Flatiron School – Brooklyn, NY – February 18th, 2014

This is an outline of a presentation I gave to students at the Flatiron School in Brooklyn on Tuesday, February 18th 2014.

I talked a bit about my background, and about KEC Ventures. I will not outline that in this post. I discussed: How Software is Changing The World, or more generally How Technology is Changing The World. I decided to focus on Africa as a means of broadening our discussion.

  1. Marc Andreessen’s August 2011 article in the WSJ: Why Software is Eating The World
    • There are many more people online
    • Technology is getting really good
      • Hardware costs are declining
      • Hardware is getting really good
      • Software tools are improving
    • Examples of the dramatic impact that software has had on various industries
      • Retail: Borders, Bestbuy – Amazon
      • Movie Rentals: Blockbuster – Netflix
      • Games: EA, Nintendo – Rovio, Supercell, King
      • Transportation: Taxis, Car Rentals – Uber, Relayrides, ZipCar
  2. It is important to remember that technology is more than just software
    • Technology: The combination of tools, skills, methods, and knowledge to solve problems or accomplish an objective. Examples: fire, the wheel, domestication of animals, cultivation of food crops.
    • Software: The stuff that makes a computer work; operating systems, utilities, applications.
    • Think of: Opportunities to marry software engineering and hardware design. Examples: Canary.
  3. How is Technology Changing Life in Africa?
    • Africa is enormous – more than  50 countries, nearly 1 billion people, hundreds of different languages. However, the basic problems are the same across the continent. This map will give you an idea just how big Africa is.
    • I like to tie almost every startup I study back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basically, I want to understand why people will buy a product or use a service. What will be the motivation? In the developing world there is an opportunity to solve problems across the entire height of the pyramid.
    • One more important framework worth keeping in mind is Clayton Christensen’s Job To Be Done framework. I think it is worth studying. You’ll reach great insights about the products and services you develop if you can connect the dots between the Job To Be Done framework and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
  4. African Startups
  5. Building An Innovation Ecosystem
    • It takes a lot of work to build the systems that support innovation, entrepreneurship, startups and venture capital. Some examples of organizations doing interesting work:
  6. Q&A – what I can remember
    • Are there examples of technology from the developing world coming across to the US or other developed markets?
      • Yes – people are testing tablets at $29.99 for possible use in the North American market. Dropifi has customers all over the world. There are other examples.
    • How do we learn about opportunities in other parts of the world?
      • Connect with people online, through social networks – I co-authored a blog post for Tekedia  with Chao Charity Mbogho. She’s a Ph.D candidate in computer science at the University of Cape Town. Our collaboration started with a retweet from someone I follow. I reached out to Chao with a question, and a short while later we had co-authored a blog post. Lots of tools exist to make collaboration with people in other parts of the world easy.
      • Partnering with people on the ground is important – they understand the local problems more completely than you will.
    • What do you look for in the startups in which you invest?
    • What are some of the challenges African entrepreneurs face? Things can’t be easy for them.
    • How easy is it for African women to get involved in the technology startup community? Is there a difference from the state of affairs in the US?
      • I’d be lying if I told you I can answer that question definitively. I know that in general, across the continent there are cultural barriers that still exist related to the education of girls. However I also know of several African women who are prominently leading the charge in the effort to build startups, and create an environment for startups to flourish in different parts of the continent. Some of the startups we discussed are founded by women.

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