No. 253 – Tuesday Reads

Low Covid-19 death toll raises hopes Africa may be spared worst – So far, African countries have avoided the devastation the US and Europe have experienced from Covid-19. The nervousness in my chest won’t leave for some time, and I pray that Africa countries continue to navigate this virus as best they can. It’s been encouraging to see several African leaders take aggressive measures to contain the virus. Hopefully, this amplifies the sense of urgency in developing infrastructure that furthers the resilience of Africa’s people. If Africa gets through this pandemic relatively safely, that doesn’t mean its countries will get through the next one in the same shape.

Ghana government to invest in healthcare infrastructure – President Akufo-Addo announced that the country will be building 88 100-bed hospitals across the country. This is good news, though you have to wonder where the money is coming from. China has put untold amounts of money into projects across Africa, and will leverage that diplomatically. As African countries make their way toward a post COVID-19 world, it’s imperative China isn’t able to make incursions on their independence because it has put billions of dollars into shaping their economies.

Covid-19 has blown apart the myth of Silicon Valley innovation – One of my favorite lines in scripture is “do not think too highly of yourself, but think with sober judgement.” I’m very curious to see how how Silicon valley culture evolves post COVID-19. Hopefully, it finds a path forward in it’s foundation in early Silicon Valley like Genentech that shifted science and life.

Why You’re Not One of the World’s Great Investors – There’s a great book on hedge fund manager Jim Simons called The Man Who Solved the Market. In it, you’ll see how this man used algorithms and math I’ll probably never understand to find trading opportunities. There’s a benefit to creating your own lane and not trying to find your fortune in someone else’s. Simons did that. He was a math professor before getting into the hedge fund world, and built a completely different way of approaching trading. As I continue this journey towards venture investing, reminders like these to keep doing me are helpful.

Antitrust After the Coronavirus – Matt Stoller put together an interesting piece here laying out the dangers potentially ahead of us in big corporations consolidating their industries with the help of the financial world. He calls for pause on merger activity and an act that would outline a path for breaking up companies that gain power due to pandemic. He also calls for a systematic process of working through that disappear due to pandemic situations situation. I’m with him. Corporations don’t have all the answers, just like governments don’t. They’ve got their own respective roles in making this thing work.

Perhaps a random aside, but has anyone heard from Haven? Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway made a big splash last year announcing this new business that was supposed to reimagine health care. Why have we heard nothing from them?

No. 252 – Monday Reads

Source: First Republic Bank

COVID-19 Edition: What is venture sentiment today? – First Republic Bank published interesting results from a survey they conducted of 427 venture capital firms. Over the past month or so, there have been a lot of VCs posting on Twitter that they’re open for business. The data here tell a different story.

Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal – The Arab Spring and the role technology played in helping folks connect over their desire to restructure their societies feels like ages ago. This piece feels like a complete 180-degree turn from the sentiment around technology as liberator during that time. Now, we live in a world where in the matter of a month or so, Apple and Google have partnered to roll out contact tracing capabilities. Daily, we walk through a web of data points technology companies gather on us. Following this COVID-19 situation, to what extent will we give companies more ability to keep tabs on us?

Martin, Malcolm and the Fight for EqualityThe Sword and the Shield by Peniel Joseph is a fantastic read. The side-by-side treatment of their respective evolutions as readers was so illuminating. I highly recommend the book. This review does it justice as well.

On Fortnite’s Travis Scott Concert – My gaming days were pretty much over after I couldn’t get past the second stages of Sonic the Hedgehog or Shinobi. Gaming today is an entirely different experience I know next to nothing about. While I was in Ghana over the Christmas holiday, I walked up to a TV thinking I was joining cousins in watching a soccer match. It took me more than a few seconds to realize I was watching a video game, not real life. Anyway, over 12 million people watched this concert Travis Scott and Fortnite partnered on last Thursday. That’s wild. What’s even more incredible is that Matthew Ball argues in his analysis that this was part of Epic Games culture of testing to figure out new things the company can build. I’m very curious to see where tests like this lead them.

How China Shut Down African Protests Over Racial Discrimination in Guangzhou – This is a rather discouraging piece, displaying China’s effectiveness in shifting its narrative across Africa. The mix of money, coordination, and speed helped China address the rising anger over how African nationals were being treated in Guangzhou. Not encouraging at all. Not encouraging.

