No. 255 – Thursday Reads

Source: Niche and

Pittsburgh-Based Niche Secures $35M For School Search Platform After 100% ARR Growth In 2019 – niche is a platform that allows parents to search for schools ranging from kindergarten all the way up to college. what concerns me about this platform is just where we’re headed more broadly in education. A tool like this is more beneficial to the wealthy family that has options in terms of where they can send their children to school. I worry that platforms like this further inequities in education. Look at the map above from Niche’s site where they’ve graded the schools across DC. Guess where the majority of the multimillion dollar homes are?

Another thing that comes to mind is this pandemic has shed more light on our education system – areas where it’s weak, the ability of kids to study from home, the stress kids are under in school, and more. Over the next ten years, where does Niche see its growth coming from to justify a $35M raise? They’re a lot more bullish than I am.

‘Burn. It. The. F#&!. Down.’: The metamorphosis of former hedge fund manager and Epsilon Theory founder Ben Hunt – My buddy Myles Wynn introduced me to Ben Hunt a month or so ago when he wrote a provocative piece questioning the numbers China was reporting on deaths due to COVID-19. This piece does a nice job profiling him. He’s definitely somebody I’m going to be paying more attention to moving forward.

Why Hip-Hop and Gaming are Still Scratching the Surface – Per usual, Dan Runcie does a nice job teasing out opportunities for hip hop artists. In this piece he looks at gaming and how hip hop artists could find an additional revenue stream through partnerships with game development companies in order to put on concerts. He qualifies his analysis by saying that these platforms will need to effectively reach a broader demographic than they currently do in order for artists to maximize the opportunity. Unfortunately, the game development industry is quite monolithic—very white and male. Delane Parnell has built a nice platform on top of the gaming industry facilitating competition through PlayVS, but what black entrepreneurs out there are building new game development businesses?

Ghana’s economy resilient enough to fund healthcare infrastructure – Minister – Earlier this week, I shared my concern with how Ghana was paying for the 88 hotels it planned to start construction on this year. Sure enough, the country is betting on the Sinohydro deal in which China will construct infrastructure in the country in exchange for bauxite. I can’t say that I’m a fan.

Oil Slump, Coronavirus Create a Perfect Storm for Nigeria’s Economy – Back in 2014 or 2015, then Central Bank of Nigeria governor Sanido Lamido Sanusi caused a lot of commotion by claiming that Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation had $20B unaccounted for. He eventually lost his job. Around the same time, then finance minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted how Nigeria needed to meaningfully wean itself off of oil dependence and was ridiculed for her stance. It’s unfortunate to see the tough situation the country is in right now due to this mix of oil prices bottoming out because folks are not moving around. Hopefully, the country emerges from this with a focus on reinventing itself.

No. 168: Social Capital Hedosophia is Going to Change the VC Game, But Will It Really?

Several weeks ago, Chamath Palihapitiya did an interview with Kara Swisher on Recode/Decode that really got my attention. He was talking about how the venture capital industry was overdue for a shakeup to meet the needs of technology startups. He talked about using data science to identify investment opportunities and scale companies, similar to what he did while he was at Facebook to provide in depth services to these startups.

Further, rather than there being a ton of pressure for these companies to scale quickly, they would have an investor that would be with them for the long term from the beginning. This sounded really interesting, particularly when he posited that this new iteration of Social Capital was going to surface founders who would typically be overlooked because of the way in which they will be looking at data.

One question that comes to mind is how would overlooked founders get on his radar. What’s his plan to get data across a wide enough geography in order to capture these overlooked startups?

Admittedly, during Chamath’s conversation with Kara, I was unsure of what this new iteration of Social Capital would look like. Well, I got my answer a few weeks ago when Social Capital partnered up with Hedosophia to list on the New York Stock Exchange, forming Social Capital Hedosophia.

What is Social Capital Hedosophia? This is a publicly traded holding company that is designed to take unicorns public without them having to go through the traditional process of going public – roadshows, lockup period, etc.

Initially, I thought that this new model Chamath was talking about could be a game changer for startups run by black people. Perhaps, this new iteration of Social Capital could do like Chamath said and reduce the exclusion of underrepresented groups from taking the next step in building technology companies. But, I’m not sure that Hedosophia has the people it takes to address the pipeline issue.

