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'Nigerian startups should think global first'

Nigeria , 24 Mar 2016

'Nigerian startups should think global first'

One of Nigeria's highly successful startup founders, Simeon Ononobi believes startups that work to solve global problems could easily scale and emerge as the next Google, Facebook or Twitter.

Ononobi, whose mobile advertising platform MyAds recently launched in India, with plans to roll out in more countries, agreed that the tech ecosystem in Nigeria is growing.

However, he said startups should shift their growth plan from one that focuses on first conquering the local market and expanding afterwards, to one that directly targets foreign markets where the solutions they've developed are needed. "If a startup is solving a problem here, that same startup can solve the same problem in Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and elsewhere. Such potentially scalable services include products for transportation, and aggregation platforms for menial jobs."

"Nigeria currently has social startups that are doing very well and helping the economy grow; there are also some small startups that are striving to solve problems. What I've learnt so far is because we don't think global, we think local first and I think it's causing a lot of problems for us. We should start looking at the future," the founder said.

"At a recent tech conference, guys from Russia and the USA talked about how they can expand globally first before expanding their local presence. I think we should start thinking in that direction where we don't solve local problems, but we solve a global problem," he continued.

Use challenges

Ononobi said startups could leverage on the numerous challenges in the various sectors in Nigeria as opportunities to develop new products that are locally relevant.

"My theme has always been don't blame everybody else for your problems. The government is not going to be doing everything for us – we've been at the same spot for forever, our problems remain the same and we will always talk about the same problems when we have conversations. We do have more problems than many developed countries of the world and these problems are what startups can pick and develop solutions for them. You don't want to solve problems that Facebook and Twitter have already solved, you can talk about electricity and the rest," he said.

"We are seen as the giant of Africa. We should take our position as giants and take Africa by storm and take the world."

Using MyAds as an example, Ononobi said it was a solution to a problem he personally had – a problem that several other people across the world are facing on a daily basis.

"It's something that is going to solve a lot of problems. It's a solution I developed myself, it was meant to solve my advertising needs. I found a way to help people on the street and to help myself to advertise. It's like helping businesses and helping the people on the street. The bus conductor can make money from his phone and I discovered that I don't need to start just in Nigeria – it's the same problem in India, Pakistan, and Philippines where people on the street don't get to earn big bucks," he said.

In spite of the challenges confronting Nigeria's tech ecosystem, Ononobi is confident that startups in the country can still make progress and achieve phenomenal results if they take the right steps.

He urged startup founders to stop thinking about the problems. Instead, he said they should "hit it at the head, go straight out in the market and start selling your product."

"Don't worry about the problems because there is always going to be challenges. If you're a startup, you will face challenges. Let us all help ourselves. Owners of Facebook, Twitter, and Google are already billionaires, they are unicorns. Let's help local guys succeed. Let the 180 million Nigerians help us to also become unicorns so that we can also help grow this economy. If seven Nigerian startups go global, we will be talking about helping other countries grow," Ononobi said.

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