My entertainment in the last week was provided by the witty twitter exchanges between Mark Essien and Marek Zmysłowski, founders of hotels.ng and Rocket Internet’s Jovago, both claiming their companies to be the better online hotel booking service. I have committed to using both services and writing a public review, but that’s a story for another day.

During the twitter exchanges during the week, many responses were thrown in from the sidelines, some backing my brother form Ikot Ekpene, and a small minority, Marek, Rocket Internet’s new boy. But the funniest of the side shots was this Sunday piece by Oluwole Leigh, who took a very satirical pen to the local vs. foreign conversation.

If you have not read this very funny story about Bankole, Mark and Jason’s visit to the tech industry’s favourite babalawo, you probably should.

The most interesting part of that story for me is almost innocuous, as it was subliminal. Right after the SPARK team left the babalawo’s home, there was a knock on his door. The babalawo asked who it was, and the response was a very assured Marek, who answered “Emi ni , Emi Marek ni…” (I believe that’s Yoruba for “It’s me, it’s me, Marek”).

Why does this one sentence stand out?

A few years ago, I had a short stint as a product manager, and one of my tasks was helping foreign business partners berth their products in the Nigerian market. Of course that also meant entertaining opposite number product/export managers on their (mostly first) visits to Nigeria. One of the most outstanding things I noticed was how much they knew about the country, without ever having set foot on Murtala Muhammed. They always had more data, tended to understand the local purchase patterns, and never seemed as lost in Nigeria’s complexities as I had been made to expect. Worse still, they were armed with more experience in a global market.

After my first export manager meeting, I spent the following months acquiring data on the Nigerian market. I was probably never going to have as much data, or resources as the foreign export managers, but I was determined to not be ignorant. The information I found helped us ramp up our contract values by over 500% in just over 13 months.

But that experience had taught me to respect Johnny Foreigner in the Nigerian business scene, which is why the story Marek’s “Emi ni , Emi Marek ni…” response really struck me. Its no longer surprising finding the random foreigner who understands the African market more than us locals. The average foreigner gets to Africa, spends time traveling around the continent, seeing the market, and understanding the foundations, while some local CEOs spend most of their time peering through the sales pipeline. Some of us locals often assume that because we were born here, we understand the market better. Well, that isn’t always true.

It’s not a given that living in a house means we know where the rat holes are. The reason the housekeeper often finds the rat holes, even though they’re strangers in our homes, is because they spend more time peering at the hidden corners of the house.

Oluwole Leigh, in his satirical story, also inadvertently highlights the attitude of many local startup founders, who spend more time trying to be alien to our local markets, to match Silicon Valley, while the oyinbo guys spend more time trying to understand the market. Reality is that looking and sounding the part will never equate to understanding the market we’re trying to capture.

So, instead of employing interpreters in our own market, we local founders need to start responding to the call of “who is there” with an assured “Emi ni. Emi founder ni

Disclaimer: No egos were harmed in the writing of this blog. All characters are reference in the context of their characterisation in Mr Leigh’s story, and have no reflection on their actual position in the local market. Any similarities to real life dispositions is highly regretted. This blog is in no was a reflection of my opinion on either Mr Essien or Zmysłowski’s attitudes to market development.

I recently read Jennifer Rooney’s submission on the Apple ‘Misunderstod’ holiday ad as an encouragement of connection to the virtual world, at the expense of the real world. I could not disagree more. My disagreement has nothing to do with Apple, although I’m a big Apple fan. My dissension is more on the subject of culture, which the piece spent so much time on.

 

This year has been about the most ‘shared’ year in the history of online sharing, and the US Thanksgiving and Hanukkah holidays were the busiest days on Instagram. We are becoming more and more drawn to sharing little bits of our lives on social media. We are more likely to stop for a moment to capture the moment, and this is the cornerstone of Jennifer Rooney’s criticism. But I am inclined to look deeper – the criticism owes it’s origin toa rather more commonplace practice: the dismissal of a later generation, based on nothing more than it’s emerging culture.

Every generation of teenagers has been accused of one anti-social vice or other. It’s part of generational reductionist contempt, meant to either make the younger generation appear less accomplished than they potentially are, or condemn a popular culture that is different to the one the older generation grew up in.

The immediate past generation, my generation, was accused of bare brigandage for listening to, and growing hip hop into a worldwide phenomenon. Later on, as cellphones became more ubiquitous, the generation was accused of choosing to text, rather than make a call on those cellphones it quickly became addicted to.

The hippy generation were accused in America of being, well, too hippy. They were mostly seen as not patriotic enough, and hazed out by pot and phychedelic drugs. But guess who drove the biggest technology revolution the world has ever seen? Yep, that drugged out generation.

That generation produced Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They produced Richard Branson and forever changed the way the world saw computers. For a generation that was generally written off, that’s a handy legacy to leave behind.