No. 246: Monday Reads

W.E.B. DuBois

COVID-19 in Africa: Outcomes and Scenarios – Ronak Gopaldas of Signal Risk put together a nice analysis of the potential economic impact of COVID-19 on African markets. The central conclusion is that the path out of this situation is going to take years, something that is true for countries around the world. It’s frustrating to have this be the reality for African countries trying to navigate the path to sustainable economic growth and better lives for the people. Here’s to African countries figuring out that path and marching forward aggressively. Gradatim ferociter.

COVID and forced experiments – This is a good reminder from Benedict Evans that while most of the world is online, a significant number of people are not. eCommerce isn’t the answer for everyone. Telehealth doesn’t work if the patient pretty much has dial-up speeds at home. So, how do you move forward in pushing new technologies while ensuring everyone gets the services they need?

This is where the trope of “let the market handle that” sounds ridiculous. A number of companies will say that ensuring a potential customer in the middle of nowhere gets access to a product or service isn’t profitable enough to make the effort. From experience, I’ve seen them also complain about government trying to step in to fill those gaps. I’d love to see more situations where the private and public sector team up on this sort of thing more, but we’re not there yet.

What is the problem of racism has no solution? – I look forward to reading Afropessimism by Frank Wilderson. I struggle with the world view of folks like Ta-Nehisi Coates who don’t see a world in which black folks get a W. I think the world has been around for too long and civilizations have changed place for top dog position too many times for this to be true.

At the same time, my own pessimism comes out in my belief that centuries from now, if black people (If that’s even a thing at that point in time) have the capacity to be just as cruel as white folks have been in the time they’ve been dominant globally. Hopefully, folks like my cousin Kobe speak enough truth and beauty to keep us from acting on that capacity.

Our World in Flow Change – David Galbraith lays out the design of systems and what needs to happen to ensure whatever new system we have coming out of COVID-19 is a balanced one.

XTREME: A Massively Multilingual Multi-task Benchmark for Evaluating Cross-lingual Generalization – Google is working on expanding the number of languages for which natural language processing works well. Natural language processing is basically what’s happening when you are talking to Siri or your Google Assistant. Currently, English is the main language this works in bit that will change as Google makes more progress on this project. I’m getting a kick out of my Nigerian friends insulting their Google Home device in Yoruba and it giving them pepper back.

No. 245 – Africa Can Build Too

Source: Marvel Studios

I was so excited to see the announcement last week that 54gene had raised $15M in additional funding for their work sequencing the genome of African folks. That type of work – building technology, research, and infrastructure is what Africa’s going to need as soon as possible. The wave of nationalism that has continued to rise in the US and Europe will only increase on the backs of anger at China and Dr. Adhanom, an African man running the World Health Organization as we emerge from this Covid-19 situation. African countries investing in building for themselves will prove key to building the resilience the continent will need moving forward.

For several years there has been this hope that African countries would build their manufacturing capacity to the point where they could compete with Asia for manufacturing contracts because the labor costs were rising in Asian markets, and the labor costs in African markets like Ethiopia would remain relatively lower. Well, that hope is probably not something African leaders should bank on coming out of this Covid-19 situation. The COVID-19 situation has exposed global supply chain issues that clearly have left the U.S. in poor shape trying to fight the virus. 

More voices in the U.S. are calling for manufacturing and technology development to be reshored to the U.S. I worry the nationalist wave that has been growing in the West over the past several years will hit fever fever pictures as we continue through this COVID-19 situation and even further when we come out of it. I worry that this wave could leave African leaders with fewer friendly voices as they try to move African nations forward in their economic development. I I think the best way for it is for African countries to really think and identify where and but they can build for themselves. We could see a world where countries don’t want to buy from Africa wherever possible and may not want to sell to us on favorable terms. I’m not here for that kind of world.

Marc Andreessen’s post “It’s Time to Build” struck a nerve for a good bit of Silicon Valley and I imagine will be the rallying cry for the U.S. supply chain to be less globally-connected. I think it’s a signal for African countries to push extra hard to figure out what they can build and do that as soon as possible. 

I firmly believe that African countries have all they need to thrive even in a more balkanized global economy. I already mentioned 54gene. Cellulant is doing big things in powering payments. MainOne is providing the connectivity Nigeria needs and I’m sure there are others out there building in incognito. Let’s get behind them to help build the world Africa needs for its future.

