African Tech Entrepreneurship: Diversifying the Global Tech Market | Talks at Google


JONATHAN KOLA: All right,
good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to Talks at Google. In this talk, we’ll be
talking about the technology ecosystem and the
entrepreneurship ecosystem in general in Africa. We have the pleasure
today to be joined by four entrepreneurs who have
built businesses in Africa, ranging from financial services,
from media education and market research. The goal of this talk is to
help us to better understand the technology ecosystem in
Africa, and the role a company like Google could be playing
through the diverse eyes of our guests. So first on stage, let
me introduce Greg Cohen. Greg is a co-founder and CEO of
Asoko Insight, Africa’s leading private company data platform. As COO, Greg drives Asoko’s
product development, data acquisition, and data
management operations. Prior to Asoko, Greg
spent several years as a market research
manager and analyst, operating across Africa
and the Middle East, including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya,
Algeria, Oman, and Bahrain. So welcome, Greg. GREG COHEN: Thank you. JONATHAN KOLA:
Next on stage, I’d like to introduce Eyitemi Popo. Over the past few years, Eyitemi
has launched three ventures aimed at changing the
Africa narrative globally, and amplifying the
voices of Africans. She is the founder of
“Ayiba Magazine,” which is an award-winning African
publication that tells stories of the African
diaspora, and GitGirl, which is Africa’s first data
science academy for women, designed to teach
African women skills in data science, data
engineering, and data analytics. Welcome, Eyitemi. Next on stage, I’ll
introduce Abbey Wemimo. Abbey is co-founder of Esusu
which is a financial technology company that helps people
save, bills, credit, and provides a bridge to
financial access and inclusion. The company’s name is derived
from the Ghanian Twi language word susu, which means to plan. Now Esusu is a form
of rotational savings among family and friends that
has been around the world for centuries. It allows people to advance
financially and overcome the constraints of poverty. Welcome, Abbey. And finally, I’d like to
introduce Michael Rain onto the stage. Michael is a co-founder of ZNews
Africa, a media and technology startup that publishes stories
about the global pan-African community. ZNews Africa was
a selected member of Google’s Launchpad, Facebook
FbStart, and Microsoft’s BizSpark accelerator programs. Michael is also the
creator of ENODI, which highlights the lives
of first-generation people and immigrants of African,
Caribbean, and Latin descent. He’s also a TED fellow, and
his writing photography, and film work have been featured
in the “Wall Street Journal,” NBC News, and
“Upscale Magazine.” So welcome, Michael, and
welcome to all of our panelists. [APPLAUSE] So it’s good to
have you all here. Thank you for coming once again. I think we’ll dive straight in. And I’ll first start
by asking each of you a couple of questions. You can take that opportunity to
share with us a bit about what you’re doing and
address the question. And then we’ll do some general
questions before opening it up. So let’s start
with you, Eyitemi. With GitGirl, you
focused on young women. So if you could
share with us what the state of women in
technology is in the countries you work in, and why you
focus on data science, as you tell us more
about what GitGirl does. EYITEMI POPO: OK. Hello, everyone,
my name is Eyitemi. I am the founder of GitGirl,
which is Africa’s first data science academy for women. Right now, we’re operating
in Lagos, Nigeria, and we’ve enrolled
about 100 students. We plan on expanding
to Ghana in the summer. And our goals are
pan-African, so hopefully, we can get to that point. We decided to focus
on data science because we felt like data is
the next transformational trend in technology. It’s already a huge
trend here in the US. And it’s picking up speed in
different countries in Africa. And when you look
at engineering, for example, or
software engineering, women are not represented
in tech on the continent. Even around the world,
the stats aren’t great. And so we felt like if we could
go to something that hasn’t yet hit and we can prepare African
women to have that first mover advantage, when it really
comes in, then we could win. Because the idea
is to economically empower African women. And if you go into a tech
hub in Lagos or Nairobi, you will find women
there, but they’re likely digital
marketing, or web design. They’re doing the
non-tech tech things. And we wanted to give them
high value technology skills, because that’s what pays. And if we really want to
give African women skills that actually pay
the bills, then we have to prepare them for
careers of the future. So that’s what we do at GitGirl. JONATHAN KOLA: OK, great. And so far, I
believe you’ve done about two or three mentorship
sessions in South Africa. I know you’re planning
on going to Kenya. Can you give us some
insight about what happened in those programs,
how was the interaction like, and what was the experience
for the young women you were working with? EYITEMI POPO: Yeah, so
that’s a separate business. That’s my magazine. So I actually found out about
GitGirl through my magazine. It’s called “Ayiba,” and
we highlight change makers across the African continent. And that’s how I met my founder. But through that, I also
have a female focus. So that’s kind of the
thread in my career. Everything I do is focused
on female empowerment. So with that, I bring
my magazine to life. Because the magazine is focused
on Africans in the diaspora. And I want them to be able
to experience the continent. And so we do curated trips,
where you can go to Ghana, or South Africa, or Kenya. And while we’re there,
we’re mentoring young girls. And so what I do
is I bring girls that are interested in tech. And the women on the trip
are high-ambition women with great careers. And we give them role models. We show them what’s possible. Because sometimes, you
live in this tiny bubble. You’re in a township in Soweto. You’ve never seen a
professional woman that’s living independently and
is able to provide for herself. So just giving them that
example is really powerful. And that’s actually
why I joined GitGirl. Because as I’ve gone around
to different countries and I’ve worked
with young girls, I see how early it starts. I see how early they
lose their confidence. And so if we can start
training them younger, I feel they will
be more successful. So right now, GitGirl does
focus on a slightly older demographic, because that’s
who can afford our fees, even though they’re
highly subsidized. But in the future, we do plan
on expanding younger so that we can get them when it matters. JONATHAN KOLA: Fantastic. Picking up on the thread of
media and to switch over here to Michael– now Michael, you’ve
built a career around storytelling and media. So could you tell us a bit about
the mission of ZNews Africa, some of the work you do with
other initiatives, like ENODI, and some of the
personal work you do? What’s the why behind it? Why is it important,
and what are you trying to convey with the work you do? MICHAEL RAIN: Sure, yeah. So I’m a storyteller,
and have been since I was a child, from
illustrating little comic stuff to being a writer, and