And the Internet generation? My generation. We were too soft. For most of our years, we were too addicted to the Internet and computers, not producing useful enough engineers and civil servants, and too stupid to not aim for vocations with more job security.

The jury is still out on our generation, but we have already given the world Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. My generation is driving more startup growth than any other generation since the hippies changed the world.

It did happen that after the accusations of cellphone addiction were made against my generation, my parents generation ended up adopting cellphones in huge numbers. Parents adapted, and rather than call, sent more text messes to their kids. After the social media was roundly condemned by the same generation of my parents, the generation before them (my grandparents) quickly became one of the largest demographic on Facebook. Teenagers are now abandoning Facebook for their parents, who are now sharing like never before. So sharing my not be so bad at all.

Every generation develops it’s own culture. It is often the case that each generation’s signature habit is built on what was available to them. An example is that when telephones first became urban necessities, the parent’s in the country could never understand why their children preferred to make telephone calls, rather than visit them in person.

So why are we bothered that the present generation of teenagers spend too much time on their smartphones, and would rather chat with their friends than their grandparents?

It is imperative to note that this generation of teenagers will be the ones defining the future they’ll live in. Not their parents, not their grandparents, but them. So they just may be more prepared to live in their own future than anyone else, just like every other teenage generation has always been more prepared for the future than the generations which came before them.

The future has never stayed still. The future evolves. Because if this evolution, the things which guarantee success in the future also evolve with time. Before we accuse another generation of lacking in greatness on account of it’s habits, we must ask ourselves “how did we turn out, despite our own cool addictions?”

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Last night, I read that post by the co-founder of tiketmobile, and was really saddened, but without a lot of pity. It’s sad that he had to shutter up, and power down a business that must have been his big dream. But then, someone has to fail for the business schools to have case studies.

Someone has to fail, but it’s sad when it has to be you. But the part where I do not pity Celestine, the tiketmobile founder, is where he came off sounding entitled, like he was doing someone a favour starting a business. That sir, I do not agree with. No one is sitting up at night losing sleep about how your business is doing. That’s your darned job.

Because Celestine didn’t give any insights to why the startup failed, one has to  guess that revenue was low. Unfortunately, tiketmobile won’t be the last Nigerian startup to fail because founders didn’t think through about the revenue/profit stream, while sitting on grant funding, waiting for venture capital funding.

So what is the problem here?

Over the last year, I have met too many Nigerian startups who have told me their business plan is to build a smart enough app and get VC funding. Many are going to fail. Most people who know me on the business front probably have come across my model – ww.makeaprofit.dazall aka WMD. WMD is a purely capitalist model. At least that is what I have been told. The cynical have said it’s cutthroat, while others have said that it rather paints everything a business should be doing into a small corner. But I ask, how many businesses have survived from not making profits? Or more importantly, why do we go into business?

I for one went into business so I could buy Nike Sneakers, but I was 17 then, I think. But for any grownup looking to start a business, you have to see the big picture, and realise that you are there to secure you’re livelihood first, simple. I am an ardent proponent of existentialism and one of our canons is John-Paul Sartre’s proposition that “Existence precedes essence”. Until we have solved the basic problems of food, clothing and shelter, everything else should be secondary.

In Nigeria for example, the average entrepreneur has to deal with problems of power, space and funding, along with the 3 basics of life. There is little room for error. If you fail, you call through the cracks. And no, there’s no welfare. God bless you if you have family to fall back on, but if you don’t, well God bless you anyway, because if He doesn’t, you’re done for.

This is why I’m a “make a profit” proponent. Every business decision should be taken with the question of profits in mind: will this help make a profit? If you’re not seeing revenue and calling yourself “co-founder” just because it’s cool, well, watch that thing you’re sitting on, it’s probably long.

Startup romanticism

A part of this kerfuffle that is silly is that tiketmobile did get a chance to receive funding, but I will get to that later.  Turning down investment to keep stake is silly, and may well be why tiketmobile failed. Another is the lack of business experience – too many startups flying into business (some form NYSC) without a day of experience at a job or business.

One of the guys I work with started a service last year, and could have well left to start his own gig. But he spoke to me and I offered him a deal: put your service under the company, use our resources and sell. Company takes 60% of profits, you keep 40%, but you spend nothing in sales and R&D. He took that deal. His first sale was over $10,000. Note the emphasis on the money there revenue = $10,000, cost of business = $0. I don’t know what could have happened if my friend did not take that deal, but that there is an example of how losing some stake could also mean gaining some wiggle room to breath, and also build business experience from an Autobot position.

I am hoping, before Celestine gets into his next venture, he would have found a Kenny Rogers tape and listened to “The Gambler” on repeat for at least 7 days.

