How is it going?
I trust that everything is well with you and yours as you read this.
It's been quite a while since we last hung out (it seems I am always saying this) and so much has happened in that time.
So much like what?
Well...a new job for one thing.
As I am sure you know from my last post, after 4 amazing years, I left my previous role with the developer relations team at Google to join the Product Partnerships team at Facebook where I have continued to work with the tech ecosystem in an expanded role covering Africa and the Middle East.
In the time since my last post so much has happened that I cannot believe it has been just slightly more than a year. In that time some more Africa tech companies came on the world map . Yours truly had the honor of introducing the panel on Free Basics at F8 (Facebook's developer conference) and then supported the launch of Free Basics in several countries in the region. Not to mention the big one, having a front row seat for the visit of my CEO (the other one :-D ) :Mark Zuckerberg , to Nigeria and Kenya.
There has also been a relocation to a new city , the Chairman of the board is growing fast (and furiously) and my CEO (the main one) is doing a stellar job of driving our little start up forward. :-D
So what's on my mind today?
I would like to spend some time to tell a story about success.
Of course this is fiction.
Of course this is fiction.
Please bear with me.
I have seen kings not aware of their successors
Waiting in the wings , they’re blinded by their successes
“Everything I Have Seen” (Illegal Music)
|Photo Credits: Keresifon Ekpenyong|
The traffic was thick again that morning as expected.
The black Toyota Prado inched its way slowly along third mainland bridge at 7.30am.
Seated at the back, Wale ran his hand over his face as if to clear the last traces of sleep from his eyes. In reality he was trying to make sure that he was not dreaming. He took another look at his phone. The screen was showing the contents of the article from nTech, the leading tech blog in the land.This was definitely no dream. The title of the article was the same as it had been when he looked at it 3 minutes ago.
“Government mandates SMB’s to integrate into new eTax hub”
The contents of the article had not changed either. It was still the same words that had just ruined his morning; and possibly his entire year.Wale put the phone down and exhaled. Everything was going well this morning until he read that article. The last time he remembered feeling like this was 5 years ago during the Stargazers incident, but for some reason even that didn’t feel this bad.
Wale leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, maybe by the time he opened them again, it would be like this never happened.
“Please turn up the volume”, he said to the driver.
“Yes, oga”, the driver responded as he dutifully turned the volume up a few notches letting the sound of Brymo’s “Good Morning” fill the car.
“How Ironic”, thought Wale as he relaxed further into the seat with his eyes closed and tried to turn his thoughts to the business of the day.
It did not work
He was still thinking about the article 40 minutes later. They had passed the bridge and gotten to Victoria island. By now the traffic was a gridlock and they had been on the same spot for about 10 minutes. By now Wale was feeling claustrophobic from seating in the car for almost 2 hours even though in the distance he could see the tall building that housed Nkali Concepts, the company he founded and was currently leading as CEO.
The company had become a major a player in the enterprise tech space. They had created an accounting product that helped companies keep their books.
When he founded Nkali 12 years ago, Wale was just a young accountant at a large local cement retailer with no coding skills. He had gotten Ufiok, his mentee who was just finishing university at the time to develop a tool in Java that helped him quickly run weekly reports for his boss. Pretty soon it was adopted by the company and one day he decided to quit his job and co-opted Ufiok so that both of them could focus on spreading the gospel of Nkali to other companies.
Nkali was making a pretty penny from about 500 companies in 7 countries with a staff strength of about 200 (30 software engineers) and a business model that was a mix of pure licensing and retainers. Nkali was also a top name (some would say the number one home grown name) in the accounting space and they had also just received some significant investment to enable them take their plans to the next level. But all of that was very far from his mind as his vehicle stood there in traffic . He could see the skies darkening. It looked like it was about to rain.
He could not take it anymore.
“I am getting down and walking to the office”, he said to the driver as he unbuckled his seatbelt.
“But sir, it's about to rain”, said the driver, alarmed.
“I can’t stay in here any more. Besides I will get to the office before it starts”, Wale replied as he opened the door and stepped onto the street.
With his laptop bag clutched in his right hand, Wale walked briskly, moving between the static vehicles and motorcyclists on the road. If he moved really fast, he would make it to the office in 10 minutes. The rain would definitely not have started by then...right?