telling stories for companies. And that’s just my strength. And at some point
about six years ago, I decided to focus that
storytelling on my people and my community, right? So it started with ZNews,
which was a media tech company that I co-founded with
a friend of mine from college. And our goal was to expand
the stories about Africa beyond the war, poverty,
and disease stories which dominate all of media to give
a platform for us to tell our own stories, and
to make it easier to find all of those
stories instead of searching around, or depending on
all of these email lists that I’m sure a lot of
you are subscribed to, and to just make it easier. So we have a mobile app that
is basically a flipboard for African news, that
aggregates from over 170 publications in
English and French, and organizes it by
country and topic. That’s only on Android. And since we’re in Google,
I guess that’s cool. [LAUGHTER] We also used to
have a weekly email newsletter of curated content
and producing original content. ENODI, which I launched a few
years ago to focus specifically on first-generation
and immigrant people of African, Caribbean,
Latin descent, was about the Africans outside
of the continent, the people in the diaspora who are
connected to the continent and want to be connected,
but live outside of it. So that’s starting
mostly on highlighting stories of individual people. But we’ll also be highlighting
stories of entrepreneurship with immigrants. So here in the US, most people
don’t know that almost half of Fortune 500
companies were founded by an immigrant or the
child of an immigrant. And we also focus on cultural
innovations of immigrants. So salsa was actually
invented here in New York by Latino-American immigrants. And even hip hop–
the roots of that stems from Caribbean
immigrants in the Bronx. So that’s our stuff. So on the tech end
of that, I’m actually starting a fellowship
at Stanford this fall where I’ll be
focusing on improving local news for immigrant
communities using SMS technology. So I’m sure any of you who
have parents who in the US might have a smartphone,
but they’re probably not on Google and Twitter
and all those things. They’re in WhatsApp and some
other messaging platforms. So the goal is to provide
them and serve them with quality news. JONATHAN KOLA:
And the readership for your different
publications– it sounds like there’s a
diversity of publications you’ve been working on. Are these mostly people
in the African diaspora, people in Africa,
people that want to learn more about Africa? Can you give us a sense of– MICHAEL RAIN: Yeah,
so the app is probably 80% people on the continent. Even though it was originally
built with folks like us in mind, those were the users
that gravitated towards it. The newsletter was like flipped. 80% of people are here all over
the US, but also in the UK, in Canada, and in France. Yeah, so that’s kind
of how that split. JONATHAN KOLA: OK. MICHAEL RAIN: Yeah. JONATHAN KOLA: OK, yeah. So as we– oh, oops. Sorry about that. As we talk more about the
metrics of the different things you’re working on,
Greg, let me turn this over to you as the
market research expert here. So you have been in the market
research space for some time now. Could you tell us
a bit about Asoko? Give us some insight into
the world of corporate data, market data in
general in Africa, and how you came about
doing what you do? GREG COHEN: Sure. It’s a very challenging world. We founded Asoko Insight
about five years ago. I’ve been working across the
continent and the Middle East for a while, doing
market research. And Africa is the
last continent where it’s extremely difficult to
get information on companies. And from an investor’s point
of view, a corporate that’s looking to enter the
continent, a government that’s looking to do programs
on the continent, it was very
difficult to identify who are the companies in
this particular value chain, in this particular sector,
who were their owners, who were their managers, et cetera. So we decided to build
Africa’s most comprehensive private company data
repository, similar to the way that a Thomson
Reuters, or Bloomberg user experience would work here and
in other developed markets. So we got VC backed,
set up offices across– I think at this stage, we’re
in about 10 African markets across East and West
Africa, headquarters in Nairobi and London. And we have teams
that partner us with key data repositories
in each of these markets. Most the data is not online. So we have to funnel that data
from credit reference bureaus, tax authorities, corporate
registrar’s offices, a whole bunch of private
sector associations. We pull whatever is
online, if there is any. And then companies also submit
their information to us, because we connect
them with investors. So all of that data
is quite messy. We normalize it,
put it on our API, and then offer that to
investors, banks, governments, et cetera. I think the catalyst
of why we wanted to do this is there is a lot of
really amazing technology going on across the
continent when it comes to the retail side of things. Fintech, as you all
know, is probably the booming story when it comes
to innovation on the continent. I just got back from
Kenya yesterday. And you’re seeing
these new tools that will provide automated
loans to people, based on their spending habits. So they don’t even need to
communicate with the bank, they just get money based
on their spending habits, pretty impressive. But as soon as you get
a step up from there– we call them the missing middle
market, kind of below the IPO multi-national companies, and
above the mom and pop shops and SMEs, you have these missing
middle market companies that are making a few million dollars
in revenue, need to grow, but are unable to
access any capital. World Bank puts that number at
about $330 billion of finance that’s missing for these
types of companies. And this is a big reason why
the continent isn’t developing as fast, is the access to
credit, the access to finance is very difficult, not
only on a personal level, but at a business level. So our goal is to profile
all these companies, enable them to be
marketed to anybody that’s looking to do business, whether
it’s intra-African or global. And yeah, happy to get
into other questions when we get into it, yeah. JONATHAN KOLA: Great. So in my mind, getting
data from Africa seems like a pretty
challenging effort for a variety of reasons. Could you [INAUDIBLE]
and maybe validate that? Is that the case? And if so, what makes it
particularly challenging? GREG COHEN: Yeah,
I think that, first of all, the regulations when it
comes to data is very nascent. And that’s also a
big opportunity, because there’s not as much
legacy legal frameworks. And you have some very
innovative technocrats that are now– telcos are becoming banks, and
then banks are becoming telcos. And there’s a lot of interesting
regulation coming out now that’s adhering to a lot
of the new technology. But at the same time,
it’s new and people don’t know how to handle it. And the way that it’s
captured and structured is still being figured out. So a lot of the repositories
that we need to get information from are still hard copy. They’re in archives. They need to be digitized. That’s a huge effort that
costs a lot of money, so we’ve had to negotiate
ways to get that at wholesale. And it’s been a challenge. Each country has its own
