As mentioned in a previous post, I’m building out two different business plans for organizations that would work on Mifos in Africa. I originally built out five conceptually scenarios* based on what I learned and heard on my first trip to Accra and Nairobi in June, and am now focusing in on building actual plans for two of those scenarios. This second scenario would build a new organization in Kenya, blending (and hopefully simplifying) two of the five original scenarios to create an investment organization and R&D lab (loosely modeled on MPOWER Labs) with an initial focus on building a Mifos company that delivers a mobile-centric experience.
Scenario D: VC/R&D Lab in Kenya
The basic idea is derived from MPOWER Labs (and MPOWER Ventures), or at least from my understanding of how they work based on their website. The basic idea is to create an investment firm where an initial portfolio company provides a shared set of resources across the other portfolio companies. These shared resources might include people talent (an experienced CTO who floats across 5 companies), software and business tools and methodologies, support functions, and R&D.
What makes this interesting to me is that it solves a couple of fundamental problems I keep seeing in the software industry: a lack of seed stage capital for good ideas and teams with raw talent, and deep, hands-on, “every day” mentorship and talent development. Sharing R&D and software tools and platforms just adds to the power of the model.
For example, imagine that you wanted to hire a senior, CTO-level person to help develop more junior software developers. In virtually any startup in Africa, hiring someone with deep experience might prove too expensive (and equity models aren’t yet mature enough with a solid path to exit to attract talent in numbers). However, what if you could hire one CTO who worked across 4-5 startups and amortize that expense? The CTO would provide technical expertise on a day to day basis, but more importantly would engage in deep development (more than just a bi-weekly 1×1) of the technical staff and future CTOs of each of those companies.
It’s a highly leveraged model, and the goal would be to create a talent pool both within startups in the incubator and to create an outflow of talent as some technical staff inevitably go out to other companies or to their own startups.
Scenario E: Mifos App Network
Scenario E is 100% about taking Mifos into a mobile-enabled future, creating a network – connected, social, and mobile – that empowers the poor, delivering a range of services through apps, building for the future (Android, data access ubiquity), and aggregating apps in a network for the poor. To do this, we’d transform Mifos into a fully “mobile-ified” platform. Platforms alone aren’t enough, though, as very few platforms have impact or get to scale by themselves. Instead, apps beget platforms and we’ll need to build the killer apps that pull people and organizations to the platform.
The focus area for these apps, initially, would likely be new microfinance models that are both heavily mobile-centric and looking at going beyond traditional microfinance (Nuru and Musoni, for example). We want to go where the puck is going to be, betting on the mobile revolution and increased data connectivity across Africa and plugging into the huge momentum around mobile apps in East Africa.
That momentum – lots of mobile companies starting up – is great, and I think that we can augment the momentum with a strong back-end platform that aggregates and analyzes data and makes a wide variety of apps available to people in a relatively streamlined way.
Both Scenario D and Scenario E are pretty complex, and complex is never a great way to start a new organization. The idea now is to combine them into Scenario D’, taking the basic model of Scenario D but starting with just one single company, getting that running, and seeing how the model works.
We would do this by creating a company that mobile-enables Mifos – either through the existing codebase or by contributing to a major rewrite – and makes Mifos the best microfinance platform in the world to deliver mobile services (financial and beyond) to the poor. Through this company, we’d also begin the talent development process and learn first hand what it takes to attract, develop, and retain world class software talent.
This scenario itself is still fairly complex and vague. For now I’m focused on the Ghana scenario, but next month from Nairobi I’ll be working to build out this scenario to a full-blown business plan as well.
* The five different scenarios were:
- A: Institute for Open Source & Software Entrepreneurship
- B: CloudLab Africa
- C: Y-Combinator for Africa
- D: MPOWER-based Incubator
- E: Mifos App Network