2 minutes later he felt the first drops hit his head and a few seconds later, he was sprinting for cover to avoid the downpour. As he ran he scanned the side of the road looking for a place that could shield him from the rain but it looked like he was out of luck as both sides of the road right up to his office were lined with high walls that bordered the Island Hotels on one side and Lagoon park estate on the other.
Just when he was about to give up, he spotted something that looked like a shack supported by the wall on the Island hotels side. With nimbleness that he never knew he possessed, he skipped across the road, jumped the gutter and ducked into the shack just as the rain moved into a higher gear. Once inside, he proceeded to brush the water off his jacket and trousers while taking in his new surroundings. He had to squint as very little sunlight found its way into the shack through the entrance, which he was blocking. It was a small shack that at one time probably housed a street vulcaniser, a fruit seller or something along those lines. But right now, all it housed were 3 large cement blocks, some scraps of paper lying around and a man sitting on one of the blocks eating roasted plantain from a tattered , filthy looking polythene bag.
The man had looked up as Wale ran in and their eyes met and locked for two seconds. Wale had an odd feeling that he had seen him somewhere before but could not say where. The man had what could only be described as a “hardened” face. That was a polite way of saying that he looked like a street tout. The other thing that he noticed about this man was his clothes. He was wearing some kind of uniform. A light blue shirt, black trousers and a pair of black canvas shoes that had seen better days.
Time froze for a few seconds as the the man looked at Wale as if he was sizing him up to determine if he was a potential threat (to his roasted plantain). The moment he seemed to decide that Wale was no threat, he went back to eating his plantain and Wale went back to brushing the water off his clothes.
Five minutes later, it was still raining heavily with no sign of abating and Wale’s companion was still eating his roasted plantain. Wale looked at his watch and looked out at the rain, It was almost 10am and this rain did not look like it was stopping anytime soon. He was probably going to lose half of the day. What a way to start the week...first the bad news of the morning, now this.
“Shit!, Shit!!!, Shit!!!!!!”, muttered Wale under his breath.
“Mr Wale are you ok?”, came the voice from behind him.
Wale felt the hair on his neck stand up as he turned around to look in the direction of the voice.
The voice sounded rough, straight out of the street.
It came from the man sitting on the block still eating his plantain.
“Hey, h-how do you know my name?”, Wale stuttered, struggling to get himself under control.
“Calm down boss”, responded the man as he reached behind the block he was sitting on to pull out an object.
Wale tensed immediately clutching his laptop bag tight and holding it up in front of him to use as a shield in case the man was up to something. When the man’s hand appeared again, he was holding a filthy looking plastic bottle of water. He put the bottle to his lips and drank after which he put the bottle down, let out a hearty belch, wiped his lips, reached into the polythene bag and brought out another roasted plantain which he started munching.
“You do not know me , but I know you, Mr Wale Thomas, CEO of Nkali Limited...our boss!!!”, he said and chuckled to himself before taking another bite from the plantain.
“But how do you know me? Who are you?”
The man swallowed his current mouthful and took another swig from the bottle of water.
“I am Badi”, He said, “I am a cleaner at Johnson house.”
It was then that Wale figured out why the man looked familiar. It was his uniform. It was the uniform of Expert Cleaners, the cleaning agency that managed sanitation for Nkali and the two other companies that occupied Johnson House.
“Oh..”, said Wale,feeling the confidence come back into his voice. “How come I have never seen you before?”
“The boss does not need to know everybody, but everybody needs to know the boss and besides we have met several times, you just don’t remember it”
Badi shrugged again and smiled. As he smiled, his face seemed momentarily transformed from that of a streetwise tout to that of a young boy on his first visit to the zoo.
“That's not really important...How are you doing Wale?”
“I am doing great, and how is that your business?”, said Wale as if it suddenly occurred to him that he was speaking to a man who worked as a cleaner in his office building. He looked out to see if the rain was letting up so he could get out of here and back to his office. It wasn’t .
“That's great to hear “ said Badi as he chewed on a mouthful of the roasted plantain. “Happy to see that you are holding up well after reading the article about the Tax hub thing this morning. You read the article right?”
Wale turned around to look at Badi in surprise.
“How did you know about that?” he asked.
Badi chuckled again and responded through the mouth full of plantain.
“I read the article, just like you, just like many people around the country or even around the world. So how do you feel? What are you going to do?”
“Feel how? Do about what?”, asked Wale.