unique nuances, as we all know. Kenya has been at the forefront. Nigeria has been very difficult. [CHUCKLING] Yeah. But we’re making progress. And I think that
overall, the environment is becoming more conducive
to knowing that there needs to be solutions. Here, if companies
want investments, the governments need to
provide enabling environments. Registrars are
starting to digitize. I think in Kenya now, you
can register your business through a phone. So you’re seeing
the right track. Rwanda is ahead of probably
a lot of Western countries. So country to country,
it has different stories. But the challenge is to
standardize and normalize that. Because our clients want to
look at Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania, and compare
the same data points together for their analyses, which is
very difficult to do, yeah. JONATHAN KOLA: OK. Now somebody who
perhaps has a lot of this data in a
digitized form that could be ready to be consumed
by Greg is Abbey, right? So you work on Esusu, which is
a digital platform for savings. Could you tell us a bit about
the model and how it works, and why it works
the way it works? It seems like it’s a
very innovative model in terms of the savings model. It leverages communities. Could you shed some light
on how it comes together? ABBEY WEMIMO: Yeah, absolutely. And I think I’d be
remiss without first off, now talking about the
inspiration behind the idea, and how far we’ve come, and
then the aggressive expansion into the African continent. So yeah, I grew up in the
slums of Lagos, Nigeria. And one thing I was afforded
was one of the best educations. And throughout
that experience, it was a good one
being able to really be thought-provoking
about what’s going on in the landscape. And I had the opportunity to
come to the United States, and had the experience to work
in different banks on Wall Street and in corporate America. And one thing that was
striking during my transition– my mother and I,
when we immigrated from Nigeria to
the United States in shivering negative 22
degrees weather in Minnesota, it wasn’t fun at all. And one of the
biggest things was we didn’t have a credit profile. So we didn’t even have access to
capital, which was a struggle. So the alternative was
to go through payday loan lenders, which is very
synonymous to what’s going on the continent. I like to call them call
them neo-payday loan lenders. And we’ll get to that during
the course of this conversation. So the main factor there was
we got high interest rates, which was insane. And we tried as much as
possible to make ends meet. So after my stint in
corporate America, my co-founder and
I founded Esusu, which is really based on
the premise of capturing relevant data, and unlocking the
financial potential of folks. So right now, they’re over– for this– 45 million people
[INAUDIBLE] in the United States specifically. There are over $500 billions
of loans accessible to them. I mean, when you look
globally, especially some African countries, and
compound the market opportunity there, there are over
$10.3 trillion of capital waiting to be unlocked. That’s a lot of capital. So the inspiration
behind what we did was leveraging a century-old
idea on the African continent, and bring innovation to a
place like the United States, getting a lot of pedigree
and doing it right, and now looking to and expanding
across the African continent, specifically in Ghana,
Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. And what we’re
doing there is we– like Greg talked about– gathering people’s
payment activity, looking at their
debt to equity ratio when we look at
their bank accounts, and giving them access
to capital that way. So it’s data-driven. It’s not a derivative
of who your father is or who your uncle is. It’s actually how you’re
keeping your personal finance, and having that lens of
being data-driven to allocate capital. So when we think about
the data we capture, it’s a lot of
powerful information. So personal
identifiable information is one, accounts, to how people
think about their balance sheets on a monthly
basis, and then their payment history, which
is quintessential to making lending decisions. So we have a wealth of data. And right now, the biggest,
most exciting thing– and we should talk, Greg– is
walking alongside the minister of finance in Ghana
to actually see how we can create a credit
rating system there. So the access to
capital won’t be the derivative of
who your father knows or your uncle knows. It’s actually a
derivative of what’s going on in your balance
sheet and everyday life. So that’s what we’re trying
to address aggressively. JONATHAN KOLA: Yeah, amazing. And Abbey, you talked about
taking a centuries-old idea, something that has
worked in Africa in terms of communal savings, and
using that to influence the service that you offer. ABBEY WEMIMO: Right. JONATHAN KOLA: And perhaps I
just open this up to all of you on the panel today. When you think of
building products for a consumer base that
is primarily in Africa or interested in
Africa, what are some of the differences, if
any, in how you structure the problem, how you think
about the problem, how you design your solution? EYITEMI POPO: So
for me, since I work in the educational
technology space, I find that education should
be very context-specific. And this may be because I’m a
bit salty about my high school education in Nigeria, where
we focused on the queen, and had this colonial
education 60 years after we fought for independence. And so I bring that into
how we design our curriculum at GitGirl, making sure
that we’re not just taking a curriculum that
already exists in the US and transplanting it there. Because it doesn’t make
sense for our students. And if we were to
do that, then they could just sign up for an online
education program in the US. So what makes us different
is that we’re designing for a very specific audience. We’re designing
for African women. And the first thing
is we have to realize, since it’s an online
program, internet in Nigeria is very expensive. The speed isn’t always there. Electricity isn’t always there. And so because we
understand this, that dictates how we
set up the timing, and how we make sure
that our students are able to get their all. Because it is a very
self-directed learning program. And as Greg can tell you
from living in Lagos, it’s not an easy place to live. It’s very stressful. You have a lot of traffic. So understanding the
time constraints– you build that into how you design. Also, understanding
the finances, right? So our program costs
$300 for three months, so that’s $100 a month. That doesn’t sound like a lot. It’s probably the
cheapest you’ll find. But it has to be at
that price, because we know that our average student
earns about $300 a month. So even though that’s
quite well-off for Nigeria, they’re allocating a third
of their salary to us. And so we have to
have financing options so that they can afford it. We have to have scholarships
and grants available. So those are the type of things
that we fit into our design. When it comes to the fact that
we’re serving women, especially women in tech, we do know that
there might be a confidence issue, right? So if they were to sign
up for a course here, they’re in classrooms with,
probably, majority men. In America or in India,
if it’s an online course, they might not ask the questions
