One problem that has quickly turned to the ‘Achilles heel’ of the Nigerian and African technology scene is the lack of collaboration between ‘techies’ and other stakeholders.
For as long as I can remember everyone agrees that not collaborating is our bane, this makes it even more worrisome. Somehow we appear too paralysed to do something about it.
I was having a chat recently with Tayo Fagbule, an economist and editor with Business Day and the question of collaboration came up again. Given his professional instincts, Tayo did not stop at a cursory mention of the problem but he wanted to get to the root of the problem as a first step towards solving it.
So the question: ‘Why is there a lack of collaboration and how can we solve it?’
There is a strong and growing lack of trust among people precipitated by a society plagued with corruption and a ‘get rich quick’ mentality.
Quite often you hear stories of business partnerships coming apart because of some underhand dealing by one party to the detriment of the others, and no one wants to be a victim.
So many techies have become lone rangers and swear by the slogan: ‘Better to be alone than in bad company’. Of course, this attitude wouldn’t take anyone far, since there’s always little that one person can do. In order to solve this problem, there’s a need to understand the reason for the partnership in the first place.
Startups are like marriages and most people would probably run away from a fiancé(e) whose first suggestion is a pre-nuptial agreement for splitting the finances, should a disagreement arise.
One cannot but suspect that the said partner is not interested in a life-long relationship but rather a quick cash in. So if your partnership is based on money, two things tend to happen:
1. When money fails, the partnership fails
2. When a lot of money shows up, you start watching your back
So what then should a startup partnership really be based on? Essentially, it should be based on: Common Interests, Values and Friendship.
A good example is Steve Jobs’ legendary pitch to John Sculley which epitomizes the role of common interests in forging a partnership. Jobs asked: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
Jobs realized that Sculley felt as passionate as he was towards making a dent in the universe. After all, they both shared common interests and values and so Jobs left no stone unturned towards recruiting Sculley.
However, common interests and shared values is a starting point but it is usually not enough, as Jobs would later admit: there has to be a corresponding friendship. This can happen before the start-up or after, but the important thing is that it should grow on the job.
Friends can disagree but friends never want to hurt their common goal or betray the trust of the other. The movie, The Avengers discovered that on the job. Nick Fury of SHIELD even describes Phil Coulson as his one good eye, although I’m not sure that Jobs and Sculley ever got that far.
In recent months, I have witnessed several collaborations fall through because one party felt that the other wasn’t good or skilled enough.
After giving it much thought I’ve come to the conclusion that the major challenge in many of these scenarios was not just competence but the work ethics or diligence of the partners.
Competence can be acquired through hard work. Just ask Elon Musk. One mantra we like to use at Digital Craft Studios between ourselves especially after a strategy or features meeting is: I’ll surprise you.
This desire to work hard and impress the other person, can and actually does go very far in cementing a relationship.
Infrastructure can undermine efforts towards collaboration. Ryan Carson lives in Bath, UK but most of the Treehouse team are spread out all around the US. For this to work on a daily basis he uses a couple of online collaboration tools seamlessly because of the very reliable internet infrastructure available.
Africa is still lagging behind compared to the rest of the world in achieving this kind of seamless online collaboration due to her poor Internet connectivity.
This is one of the considerations that necessitated the integration of SMS notifications and the upcoming SMS task updates and interaction on Prowork
So with online collaboration tools such as Prowork, you can expand your choice of collaborators beyond your borders, even though trust and competence many times finds a way to circumvent the infrastructure problem.
If you are doing a startup or about to start one, the first and most important thing you need are team mates, this is even more important than the idea you’re trying to turn into a $1 billion business.
One reason for this is that working together successfully is a learning process — which in itself requires patience. Team members have to understand how their team mates work, and each of them try to adjust their own process to complement the work of the other.
At Digital Craft Studios, it took our development team (Francis @digitalcraft, Ope @kehers, and Ernest @namzo) over a year to ‘click’. This ‘clicking’ is important not just for the work that can be achieved but also for the team mates to be happy while achieving the common goal.
So when someone tells me they’re looking to put together an unacquainted team to accomplish an ambitious project in 3 months, I usually tell them they’ll need more patience and time to go that way.
Another notable example of trust (common interests, values, and friendship), competence and circumventing the problems of infrastructure and patience at the local startup level is Jobberman, the largest job search website in Nigeria.
In a recent interview with the co-founders of Jobberman on Bella Naija, Co-founder & CEO, Ayodeji Adewunmi described his partners, Opeyemi Awoyemi whom he met in 2006 as a “partner friend and brother,” and to Olalekan Olude whom he met in 2007 as “a process guru and has the work ethic of an ant…and his go-to person for getting things done”.
While there are a few other examples of success stories in team collaboration, entrepreneurs should start thinking of expanding their choice of team mates / collaborators beyond their borders through the use of online collaboration tools.