Gangs and Stars.
17h37 Wednesday, 02nd November 2011

Ok. If you were at tech4africa, you'll already know what I am talking about, if not, you might ask yourself what do Gangsters and Startups have in common. Well, quite a bit, actually.

What is a gangster if it is not an entrepreneur willing to risk everything to shape the world, they are in, in their own image? Hell, we even got our stripes: instead of numbers or colours, we swear allegiance to the programming languages — ruby, php, c++, java, c# — and we will bleed, fight, stackover-flow everything untill the bitter end, well, not that end, but until the batteries run out.

With that dry attempt at humour, here we go.  I finally attended a 'techie' conference — I am not a big fan of conferences or any geek-get-together. A lot of people have tried to convince me otherwise but I have three reasons:

  1. I do things, I build things. I am more interested on what is possible than what people have done — I will explain this further.
  2. The costs of conferences never justifies my attendance: 5/6/7 thousand rands to hear people talk 'bout their successes? (again, the point above applies)
  3. The costs of conferences creates a barrier of entry, not only for me, but from others who might in fact be custodians of ideas that provide answers to what we are trying to solve. #TIA

But, this time I entered an idea (MISS, more about that in the future) into the Innovation Award — nope, we didn't win it— Because of the award I was afforded a ticket to go to the conferences, and Gareth, has been trying to get me to come to the conference.

Wow— what a long intro, meh.

So, what about the tech4africa conference? I don't have a lot to say 'bout it, not a lot of things peaked my interest, but that is never the point, what I do think matters is, one single thing peaked my overall interest:

… there is always something for everyone, right?

Herman Chinery-Hesse stood out, not because he gave me ideas of what I could be working on next, but because, he reminded me of the context of where we build these ideas: Africa. I know it sounds clichéd, but a dose of reality for our ideas is important.  Through his narrative —he told stories and didn't present— he showed that it is not so much that Africa is a difficult challenging market, but, rather a market to engage: for as long as you contextualise your mind frame:

  • Yeah sure, there isn't 99.9% guarantee of electricity; so what? That means during the blackout there is another business opportunity presenting itself that you can't monetise in the West (US/EU)
  • There is a small smart-phone market, so what? You already know HTML/5; you have invested in SMS engines, yet another opportunity to build something with those technologies;
  • Internet connection is not affordable, so? Build for the entry level and everything above it will take.

These are not things learnt at the conference, but this how Herman spoke about things he was doing and how he came about doing them.  I'd like to say, I don't like the phrase: African solutions — a good idea, is a good idea, is a good idea—

… in the age of internet connectivity, geographic boundaries of ideas no longer applies."

You might ask, is that all I got from the conference, well the usual stuff: making connections; chatting with geeks about geeky stuff— albeit these are not the things that excite me, I'd like to think I don't build things for geeks, but tools that people can use.

Will I go to the next one— probably, but not certainly— there were things that I found could have been done better, but most importantly is this:

… speakers/panellist should keep focus on Africa and the technology inherently in it— I found some speakers (e.g. Google) spoke about their products in a marketing perspective of those products. That was extremely lame."

I do however, doubt, I'd go to more than one conference a year — I am however keen to be in a setup that explores bleeding edge ideas and technologies:

… from knowing and learning about those technologies, I believe that is where the creative application of them allows for innovation to flourish."

I think.

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