that they really want to. And so part of our
curriculum is also creating a community
that is able to motivate them to just keep at it. We get Instagram posts
with people saying, this looks really cool. I want to try it out, but I
don’t believe I can do it. Like, give me some information. Tell me that that you
believe I can do it. And we have one of our
lead instructors, who is actually based in the US,
and she does an amazing job. She’s a computer
science graduate. And she knows what
it’s like to be the only woman in the room, the
only black woman in the room. And so having someone
that has that empathy and can constantly encourage
the students to do their best, because she knows what
it’s like to be overlooked and underestimated,
really matters. And so we could
have just created this data science academy
that’s just like the rest. But we had this opportunity
to develop something that was exactly for our
audience, the African woman, and that’s what we’ve done. JONATHAN KOLA: OK. GREG COHEN: I’ll go next. I think I’ll frame the question
in the context of a B2B scenario for Asoko, because
we don’t focus on consumers. When you look at a lot of
the global corporate research and data providers,
particularly in Europe, they’re based on the
availability of structured data sets coming out of a regulator
or listed equities markets. When you look at Africa– the markets that we’re
operating in– the data sets are very unstructured. So the way that we’ve
architected our system is based on how
do you accumulate unstructured data sets
and normalize them? So it’s a bit of the inverse
compared to the companies that we’ve compared
ourselves to in Europe. And what that means is we have
to focus a lot more on quality assurance, and use a lot more
of a human in the loop style system, where data comes in from
a variety of random sources. That goes through an
increasingly semi-automated quality assurance process, where
we can pick out the bits that need polishing, the
bits we want to reject, the bits we want to accept,
to generate a clean data set. And when you look
at other firms that do these types of
things in Europe, their systems aren’t
built in that way. Because they haven’t worked in
those types of environments. So I think that’s kind of what
emerging market– and it’s not just Africa. I mean, these are any markets
that just have nascent data repositories. So that’s kind of the genesis
of how we did it, yeah. ABBEY WEMIMO: Yeah, I can
just chime in real quick. I think when we think
about data structures, the key factor we
need to think about is really open and
machine-readable, right? The question is how
do we get there? The data we’re having right
now is very unstructured. And the transition to
machine-readable and open– we need to have a data
clearinghouse that essentially– if you want to make kind of–
before you get to the Asoko Insights of the world, there’s
an interim market play there where you can have
a lot of folks essentially just
cleansing data, and making sure it gets to that point
of open and machine-readable. One thing that’s
important to underscore we need to work with institutions,
because they really, really matter. They might not have the kind
of data we have right now, or it’s not particularly useful. But the more investments
we have working alongside those governments,
and set the frameworks to make the data more
palatable to our customers. We also operate on the B2B
end, selling some of our data to financial institutions. So we really, really
need to bridge that gap from open machine-readable,
have a very, very good data clearinghouse that can
interact with the government to make sure there’s a
sense of verification. And one thing that’s also
crucial to have this policy. Because one thing
that’s troubling for me, especially on the continent,
is going to Kenya and Nigeria– yes, a loan is accessible, but
people are not paying back, and there are credit rating
agencies everywhere now. And what that’s doing to
people’s credit scores is setting us back
60 years again. MICHAEL RAIN: I’ll
just say for us– so we think about
the users a lot, particularly with
our app, which has a robust cache so you can read
news even if you’re offline. Because data is expensive,
or you might get cut out of electricity. We also think about building
mobile first, truly mobile first. Because a lot of us take for
granted all the other computers outside of our laptops and
our phones that we’re using. Even if you use
ATM, or if you’re in a store using a
scanner or something, this is not available
to a lot of people. So it truly has to be a holistic
experience on your phone. And we also go off feedback. A lot of American companies
here are constantly trying to get feedback,
engage people in studies. Lucky for us, Africans will tell
you exactly what they think. You don’t have to ask them. If you go to the
Google Play Store, we have over 1,000
reviews of people we didn’t solicit,
telling us what they thought about our app. Mostly, it’s good
things, it’s great. But there’s always things
for you to improve. So thinking about the user
is almost revolutionary when you think about
emerging markets or Africa. Because everyone is
thinking about kind of taking what works here
and just planting it there. But having a conversation
and a feedback with people who actually
use it is revolutionary. JONATHAN KOLA: So in that vein
of thinking about your users, do you have a sense in
the different domains you’re working about what
technologies dominate in terms of things that, whether it’s
business or student or just the general consumer, what
technologies kind of dominates in the different markets
you’re working with? ABBEY WEMIMO: Yeah, I can start. Finance, obviously, is one big
one on the continent right now. [INAUDIBLE] alluded
to now is access to loans can easily be
captured within five minutes. As long as you have the right
things plugged into a phone, you can easily get
access to a loan. There’s a huge play
going on in Nigeria specifically on credit
scoring, and Ghana. A lot of the big
credit-rating agencies around the world,
especially the Experians, the TransUnions of
the world, are also looking at those markets. So access to capital, very,
very big, and then decision making with the data they’re
being able to capture and that little
markets they’ve created from the loans being
provided has also been very, very big for us. It’s more or less,
like, how do you continue to help the end
customer of saving capital and having more cash flow? So we have access to a lot
of interesting data sets, I would say. And the inference we can
make from those data sets is at a 95% confident level. So it’s very reliable
information now. We can predict people’s
behavior with that. So our focus is how do we
leverage those data points for good and continue to move
the frontiers of people’s personal finance forward? MICHAEL RAIN: I’ll say not
because I’m here but Android is a very important technology. I forget the source,
but apparently over 80% of people on
the African continent access their internet
through an Android device. That includes laptops and
all of those other things. So that’s pretty dominant. Social media is also a very
important technology because of how people use it. So a lot of people
use Twitter to replace text messaging to save on data
and rates on the continent. So social and
