No. 131: Netflix Delivers on Promise

Netflix went live in 130 countries today.

I wrote something on their shareholder letter from last summer. In the letter, Reed Hastings mentioned that the plan was to go completely global by the end of 2016.

Delivering on that goal 12 months early is amazing, or at least a good move in managing expectations.

No. 97: 4 Lessons I Have Learned From 100 Blog Posts

Note: I had to delete a few posts that were corrupted somehow, hence this no longer being post number 100.

This is my 100th post on this blog. That isn’t a whole lot considering I have been writing on this site for nearly six years. I figured it still a good chance to think about lessons learned as I have tried to improve my writing over that time.

The Importance of Consistency

Maintaining this blog has taught me the importance of consistency. A number of my favorite bloggers write almost daily, and have done so for around ten years. Fred Wilson has been doing this since 2003 – pretty much every day. Seth Godin isn’t one of my favorites, but his consistency is just as real. He started in 2002, and for the past several years has been writing daily.

People have expectations. I expect to get something from Fred everyday. Not all of his posts will be interesting to me, but I expect to get something everyday. At some point, I would love to write daily. At this point, I would like people to expect to get something in their inbox from me every week.

Don’t Spend Too Much Time on Best Practices

That said, another thing I have learned is to not be too concerned with writing to a formula. I do try to keep paragraphs short (thanks for the tip, Trevor) and keep my logic intact, but I spend a lot less time trying to implement all the best practices for writing a good blog post.

At the same time, I have spent countless hours over the past several years reading a lot of material on those best practices, and I think some of them have become part of my process. For example, hopefully these lessons will be numbered when you read it.

Don’t Edit Too Much

Another lesson has been that too much editing can be stifling. I have a graveyard of blog posts that have not seen the light of day because I spent weeks thinking about them and making changes. And then, I forgot about them. This year, I have worked on writing what comes to mind in around an hour, inserting links where relevant, pressing publish, and making any edits to typos if someone points one out.

My favorite teacher in high school, Mr. Barnhardt, encouraged his English students to draft papers and let them sit a bit before editing them. I do make sure to do that with articles that are to be published to other sites, but this is a nice platform to just exercise my mind. My sophomore year in college, I scratched every jump in the indoor track season because I edited my technique too much. The editing came from fear of not jumping well. I shed that fear and the editing the next year and set the school record.

I harbored fear of looking incompetent for much of the time I have spent writing these posts, resulting in a lot of editing early on, and a lot of long gaps in writing. I have shed some of that, and it feels good to just write.

Read a Lot

The helpfulness of reading a lot is another lesson. Over the years, I have gained a better understanding of what I would like my voice to be the more I read – slightly sarcastic at times and conversational, but not talkative. I think that represents my voice in real life.

Before starting this post, I took a look at my first post. I mention developing my own running form by studying others. The biggest thing about my running form now is not really what it looks like, it is my awareness of how my body is working. I learned that by studying other runners. In a somewhat similar fashion, reading what others write has helped sharpen my awareness of my own writing and thinking.

I think this is a good stopping point. Four lessons from 100 blog posts: the importance of consistency, not spending too much time writing to a formula, not editing too much, and reading what others write.

No. 83: Growing Exports to Nigeria Can Be Atlanta’s Secret Sauce

Atlanta is a top-10 exporter amongst US cities to Nigeria. I hope the city puts more energy behind its connection to the country. The city recently completed its Metropolitan Export Plan with support from JP Morgan and the Brookings Institution. Currently, the only African countries an exporter in Atlanta can get information about exporting to are Morocco and South Africa. Yet, the growth of Atlanta’s exports to African markets outstrips exports to other parts of the world.

While the city has seen record export growth, its ranking among US metro areas remained at No. 18. There is a lot more than $178M in sales opportunities in Nigeria. For example, the Dangote Group is in the process of investing $16B in the development of an oil refinery and two fertilizer plants. Machinery and chemicals are two of Atlanta’s top export products.  And that is just talking about one company. I believe that if Atlanta puts energy behind building its export pipelines to African markets, particularly Nigeria, the city will see it’s ranking rise.

