing their level of interest in placing capital in the country. 

Ken Ofori Attah, retired CEO of Databank, stressed the importance of Diasporans marketing Africa well. 

Eric Guichard, CEO of Gravitas Capital and Homestrings, highlighted the opportunity for the structuring of projects to satiate the perceived lack of capital and projects from the perspectives of companies and investors, respectively. 

Kudos to the NYU Africa Economic Forum team for keeping me up way past my bedtime!

What else? What ideas struck you at the NYU Africa Economic Forum?

I Enjoyed Speaking at Yale’s Sankofa54 Conference

I am on the train headed back from Sankofa54: The Youth Empowerment Conference, nicely put on by the Yale Undergraduate Association of African Peace and Development. I spoke on a panel addressing Africans Investing in Africa, an issue that has kept
me awake at night since high school. The other panelists were Solomme Lemme, founder of Africans in the Diaspora, and Adewumi Mobolaji, special advisor to the CEO at Aso Savings and Loans Bank.

Solomme challenged the audience to imagine the impact 1 percent of the 60 billion dollars that is remitted to African countries could have on development if targeted towards initiatives focused on creating transformative change on the continent.

Adewumi covered macro developments that are creating the environment for increased investment on the continent, while also highlighting challenges that are still present in the quest for a strong investment climate on the continent.

I found a way to weave an Anansi story into my talk – major win.

One of today’s keynote addresses came from Ladi Delano, an entrepreneur who has been getting it done for about a decade. He made some great points on the need for the extermination of Africa’s corruption problem. He discussed the need for greater manufacturing to meet consumer demand. He cited a recent meeting he had with the head of Massmart Nigeria and how little sense it made to him learning that all of its products are imported.

Another keynote speaker was Obinna Ukwauni, a senior economics major at MIT. Beast. This guy has started an initiative to teach robotics to secondary school students in Nigeria with support from organizations like Shell and Innoventures – quite impressive. He plans to use this as a step towards launching a school in Nigeria in partnership with MIT’s Media Lab.

Last night, Nobel Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee discussed the challenges of being a mother and in-demand activist. She did not regret having missed a significant portion of some of her children’s lives on account of her belief that she was laying the foundation for their futures. Tough.

I was really impressed that undergraduates put on a conference of this caliber and I appreciate YAAPD inviting me to speak. I look forward to next time!