Android definitely. EYITEMI POPO: So I
would say since I’m focused on a
data-science academy, there are a lot
of trends in data. So Greg knows with big
data, machine learning, AI, those are things that
we’re trying to prepare our students to thrive in. I’m head of partnerships, and
we’re just getting to the point where our students have
learned enough that they want real-world experience. And so there are so many
startups on the continent– I mean, Esusu’s one. Asoko’s another that work with
data that can really leverage our students to do more. There is a company in Congo. It’s called Stats
Congo, and they use data to better predict
health outcomes for women and children. We’re working with another
one in Nigeria called Ubenwa, and they’re using
machine learning to detect babies’ cries to
prevent SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. So there’s so many
tech startups already moving in that
direction, and that’s why we’re trying
to prepare students to be able to work
in those fields so they’re not always
outsourcing talent from the content. GREG COHEN: Just
on that point, I think what’s so
interesting about Africa because of all the
challenges is the innovation. I just met somebody
on my last trip who used the same
technology behind Shazam to detect tuberculosis,
which is very interesting. ABBEY WEMIMO: Kenya
and [INAUDIBLE].. GREG COHEN: Yeah, which you
hear these stories all the time, right? I would say, yes,
trendwise, I’m always envious when I hear
people in the fintech– Abbey talking about
the machine learning and the AI on the retail side
because there’s so much data available and you’re seeing so
much consumer spending habits. It’s very hard to do
that on the business side because you don’t have a
single point of payment that you’re able to analyze. So what’s interesting for us
is our next phase of growth is can we cross-reference
all sorts of signals to create a credit
score for a company without access to their
financial information? And this is something that
we’re continuously looking at based on what sector they’re in,
what region, the age of their– the quality of their
shareholders, et cetera. So that’s something
that we’re looking at. More specifically, now we
use Neo4j and the ability to connect different
entities on a database, particularly for
private companies and owners in Africa– we’ve probably built the
most comprehensive ecosystem of related entities across
East and West Africa. So if you were to look at
Aliko Dangote, for example, in our database,
we’ve organically learned about all of
the different corporate affiliations that he has
based on the different local companies and entities that
we profiled independently. So this technology has
become very useful for us. JONATHAN KOLA: OK, so looking
within these walls of Google, now that we’re
sitting in Google– many global tech
companies, Google included, like to aim to
build for everybody. It’s something which we
talk about a lot, something which we strive for. Just based on your experience
through your perspective, do you see a gap between
that goal and the way products are actually
being received in the African market from
these global tech companies? ABBEY WEMIMO: It’s a
very good question. I think to start off, I would
really underscore Michael said. Android has probably
contributed significantly to the ecosystem from a finance
perspective and data capture. What it has been able to do,
especially in low-data phones, has been, in my
opinion, revolutionary. And the data we have access
to is thanks in big part to what the Android technology
has been able to do. When we think about gaps, we
need to take it a step further. GREG COHEN: Two steps. [LAUGHTER] ABBEY WEMIMO: I think we can
really build technologies, especially when we think
about what Google does with businesses, we can
really build technologies that capture insights on
SMEs and then really helping them get access to capital. So just imagine a tool where
you can capture financial data. So you can leverage
[INAUDIBLE] Nigeria, for example, across
the continent to capture pertinent
data on a business and look at their cash flow,
look at their balance sheets, look at their
weekly performance. Let’s get to that granular level
and understand the propensity to get access to capital. And if we’re able
to do that, we’re able to unlock a lot of capital
that’s not there right now, and that business can thrive. And when that
business thrives, they can hire a bunch of
people on the continent and we stop blaming
the government, although the government
does have a role to curate the environment. But that’s how we need
to think strategically. There’s a phase in going to
create some consumer products. Albeit fantastic, but we need to
still understand the ecosystem of our capital flow. We need creators, so businesses
that are taking the first step to take that leap of faith. How do we support them? And I think Google can play a
quintessential role creating technologies that gets pertinent
data from the small businesses on the tipping point, get
them access to capital, and then explore that
businesses and give them more opportunities to hire more
people, which in turn turns tax dollars for the government. There’s a step further in terms
of what the government does with that capital. That’s a discussion
for another day. But that’s what we
need to focus on. And if Google can play
a role in curating that kind of technology–
it’s a lot of initial capital investments for small
venture-backed startups like us, but I think Google
can play a big role in that. MICHAEL RAIN: I think
you can definitely build for everyone
if you include everyone in the building. So one of the reasons
Android is so dominant is because it’s open
and people could just build what they needed to
build on that platform. That’s how we got started. My co-founder built that
app himself and could put it in the Google Play
Store without friction, and people could
just use it, right, and that approach can
work across the world. So as long as you include
everyone in the building process, you can
build for everyone. If you don’t, there
will always be a gap. GREG COHEN: So I would
say that there just needs to be some
strategic vision when it comes to the continent
to see the opportunity. I mean, Google’s invested
already on the continent, but if you look at what some
of the top Chinese companies are doing, if you
look at Huawei and how come it’s become so
pervasive, I mean, the phones are designed for
the local context in Africa. You can put in
multiple SIM cards because sometimes one
of the telcos goes out and you need to
use the other one. They understand this. It understands
darker complexions, which American manufacturers
don’t It’s Swahili. So from looking at this,
there’s a reason why– and it’s obviously very cheap. In 20 or so years– I think you see these
statistics all the time– Africa is going to be a quarter
of the global population. This is the next story of
consumerism in the world. So it’s something
that I believe– I’ve been talking with the
State Department for a while now on the initiatives
under Trump about what he’ll be doing in Africa, and it’s
still just not a top priority. Then it’s government, talking
about a few different things now. But overall, in
corporate America it’s not a strategic priority
to focus on this market. And it’s getting