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,

Know when to walk away and know when to run

Seek ye first the path to profits

The need to make profits for African (read Nigerian) startups is real. Unlike the Americans we read about on TechCrunch, we don’t have welfare or unemployment benefits. An American kid whose business has failed at least does have the option of welfare. But you Nigerian, remember when your mum said you should get a real job and you didn’t? Well, this is what they were talking about – that is if you have parents. Again, even if you have parents or relatives able to help, you can be sure to get a healthy dose of “I told you so” before you get a kobo of their money.

Let’s say you’ve passed the first test of feeding yourself, you want to expand the business so you make even more money (I believe the fancy word for this is ‘scale’), you decide to hire one or two people. That’s cool because it’s the logical thing to do. But imagine going the first month, no pay, second, no pay, and third, same, because business isn’t going too well. Well, you staff didn’t join you to understand that business doesn’t go well sometimes. They joined to get paid. So imagine that you can’t afford to pay them: what would Jesus do? Unfortunately, unlike Jesus, you can’t make a salary out of five loaves of Shoprite bread.

Some wisdom from a bottle of ketchup

Next time you happen to hold a bottle of Heinz ketchup, pay a little attention to the labelling, and you’ll find a little phrase “Grown not made.” Well, that little nugget of wisdom says all you need to know about what makes a business. It’s grown, with a plan and actions. From the moment Tiketmobile got the $5000 grant, the thinking should have been where the next funding was going to come from. Mind, I’m still a profit driven head, but if the business was setup with the intention of scaling based on funding rounds, then the guys at tiketmobile should have been thinking of step 2 right at the point go securing funding round 1.

The most annoying part of this businesses is that they did get a funding proposal from SPARK. There are reservations about SPARK’s model, and no one knows the terms Jason Njoku offered, but it’s not a fair world out there. People go on about Jason’s motives, and I ask: who doesn’t have motives? One of the problems Nigerian startups have is the illusion of owning it all. Well, if you’re not ready to chase a sound bootstrapping model, you have to be ready to lose some stake.

It’s great to own all your stake, but there’s nothing fun about owning 100% of a dead company. You dig?

By the way, Cele, Tony Elumelu does not owe you anything. But even if Tony Elumelu did bring VC funding, remember…

Often when the history of civilisation is written, it is the names of the elite who make it as heroes. The rich and the middle class make the news, and the poor who stood in the advance of harsh weather – well nobody cares about the poor anyway. Which is why @ceezeks’s article on Low Hanging Fruits (LHF) interested me so much.

I’m a self confessed existentialist, who drank up St. Thomas Aquinas’s thesis and declared it the gospel of development. As such I tend to stay suspicious of superlatively lofty ideas which seem rooted in the sky. I love big thinking. In fact “big thinking” is one part of my company’s three-legged mantra – and I currently live and breath as the product of big dreams.

So why do I disagree with the assertion that chasing the low hanging fruits will inspire mediocrity?

I once wrote a blog on how governments can directly put money in the pockets of unemployed youths in local communities. I also have the privilege of seeing the difference simple infrastructure can make in the lives of local communities.

My grandmother is from a small Eniong community in Odukpani LGA, Cross River State. The community is small in population size, but blessed with arable land. Every year, during the rainy season, the farms are flooded, bringing fresh humus to the soil, which allows the people to farm every year on the same spots and record good yields. They mostly cultivate what European chefs call ‘gourmet vegetables’, and boy, those peppers and garden eggs taste amazing. The same floods also bring tons and tons of fish into the flooded forests.

At the end of the flood season, the locals would have constructed huge dams across the rivers, catching most of the large fish coming back out of the floods. When the farm lands dry out, the farmers return.

This amazing cycle continues year after year. Tons of produce come from the farms, millions worth of fish is caught. Yet the people are mostly poor, for a very simple reason: because they can’t store their farm produce or fish, they have to sell way below the market value, hence they are stuck in subsistence.

As far back as I can remember, the every incoming government had promised a road to that community, and never built it. A road would have made the market more competitive, and cut short the two hour journey by boat to the market at Itu in Akwa Ibom. Better still, a road would have allowed the community site their market in their own community, which would bring the buyers in there, and expand the economy. The people of the community would have had a chance to monetize their famous hospitality by building small restaurants and motels, since the travellers would need places to stay and eat too.

Now imagine if the electricity project I heard has finally started came through, and someone went and setup a storage facility and unionised the farmers, so they can opt to either sell their fresh produce, or store them. That ability alone would increase the value of their goods by over 25%. Simple things like roads and electricity really can provide quick wins, and unlock billions in revenue.

Consider on the opposite side of the river, where farmers in Akwa Ibom have recently been smiling a lot more, because Godswill had happened to them, and their governor had taken a big hoe into the state, and built roads all over the place. The argument about the size of state revenue vs. the development is for another day. The point here, is in the contrast between the two states, as regards infrastructure. I’m not sure Akwa Ibom has a quarter of Cross River’s agricultural potential, yet Akwa Ibom is likely to dwarf her sister state in actual revenues, simply because the farmers in Akwa Ibom have a choice of markets to take their produce to.