Badi chuckled again, put the bottle to his lips and sipped some more water to wash down his current mouthful.
The rain water was slowly beginning to trickle into the shack and Wale wondered how long he had until his Clarks moccasins would become submerged in water. Even more importantly he wondered who the hell this cleaner was and what gave him the balls to ask these questions.
Badi’s voice interrupted his thoughts again, this time disguised like that of a radio news announcer.
“...And now to the business news. The federal government today announced that as from the 20th of March 2017, all businesses in the country will begin paying their taxes using the new electronic taxation system that is due to be commissioned next month. Speaking to newsmen at a press conference the honorable Minister for finance described the new eTax hub as the next step in ensuring due and proper calculation and collection of taxes in the country and mandated all businesses to ensure that they are connected by the deadline or face the consequences. The minister also took the opportunity to thank all of those involved in making this possible especially the technology partner even as he warned the partner to get ready for the challenges ahead…”
Badi was reading from his phone, an old battered Nokia feature phone which he held in one hand while holding the last piece of roasted plantain with the other. He paused and looked at Wale whose full attention he now had.
“Hmmm”, Badi said looking straight at Wale, “I wonder who the technical partner is…”
Wale said nothing.
“Well”, continued Badi, “I can certainly tell you who it is not”
Wale said nothing.
“It is not Nkali Limited”
Wale said nothing.
“So...again I ask how are you feeling...and what are you going to do?”
At this point Wale found his voice.
“Of course it's not Nkali Limited, You know why? Its because we were played out of the equation! This country does not appreciate merit! There is no reason why we should not be the technical partners on that project! We are the number one accounting solution providers in the country! Scratch that! We are the number one local accounting solution providers in the damn region!”
Wale’s voice had grown louder with every word and by now was way louder than the sound of the heavy rain coming from outside. He was pacing from one end of the small shack to the other. One stride to the left would take him to one end of the shack, one stride to the right would take him to the other.
“We have been in this game for 12 years!!! Supporting and growing with some of the biggest companies in the region. And now they have gone with someone else! You want to know why? The whole system is rigged! But this is not the end. We will not let this one slide...just wait and see!”
Badi popped the last piece of plantain into his mouth and chewed, swallowed, took a sip of water from his bottle which he swirled around in his mouth before swallowing.
“Are you done?”, He asked
There was no response from Wale who was either at a loss for words or trying catch his breath. Badi chuckled again and shook his head in what could have been wonder or pity, or both.
“You still do not get it do you?”, he asked
“Get what?”, challenged Wale.
“Yes, Nkali is a successful company by any standard and you have done a lot to get to where you are today. Infact i have heard many people say that if Nkali was operating in a different environment like say the United states or Europe and not in Africa, you would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars by now if not more. Yeah, you should probably be the one sitting beside the minister at that press conference that announced what many are already calling the deal of the decade. The video clip from that press conference is apparently going viral on social media as we speak. That would have been you and your management team in that video, if you had not forgotten the most important thing”
“And what is that, Mr Cleaner?” Sneered Wale
“ You, Wale, forgot that success in any endeavor, particularly in the line of tech related entrepreneurship, is a prize.
“Most times this prize shows itself as trust and loyalty. The trust and loyalty of the people who over time have come to use, believe in and depend on your product or service. I am sure that you will agree with me that this trust and loyalty, which can be transformed into revenue in some shape or form, is hard won. That is why I chose the term prize and not gift.
“You, Wale, forgot that to whomsoever this prize, no matter how small, has been awarded, a lot more is expected. People who are awarded this prize have certain responsibilities. That, Wale, is what you forgot”
Wale wanted to ask Badi if he was sure that he was really a cleaner. And if he was, what he had been smoking. But instead he asked “Really? And what are these responsibilities?”
Badi held up one finger.
“First, is your responsibility to innovate.”
Badi held up two fingers.
“Second, is your responsibility to empower, and third...”
Badi held up 3 fingers
“Third, is your responsibility to advocate. I think you neglected at least 2 ...or maybe even all of those responsibilities. That is where you slipped”
Wale was quiet for a second.
“But what do you mean by saying that Nkali does not innovate?”, He asked, “Now i know that you have no idea what you are talking about”
“And how did Nkali innovate?”, challenged Badi with a smile on his face.
This time it was Wale who laughed.
“We are one of the most innovative companies in the space and in this region!”, he said taking a step towards Badi.