there, but very slowly. So it’s a question of when this
becomes a strategic priority. EYITEMI POPO: And to
go to Michael’s point, you said in order to
build for everyone, everyone needs to be building. And so for everyone
to be building, they have to have those skills. They have to have
those digital skills. They have to know
different languages. And again, that comes with
education and the skills building and making sure that
Africa, which has the youngest population in the world,
has people who are able to build what they need. JONATHAN KOLA:
Well, fortunately we have a room full of
builders at Google who can open up the floor now
for anybody with questions for our panelists. And we can also go
to the Dory if there are any questions on the Dory. AUDIENCE: And so the topic
of China just came up. Lots of questions there. So I think China increasingly
is finding a market in Africa both for consumer products–
phones, clothing, et cetera– but also for large-scale
infrastructure projects. I’m recently using a
Chinese company to partner up with the
government in Zimbabwe to help with facial recognition
for use of government purposes. Is there a conversation
happening currently around consumer protection,
citizen production of data? Like for example, in
the US, San Francisco just banned facial-recognition
technology for use by city agencies– so for the
police department, et cetera. Is that a concern
currently, and as people who are kind of innovating in
the space, is that a topic being had or a conversation
being had currently? GREG COHEN: I mean, if I
go first, to be honest, I have not heard that
in the conversation. I think that’s
probably a concern that comes up after certain
infrastructure is really put into place. So I’m sure it will
be a concern soon, but right now Chinese
money is very welcome. [LAUGHTER] I think the question
is just what are the terms on that
money is the debate. So that’s my short
answer to that question. ABBEY WEMIMO: Yeah. I’ve done lots of research
on China-Africa [INAUDIBLE].. It’s interesting now. It’s brought the limelight. China-Africa engagement actually
started the full boom in 2000 under the [? FOCACI ?]
agreement, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. And then they have this biannual
conversations every year, and that’s when they talk
about the investments going on in the continent. When we think
about data, I think Uganda has done a
very good job in terms of creating the equivalent
of what you call the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And they’re really thinking
about being even a step further thinking about blockchain. I know that will play a
big role in the landscape. But when I think
about data protection, that’s why it’s very,
very important for us as entrepreneurs,
as innovators not to just go into the landscape
and think about consumer products or business products. We need to work concomitantly
with the government to help them think through
privacy, consumer protection, and then what big data is going
to do it because it’s scary. Eventually we’re going to
have data computers talking to each other, and that’s
how they do transactions. We’ve already seen
stuff like that and currently do
that today, but we need to walk alongside
the institutions to help them curate
the right laws. It shouldn’t be a
copy-and-paste approach. It should really be ideographic
rules and regulation that can really help propel
those economies forward without other forces
having a different agenda. MICHAEL RAIN: Putting
my journalist cap on, I’ve had a lot of
conversations with people concerned about this issue and
know it very well in emerging markets, particularly on
the African continent. And it’s not a
welcome conversation with a lot of people
in government. There are governments who
turn off the internet in parts of the country, sometimes as
a precaution around elections, sometimes as punishment. It’s definitely a
conversation that needs to be had sometimes
with government but definitely with people. I don’t think people
understand what’s going on and the effects of
it and the danger. So we should all be
having this conversation. AUDIENCE: I guess
my follow on is who is concerned about privacy? Where do the concerns come from? Where do you see the
gaps, and who do you think should be considered? MICHAEL RAIN: Well, journalists
are definitely concerned. It’s a big issue,
particularly how governments are leveraging it on people. In emerging markets,
there’s another layer of how independent
businesses are using this and whether people really
understand their privacy. I think the best-reported stuff
is probably around WhatsApp and what’s going on in
India, those elections. But in journalist circles, we’re
definitely talking about it. A lot of people don’t want to
talk to us about it though. ABBEY WEMIMO: I think
I can say something on financial technology,
and it’s tough. We had an investor, which
obviously I won’t name, that offered an interesting
proposition that said, oh, just
capture fingerprints and a whole bunch
of data and we’re going to give you capital to
do that, and just give freebies for people to supply you
that data without what we call the caveat emptor,
buyers beware of what’s actually going on. We decide to say no to that
kind of draconian capital, in my opinion. But the concerns of what’s
going on right now, especially in places like
Kenya where you have what I like to call a
neo-payday-loan lenders whereby you tap a button and five
minutes you get a loan, and then you don’t have
education on exactly the ramifications of that loan. Is he going to report that to
TransUnion, Experian, Equifax, and what does that do
to your credit ratings, and how long does that
stay on your record? That conversation
is not being had, which is utterly frustrating. Everyone is thinking about
the short term, which is access to capital, but
not the financial health of the individuals. It’s quite sad. The governments also are just
very excited about growth. But there’s a
fundamental difference if we build these institutions
on the sinking sand or we should build on
a solid foundation, and that’s the conversation
we need to have. And if he want to
build a doghouse, let’s build it very well before
we graduate to the White House. But right now we’re building in
a very, very fancy institution on the sinking
sand, in my opinion, from a data-privacy perspective. EYITEMI POPO: And just
for me, from conversations I’ve had with startup founders,
since there isn’t really government regulation
around it yet, it is incumbent on
the startup founder to use their moral
code to figure out how much is too much because
the consumer– especially the consumer is maybe in a
rural area, isn’t educated, they don’t care either way
or they don’t know to care. And so a lot of the onus does
fall on the startup founders and how to model it. GREG COHEN: I would just add
that a lot of African countries have the real opportunity
to draft legislation that’s a lot more in line with– a lot of discussion right now
is importing the GDPR standards from Europe, and they’re
such misguided policies within that framework,
and it should not be imported to a variety
of other countries. So I just agree that
the conversation needs to be a higher priority and that
entrepreneurs need to keep– that’s one of the fun
things about being an entrepreneur on the continent
is you’re also a lobbyist. So you need to push the
