Great summary of the Pivot25 conference from Nairobi last week by an investor from Tanzania / Silicon Valley. This chunk (near the end) resonated particularly strongly for me:

Technology is not often enough: There needs to be increasing focus on companies adopting lean customer development methodologies and spending more time talking to their target customers. The term “Pivot” is widely used in Silicon Valley to describe a change in direction after new insights after putting out a product to market. Many of the East African entrepreneurs pitching didn’t show signs of this, nor did the panels believe enough in teams to adjust, questions like “what are you doing to compete with foursquare?” often ignored the very nature of the team’s willingness to adapt and differentiate- at least that should have been the response of startups asking questions like this. Investors bet on teams and execution, not ideas. One investor even mentioned that ideas alone have a negative Return on Investment (for taking up valuable time of the investor without showing any progress).”

This is extremely true and exactly where the focus needs to land for the African software/tech entrepreneur community. The participants at Pivot25 had wildly varying degrees of energy, great ideas, and sound technology – some stood out as very viable companies while others seemed destined for the dustbin – but the common theme that I saw was a need for serious mentoring on how to build a successful software company. This ranges from lean startup and customer development process ideas and tools to the basics of how to ship software effectively (which is way more than just writing code). Culture is important too – specifically, building a culture of trying, failing, iterating, and following the best idea. The Core Protocols would be nice to add to the mix.

There are many incubators in place or in the works in Nairobi, and I’m investigating which ones (like mLab and iHub) are going to be able to provide that deep hands on coaching. Maybe an accelerator is needed (a la Y Combinator), or maybe a holding company / investment fund that goes 10-100X beyond the usual degree of mentoring and coaching?

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