No. 80: Can Tech and Government Work Together?

What does it look like for tech startups and governments to work together well? Andreessen Horowitz posted a new podcast with Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser today to discuss this, alongside former DC mayor Adrian Fenty. Pretty good conversation.

Some of the topics covered in the conversation, included:

1. Catching up to the technology startup sector with the proper regulatory environment;
2. The progress DC government has made in incorporating technology in its service provision; and
3. Pain points that startups could be helpful in addressing – affordable housing and wellness are examples.

What was Mayor Bowser doing out on the West Coast talking to the Andreessen Horowitz folks when Steve Case is in town, you ask? Apparently, the US Conference of Mayors met in San Francisco a few weeks ago. Further, the DC connection to Andreessen Horowitz is not a particularly new one. Former DC mayor Adrian Fenty, who was also on the podcast, is a special advisor at the firm.

The intersection between governments and the startup community will only increase, particularly as Andreessen Horowitz’s theory that software is eating the world continues to prove true. It’s cool to see conversations like these taking place.

No. 37: Nigeria’s Inclusive Growth Prospects

Credit: McKinsey Global Institute
Credit: McKinsey Global Institute

Last weekend, some friends and I hopped on a Google Hangout to discuss McKinsey Global Institute’s report on Nigeria’s inclusive growth prospects and what needs to happen for the country to realize that potential. 

Here is a quick rundown of some numbers:
 
40 million Nigerians are in the consuming class, but 130 million live below the Empowerment Line – an indication of their ability to afford eight household essentials for a decent standard of living.
 
GDP could reach $1.6 trillion by 2030. Investment in infrastructure could reach $1.5 trillion to support GDP growth and address road density being 1/7th and power generation 1/5th that of India.
 
Three things that stood out from the conversation:
 
1. Nigeria is growing in spite of the serious challenges it faces. We have seen the coverage of Boko Haram’s activity in the North and the 130+ days the government has still not rescued the girls kidnapped from their school. We have also seen the largest acquisition by a Nigerian company when Oando bought ConocoPhillips’ Nigeria oil assets for $1.65B. Nassim Talib’s theory of antifragility comes to mind – the notion of shocks, disorder, volatility driving gains. 
 
2. The skills gap in the country was troubling. The report states that 1 out of 6 of the world’s out of school children between age 6 and 17 are in Nigeria – 10.5 million children. Just thinking about the world’s population, I would think there are more than 60 million children not in school within this age range. Nonetheless, think about all the latent potential in Nigeria. Furthermore, the report highlights the poor quality of education. After six years of school, one out of five Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 29 can read and write.
 
3. Urbanization in the country was another interesting part of the conversation. McKinsey’s insights on urbanization not having the same economic effects as in traditional models was quite interesting. We discussed the rise of financing tools to get more people into homes and the potential risk of tools like mortgage-backed securities. 
 
Nigeria’s growth potential is real, as are its risks. The report had a lot of information and I am interested in your insights. What are some other things that stood out for you in the McKinsey Global Institute report? Shoot me a tweet with your thoughts.

No. 31: Here’s My Issue with the IMF/World Bank Africa Rising Seminar

When I first saw, the agenda for the Africa Rising seminar at this year’s IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings, I posted a tweet:

Probably not the wisest thing to not provide any context. So, here goes.

My issue with the seminar is the makeup of the panels. I believe there could be a greater representation of African academics and practitioners. Currently, 30 percent of the panelists are African nationals. Considering that the topic is Africa, this strikes me as odd.

Consider the following promotion of the Africa Rising Conference slated to take place in Mozambique next month.

The Government of Mozambique and the IMF will convene a high-level conference in 2014 to take stock of Africa’s strong economic performance, its increased resilience to shocks, and the key ongoing economic policy challenges. The Africa Rising conference will be held May 29-30, 2014, in Maputo. The event is intended to follow up on the 2009 Tanzania Conference, which helped galvanize international support for Africa after the 2008 financial crisis. The conference will bring together policymakers from Africa and beyond, the private sector, civil society, academics, and private foundations with the goal of sustaining the current growth and sharing its benefits among African populations.    