“We have always been driven to ensure that our customers and users get what they need to drive value. For goodness sake in the last 8 years our product has changed from being a desktop based Java application that talked to a Microsoft Access database to becoming a full fledged browser based distributed application that could be accessed from anywhere within the enterprise using any desktop browser. In 2007 we launched NkaliSky as a service platform to make it easier for us to deploy and provision new customers as well as implement upgrades and this has been a huge success! In Fact we have just migrated 60% of our customer base to the new platform. I am not even going to mention other ways in which we have innovated such as our sales and deployment processes so don’t sit there and talk to me about innovation in a business you know nothing about!”
Again Wale’s voice had risen several decibels and now he was standing over Badi almost menacingly.
Badi looked back at Wale, the smile still on his lips.
“Do you remember Xindox?” , he asked.
“X-Xindox?”, stuttered Wale, “Yes, what about Xindox?”
“Remember when they came to see you in 2007?” , Badi probed further.
“Of course I remember, but wait, how the hell did you get to know about that? Who have you been talking to in my office?”
“No one,” responded Badi , “Let's say I have just been cleaning at Johnson House for many years”
“How old are you and how long have you been working at Johnson House?” asked Wale eager to find out who this “Cleaner” was.
Badi continued as if he did not hear the question.
“When Xindox came to you in 2007, the smartphone revolution was just taking off, and they were a barely-known smartphone brand that was looking to enter the regional market. They approached you to be a launch partner. I remember that they wanted you to launch a version of your service that worked on mobile devices like theirs as this would enable them make inroads into the SME/enterprise space. It was a simple plan as they felt that if they could come up with a bundled solution made up of Xindox phones and great locally-relevant business software like Nkali, maybe they could make a great start in the SME and Enterprise market.
“But you turned them down and if i remember correctly, that was also around the same time that Koboko Limited also came to pay you a visit...”
“Kokobo? What do you know about that visit?”, interjected Wale.
“ Aha, “ Badi smiled as he leaned back on the stone that he was sitting on to rest his back on the wooden side of the shack and closed his eyes and began to recite as if from a book.
“Koboko Limited, a company that also operates in the tech space building software that enables universities manage their hostel accomodation. Started by Okeke and Abdul, two computer science students back in 2005.
“Legend has it that Okeke overheard his uncle who at the time was the dean of student affairs at their university complaining about the stress he encountered at the beginning of every school year while managing the students’ accommodation process. This led him and his pal to come up with quick and dirty system built in Visual Basic .NET. Two weeks later, they managed to convince Okeke’s uncle to give it a try.
“He tried it, he liked it, they deployed it and now Koboko is helping over 300 universities in 8 countries run and manage their student accommodation. I hear they now have a staff strength of about 150 and that includes 40 software engineers.
“If I remember correctly, when they came to see you they were looking for an accounting module that they could integrate into their solution and had approached you for a partnership but you turned them down as well.”
Wale shook his head.
“Just pray that i do not find out who has been leaking our company information to you, both of you will be in serious trouble”
“Why did you turn them down?“ asked Badi ignoring everything Wale just said.
“Are you kidding me?”, asked Wale., “ I had several valid reasons.”
“Like...?”, Badi asked.
“Look my friend, you do not understand technology and you do not understand business. At the time we were going full steam ahead with our bid to win more market share from the global players which we did. Of all the things that were at the top of the product roadmap , building a mobile app for Xindox and a mobile API for Koboko was not a priority.
“All of our users were accountants and management staff who did all their work on their desktop and at the office. There was not really a lot of demand for mobile based action. In any case we already had some mobile presence in the form of a mobile web portal that allowed management users access tobbasic key reports on their phones. I am not even going to talk about the fact that mobile internet quality was not worth betting on at the time.”
“Yup, I feel you my boss! In fact I remember when you gave an interview to that tech newspaper where you said that the best channel to access critical applications was the desktop or something to that effect.”
“Yes,” said Wale “And because we know this, we have continued to grow our business year to year so like i said, you have no idea of anything you are talking about”
Badi shrugged “Yes sir, Mr Custodian”
“Why are you calling me that?”
“Because that is what you are, a Custodian of Innovation”
“What in the blue blazes is a custodian of innovation?”
