Being a Black Tech Founder

It’s hard out there being a young black person. Even if you have cash you are generally treated as a second tier citizen outside of Africa.

It happens to me everywhere I travel. It even happens to Oprah - all $2.8 billion of her. That’s why I love being in Lagos.

Proudly Nigerian

Even if there is discrimination as an Igbo boy in Yorubaland (a fair number of landlords have no-Igbo policies) it’s still small compared to the polite, subtle and ever so gentlemen-like disregard you largely have in the West.

I have so many stories over the last few years, usually at the point of making large purchases. I recently had to suffer through a forty minute ‘card authorisation’ process for $4,000 whilst buying some shoes for my wife. They had double charged me and then refused to acknowledge for weeks that it was their fault. I had to send my people there, create screen shots of my Nigerian bank statements and other shit before they bothered to call their bank to verify that in fact it was their error.

Six weeks later, they refunded me.

My video platform partner Ooyala, who I currently spend aproximately $700,000.00 annually with, wouldn’t even answer my calls at the beginning of our relationship.

They didn’t want me as a client.

Their London, New York or San Francisco offices just weren’t interested in even speaking to me. So I camped outside their offices, forced a meeting and paid $250,000.00 upfront to be their customer. That was in October 2011. Almost three years later, things haven’t really changed.

I now primarily wear traditional attire outside of Nigeria, lest they confuse me for something I am not.

From New York to London to Paris to Johannesburg over the last month, I have primarily suffered nervous and confused stares as I get on planes, go through immigration or wandered into Mayfair, Manhattan or Sandton restaurants in ‘native clothing’ and sandals.

No more suits, t-shirts or jeans for me. My wife thinks it’s a phase. We shall see. So far so good.

No Place for a Black Man

I had a radio interview with the BBC's Radio 4 last month and they asked me why I moved from London to Lagos. My answer was simple, I felt although the UK is an awesome place to be, although the education, health care and other systems are in a different universe to any I have seen in Africa, especially Nigeria which is for all intents and purposes a failed state, London is no place for a black man.

Why London is no place for a young black man

London is essentially my village. I was born there. My mother and all my siblings live there. 98% of my friends are there. But that doesn’t matter with the 2% problem. Even if there are no limits, it definitely feels like there is.

Diversity in Tech

Recently, technology companies in the Valley have started releasing numbers around their diversity.

No surprises, there are largely no black people at top technology companies. Only around 2% are employed by them.

There are a multitude of reasons (or excuses), but let’s be frank. Technology (as with banking, law, accountancy, consultancy) largely hire people who look just like themselves, i.e white, male, elite educated.

Now that’s fine. It is what it is. I applaud the initiatives to reverse this pretty disappointing trend. Again there always are great reasons for that but I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.


Passers-by can't build an Ecosytem

So back to Nigeria. When I came across Sim, Victor, Oo, Tayo, Obinna, Chika, Deji, Mark or a multitude of other Nigerian tech founders, it made me smile immensely. Not because I’m racist but because

it’s refreshing to see those leading great change, look like me.

In the West, black folk become rich via sports, drugs or entertainment. In Nigeria and Africa things are looking a little different. Through the Africa Internet Holdings (AIH) site, to my surprise I came across Jumia’s ’exceptional’ leadership team and realised instantly why they in the long run will probably lose.


Their entire ‘exceptional’ leadership team is white. In Africa. 1/18 or 5.5% are represented by black folk. They have 1,500 employees. I am sure if AIH released their diversity statistics it will read 98% black. But it’s the ‘exceptional’ leadership team I think needs to be looked at.

Jumia, for all intents and purposes, should have crushed Sim Shagaya and Konga completely. They told him that at the beginning, to his face. Everyone told him that. Rocket Internet will ‘crush’ you they said.

I remember in the early days when all Konga did was react to Jumia. Where Sim was terrified of not reaching the next milestone or payroll. Now it’s a little different. Jumia hasn’t dispatched the competition. They have telco’s on their side. Two of them. AIH, Millicom and MTN. $300-500M, and still Konga stands and thriving.

I have seen the numbers and they are super impressive and accelerating. I don’t care how many Ivy league MBAs or ex-McKinsey & Co. consultants you stack up in a company, a motivated founder / real entrepreneur anywhere in the world will, over time, slaughter them. All of them.

The more money you have the better. They’ll ensure you waste that too.

My co-founder Bastian is white. My investors are white. The Spark investors are 75% white. This isn’t a racist thing. It’s a thing thing. Bastian believes fundamentally in investing in (not creating and hiring) strong people with local experience and execution skills.

Importing executives from abroad is the recipe for failure. Irrespective of the colour.

Diversity is important. Especially in Nigeria. I only wrote this because I happened upon it and it, at least to me, explained a lot.

You can’t build an ecosystem with people who are passing through. Bastian and I have most of our worth, millions of dollars, tied up in Nigeria but we both wrestle with the long term issues with staying here. I have a Nigerian wife, land in Lagos and am building a house here, so it’s definitely at least for the 10 year term.

Xenophobic? Fear Competition?

People ask me if I think Rocket Internet is bad for the ecosystem. For the record. Yes, 1000%. Does this change anything? Nope. Not one thing.

iROKOtv will thrive or die based on choices I make. On my execution skills. Doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. Same goes for any company or startup competing with Rocket, Google or Facebook et al.

I have sat on this article for weeks now, thinking whether it’s worth posting. I have this thing for controversy or the truth. Whichever way you look at it. No doubt like the last time, I will be called xenophobic. A racist. Scared of competition. Yes I am all of the above.

I think sometimes we need to call it as we see it.

Today is my late little sister’s birthday and I am not in the caring what people think mood.

Rest In Peace Ann Marie.