I find the statement in bold odd considering the relative struggles much of the rest of the international community faced after the financial crisis. Furthermore, the statement defaults to Africa somehow being dependent on externally driven development. I think the structure of this week’s Africa Rising seminar could potentially do the same.

Afara Global exists to see a world in which African and Western countries engage economically at an eye-to-eye level. To do that, you need the right people at the table. While the majority of the panelists are quite impressive, I think the right people are not all present – at least not in this seminar.

A few candidates come to mind for future reference:

Amadou Hott runs Senegal’s newly established sovereign wealth fund and chairs the development of the country’s new airport.

Rolake Akinkugbe is Head of Energy, Oil and Gas Research at Ecobank.

Alexander Chikwanda serves as Zambia’s minister of finance. As Africa’s biggest producer of copper, the country has had to deal with global copper prices while driving inclusive growth at home.

Yaw Nyarko is Professor of Economics at New York University and is Director of the university’s Africa House and focuses his research on technology and economic development, and has done work on human capital.

Dambisa Moyo is CEO of the Mildstorm Group and has a global view on economics and development from an African perspective.

Rentia van Tonder is Head of Renewable Energy, Power and Infrastructure at Standard Bank.

Akinwumi Adesina is Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and has earned a lot of attention for his efforts to grow Nigeria’s agriculture sector. He could speak to inclusive growth and structural transformation and economic diversification.

Who are some people you think would make for good panelists?

No. 21: Lessons From a Zambian Poultry Entrepreneur

Sydney Musonda with his first batch of chickens

Never have I been so excited about chickens! Earlier this year in Uganda, I and Sydney Musonda developed a business model for a chicken farm he would run in Zambia. He spent the next five months pursuing financing for his venture and secured funding in November. To date, he has purchased 205 day-old chicks and secured a facility to house them. He will be ready to make his first sales at the end of January.

Sydney and I recently caught up on his venture and our conversation reinforced two things concerning entrepreneurship. The first is that the external environment, both political and macroeconomic, will always make things challenging for entrepreneurs. The second is that entrepreneurs can leverage these kinds of challenges to grow their confidence, brand, and business model.

During the five months Sydney spent pursuing funding, he had a difficult time getting potential investors to buy into his idea. He got a significant amount of great feedback on his model, yet the investors he approached were having difficulty with their finances and were concerned about the political environment in Zambia at the time, it being an election year.

Zambia is one of the better performing economies on the African continent, with its current $16.19 billion GDP projected to grow at an average rate of 6.9 percent between now and 2015, though the country is still trying to make sure that growth is inclusive. Like most of the world though, the economic crisis in the European Union is surely having an impact Zambia’s economy as well.

The country seems to have transitioned well to President Michael Sata’s administration and Patriotic Front party after President Rupiah Banda’s three-year term and the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy’s 20-year control of power. In the months leading up to the election, there was tension on the ground. Sydney shared that one of the banks was taken over by the Zambian government showing that their concern was not completely unfounded.

Despite the challenges he faced, Sydney says that his confidence continued to grow pitch after pitch. He was able to glean advice from the investors he approached and found the feedback helpful in refining his model. In the face of his disappointments, he did not give up and finally secured his funding.

Sydney is launching his business at what seems to be a promising period in Zambia’s poultry industry. Mathews Ngosa, President of Poultry Association of Zambia, noted that Zambia’s poultry industry closed at 2011, having produced 40 million broiler chickens and 2.1 million layers. He projects production growth to land between 20-25 percent, a marked difference from the 40 percent reduction in growth the country experienced in 2009, and an increase from the 17.5 percent growth in 2010.

I look forward to watching Sydney grow his business. The energy in his voice was so infectious as we spoke, and I am really excited that he has progressed this far with his venture. I am sure he will face further challenges considering that his venture is still young but I think his tenacity will help him drive the business forward.