“It is a title that was bestowed on you, and you graciously accepted it. It is usually bestowed on leading organizations and entrepreneurs in a particular sector, for example technology, by users, competitors, media, partners and the ecosystem as a whole. You can usually recognize a custodian of innovation in any sector when they launch a new product, feature, service etc. It usually sparks a lot of conversation around what it means for the sector in question. The same thing happens when the leader of one of these organizations makes a statement about the future of the space. This also generates a lot of conversation. Note that custodians of innovation exist at global , regional and local level. Also depending on the nature of the sector you could have more than one custodian of innovation in a particular sector or region. You sir,heartily accepted the title not just for the space of accounting technology but for the whole region. We have seen people like you in different sectors like banking, telecommunications and so on. I am sure you know what i mean .”
“And what is wrong with that?”, he asked
“Nothing,“ replied Badi, “Except that sometimes, these custodians start to believe that they are ...you know...custodians and that everyone should come and take permission from them before innovating in their field for the simple reason that they are the thought leaders in the space. But one day they wake up to find that the thing over which they claim custody, is no longer that valuable because now the ecosystem is interested in something else. The biggest irony is that most times the ecosystem becomes interested in that new thing because the custodian either stopped them from getting access to and sharing in the previous innovation. It is indeed a dusty world.”
“I do not see your point” , said Wale.
“Of course you do, “ Replied Badi,
“Let's look at those two companies that you turned down back then, starting with Xindox. We all know how it turned out. After you turned them away, they went knocking on a few other doors with no success. They then decided to change their strategy by going after the consumer market. Today they are one of the leading smartphone brands in the region. I know a number of people who said that their partnership with Koboko was key to that success. You know that after you turned Koboko down, they decided to go and build their own accounting module to support the needs of the school admins who needed to keep track of the accommodation financials and the like, right? It definitely was not as funky as what Nkali had, but it did the job. The interesting part is that because the students also needed to know where they stood with regards their accommodation and other fees, they had to build a module that could be accessed on mobile phones. That's why they ended up partnering with Xindox who were only too happy to bundle their small accounting app on their phone.
“The app and the phone soon became popular amongst many students. Koboko became the preferred provider of software to most tertiary institutions in the land not just for accommodation management but now for accounting and personal finance tracking for students. No one is really sure about how the transition to serving small businesses started. Some say that some of the students who had businesses started using it to run their business while others say that Koboko actively started to target that space but whatever the case, as they say, the rest is history.”
“So you are telling me that because I refused to partner with them, that I did something wrong? Must I partner with everyone I come across? And what on earth does that have to do with innovation anyway?” Wale sounded defensive
“Well, make of the story what you will. But I have heard a few people say that partnership is a key pillar of innovation. Some people refer to it as collaboration. Many people think that collaboration only needs to happen internally within and between teams in order to drive innovation but it also needs to happen externally between organizations for this to happen, Even when these organizations are seen as competitors in the outside world.
“To answer your question, no, you must not partner with everyone, but partnership conversations also offer opportunities to get signals from the ecosystem and use them to drive your strategy, that is if you do not allow the whole custodian thing get to your head like some people we both know have been known to do.
“Accepting the mantle of Custodian of innovation means that you should see it as your responsibility, perhaps even your duty, to advance the boundaries of the field or sector in which you find yourself. The responsibility that comes with that prize goes way beyond just satisfying your customers and making money. The moment you fail to recognize that, you become just another player in the ecosystem. A statistic generator. If you doubt me, then take a look at the major global players in any sector particularly in the tech space and ask yourself why they invest so much in pushing the boundaries of their sector as well as partnerships.
“It's not just about if you innovate but how you innovate. Wale, by being too rigid on your innovation path, you closed your eyes to the ecosystem and thus were not aware when the traffic was diverted from your arena to another”
“I think I see where you are coming from”, Wale said with a note of resignation, “But how does one do this when they have a business to run and in some cases, investors to satisfy?”
Badi stood up, crumpled up the now empty polythene bag and stuffed it into his trouser pocket.
“If I knew that, I would probably be the CEO of Nkali limited”, he said “But I know what I have seen in some successful companies. They have succeeded by using a varying mix of R&D and partnerships. A lot of local companies do not do R&D and those who do only pay lip service to it as a way just to keep their geeks busy. Their so called R&D has little or no support from management and the executive. Question for you. What was the last bottom up innovation from your tech team that you had the opportunity to review?”
“It's really been a while”, replied Wale.