Low hanging fruits are evil, huh?

Remember when the world economy tanked? Guess what the US and German governments did? The started building more roads (and other infrastructure). By putting money in construction, they were able to stimulate the economy along the entire construction supply chain.

It’s important to build the base of development by providing the basic infrastructure and social services: roads, water, power, healthcare and schools. Do the basics, make those basics accessible to the poor and get out of the way, so businesses can do what they do best – make more money to create more jobs to more people.

LHF as a concept is great, I belief. It often builds sustainable systems, since the people who benefit from LHF projects often see the near term benefits. Local appreciation is a key stone in building the foundations of sustainability. History doesn’t need to remember the poor, it just has to ensure they are taken care of.

But I sign off by agreeing with Chuba Ezekwesili here. A governor building a much needed road, and throwing a party to celebrate it is insane. The people are celebrating in their hearts already, so there is no need for a party. They are celebrating as they whistle to the market with more produce than before; they are celebrating as they wave their hands in the wind as they are driven past their friends’ villages; they are celebrating as they thank the Governor who built the road in their kitchens at dinner.

Again, while I praise roads and other low hanging fruits, it’s no excuse for any overfunded governor to do same. I don’t expect to be praised for doing my job at the office everyday, and you are only doing your job. Shut up and carry on.

In 1992, a Glencore oil trader got off the plane in Lagos with a briefcase filled with millions of dollars. His mission: meeting with a Niger Delta strongman who had promised a secure delivery of an endless flow of stolen sweet crude.

Late that evening, the strongman appeared at the hotel, and the drinks flowed around over the business discussion. The terms were great – the strongman will divert oil from an NNPC pipeline to a moored barge, modified to carry oil, and transfer same to Glencore tankers. The NNPC and Shell security had all been bribed, so everything is in place for a smooth deal.

For financials, the oil will be delivered to Glencore at 1/3 of market prices, making for an all round beautiful deal, cash and carry.

The oil trader paid a little over $2m in cash and the oil bunkerer left with a promise to call the next morning. He never did. The money disappeared with the strongman, and the oil trader simply became a private man who lost cash to a Nigerian 419er; at least that is the story that the authorities heard.

Following that ‘unfortunate’ incident, oil traders buying stolen crude from Nigeria have become more careful, and tried to make the transactions less risky. Startibg from 80,000 barrels a day in 1992, billions of dollars worth of stolen crude have left Nigeria in the last decade at ridiculously sub-market prices.

To fix the aberration, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan (aka GEJ) went on CNN to appeal to the international community to help break the trade in stolen crude oil. He has recently been followed on that route by Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

I see GEJ’s point. As long as people are willing to buy stolen goods, then people are going to be willing to steal and sell. But what has the Nigerian government done to fix problem of oil theft internally before trying to fix the behemoth that is the international oil black market?

Has our government for example, tried to masquerade as oil theives to sell crude in the black market? That would have allowed them to find out who the buyers are, at least at a very basic level.

A market exists for stolen crude because the product exists at cheap prices. Stolen oil is sold at about 1/3 or 1/4 the market price. Because there’s no regulatory encumbrances, taxes or loading fees, no union obstructions or levies, the product becomes even more profitable.

Once out of ‘port’, the oil traders only need to fix up the papers to regularize the product, and they could either put the product in the long market to be sold and resold hundreds of times before delivery, or just head to Ghana to refine the oil. Yes, a huge amount of Nigeria’s stolen crude heads to Ghana to be refined.

To find stolen crude, outside of the sale point, is rather difficult. But forensics could help. For one, crude is not just crude – over 200 types of oil exist, depending on where the oil was drilled, each with distinct signatures.

In order to refine a particular kind of oil, the refinery must be calibrated to match that type of oil. So a refinery setup to refine Bonny Light, one of Nigeria’s sweet crudes, cannot refine Saudi heavy oils without some heavy industrial surgery – an expensive, time consuming operation which is in no way profitable.

Hence, one could easily identify refineries where Nigerian crude is refined. Theoretically, by comparing delivered cargoes to NNPC documents, one could separate legal cargo from any extras, but the oil industry has never been straight forward, so I doubt that would work.

So we are left with one more option: police action. The price of oil, as with most commodities is set by the availability of supply, stability of the source and risk. If oil theft thrives on the availability of cheap premium crude oil, then in theory, if the risk of obtaining the oil increases, and availability is uncertain, then prices will rise.

How do you cause prices to rise? Security forces. If our navy can’t handle it, we could get help or hire private forces – Israel, US or South Africa would do, shoot down a few illegal bunkering operations, sink a ship (oh wait, that’s environmental disaster) – shoot down the ship’s crew as soon as the oil changes hands. Once it becomes too risky to supply or receive stolen crude, the market will disappear. We have seen this work with Somali pirates.

