Experts weigh in on high inexperience in Nigeria’s tech industry
Tech Open Day with Sarah Lacy; Lagos; Nigeria
The Nigeria tech industry is seen by many as a major player in transitioning the country’s economy from marginal status to a global economy. But growing lack of experience plagues most of the start-ups in the space.
With over 35 innovation hubs and hundreds of new tech-related enterprises, Nigeria is perceived as a hotbed for startup activity. The technology industry has the potential to employ over 40 million Nigerians in no distant time according to the Minister of Communication Technology, Adebayo Shittu. It should come as no surprise that Nigeria is becoming the destination for big tech investment with investors drawn to the prospects of scaling applications to Africa’s largest population and economy.
In a series of interviews with founders of tech start-ups, it was observed that majority of people who work in the Nigerian tech space come in with little or no experience. Hence many are quick to assert “learning on the job.”
According to Abolore Salami, founder of online personal finance start-up Riby, most of the techpreneuers start learning on their own or they go for an internship and with the little knowledge gained, they build on it.
“If I want to solve a problem, there are two ways, either build a machine or write a chemical formula off the top of my head,” Salami said.
Salami told BusinessDay that technology is more of applied knowledge and could be the reason why most young people find it attractive. Even then, people do not just jump into the tech industry and expect to have results in a little time.
“It does not happen that way. It starts by having this fantastic idea in your head you want to solve. It could take up to three years before you even get to the point where you can solve that problem very well,” he noted that while gaining formal training or education may be critical to sustaining growth, many start-ups owners consider it a waste of time at the initial stage.
The Nigerian tech industry is still nascent and trendy, hence attracts hundreds of young people many of which looking for an escape from biting unemployment. They come into the industry with a passion to make something of themselves at all cost. They build their start-up with little skill and cheap labour but no sooner run amuck when they face real growth challenges.
“The tech industry is skills intensive and despite unemployment in the country, there are limited skills in the industry,” explained Collins Onuegbu, founder and chairman of Signal Alliance Limited. “It is not helped by the quality of training graduates leave our universities with, so tech companies wishing to scale are often limited by affordable skills available in the market.”
Some experts in the industry though, consider the high inexperience an advantage as it encourages creativity. As a matter of fact, many start-ups in the space were founded by entrepreneurs who lacked requisite experience in software and business development.
Mark Essien, founder and chief executive officer of Hotels.ng recently made a bold claim on Twitter which got people on the platform buzzing. According to him, Hotels.ng an online hotels booking agency which he launched in 2013 was 100 percent built in Nigeria. He also stated that the marketing, design, and strategy were all done in Nigeria.
“Everyone working in Hotels.ng (firm employs about 49 Nigerians) learnt on the job. Nobody had experience, so we all just figured it out and it worked. Now we have experience,” Essien said.
Salami agrees that if it had been about experience alone, companies like Facebook may never have been founded.
Onuegbu sees the advantage in another light.
“A growing number of companies need different kinds of skilled labour to grow and the industry is not matured enough to retain the skills it needs or poach from more developed sectors of the economy. But this in itself presents opportunities for companies that provide training and retaining services to the industry,” he said.
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