“I guess that's a good place to start. I have heard that Koboko for example has a strong research bias and every month they present a demo of new and crazy things that their tech team is working on to the executive. If you could do this, at least it would be a start.
“On partnerships, the only thing I can think about is the importance of business development. Do you have a business development team at Nkali?”
“Of course we do, a very strong one at that” , said Wale with a hint of pride in his voice.
“Are you sure that they do Business development or just sales?”, prodded Badi.
“Well, they do Business development and sales” replied Wale
“And what is their primary target? Revenue? Volume of sales?”
“Hmmm,” said Badi, “I have always found it interesting to see how many companies say that they have a business development team that is supposed to discover new ways of doing business but in effect actually have sales teams. I have discovered that most times the only person who feels empowered to have strategic business conversations in the company is the CEO. Now this is fine for a small company where everyone is wearing multiple hats, but as the company grows, it may not be a bad idea to have a person or team depending on the size of the company who wakes up every morning thinking one step ahead of the current business and looking for partners and initiatives that will position the company well in the future. I do not think it is good for the future of the company to have the same person or group of people looking out for the interests of the paying customers and the interests of the business at the same time. One of those tasks should go to the sales or accounts management team and the other should go to the business development team. Listening to you now, it is clear on which side of the fence you belong
“I feel that if you combine the research and development of your product teams with the signals coming in from your business development teams, you might be in a position to deliver more on your first responsibility”
Wale looked at Badi, deep in thought.
“You make it all sound so easy, “ he said. “Partnership for instance is hard, especially in this part of the world where most of the potential partners are still small and not sure about what exactly their role in the partnership is. A lot of times when a smaller company says that they want to partner, what they are really saying is that they need a piece of your business for which they give next to nothing in return. That was another reason why I felt that working with Koboko would be a waste of everybody’s time”
“Yes, I know, “ said Badi, “ That brings us to the second responsibility. The responsibility to nurture the partnership ecosystem you need. The responsibility to empower”
“Empower? Empower who? My would be partners?”
“Yes,“ replied Badi, “ That is your second responsibility. When you have done the hard work and created something worthwhile that brings value to others that is worth paying for, you owe it to your business, your customers, your users and indeed the greater community to nurture the partner ecosystem that will in turn not just help you grow your business but also keep you alive during the tough times
“Wale, you put in the hard work to create and grow your business around an innovation in the field of accounting technology. I am sure that you have probably figured out where you want your business to be in the next few years. But you probably have not given as much thought to the partners you need to get you to where you need to be. If you have maybe you are only considering potential partners who are either the same size or bigger than you are. The reason is simple, you are probably looking to do to the big companies the exact thing that you fear other smaller companies want to do to you: get something for next to nothing. And because of this, you tend to ignore them, or worse still in some cases, undermine them.
“But maybe if you approach things from a different angle where you want to empower those smaller potential partners to the point where they are able to drive value for themselves and by so, drive value for you.
Wale stroked his chin in thought.
“This sounds good in theory, but how does one do this?”, he asked.
“It is not easy and as you can imagine it requires a lot of investment in time and resources. But the most straightforward way I have seen some organizations do it is through the two basic steps of first creating the platform through which mutual value is driven and then investing in initiatives to educate these would-be partners on how to best leverage those platforms to drive value. A look at some of the big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft will show you what I mean.
“Companies like the ones I mentioned worked hard to build products and services that allow people accomplish different things. In order to drive more value for all stakeholders they created platforms that allows others to leverage their products to do more. These platforms come in many forms. They could be partnership programs like the type that Facebook and Google have for advertising agencies or that Microsoft and Oracle have for software developers and database administrators. It could even be like the numerous developer platforms that many of the internet companies have these days that allow people leverage them to build their own products.
“But having the platform is not enough if no one knows that it exists or how to use it. This is where the education piece comes in. These companies invest a lot in showing their partners how best to use these platforms to create and drive even more value for everyone. They do this through training programs, certifications and the like. Put all of this together and you can see what I mean by empowerment through partnerships. There are many companies that started out small but have grown to make millions of dollars by leveraging these platforms and opportunities created by the larger companies .”
“But the companies you mention have billions of dollars to run these programs. We do not”, Wale said.