But we can now come to reality. The illegal oil trade is not controlled by rogue militants out to line their pockets and theirs alone. They pay ‘taxes’ to corrupt security agents in the army, navy and police. They bribe NNPC staff and sometimes are bankrolled by politicians. Whole ships have been known to disappear from the custody of our navy, and captured oil shippers have become subject of international diplomatic arm twisting, in which Nigerian officials always give in.

So there we are. The illegal oil market exists because supply is there. Supply exists because our government lets it exist. Our government lets it because officials are benefitting from the trade, and even when they don’t, they are too inept to understand the trade, let alone stop it.

So I have no time for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or Goodluck Jonathan’s tears on CNN. You can’t go asking the international community to stop the trade of illegal crude oil, when you have done nothing locally to break that market. If the international community could not stop the trade of conflict diamonds through the Kimberly Process, who says it can fix oil theft? Again, those countries have problems of their own, and shouldn’t be bothered by Nigeria’s latest troubles. Most importantly, the countries the Nigerian government is appealing to have energy needs to meet, so if illegal oil helps them solve energy problems, what is the incentive to stop the trade?

Not too long ago, Nigeria’s Federal Government signed a deal with a former militant commander to take over the security of oil installations in order to reduce oil theft. So far that has not worked out. The theft has increased. One simply cannot keep complaining about the missing cheese, while the rat stands guard over the locker.

So dear NOI and GEJ, the leak is your problem to solve. Stop whining and do your bloody jobs.

Apple really needs to get out of the maps business. Yes, I know that is the blog title, but I thought I might as well put it back there for emphasis.

Apple switched its maps service from Google’s ubiquitous maps service with the launch of the current iOS version, and it has been downhill since then.

I had never really been bothered with the maps fiasco till I upgraded iOS on my iPad and tried to get directions to Lagos Mainland – iOS maps failed on first try. The message I got, “Maps cannot search for locations in Lagos”, was as disappointing as it was insulting. So people don’t live here? Or maybe Cupertino doesn’t expect us Lagos people to use iOS devices.

Let’s keep this straight – I’m a big Apple fan. I have owned many iOS devices and finally made the jump from Windows a few months ago. Apple makes things simply and beautifully. It’s the simplicity of Apple design culture, both for hardware and software, that attracts most of us to the brand. It is also why iOS Maps is such a disappointing piece if work. Here’s a product that is supposed to make life simple, but it does everything but that. That is not how Apple does things.

iOS maps disappoint in too many ways. The pointer is always about 100 feet off, the coordinates are wrong and location markers aren’t trustworthy.

This is iOS Maps location marking of my office.

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Now here is Google Maps

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Google Maps is so accurate, it’s scary.

Imagine that a brand sent out event coordinates using Apple Maps and hundreds of their fans got missing on the way because Apple Maps either could not search the location, or sent them all to an adjacent street, which also happened to be a ‘one way’. Imagine a hundred fans trustingly driving into the hands of LASTMA.

We’re lucky, Google has launched a new Maps for iPhone and should have an iPad version ready soon. That is a great product, with great coverage, road directions, accurate views and all kinds of bells and whistles. Or maybe Google may hold off to drive up adoption for Android tablets

Google has spent so much time refining maps, I don’t think Apple should be trying to break that at his moment. In fact I think Apple should get out of the maps business altogether.

There, I said it.

- Sent from my iPhone

LagosDolphinStreaksLast week, on Sunday night, I turned off Twitter from my phone. There was no apparent reason. No spiritual recoil, or any of those mildly esoteric pangs people give as explanations for their self-cleansing exercises. There was no reason to turn off Twitter from my life. It was the same spontaneity that got me to walk off the street into a barber’s shop to cut off my cornrows, which I’d been growing for nearly a year. I just did.

Five minutes after I first turned off the little bird icon form my iPhone, Twitter was turned off from all my devices. I had also decided to take it out of my life for a week. I slept.

When I woke up in the morning, it was beautiful. I felt free! Because there was no compulsive anxiety to check up what was going on in the world, I was able to look up, and fill my morning with things I had recently forgotten to do because I spent the free time on Twitter. The morning drive to work was great. I was able to look up and watch the road, look into people’s cars, and converse with my driver – these were all mundane things, but they somehow felt new and exciting. I felt new.

Because I had more time to look out of the car, I was able to see things I had become blind to because my commute time was Twitter time. I saw pictures. And I took many. I had always carried my camera along with me, but now I was also able to look up and see the pictures I always wanted to take. That was how I saw the picture I wanted to take most.

It was a drive up the Dolphin Bridge, off Osbourn Road, Ikoyi, where I saw what was nearly the entire length of Third Mainland Bridge snaking over the lagoon. It looked naked and beautiful. I asked the driver to slow down. I stared for a minute, before deciding I was doing a panoramic shot at night. I also decided to do a long exposure shot over the bridge if my tripod got to me on time. The next afternoon, my tripod arrived.