No. 240 – Tuesday Reads

Source: Techcrunch

Some Policy Lessons from COVID-19 “It is about time that African progressivism focused not just on criticizing those in power, but also on developing viable political programs that can win power. This will require organization, political education and communication that resonates with mass publics, genuine openness to knowing “the realities on the ground”, and a dose of principled ideological promiscuity pragmatism. The habit of waiting for perfectly enlightened voters and politicians under perfect institutional conditions effectively concedes the fight to the region’s shamelessly inept water-carriers.”

Lila Fenwick, Who Broke a Barrier at Harvard Law, Dies at 87 – “Ms. Fenwick graduated from law school in 1956, one of a handful of women in a class of hundreds. Ruth Bader Ginsburg started the next school year, when the dean at the time famously challenged the nine women in the class of the future Supreme Court justice to defend why they were occupying a place that could have gone to a man.”

The City That Has Flattened the Coronavirus Curve – “The economic hardship a shutdown would cause was not lost on Breed. She was raised in a public-housing project by her grandmother, from whom, Harris said, Breed inherited a practical streak. Breed’s sister died of a drug overdose, while her brother is currently incarcerated on a 44-year sentence for manslaughter. “Her grandmother was a tough lady,” recalled Harris, who has known Breed for years. “She was practical, practical to her core.”

Africa is on our DNA – “At 54gene, driving change means focusing on ensuring that the welfare of Africans is not left out of global health developments while also building a long term sustainable business that will contribute to the continent for many years to come.” (note: 54Gene just announced a $15m series A round of financing.)

Stephon Marbury’s Wild Ride on the Front End of the Coronavirus Pandemic – “The games have to stop now. The game won’t be fun if people die.”

No. 236 – Friday Reads

Source: AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui

How Rappers and Record Studios Are Coping With the Pandemic – “As devastating as this has been to recording studios, to think the coronavirus is the sole cause of Black artists leaving major recording studios is to ignore the past decade of Black music.”

A Revolution of Values – “At Riverside, King assumed Malcolm’s previous role as black America’s prosecuting attorney, publicly denouncing the war in Vietnam by offering a political seminar on American imperialism, racism, and economic injustice that announced his formal break with mainstream politics.”

Africa, the world and COVID-19: The perspective of Macky Sall, President of Senegal – “Africa, as the cradle of humanity and a land of old civilisation, is not a no-man’s land. Nor can it offer itself as a land of guinea pigs. Gone are also the doom scenarios that try to draw an apocalyptic future for the continent. This continent has undergone far more perilous and crueller trials.  It has remained resilient and is standing stronger than ever!”

Silicon Valley Camels, will you please stand up – “In the subset of Unicorns that have exited over the past decade, investors realized less than a 10X return in a majority (62%) of the financings in those [unicorn] companies.”

Saudi Wealth Fund Builds $200 Million Stake in Norway’s State Oil Company – “Saudi Arabia’s $320 billion sovereign wealth fund, run by Yasir Al-Rumayyan and controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is taking advantage of a slump in stock market valuations as it steps up deal-making to become the world’s biggest manager of sovereign capital”

No. 219: Podcast Interview – AI + Africa

Thanks to Kwabena Sarkodie for having me on his podcast, Insights from the Sahara, to discuss all things artificial intelligence and Africa.

No. 194: Zoom | Sony Gets in the Ride-Share Game | Can’t Be a One-Trick Pony

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom! The Exclusive Inside Story Of The New Billionaire Behind Tech’s Hottest IPO

While reading this piece, all I could think about was how different Zoom was from other Silicon Valley unicorns-turned public companies that are more well-known. The company registered to go public with a profit after having already turned a profit. Contrast that with companies like Uber which has had one profitable quarter and is pushing for a $120B valuation at its upcoming IPO.

Apparently, the CEO Eric Yuan reimburses the company even for smaller expenses like swag. Contrast that with Evan Spiegel who recorded $900k in security costs when Snap filed to go public. Yuan recorded no other compensation from Zoom, granted Snap was/is a cultural phenomenon and Zoom is far from that.

Further, there’s so much talk about the mercenary culture in Silicon Valley and how startups need to have all sorts of perks in order to retain talent. I’d be really interested to hear what it was about Zoom that enabled it to grow to 1,700 employees despite not having the flashiest office space.