“Of course having resources helps,“ said Badi, “But the billions of dollars you mention are only an amplifier. If you look closely at some of these companies, you find that they launched most of these initiatives 3-5 years into their existence when they were not worth as much. In other words, they launched them soon after they were sure exactly what their value proposition was. What they had was the mindset required to drive the internal culture to make this happen, i believe that is more critical than the billions you mention
“Of course creating partnership platforms like these are not compulsory to be successful, your company is proof of this. However organizations that have created these platforms are interested in not only being successful but also in making a lasting impact in their ecosystem and scaling beyond their current reach, it is up to you to decide if you fall into this category
“Take Koboko for example, soon after their accounting solution gained adoption by small business owners, they began a program in some the universities where they operated to train some of the brighter students on everything about their app and how to install it for the owners of these small businesses for which they paid them a small stipend. The program has grown to become a full fledged partner network. Today many of those students have graduated and are running technology consultancy businesses and guess who their major partner is? That is how Koboko was able to scale their accounting solution so fast in case you ever wondered”
Wale shook his head in wonder.
“Yes boss, “ said Badi , “It is tough to scale in a sustainable way without the right partner ecosystem around you. One way to build that ecosystem is through empowerment. ”
“I see your point but I am still not convinced. I do not think it's just about how much or how well you innovate or how many partners you empower. Even if I managed to do all these things that you are saying, it does not guarantee success. We live in a world where merit is not the basis for success”
“Of course not, “ said Badi, “ I agree with you that history is littered with stories of organizations and individuals who have excelled in terms of the quality of their work but ended up being eclipsed by other seemingly less deserving parties. I do however believe that doing these things will definitely improve your chances.
“Having a strong ecosystem of partners for example will ensure that you stay relevant even through those periods when innovation slows down in your organization and you are working to create the right environment for your next try. That brings me to the third responsibility you need to think of, the responsibility to advocate “
“What does that have to do with anything?” Wale asked.
“Oh, a lot boss...a lot”, said Badi , “What is Nkali’s mission?”
“I started Nkali because i sincerely believed, and still do, that an accountant’s time is too valuable to be spent punching keys on a calculator “
“You see,” Said Badi,“ It is that mission to increase the value proposition of the accountant that drove you to where you are today. But I have to ask you, apart from your staff, customers and business prospects, how many other people know and believe in that mission?
“Not many I guess, why do they need to know?”, asked Wale
“Of course they need to know. If you are mission driven then you need to make sure that the rest of your ecosystem understands and buys into the importance of that mission. The process of doing this is called advocacy. There are a number of advantages to doing this. First it wins you allies who are mission aligned, secondly it helps people know what you are about which makes you top of mind when certain situations come up. This can prove very valuable as I am sure you know.
“A good example is our friends at Koboko. I have no idea what their mission is but I do know that the moment they realized that they were on to something with their accounting module, they went to town with it. Every time i heard their CEO speak or I read his posts on Social media, he was always talking about the role of technology in financial management for individuals and small businesses. I bet you know by now that is what they are known for”
“We sank millions into our marketing this year alone.” Wale cut in “I am sure that we have spent more than Koboko ever will on marketing this year. Is that not enough advocacy?”
For what seemed like the millionth time that morning, Badi smiled and shook his head.
“Marketing is not advocacy Wale,“ he said, “I think that marketing is about your product, your company or your brand while advocacy is about a concept or cause that is at least one level above any of that. With advocacy you are addressing even people who fall outside your normal customer base and if you do it well enough, you could even get some of them to join you and become advocates for the same cause and you even stand the chance of finding some very strong partners amongst them.”
“But I see that as noise making,” Wale countered “Spending time on social media spouting wisdom and philosophical bullshit when I should be running my business is not my style.”
Badi nodded, “I know what you mean, but it is important that you make the distinction. Advocating for a cause does not necessarily mean that you spend all day on social media at the expense of running your business. While social media is definitely one cost effective way to do it, there are other ways to make it happen. For example you could do an article once or twice a year that expresses your views on certain issues, you could also take advantage of speaking opportunities that come up through various events in the ecosystem. There is also the odd press interview that comes up now and again. Use whatever method best agrees with your character.
“There are also people who feel uncomfortable advocating for something they are passionate about because they fear that it goes against everything that they believe regarding humility and to that I will reply with a quote from the legendary Jazz guitarist Jaco Pastorius,”it ain’t bragging if you can back it up”. Advocacy should always be backed by substance for it to make sense else it risks becoming noise. Advocacy backed by substance makes you an authority and authorities are sought after.