It was about 8:15pm when I left the office with my creative lead, who is also my trusty sidekick. My driver had left earlier, do we were going to have to manage the shoot on our own. We drove up the bridge, just below where we could see the whole length of Third Mainland Bridge, parked and setup the tripod. The plan had been to take the bridge as a shiny snake of light over the lagoon, illuminated by the rush hour traffic. It was a beautiful shot in my head. That night, Third Mainland Bridge disappointed. There was no traffic.

It was pointless trying the shot, so I decided to do the long exposure. The traffic on Osbourne road wasn’t ‘great’ but it was enough for a decent shot. I picked up the camera and adjusted the shutter settings, trudging up the bridge. My ‘assistant’, M, drove. The instruction to M was to stay in the car, with the lights on and engines running while I took the shots. No worries, I said, I will show him the pictures after I was done. He drove up and parked the car to the left side, across from me.

My big mistake was showing the first shot to my sidekick. It was a minute long, and the light streaks looked fantastic. So I showed it to him. He was so excited, he dashed over to the side of the bridge to take shots with his iPhone. He was so excited, he was completely lost to the night. Every new shot I took got him even more excited, he had completely forgotten he was supposed to stay in the car.

I was about to take what I expected would be my best shot when I saw them. Three ‘boys’; two lean stragglers and a stocky leader, sprinting up the bridge from the direction of Dolphin Estate. The sprinting leader was carrying what appeared in the lighted night to be a large machete.

The beauty of long exposure shots is getting as many moving lights as one can and exposing these over time till the light was painted over the path of the moving object. The shots I was taking needed about 30 seconds to paint. I had waited to shoot when there I saw a decent number of cars coming in – I was releasing the shutter just when I saw the oncoming area boys. They were roughly a minute away from us and the best decision, I think, would have been to grab everything at that moment and make a run for the car. It was probably the decision I should have taken, but the stubborn bug in me kept me rooted to the roadside where I erected my tripod. I counted the seconds I needed to complete the shot in my head and turned to my assistant, who was completely unaware of the danger. I did not have to scare him, but I needed him to act sharply. In the calmest voice I could muster, I said (or commanded as I was later told) “M, get in the car, now!”

It took two seconds for him to realize the danger, and another three for him to dash across the road and literally fly into the car. A moment later, my shot was done and I swept the camera with the tripod still attached and dashed into the car. We are still arguing if M forgot to engage the gear before revving, or if he was revving to scare our attackers, but whatever the case was, it worked and the stocky area boy, who had gotten to the car by the time I got in, was shocked enough to leave his raised machete suspended in the air. The cries of “stop there” were already echoing in my ears as I had dashed into the car, but there was no stopping. M remembered the gear a second after his loud rev, and screeched away.

I half expected our attackers to throw a machete at us, but I didn’t hear the loud crash as we sped away. I knew we were lucky. Later that night, I counted the gizmos that could have been lost if that attack was a robbery, and had succeeded. All I could be was thankful. A self righteous bit of me stared accusingly at the part of me which stopped and waited till the last shot had been completed, before running to safety. That part of me is probably Teka’s dad.

In that one week spent off Twitter, I found very interesting things to do, which I had forgotten. Looking up from the connected life has helped me connect back to the things I loved doing before the social network took over. I have written a lot, I’ve read even more. Most importantly, I’ve been able to look up and see great pictures I had missed everyday as I traversed Lagos. In the coming days, I will be sharing many of the beautiful pictures I’ve took (and I’m still taking) from the streets of Lagos, but I couldn’t wait to share these sunsets.


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I have since turned my Twitter back on. After one week off, I have been able to see Twitter without feeling the need to dive in headlong. I know it takes a lot more than a week off to cure an addiction, but I hope I have learned to look up long enough to see that indeed, there’s beauty in the world. The real world.

filmsetNot too long ago, I used to say that Nollywood will shape up the day Clarence Peters and the new edition music video guys get into producing feature films for Nollywood. The conviction was strong. In my head, it made sense. Nollywood, after the days of Living In Bondage (the very beginning) has lost it’s way a little bit – hundreds of low quality movies are churned out every year, mostly lacking in depth and plot, but that really is a story for another day. Let’s stay on Clarence Peters. After seeing a few Capital music video productions, I believed there were a few people who could actually make decent productions in country, and it was a good day, when I finally met Clarence.

The meeting itself was nothing major – a friend was shooting his label artiste’s video with Banky W and Ice Prince featuring, so I stopped by. It turned out to be a Clarence Peters production, so I thought I might as well wait around to see how he does it. Judging from the productions I have seen on TV, I expected to see top quality equipment, all rigged up to fire. I was a little disappointed. Aside from a small hand operated crane, all that I saw was a mid-level DSLR camera and a big boom box. The studio was set up on three corners to shoot different scenes, and that was all.

