Transforming Africa: Tour of Tech

A version of this story was originally published by Tour of Tech 2016 Alumni, Yvonne Wassenaar, on LinkedIn.
 Ms. Yvonne Wassenaar has been Chief Information Officer of New Relic, Inc. since June 2015. Prior to joining New Relic, Ms. Wassenaar served as the Vice President to the Office of the CXO at VMware. Ms. Wassenaar served as Senior Vice President of Operations of New Relic, Inc. She joined New Relic to build out the operational capabilities required to aggressively scale and diversify the business
 

I deeply believe that technology has the power to change the world for the better. I recently had the opportunity to travel to Africa on the Tour of Tech where I got to see this theory in action with the startup community in Lagos, Nigeria.
Africa represents a large and relatively young population with over 1.2B people whose median age is 25 years old. Unfortunately, the opportunities for these young Africans have been historically challenged by widespread poverty, political unrest and increasing economic uncertainty. Today, many are turning to technology to change the rules of the game and build a more positive future for themselves and their communities.


I joined a group of technologists and investors on this Tour of Tech trip to better understand the opportunities and accelerate the transformation journey these entrepreneurs are looking to drive. Accompanying me on the tour were leaders from GitHub, 500 Startups and a collection of angel investors from the United States and the United Kingdom.
Read on for a glimpse into our trip and an overview of some of the incredible organizations that are driving technology and entrepreneurship in the region…
Our travels began at with visit to Idea Hub - Information Technology Developers Entrepreneurship Accelerator and Seedspace a co-working space for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs. At both of these locations we spent time with founders and CTOs in mentoring discussions learning about their business plans and providing perspective on areas to develop as they scale. 


The highlight from this portion of the trip was a developer roundtable hosted by GitHub, which brought together 20+ CTOs and founders. The energy level was high as we debated what most teams needed. While all the founders and CTOs would appreciate more reliable electricity and ISPs; in highest demand was entrepreneurial advice. Tech entrepreneurship in Africa is relatively new and the teams are looking for perspective from people who had been there and have seen what works. Next on the list was support to help the teams develop quality software. This ask came in the form of helping build up software engineering skills (many of the developers being self taught in their free time) and helping get access to tools to support them (including tools like GitHub and New Relic. – ideally in local currency since there are limits on spending US $). And, not surprisingly, many of the teams were also looking to raise money to scale their businesses.


The next chapter of our travels took us to the African Business Angel Network (ABAN) investor summit. ABAN’s mission is to help quantum leap early stage investing in Africa. They do this by providing the support, networking opportunities and essential resources to Africa’s Angel Investing Networks. The summit brought ~200 investors from all around the globe with a passion for the potential in Africa. 
During the ABAN summit, we discussed the challenges people have raising money given the risk aversion and nascent angel investing market. I participated in a panel talking through areas to focus on (or avoid) as companies raise money with an eye towards eventually being acquired by another company domestically or internationally. This included things such as being thoughtful around financing terms you agree to as you raise money, focusing your investments on the core areas of value for a potential acquirer (eg: technology and/or market access and/or talent) and not spreading your company investments so thin that the company is just ok across the board versus very differentiated (and hence attractive) in a given area.
At the summit, we celebrated the Rising Tide Africa initiative, which brings together Women Business Angel Investor-Mentors to harness their power, networks, passion and capital to positively impact the success of early stage investments and actively create a renaissance in the African economy. 


Another highlight of the summit was hearing the pitches delivered by the women entrepreneurs who are part of the “She Leads Africa” accelerator program. These pitches were polished, passionate, and destined to drive change. The most powerful moment for of the ABAN event for me, however, was the closing call to action by the co-founder of ABAN Tomi Davies, who said,
“There is no question of the future opportunities available in Africa. The question is who will drive the transformation to capture them. Africa has the opportunity to be in control of its own destiny. Let’s empower our entrepreneurs and create our own future.”  


The final leg of our travels was spent attending a two-day event called the High Growth Africa summit. This sold-out event brought in over 500 entrepreneurs, VCs, and technology leaders to share learnings, build important skills and strengthen their networks. The conference mixed in keynote speeches with breakout skill development sessions.
We heard from leaders of change such Ebi Atawodi, Uber’s General Manager for West Africa. Ms Atawodi shared how Uber is changing the face of transportation in an adapted way to meet the special challenges and needs of the continent. Additionally, she shared how Uber is now leveraging the learnings they have on transportation flows in the various cities they operate in to help the government prioritize needed road work. 
The summit’s breakout sessions covered topics from designing the perfect pitch to how to expand your business across the continent. I participated on a panel covering how to scale a company and build a strong culture and was able to share with other leaders the importance of living (not just articulating) values and using tools such as V2MOMs (Vision, Value, Methods, Obstacles, and Metrics) or OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to keep a company aligned and impactful as it scales. All of these things important at companies of any stage, size or geography though the specific approach of how they are implemented may vary and evolve over time. While all the keynotes and breakouts were great, the highlight of this conference for me was meeting some of the entrepreneurs themselves.
To give you a flavor of the businesses these entrepreneurs are driving, here are three of my favorites:

  • PayStack. Africa has millions of payments everyday day, but very few happen online. In Nigeria, just about 1% of transactions happen online. There are many barriers businesses have to face to accept payments online and that’s what Paystack is fixing. PayStacks is making progress. They have simplified the previously difficult customer experience, reduced integration time from an average of 3 weeks to less than 30 mins, and today they can boast of the best transaction success rates in the market. In recognition of their future potential, Paystacks recently won a spot in the Y-combinator program and is a very happy user of New Relic :)

 

  • Hotel.ng. This company is an online travel agency specializing in hotel bookings within Nigeria. They help customers book hotel rooms online, provide comprehensive help and support to their clients and make the hotel booking process smooth and easy. They also provide hotel recommendations and reviews, making sure that their clients stay in good, clean and safe hotels all over the country. They have over 7,138 hotels in 320 cities across Nigeria listed on its platform. Since 2012, they have helped millions of customers in and outside Nigeria book hotels in Nigeria.

 

  • MedSaf. Medsaf is making the process of buying and selling medication in Nigeria’s complex health system easy and efficient. They get medications directly from leading local and foreign manufacturers, eliminating issues relating to quality control and ensuring fair pricing, and deliver these medications to hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics all over the country. They also provide their customers with a robust inventory management system that allows them to see real-time stock levels for their medications, receive order reminders and alerts, and access historical sales data for forecasting. MedSaf won 3rd place in the She Leads Africa Pitch competition and officially launched its services on December 5th with 11 identified hospitals and 5 identified pharmacy chains.

Our Tech Tour came to a close with a special dinner at the US Consulate, which New Relic was so kind to sponsor. We met with government officials, key investors, leading entrepreneurs and speakers to discuss what we had all learned and where we needed to go from here to drive change. 
There is no shortage of challenge but it is equaled by the passion and opportunity for change. I look forward to being part of that change and if you want to join me in getting involved, here are a few organizations to check out:

The opportunities are real, critical to Africa's transformation and yet they will not be easy. Let’s combine our experience, knowledge and passion to collectively create a better technology-empowered world for today and tomorrow.