“At the end of the day, the main thing is this: I am a cleaner who knows nothing but If you were involved in a conversation in the 80s about computers in the classroom, I know that Steve Jobbs and Apple would be mentioned because that is what they advocated for. If there is a conversation about connecting the world, I know that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook will be mentioned. If the topic being discussed is universal access to information then Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Google will probably come up. In which conversation do you want Wale and Nkali to be mentioned?”
Wale turned to gaze out of the window of the shack. The rain was finally letting up.
And Back to the Beginning...
Behind him, Badi pulled up his phone again and continued to read from where he stopped earlier.
“Responding on behalf of the technical partners for the tax initiative, the CEO of Koboko Limited , Mr John Okeke said that his company was humbled by the opportunity created by this initiative to be of service to the country. He went on to state that this initiative by the government was a huge step in the fulfilment of the vision of Koboko limited that Small and Medium scale businesses will one day take their true place as the most significant pillar of the Nigerian economy. He took the opportunity to call on all the SMEs in the country to take advantage of the channels that his team had created through their SME business management platform to ensure that they met the requirements before the deadline next year”
“I am sure that now you can see not just what happened, but also how it happened”, Badi continued. “In a bid to do more of what made you succeed and press home your advantage, you fought too hard to maintain the status quo in your field of play and while you did that, the game not only changed but moved to another field and so did many of the players. Koboko on the other hand, in a bid to create new value for their existing customers, stumbled onto the new playing field. The field was empty when they got there, but they recruited players and spectators with their partnership strategy and built a following with their advocacy. Maybe there was some hanky panky, maybe there was none. But I can tell you this. With their simple mobile-first accounting platform and the network of loyal partners they have across the region, not to mention the fact that they have clearly been about empowering SMEs for the past few years, it would have been very weird if you were chosen over them...very weird. Don’t you think so?”
Wale smiled, “Yeah...I see what you mean.”
“So, let's try this one last time. What are you going to do?”, Badi asked.
“I do not think the game is over,” Wale said, ”I will think about what you told me here today. There may still be a way back...there always is. Innovate, empower and advocate right?”
“Yes boss!”, said Badi as he stood up for the first time to reveal his tall frame.
He looked Wale straight in the eye. Wale felt like he was looking into the eyes of a wild animal.
“Innovate to create value and stretch the bounds of what is possible, empower to create allies, advocate to start a movement. You will be unstoppable. We shall meet again, when you have thought about it and made some adjustments. But now, the rain has stopped and i think you had better get going Wale. You have a business to run.” He reached out his hand.
Wale took Badi’s hand in a firm handshake as he looked outside to see that the rain had indeed stopped and the sun was out again. He turned back to Badi who tried to withdraw his hand but Wale held on.
“Not so fast, I have one more question”, he said.
“How can I help boss?”, said Badi, still smiling.
“I really appreciate this conversation, but how come you are a cleaner? What is your background? Please do not take this the wrong way but I have never met a cleaner that speaks like you and knows this much about stuff”
“ You are sure you want to know my background boss?”, Said Badi with a strange smile.
“Yes, if you don’t mind”, Wale replied.
“Then you will need to...“, He reached out and tapped Wale’s shoulder “Wake up sir”
“What do mean?”, replied Wale. He suddenly felt dizzy and shook his head to clear it but the more he shook his head, the more the image of Badi grew fuzzy in the dim shack.
Badi tapped him again on the shoulder repeating the words “Wake up sir, wake up sir”.
Wale felt himself begin to fall and then he hit the ground.
As he hit the ground he felt himself bounce up and he opened his eyes to find himself in the back the Toyota Prado with his driver reaching over the driver’s seat to tap his shoulder.
“Wake up sir, we are here.”
Wale looked around and sat up with a start that scared the driver who recoiled immediately.
Wale looked out of the window to see that the car had pulled up to Johnson House.There was no sign of rain. He looked at his watch, it was 9.30am. His phone was still in his hand where it had remained when he fell asleep after reading the news article.
“When did it stop raining?”, he asked the driver
“Rain?, “ the driver looked confused, “ It never rained sir”.
Wale unlocked his phone and typed in a message. It was a short one to his personal assistant.
“Please ask all unit heads to meet in my office in 30 mins”
With that he gathered his laptop and stepped out of the back of the SUV into the heat that was just another day in Lagos.