government as hard as you are building your business. AUDIENCE: Why do you
think that people across the continent of Africa
are engaging with local news is sort of what I’m wondering. Because I think– well, at least
in the more developed countries there’s more of a pullback
in terms of only looking at the global context rather
than the local context, and I’m sort of wondering what
that means, like the phrase you used, I guess,
in particular, what that means in
terms of how you view engagement or monetization
or sort of the business of the app itself? MICHAEL RAIN: Can you
repeat the first question? What about local news? AUDIENCE: Why do
you think people are engaging more
with local news rather than here,
for example, where the only companies of repute
are like the “New York Times” or “Washington Post”? MICHAEL RAIN: So I would
argue all people care about local news. We just take for granted
how much local news we have access to. So media in this
country is ubiquitous. It’s just everywhere
for us, whether it’s on television or our phones or
on a paper or people talking about it. It’s just there. But in other parts
of the world, it’s just not that easy to
know what’s going on or to get that context. The reason local
news in particular is salient on the continent
is because a lot of mainstream news is still dominated by– the, quote, unquote, most
trusted news source in Africa is CNN, right? So it’s people who
are not you telling you what’s going
on in the world, telling you what’s going
on in your country. So people are more interested
in what their own people are saying about the news. It’s really that simple. AUDIENCE: This question might
be most relevant to Greg, but I know that when you
spoke earlier about how Ghana and I believe
you mentioned Uganda were doing
better in terms of trying to aggregate data– better than Nigeria,
for instance. And I know that the
Nigerian government started this ideal of doing
an action plan for ease of doing business. And I’m curious
about whether or not the problem stems in the
legislation or execution? And then in alignment
with what you do, do you work directly
with businesses, or are you partnering
with the national– I know that there is
a national ministry to collect data, for instance. Where is your data coming from,
and what are the roadblocks? Because I think we’ve talked
about this so many times when it comes to
Africa that data is so sparse and expensive,
but where exactly do we go in to address the problem? Is it with the
businesses directly? Is it with the legislation? Where is the problem? GREG COHEN: Sure. So I guess a few parts. One is depending on how
much central control the government has is how
efficient the solutions can be. I think that’s we’re
at the stage right now. So in a place like
Nigeria, there is a will from
certain stakeholders to do certain types of solutions
to centralize the repository and then to make it transparent
for the global business environment. But certain stakeholders
have vested interests, and it becomes a very
difficult process to just build a solution. So we’ve been talking with
folks for a long time, and things have just
stalled, for example. So that’s in a particular
country like Nigeria, but there are certain areas
where there is momentum. In a place like Rwanda, it’s a
different type of a government. You have Kagame who has
significant authority over everything that happens,
and he makes a decision, and the decision gets executed. So these are the
types of dynamics that make it pretty simplistic. With regards to how
we collect the data, so we have to unlock any
type of silo that there is. So certain government
agencies will have data. And if they’re willing to share
it, then we would collect it. We’ll also buy data
from private entities, commercial entities where
we’ll have arrangements with third-party researchers
who have that information– and then certain civil-society
organizations as well. So the idea is that anywhere
where there is information, we want to be able
to get access to it. So I think the answer is,
without saying a cop-out, it’s both there needs to be the
regulatory governmental push, and I think that is fundamental. But you do need to
have innovation coming from the private sector that
understands how to navigate these types of environments
to get to a solution because the government
won’t solve it on its own. And you can see from just
the crops of entrepreneurs that are coming up who are
looking at these problems, the governments
understand that they need to work with
them if they want to do anything efficiently. AUDIENCE: What do you see the
impact of the African Union in terms of there’s a new
African Union passport? There’s a new EU-like
economic arrangement to have transnational
business and things like that. What is the impact of
that in terms of identity, regulation, and how
it affects tech, and Africa’s perspective to
orchestrate the tech market and compete globally? That’s one. To Greg, there’s also
a cultural context in most parts of Africa, maybe
specifically for Nigeria, whereby we don’t
like to share data. So we all know that
in Nigeria it’s assumed that the world’s richest
black man is Aliko Dangote, but we all know that there
are people that are richer than Aliko Dangote in Nigeria. Because why? People keep their
money [INAUDIBLE].. So how do you not
get that whereby it’s a taboo to share
especially financial [INAUDIBLE] information or data or stacked
even within enterprises? GREG COHEN: I can
take the second part, and then I think
Michael, probably best if you take the first part. And this, I think, is
incumbent on the government because it’s true. Until there is an incentive
in place to be transparent, there is no reason
that a company should want to provide its data. You become a taxation target,
and this is the implications on the continent right now. Why would you, if
you’re making money– the government is not supporting
you in any way, right? Here, despite all
of our opinions perhaps about government,
there is an innate trust. When you pay your taxes,
social services come to you. There’s a whole
variety of benefits that you have with that
contract with government. And that’s not the case in a
number of African countries yet. And until there is a route to
financing that becomes clear, companies will not feel the
need to provide their data. And we learned
this the hard way. We tried to just get
companies to submit data, and the answer was no. So then we said, all right,
why don’t we provide– then we have a new product
now called the Dealbook where we say, look, if you
provide us with your data, we will put you in front
of global financiers that are looking to
invest in Africa. And all of a sudden we
have thousands of companies providing us with data, right? So I think there’s simple
solutions that governments can put into place to show that
if you formalize– and this is a whole other question
with development is the reason the informal
sector is the way it is is because there’s more
benefits to being informal. So the government has a
big role to play there. MICHAEL RAIN: The first
part was about the African Union or the passport. I’m optimistic about it. To me, probably
the biggest thing that can happen in my lifetime
on the African continent is African countries actually
trading with each other. So hopefully that can come