Three hours later, with the shoot going decently well, I had completely gave up hope of seeing the big camera make an entrance. It did not. Three weeks later, the music video was delivered in a hard drive to the label – a full HD video, ready to go anywhere.

Over christmas 2012, I started experimenting with video on my DSLR. By tweaking my settings – the same settings I use to shoot photographs – for video, and setting the camera to shoot up to 30 minutes, I was ready to make short films on my casual pro camera. Of course moving from still photography to shooting video is not the easiest pivot to make, but what mattered at the moment was that I could shoot good looking HD videos just like Clarence Peters. All I needed was a high capacity memory card, which I already had. Joy.

Of course my original love for still photography meant that I wasn’t running out into the street shooting videos everyday, but it was good to know that I could, if I really wanted to. Fast forward to February, 2012 and we were expecting this film crew for an interview in the office. Again, I expected big video cameras, but again was surprised by a crew that showed up with a tripod, basic lights, microphone and a DSLR. After the interview, I had a conversation with with the head of the crew, who told me as a matter of fact, that he shoots everything with his Canon 7D. Everything including films, music videos, and weddings.

I have since met three film makers who shoot everything with their DSLRs. One of them, is a lady I met during social media week, who has a film shortlisted in the finals of Afrinolly short film competition. Yes, films shot on a DSLR could go that far.

So why am I spending all this time talking about people shooting films on DSLR cameras? Well, because Nollywood keeps disappointing, and has barely grown form where it was 10 years ago.

The major problem with Nollywood, has always been depth. There is a shortage of depth in the stories told via film. This is surprising because there are too many Nigerian stories waiting to be told. There is a story waiting to be told at every street corner in every Nigerian city, town or village. Yet, we have consistently been fed with the same tired lines, which do not seem ready to change. Many moreissues exist in the movie industry, which have limited the growth of Nollywood, but none of those should prevent us from telling real Nigerian stories.

The stagnation of mainstream Nollywood is an opportunity though; an opportunity to disrupt (yes, it’s that word again). I started with examples of films made on DSLR cameras for a reason. I thought it would be good to know that it is possible to make decent films using these simple pieces of equipment, which are becoming (relatively) cheaper. A standard $500 DSLR camera can shoot 30 minute HD films! So equipment can’t stop small independent film makers anymore. DSLRs can shoot in HD, and any decent laptop computer should help with some editing, however crude that may be.

There are tons of stories to be told, literally. No, we’re not talking big budget films – small films are a good place to start. Short films, 5-15 minutes could tell powerful stories. That’s why there’s a category for them in the Academy Awards. There are are entire awards dedicated to short films.

There is even better news for indie film makers – YouTube; it is there to get eyeballs and recognition. Better still, it’s all free. So if you ever dreamed of making films but have very little budget, this note is for you. Go out and get a DSLR camera.

At this point, I guess I should toast Nigeria’s indie film makers of the future. May your stories be great, and may the folks at Iweka Road put your name on a hit list. Trust me, that’s a good thing.

I’ve just finished watching the Super Eagles reception. It was great fun watching our leaders pander to the footballers they had nearly abandoned. On a personal note, I couldn’t help wondering if the leaders would give that much time of day to the ordinary footballer on the street trying to make it. Even more to the point, Sunday Mba was just another struggling footballer three weeks ago – do the many struggling sports men and women in our country occupy any little patch of thought in the minds of our leaders, especially people whose jobs it is to administer the institutions of sports in Nigeria.

Let’s get it straight – I am not against the awards. Darn it, the boys made the nation proud, and united us all, albeit for a few heady hours. They deserve all they get. However, the question must be asked: have we built the foundations that are needed to produce more winning teams? All the little boys in the villages painting “MBA” on their green jerseys of all shapes and sizes, do they have the facilities to play on in order to become competitive? Does the Nigerian Football Federation have a program that allows these newly inspired children to be discovered and groomed for the future?

We keep failing when we hop on to reward one-off results, neglecting the building of foundations and institutions.

Worse still, we are in danger of painting a very bad picture of what really deserves rewarding in our country.

Awards. How many teachers have we honored nationally? How many engineers or doctors, doing brave things everyday in the face of harsh operational conditions get mentions at national level? When will we reward Mathematics teachers to make them feel valued, so kids see and want to become maths teachers too? The grassroots coaches who brought Mba up, they will never be on national TV, and that is a problem.

If we do not build institutions and a clear progression path for education at all levels, including sports, and reward the people who build those institutional pathways, we will continue to have sporadic results. Sadly, however the institution and foundation gap is widening.

Boko Haram is a clear result of the education gap, along with poverty and social inequality. Militancy and oil thievery in the Niger Delta is also a result of that education gap.

