Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of Alibaba – China’s largest e-commerce business is now worth approximately $ 25 billion after an epic IPO in the US whose current market capitalization puts them above Amazon and Facebook; numbers that many technology entrepreneurs dream of. Every milestone that a globally visible technology company and often flamboyant CEO hit, seeds the ambitions of thousands of techprenuers across the world. This is all well and good save for the fact that a large percentage of those inspired focus on the podium and not the race or journey.
Across Africa we have handful of entrepreneurs who draw the same emotion, courtesy of the businesses that they have built over the years to establish solid brands and enviable turnovers. Jack Ma has his narrative told by a former employee through a short film and a host of others have theirs captured in a book I highly recommend called Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days, which is “a collection of interviews with founders of famous technology companies about what happened in the very earliest days.” Reading the experiences of the founders of companies such as Hotmail, Paypal, Apple, Flickr, Lotus, Yahoo, Craigslist, Firefox, Research In Motion – of Blackberry fame and Gmail among others, is sure to temper the expectations and reframe the minds of many who are thinking of taking the plunge into technology entrepreneurship.
However, what remains hidden or lost are the stories of the African entrepreneurs from the trenches, told first hand that will reveal the stresses and pains of an often glamorized endeavor. Success is obvious and enviable when visible and apparent, but who knows the true origins of leading indigenous technology firms across Africa like CWG – Computer Warehouse Group of Nigeria, Cellulant or TBM of Kenya, Integr8 Group or MWeb of South Africa among many others?
We need to capture and tell the real stories, beyond what a piecemeal take in a media interview can fully represent, of the journey taken by those who have gone before and either succeeded or failed. This will demystify the life and makings of an entrepreneur and help those who “dare” to have realistic expectations of what lies ahead.