with travel and there actually being direct travel
routes and not having to fly to Europe to fly
back to go to another country. It’s insane, but that can
be built through travel. We take it for granted here
in the US with 50 states, but a lot of that cohesion comes
from having a highway system. So it’s a step forward. We’ll see 50 years from now
what that’s going to look like. ABBEY WEMIMO: Yeah,
I can answer that. I think for African
Union we also need to see digital identity. So now imagine you have your
credit score in Nigeria. You go to Uganda, and then you
can borrow money against that. So that ability to be a
convenient environment– for data privacy,
I think it will be interesting to have a
open-data initiative curated by the African Union. And what that
looks like, there’s a lot of conversations
that can be had. And that can had sequel
to this conversation. GREG COHEN: I think there’s
a free-trade agreement that was just negotiated,
and it’s going to take a long time before
it has its full effect. But once it does, and
hopefully it does, Africa becomes dangerous. When you unify the continent and
have a full integrated trading system with the largest
consumer base and everybody can trade freely, then
finally it becomes a story that it should be. JONATHAN KOLA: OK, now
we’ll take those two as the last questions. AUDIENCE: So I actually work
on the Africa marketing team, so I’m coming to find you. But I’m just curious, so in
terms of growing your user or customer base, whether
it’s a business or a consumer, I’m just wondering
what you consider to be your single biggest
challenge in reaching them, educating them, converting them. EYITEMI POPO: I can take that. So for me, our B2C
model right now– we’ve actually explored
the B2B model, and we did go into investment banks
in Lagos, tech companies, and we gave them the
patch and we said, we want to train the women in
your companies to level up. And then let’s meet
your data team. There are no women
on the data team. Let’s meet your IT team. No women. So it goes from a
problem of just thinking that you can have this
educational product to actually then building an
entire talent pipeline and then teaching people or
do diversity and inclusion training, explaining why you
should have women on data teams and women in IT But as much as that is
a challenge in order for us to scale, it’s
also an opportunity because you get to not just
create this product that sits on its own or offer
this singular service, but you’re not
creating a system, and that’s what’s so
great about innovating on the African continent. So now if we design a talent
pipeline, once our students graduate and we’re
placing them in companies, we’re able to help them
negotiate better salaries. We’re able to
inform what it means to be a woman in the workforce
in tech, and that’s amazing. And so as much as it’s difficult
right now when we’re still trying to figure out how
to scale up, especially because of the financial
constraints of our consumers, there’s so many different ways
that we can go and so much more that we can do. ABBEY WEMIMO: Yeah,
I think two things. We do a lot of growth
hacking and then trying as much as possible to
offer incentives for people to sign up for stuff. The B2C angle is still expensive
because customer-acquisition costs, regardless, B2C
is just cost prohibitive. So one of the things
we look at is actually working with B2B partners. A classic example
from a fintech player would be majority of people
have some sort of bank account or mobile money partner with
the telecommunication networks on their bank. Provide some sort of value
proposition for them, and then you have a
huge market penetration. Those conversations
do take a lot of time, but it’s better to
allocate your capital in building those
right relationships so you can have a
good foundation. So that’s number one. Number two, I continue
to drill down on this. Working with
institutions matter. I’ve been involved in
my previous company where I worked for over a
decade in the water space, which our company was eventually
acquired by a government, and they are running
good operations when it comes to infrastructure now. And really working
alongside these institutions and showing them ultimately
it is in your best interest and there won’t be
political instability if you do invest in
working with innovators. So there’s one piece telling
them what is a need for them and helping them create
the right structure. So if you’re interested in
doing business on the continent, you need to be a curator or,
like Greg said, be a lobbyist that help people write
certain bills in some cases. But your main
agenda is how do we move the frontiers of the
country forward, number one, and then your business will
thrive in that regard also. MICHAEL RAIN: Yeah,
I’ll just piggyback off of what both of them
said, that people have to be a part of whatever
campaign that you’re using. It cannot be completely
digital in Africa. ABBEY WEMIMO: True. AUDIENCE: How
developed would you say the field of user
experience is in Africa? What processes are in place? What processes do
take to make sure that your products
that you’re building are usable both
locally and globally, and how easy is it to access
user-experience professionals– so user researchers, designers,
and things like that? What does that look
like currently? ABBEY WEMIMO: We build products
so people can have access to– it’s a fantastic question. The reason why we are in
expansion aggressively into the three countries
where we’re going into now and continue to work with
our institutions because of a lot of demand from people. Folks are saying, how
do I leverage this app or how to access it? What’s the value proposition? And what we quickly
did from a user sort of feedback
standpoint and user design, we gave them our
technology and said, are you willing to
be a tester and then really capture user stories. Our product designers
worked alongside them. But when we think
about the ecosystem, there are tech companies
that do curate that space, but they have the Andelas of
the world do supply technology. A good friend of mine
runs a company called Think-it based out of Tunisia. They do a lot of good work
when it comes to user test and also [INAUDIBLE]
hubs, but you have to know folks
to essentially have access to them. But it’s still hard, and there’s
a huge market opportunity, especially for big
companies going– talk to Asoko Insights. They tell you you’re
doing market entry, and then connect with them
to have user experience. Capture users’ stories to
create ideal graphic products for folks there actually
in the particular country. I think it’s a good market
opportunity you’ve identified. Go do it. JONATHAN KOLA: OK, thank you
Greg, Eyitemi, Abbey, Michael. We applaud you for
all of your efforts. Thank you for sharing
your insights with us, for taking your time to come
and share with us today. I thank everybody for engaging
with us in this session. I hope it was useful,
and it’s a wrap. [APPLAUSE]

3 comments on “African Tech Entrepreneurship: Diversifying the Global Tech Market | Talks at Google”

  1. Anthony says:

    The fact this has so many dislikes is the reason I don’t like white people

  2. tscottme says:

    You gotta pay the Diversity Tax.

  3. Timothy Kotin says:

    I see you Jonathan Kola! 🙂

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