Beyond using data science, Chamath cannot cut out the human component of how he builds out this new company. He’s got to build a team that has a global worldview that can see into the worldview of folks in Jamaica Queens, Kansas, Lagos, and Bogota. Layer the machine learning on top of that and you’re cooking with grease.

If Social Capital Hedosophia (I’m going to get carpal tunnel if they don’t come up with shorthand for this.) doesn’t do this important work, the company will do what the rest of Silicon Valley has done, just more elegantly. Removing bias doesn’t matter if you’re pulling from the same pool of folks.

No. 154: 3AMReads: Yaba Looks to Remain Lagos’ Startup Epicenter | $100M for Fiber Optic Company | Giant Nigerian Oil Trader Tells Origin Story

CcHub Pushes to Keep Yaba’s Startups Clustered Together
I struggled to parse out whether there’s really cause for concern for Yaba’s future as Lagos’ tech hub, or whether this piece was a veiled branding for CcHub. Perhaps, it was some of both. All the same, it’s cool to see CcHub making plans for the long-term in creating an environment for startups to thrive in a central location. 

I’m definitely on board with Bosun and other stakeholders trying to take advantage of economies of scale on pushing for broadband and better power supply. While Andela is a big fish in Lagos’ startup scene, I think their leaving the neighborhood is more something to pay attention to, while stakeholders continue thinking long term in creating the right environment to keep these type startups. Yaba isn’t fighting to maintain relevancy after two startups leave. 

Fiber-Optic Company Csquared Secures $100M Investment
Not that long ago, the big news for broadband across the continent were the undersea cables bringing broadband to Africa’s shores. The big question then was how to ensure the terrestrial reach of this newfound connectivity. 

A number of companies have been working on this, including global players like Google. Csquared, a spin-out of Google’s Project Link, landing this $100M is huge and I look forward to seeing more of this type deal activity. I’m sure iRoko CEO Jason Njoku would appreciate Csquared rolling out some fiber in Lagos to get his data costs down!

Commodities Trader Ighe Sanomi Tells Taleveras’ Origin Story
Oil traders in Nigeria make big bucks, and Ighe Sanomi is near the top of that list. This is an interesting piece that maps out Sanomi’s beginnings in the oil industry all the way to now where he is restructuring the companyafter a couple challenging years for his company.

For some time now, I’ve been thinking about how commodity dependent countries like Nigeria can diversify their economies while taking advantage of their core competencies. Oil is that for Nigeria and I think traders like Sanomi would do well to allocate some of their balance sheets to investing in R&D in various parts of the oil and gas value chain – new models for swaps contracts, oil exploration technologies, etc. 

I could just be naive since oil is definitely not my core competency, but I think there could be discoveries there that could lead to new revenue streams in the long term. 

No. 126: 3 Thursday AM Reads – Fashion Startups | Wizkid Hits New Levels | 3D Printing in Africa

  1. The retail industry is so different from just a few years ago. I remember buying a shirt from Everlane when all the startup made were t-shirts. The kicker that got me to spend my money was that I could get better quality for cheaper because there were no retailers like Macy’s selling the product and trying to get a cut. My pieces came directly from Everlane. This model has really caught on with fashion startups going from raising $22m in 2010 to nearly $236m in 2015.

  2. Aside from the awkward photo of Wizkid sitting on an imaginary toilet, here is a cool piece on the attention the Nigerian vibe-dispenser is attracting globally. This was quite the year for notable collaborations. Wizkid, Drake and Skepta took the cake with their remix to Ojuelegba. I’m vibing to it as I write, in fact.

  3. Here’s an interesting case for African countries taking a coordinated approach to investing in 3D manufacturing capacity development. I would be interested in seeing some data on the growth of 3D printing globally.

P.S. Sign up for the Dine Diaspora newsletter. Nina, Maame, and Nana have put together some quality dinners and I look forward to seeing the brand grow. Give them a call if you are looking to put together a corporate event!

No. 92: Thursday Lunch Views and Reads

1. Clint Smith shares his experience teaching a creative writing course at a prison and coming to terms with his socialized view of people who are incarcerated. (via Clint Smith)

2. I wish I was in Ghana to check out this cool looking art exhibition. (via Bessie Akuba Winn-Afeku)

3. Sometimes, these assurances that we have nothing to worry about when it comes to artificial intelligence feels like my back is being rubbed with the flat side of a freshly sharpened sword. (via Marc Andreessen)

4. Ryan Leslie has done the music business differently for a long time. I like the way he thinks minus the 20-hour days. (via Ryan Leslie)

5. The controversy surrounding Justin Gatlin being the fastest person in the world after serving two doping bans frustrates me. He paid his dues, yet people continue to demonize him. (via Track and Field News)

No. 80: Can Tech and Government Work Together?

