So I recently had the opportunity to talk at the recently hosted E-Tech Africa conference and believe me when I say that quite a good number of questions were asked. It’s funny how some of the most progressive debates and conversations happen in some corner of the conference and not at the “high table” with all the highly esteemed speakers….that’s just my observation.
Anyway, so being on stage brought all that energy passion that just seems to bubble up. It activates the pro-activist in me. I am passionate about issues that concern me and people like me. People who want to change the world! So I had the opportunity to talk to very important people about issues around the registration of Intellectual Property and starting up in Zimbabwe. How we need to see more of these start-ups exhibiting at these conferences and exhibitions. I have no issues with our industry giants our Goliaths, who always feature at these events. For once, though, I want to see the guy working on drones for domestic use, or solving the congestion problem in the CBD, or working on an app or service that makes it cheaper/faster/easier/simpler to do achieve objective X and in so doing creating Y value in society. The thing is when you get to talk to these small guys, they will tell you that it’s either NOT SAFE to exhibit at events, as “big brother” will “steal” the idea/concept. Or that it is just too expensive! I don’t blame them for thinking this way, but this kind of thinking has to change.
I totally understand the problem. See start-ups by their very nature seek out to disrupt the industry. They create products and services that just turn everything upside down, that is the beauty of innovation. If I were a huge established company, I would not want to entertain some YouTube taught hood wearing rookie with no industry experience who works out of some back office or public library who claims to have created the “next big thing.” My unfortunate uneducated and backward “natural response” would be to thwart that silly little start-up. To obliterate it off the face of the earth! Being that kind of Goliath would mean that I have the skills and manpower, the capital and resources to muscle out the start if I saw it fit. I could easily do away with that nasty pesky innovator, and these are the stories that most of us have heard. Stories of how these mammoth “slow to respond” companies destroyed start-ups and sent them crying back to mama.
Here is the thing, though, change is inevitable, it is bound to happen. So as established companies, should we not work with these small start-ups and leverage on their ability to move fast and break things? Will that not keep us at the cutting edge of our industries? Would their innovation not make our products better and more in line with the evolving consumer? I believe that if these companies realize the value that start-ups can bring, then we could realize the vision of a unified and progressive IT industry.
Companies need to realize that it is our job and mission (whether directly or indirectly) to disrupt that sector/market/niche that you hold so closely to your hearts(and balance sheets.) As opposed to thwarting then and frustrating start-ups, work with them and let them help you innovate and bring forth even better products and service offerings. David and Goliath can actually work together, in this case, there is no need for war or “death by a thousand cuts.” Start-ups do kill industries by death by a thousand cuts. Imagine having 27 different start-ups each working on a slightly different iteration of the product that you have built and sold for the last 15 years. Just take a look at this image by CBinsights ( awesome blog by the way)
As startups, we also cannot change that at face value we almost always look like inexperienced rookies trying to aim at the stars. What we can do however is change everything else around that. As a start-up, your conduct has to be nothing short of professional. What we do not have in experience we should make up in with efficient delivery and solid data backed facts. We need to understand the change in their industry better than them and show them where the value really is. Above all we need to be resilient, they will try everything, they will push us over, and trample on us and discourage us, slam doors in our faces until they come to terms with the fact that as a startup, WE JUST WILL NOT DIE! Besides, if you have really created value, they will soon realize this and quickly change their attitude. We just need to brace ourselves for that thrashing and whiplash. Protect yourself, get that IP locked in tight and have enough financial runway to weather the storm. If you have that relentless drive and unwavering determination, you will make it through and nobody will ask you how when you finally go for that billion dollar ( or whatever your goal is) valuation and exit. It is important that as start-up founders, we strive to build enduring companies. That is our goal at Neolab Technology.