But the trouble with education problems is that you can’t just turn a tap on education and knowledge just flows. Education thrives on systematic planning and nurturing. The fruits do not come immediately. Fruits one wants to see in 15 years, the seeds must be sown today.

So one must ask the question: are we too late? Is the time frame within which we should have built a proper education system for the future expired? Maybe not, but certainly we have gone where past where we could have done it easily; when teachers were heroes, and Youth Corps members could go everywhere.

These days teachers are being hunted by terrorists for being Haram, and young graduates are too afraid to go teach in remote villages where they could wake up a pile of ashes for daring to do exactly what their country expects of them. In sports, in football, the people who should be building foundations have found that their bread is better buttered in Glass Houses and have no incentive to slave in inhuman conditions training kids for long term development.

So the time we could have fixed education easily passed a while back. But we have no options but try still. To rescue the little hope that remains of the future of Nigeria, we really must try to fix education. If it means arming teachers with guns, as well as chalks, so be it. But by all means, our education problem must be solved. If we can’t, the consequences are too horrible to imagine.

So far this week, I have confirmed from three respectable sources that the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) project is gathering serious steam and should be going on stream in Q2 2013. It looks like Nigerian mobile subscribers will finally be able to get value for their money on their networks of choice, failing which they have an option of switching to other networks which actually offer value to them. It’s great news all around, considering that the Nigerian Telecommunications Commission (NCC) is finalising plans to begin communicating the expected changes as early as next week (first full week of February 2013, from what I have heard).

I expect MTN to be the biggest loser in a post MNP environment . Nigeria’s biggest mobile communication services provider has had abysmal performance in recent years, and the last couple of months has been almost like taking the mickey. With this expected loss of customers (my view of course), other providers will be making big gains feeding on MTN numbers. The biggest winner, I expect, will be Etisalat, the emerging darling of young mobile phone users, build mostly on their more than decent play in the handheld data offerings.

When Etisalat got into the market, they made a strategic gamble to pitch their tent with the youth market, and pushed services which sought to tie in young people to their networks. So far, that gamble has been paying off, and Etisalat’s numbers are growing. I have only recently switched my iPad to Etisalat, and now my iPhone is enjoying great data speeds from the 0809ja people. So apparently they got me too. I’m actually waiting for MNP so I can also switch my main number.

Despite my belief that MNP will be a win for Etisalat, they need to be wary of this growth, while enjoying the prospects of sudden jump in their subscriber base. Here’s why:

I recently did a story on the state of GTBank services. As a result of that story, I got to sit down with GTBank’s people to review a number of the issues that were identified in the blog. As I listened and looked around more, the bits of the story began coming together. It began to look obvious that GTBank was trying the best they could to scale up services to meet customer requirements, but they had been broadsided by unexpected growth in customer numbers.

Because GTBank became the brand the cool kids used, and every kid wanted to be cool, it was only a matter of time before all the kids went over to GTBank. The growth was expected, but not exactly in the numbers they came in. That is the primary explanation for the queues customers had recently been complaining about.

Of course GTBank has been working to fix services across channels, including the very popular online banking platform which had been having timeout problems. The E-Banking service, which allows customers to perform transactions without getting into a real banking hall, I think is a great product. There is a bit more road to cover, in order to get back the A-grade services the brand started with, although one hopes they get there soon.

So how does this tie up with Etisalat?

The parallels between GTBank and Etisalat may not be very striking, but many points stick out. GTBank introduced itself as a cool, hip brand, attractive to a young and mobile generation, based on a foundation of great service and modern technology. Etisalat is doing mostly same. Their services have been stellar since they opened shop, and they are winning a lot of hearts with their internet services. This explains my thinking that they will get an explosion of new customers, migrating to their platform, which could muddy their stellar services if they do not take a few lessons learned by GTBank to heart.

Whatever changes they have to make should target 10 – 20% rise in capacity; it should be done and needs to be done now. The network capacity needs expansion, customer service unit needs upgrade and training to expect higher request volumes, and service strategy should be updated to cater seamlessly to people who were used to a different carrier. For example, I’ve been looking around for a welcome centre on my SIM applications menu to show me all the fancy shortcuts to do service requests with, and there’s none. Well, there should be one. Migrating to a new network is difficult enough a decision, the service should not be difficult to get used to after the fact.

More importantly, however well Etisalat prepares for the expected influx of new customers, something will go wrong. It’s Murphy’s Law. When that happens, their technical teams need to be ready. While they try to fix the problems, their PR people should respond to hiccups in ways that will make their customers proud. They need to.

At this point, I would say I may be wrong. The big winner may be some other network. But whichever network it is, they should probably look up at GTBank and learn how to deal with a post surge environment, cut out the missteps, and build on the genius.

Whatever happens in the post MNP climate, true competition is coming to the mobile telephony ecosystem, and the ultimate winners are consumers.

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