What does it look like for tech startups and governments to work together well? Andreessen Horowitz posted a new podcast with Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser today to discuss this, alongside former DC mayor Adrian Fenty. Pretty good conversation.

Some of the topics covered in the conversation, included:

1. Catching up to the technology startup sector with the proper regulatory environment;
2. The progress DC government has made in incorporating technology in its service provision; and
3. Pain points that startups could be helpful in addressing – affordable housing and wellness are examples.

What was Mayor Bowser doing out on the West Coast talking to the Andreessen Horowitz folks when Steve Case is in town, you ask? Apparently, the US Conference of Mayors met in San Francisco a few weeks ago. Further, the DC connection to Andreessen Horowitz is not a particularly new one. Former DC mayor Adrian Fenty, who was also on the podcast, is a special advisor at the firm.

The intersection between governments and the startup community will only increase, particularly as Andreessen Horowitz’s theory that software is eating the world continues to prove true. It’s cool to see conversations like these taking place.

No. 60: 10 Reasons to Listen to Hugh & Crye’s The Protagonist Podcast

I binged on Pranav Vora’s podcast, The Protagonist, this weekPranav is founder of Hugh & Crye, a really cool startup men’s clothier that targets lean and athletic men. The podcast contains interviews with the founders of nine DC-based startups. I finished the last episode yesterday and here are some thoughts on why you should give the podcast a listen too:

1. You will get at least one new idea for your business. I got some ideas around business development, software-as-a-service, and team structure.

2. The entrepreneurs do a great job telling their stories – failures, successes, and visions for the future. There was little to no hype in the conversations, just a lot of authenticity. It’s always nice to hear the journeys other entrepreneurs have gone through.

3. Your belief in the power of entrepreneurship to strengthen this country will increase 10-fold. Donna Harris, founder of 1776, does a great job explaining this belief as being core to the creation of 1776, and her past work in this space. The other entrepreneurs serve as great examples of what is possible with hustle.

4. Feelings of nostalgia for the startup community in the city you previously lived in will die down. When I was in Atlanta, Atlanta Tech Village was still under construction, I had no idea who Paul Judge was, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was advocating for a bill to create a state-run venture capital fund which morphed into a fund of funds. Fast forward two years, and Atlanta Tech Village is hosting all sorts of cool startups, I consider Paul Judge a virtual mentor, and the Invest Georgia fund should be getting $10 million this quarter to begin investing in VC funds. This has had me thinking about making it back to Atlanta at some point – daydreaming. The podcast snapped me back to attention. There is a lot of great work to do here in DC.

5. Your feelings of encouragement because you are not a 21-year old whiz kid with no family to keep you from drinking Mountain Dew at all hours, will increase. Several of these founders are married, have children, and are older. I found it so helpful to hear their perspectives on family life and business.

6. You will feel a sudden break from the matrix of oversized dark suits and poorly-made rubber soled dress shoes that can be DC, if you let it (At least for the men. Women dress pretty well here.) The wave of optimism in the interviews is like sitting on your bed after standing at your desk for 12 hours (I’ve really got to get that couch built.)

7. You will feel a slight tectonic shift away from the gorilla that is Silicon Valley. I have been excited about the burgeoning startup community in Atlanta. Boston has an established ecosystem and New York has been making serious waves for the past decade as well. The DC startup community is nothing to sneeze at. Donna Harris does a great job outlining DCs unfair advantage over other communities.

8. You will get a better sense of the players in DCs startup ecosystem. I had heard of most of these companies, but finished each interview with a better understanding of why DC made sense for their business, and the value they provide to the startup community and to the border DC environment.

9. Pranav does a great job asking questions. His management consulting background definitely comes through here. For example, he consistently asks the founders to define certain terms they use, something that I found really helpful in understanding their world views.

10. Well, there are ten episodes, including an introduction to the podcast from Pranav. Why not listen to them all?

There’s 10 solid reasons to give The Protagonist a listen. You can find it on the iTunes Podcast app as well. Also, be sure to check out Hugh & Crye. Great clothes. I kind of wish I were a little smaller (not really) so I could fit more of their clothes.