The stronger the assumption that the future will function as today does, the greater the gravitational force of the status quo. Organizations set in their ways slow down and never strive for new horizons. They are doomed to wither- Piero Formica
In his article, Piero Formica outlines why innovators should study the rise and fall of the Venetian Empire. He describes the rise of a strong nation, complete with both geographical and technological advantage, which came to a startling fall because of its veil of complacency to established practices and preferences. I recommend all my readers to read the article here.
Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the booming tech scene in Africa. It is no doubt that Africa is on the right path in the technology scene and there is still a lot of hype on the continent’s potential, so much that every single day, tech entrepreneurs gather in co-working spaces and incubators creating solutions to our everyday problems. Consequently, startups have also been on the rise, hoping to create the next big thing after MPESA.
Amid the hype and positive forecast, the most critical thing to ask is whether these startups will still be running businesses five to ten years later. Technology rapidly changes- what works today may not work tomorrow. In Africa, where startups aim to solve local problems, it is incumbent upon them to move with the flow, adapt with the changing needs of the market and disrupt existing technologies. Sticking to the founding idea should never be an option.
Lessons abound on this topic with the story of the fall of South African company, Mxit, being top on my list. The largest social network (ex) in Africa, was launched in 2007, providing an instant messaging platform built for feature phones. Having failed to keep up with other social apps such as BBM and Whatsapp, the company died in 2015, admitting its omission to prepare for the dawn of smartphone technology.
We were never unaware of the threat of smartphones, but I personally believe that we were totally unprepared for how soon a cheap smartphone would arrive and the degree to which it would take over the feature phone market- David Louis, former head of Internal Communications. (More here)
What lessons can Kenyan startups learn from this? Having began as a mobile startup, the story of Mxit is very relevant for the tech scene in Kenya which is largely made of startups utilizing mobile phone technology. In a country where new apps are developed on a daily basis, startups must come alive to the demands of the startup world- that they must innovate or die a slow death. They must steer clear from what Ira Klab calls the “FDH syndrome” i.e. the Fat, Dumb and Happy Syndrome, meaning that they must look ahead and not be content with present successes. They must incorporate new business methods, new marketing strategies, and new or improved products and services in order to survive.