The startup world has built this calculus around growth trumping profitability. Zoom seems to knock against that. I look forward to seeing how it’s IPO impacts the culture across the valley, particularly with its newly minted set of millionaire employees investing some of their capital in fledgling startups.

Sony becomes Uber’s newest rival in Japan

This can’t be too exciting a development for Japanese e-commerce Rakuten, also the largest investor in newly public Lyft. Rakuten’s CEO Hiroshi Mikitani has talked about his company’s investment in Lyft as more research than competitive move, but with a nearly $3B stake in the company they have got to be itching for Lyft to expand beyond the U.S. and the few Canadian cities where it operates.

It’s time to rethink oil and gas as a funding source for development

The extent to which resource-rich African countries are still placing their bets on oil and gas being the primary driver of their countries’ development induces anxiety. Kurt Davis does an effective job providing cases on Angola, Sudan, South Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, and Tanzania and how they’re probably going to find themselves stuck with their current approach to meeting their budgets and developing their countries. He goes on to map out how the thinking of policymakers needs to shift in order for these sort of countries to begin diversifying their economies. As I think about the rapid changes in technology and how software is driving so much change in how the world works, I really hope policymakers wake up.

No. 182: 3 Thoughts: Shellye Archambeau | Africa’s 2018 VC Activity | Pollution Inequities

Take Bigger Risks: Shellye Archambeau, Former CEO, MetricStream

I’ve seen Shellye Archambeau’s name around and have been intrigued to learn more about her story. Her appearance on Masters of Scale gives a great peak into how she’s navigated her way through Silicon Valley.

What stood out in particular was her telling about a Bible her family has passed down that contains her family tree for ten generations. She credits that Bible along with her family’s culture has given her a sense of her ancestors and where she comes from that. That shaped how she developed her vision.

I’m so big on the importance of knowing where we come from being a mental block for black folks in the Diaspora, but haven’t given a lot of thought to how to make sure those coming after me know where they come from. I will give that some thought.

2018 was a Monumental Year for African Tech Start-ups with US$1.163B raised in equity!

It’s pretty amazing to see the traction startups are getting, but there’s a long ways to go. Just yesterday, $1.93b in deals were announced globally.

This brings to mind this great conversation between Ian Bremmer and Keyu Jin. China and African countries are not apples-to-apples by any means. There have to be lessons in the China story, though, that can guide countries to chart their own path deliberate, yet accelerated growth. I think making big investments in developing R&D ecosystems in each country’s strong industries is the way forward.

GenNx360 Capital Partners acquires majority stake in Miller Environmental Group

This deal stood out initially because GenNx360 is founded and run by black folks. Then, this morning I thought about this study showing the racial-ethnic disparities in who causes and consumes pollution. The study essentially showed that minorities cause less pollution but consume more of it. The GenNx360 deal feels somewhat symbolic of an effort to take the reins of addressing that.

No. 178: What Happens When AI Meets Africa’s Demographic Boom?

Africa is projected to have more people at working age than the rest of the world’s population by 2035.

By 2045, artificial intelligence is projected to reach the singularity, where it will be self-improving rapidly rather than being dependent on human inputs.

On their own, these two developments are concerning. For years now, policymakers have braced themselves for what could happen once there’s this critical mass of working age folks in countries like Nigeria and South Africa with no jobs. I’ve heard the term “tinder box” more than I care to.

Artificial intelligence learning on its own is something very hard to envision unless you want to leave that to your pick of scariest movie about AI. All of the advances we see in AI currently are still in the realm of supervised learning where humans input enormous amounts of data. Yet, AI is already able to some pretty incredible things. My Google Home is in constant use in my home for music, information, games, story time, and more.

What happens at the intersection of these two shifts? They’re supposed to happen within a decade of each other. Are African policymakers thinking about curriculum that could prepare their populations to be able to work alongside a robot?

For example, Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa are investing a lot in growing their automotive manufacturing industries. The price of industrial robots is dropping rapidly and could make the development of those industries a lot more realistic. Just this year, Volkswagen and Nissan have launched assembly plants in Rwanda and Kenya respectively. Are the workers at these plants ready for an increased use of robots?

If you’ve seen examples of analysts and policymakers thinking through this issue, I’d appreciate you sending that info my way!