Silicon Savannah: Time to grow up?

You see many foreign investors coming through your office. What are their concerns with the Kenyan market?

Some of them say they came in too early, some say they wish they came in earlier.

Their biggest concerns are not about the ideas. They think the ideas are exactly the same. What they say is that the culture of doing business among these technology entrepreneurs has to be strengthened, in terms of things like reporting back.

Venture capital money is not like donor money. It’s very strictly commercial. VCs are finding there are sometimes discipline issues, inability to comply with requirements, and a culture around their obligation towards repayment.

I’m on record as saying I fear that we can create a donor dependency. You don’t want donor money to crowd out the private sector. But, I think it straightens itself out. The market is the best judge.

It’s a learning curve, and you need to go through that curve. People don’t understand technology enough to invest in technology companies. I think that that’s changing. If anything, that’s changing faster here than it’s changing anywhere else.

What is the media’s role in this?

Writers are like small companies. They also need to write. So, we now need a new angle – this ecosystem needs a new angle. You read about the Silicon Alley Insider, the role that magazine played in building Silicon Valley, it was exactly the same. We need a good technology writing clique to decipher the stories actually surrounding this debate.

What we also need is better reporting so the failures can be highlighted. When it comes to failures, there are many. You don’t know them because many don’t exist in the structured labs and hubs. They are working in their bedrooms, in the schools, in rural areas.

In 5-10 years, where do you see Kenya’s tech scene? What does it need to get there?

Some companies will grow and become big, some companies will become mid tier, some will become acquired, and many will fail. That’s just the way it has to be.

We need this many startups because the ratio of failure to success by definition must be high. There are companies littered all over the Silicon Valley roads. Many of these companies are going nowhere, others will become millionaires.

We need people to actually start to solve problems by understanding problems well. We have needs in agriculture, health care, retail, mining, public sector – everywhere.

Most importantly, we need a new kind of entrepreneur. Someone who’s young, has worked for a larger tech company for a few years, who understands business process. We don’t have many of these yet, but they are emerging.

(interview edited for length and clarity)