Tech4Africa: Building Global Technology Companies from Africa


If only Johannesburg were closer. Too many buds and too many interesting discussions were happening at the Tech4Africa Conference. Below is a recap taken from MemeBurn, which focuses on web and innovation technologies for the emerging market sector.

The panel discussion was called: “Building for the Global Market. Lessons and Learnings From The Coalface.” Leila Janah of Saiasource, Sheraan Amod of Personera and Malcolm Hall of Open Box Software discussed the challenges of building tech companies from Africa. The discussion was facilitated by Toby Shapshak of Stuff magazine. MemeBurn’s wrote-up below.

Leila Janah: The biggest challenge we face is that Africa has a damaged reputation in the service sector. And being a non-profit doesn’t exactly help us either. There is a perception that people in Africa can’t do this kind of work. Many educated people in the West don’t even know that there are PC’s in Kenya, let alone that there are over 2 million Kenyans on Facebook. You need to overcome bias at the start and the best way is to get results. We did many trial jobs for free to build a relationship and people were pleasantly surprised. You can’t compromise on quality when you’re a non-profit, especially when you’re from Africa.

Sheraan Amod: In the US, there is a lot more energy and innovation than there is in Europe or anywhere else, and people are willing to speak to new businesses. To succeed, you need to stand out. I preach 2 major actions if you want to build a product business that can scale to the US. Firstly, your product needs to be something they have never seen before.

If it’s unique, they will see it and they will take it seriously. Secondly, you need to get a solid introduction to the people who matter in Silicon Valley. That introduction is like a stamp of approval. We are lucky to have Vinny Lingham as an investor, and he is very well connected in the San Francisco tech scene so he setup a few crucial introductions.

Leila Janah: We have to work as hard as a “for profit” company, because leads come in because of who we are, but no one will sign on the dotted line because of a good story. There is a lot of anti-outsourcing sentiment right now because of the crisis in us. We want people to understand we’re not in to screw American workers.

Malcolm Hall: The key differentiator is the quality of your product. I don’t believe that it matters where you are. If you deliver something good, then people will use it, no matter where its from.

Leila Janah: There’s a benefit to understanding what your customers are doing so it makes sense to have part of your business where your customers are. You need to have a great product/customer fit and living amongst them is so important. Whether it’s from casual conversations or more formally, you have to get feedback from your customers.

Malcolm Hall: Certainly it’s important to have a sales and marketing presence in the larger markets. That then allows you to have developers back here at home working comfortably in T-shirts and slip slops. And getting paid in rands.

Sheraan Amod: If you haven’t lived where your customers are, then probably don’t start. It’s critical that you understand how they live.


Leila Janah: Outsourcing requires pretty mature markets. Our market is definitely in the Fortune 500 companies. But if you can monetize many tiny transactions, like M-Pesa has done then perhaps your focus is different. But at Samasource, when we talk about technology companies, we gravitate towards the United States.

Audience: The BRIC countries are very interesting markets for South Africans. We are in a unique position of being comfortable in transitioning between 1st and 3rd world environments in the same country. We can navigate all of that very easily and should take advantage of it.

Toby Shapshak: My contention for a while has been that Africa is the next China, the next Russia and Brazil. So it’s very important to grow your market right here in Africa and South Africa is going to be the springboard to all of that. It’s an exciting time. I always say that South Africa’s best export is South Africans.

Renee Blodgett
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
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