image: money.cnn.com

There are many things that run contrary to our usual logic when it comes to surviving and thriving as a businessman or business woman in Nigeria. In today's post I will share the ones I can remember now. Maybe they are universal and apply outside Nigeria, I don't know for sure but I do know that if you want to successfully run a business here in Nigeria and you have worked as an employee before, you will greatly benefit from these tips.

  1. Remember the advice people give about being nice to everyone -- including the gateman, receptionists, secretary etc -- as you don't know who will tip the scales in your favour. It is good advice. There is no benefit in making enemies unnecessarily, even of a gateman you don't see how he will hinder your business. The tip here, though, is many people take it to another extreme unknowingly. They spend too much time discussing with people who can't make the business decision they seek. You should be nice and brief to the non-decision makers. You don't get monthly salary, sales people with guaranteed monthly income can afford to gist with all the people in the client company. Not you. Yes, they can put in word for you that will lead to you getting the project but sadly on average that is the exception and not the norm. Reach out more to decision makers, even if you have to use online tools (LinkedIn, email, Facebook etc).

  2. If you want a discount at the hotel don't waste your time troubling the receptionist, she's not authorised to give you any significant discount or any discount at all. Ask to see the general manager or a marketer. I don't pay the published rate at hotels and sometimes I pay close to half of that rate. And that's how I get those crazy discounts -- talking to the manager or marketer. Tell them you want a special rate for your company so you and your team will be using the hotel or you'll go to a rival hotel. 

  3. Always factor in meetings when dealing with big companies. Sometimes, you'll find that you'll make more money and face less worries from small companies that big companies. In the small company, they treat you more respectfully, you deal with just one or two decision makers and they won't be calling for frequent meetings and are more open to phone/skype calls. But with big companies, you'll be dealing with procurement dept, HR dept, finance dept and the department(s) that needs your solution/service. Each of them wants to do stupid meetings, except the finance that you won't be able to easily get hold of when your payment is delayed. You'll do vendor registration with procurement and depending on the type of company, that can take from a day to a month. And there will be meetings on what the project is about and how it would be done and expectations and timelines and updates. Things that could be done over email and they eventually send via email, after wasting your time in meetings. And if you are a lean company like mine, that is unproductive use of scare human resources. So better to charge way higher than you would charge a small company. And if a small company asks for meeting, ignore the request by saying you are too busy and will do phone call and email. Or they should come to your office.

  4. Better to have structured offerings than bending yourself to every customers' wish. Do you know why craftsmen and artisans seldom get rich nor have a thriving business? The tailor measures every client he wants to do a shirt for and does customized sewing for each one. TM Lewin sows the same sets of shirts in thousands and in set sizes. If you keep tailoring your service to each client's request you will end up like the Nigerian tailor. When the client has big money he will go and buy H&C, Pink, TM Lewin and Charles Tyrwhitt. And when he's price conscious, he comes back to you. People will price you when you operate like the market woman who is available for negotiation but will buy at whatever price you say when you operate like Shoprite with no personal attention for anyone nor room for negotiation.

  5. Forget the whole branding hype. Good branding is definitely better than poor branding, but in the long list of what you need to get right in business (as the business owner and not some hired salesperson), branding is not among the top five. People know when they are getting value for their money and when they are not. I won't buy the most colorful and heavily branded phone. If you provide genuinely superior quality and are reasonably priced, you'll win even if your branding is very poor. So never let anyone tell you that branding is the reason PwC is getting the job and you are not.

  6. When it comes to spending to make more money, not all spending are equal. There are two categories of expenses -- capital expenditure and operating expenditure. When a company wants to grow and make more revenue, it is the capital expenditure than increases significantly. Unfortunately, small business owners don't know this. They start buying more expensive suits, renting more expensive offices and beautifying their cars; expenses that don't translate to revenue. Plus attending conferences everywhere -- Naija and abroad. I shake my head for them.
And those are the ones I can share for now. Need to hurry up for a training class that starts in less than 30 mins and I've not yet taken my bath.

The natural growth path of businesses is very similar to that of humans.

image: goldmansachs.com
In the beginning, there is lots of hope and potential. Everyone close to the child see greatness ahead for the child. Then gradually some of those hopes fade away as the reality of parental resources and environment sets in. The nursery school and primary school activities make the child look very far away from any of the great deeds predicted for it.

Then at secondary school, some of the hopes get rekindled. At university, all those potentials start looking real again. And after university, the child is now someone again with all those initial hope and potential. Finally, the child achieves some level of greatness like predicted for it in the beginning.

What is the difference between the child who grew up to be one of the greatest men of his day and the one who grew up to be just average? They both started up with equal potentials and hopes. The difference lies in the path each followed after birth, and not the size of the baby at birth.

And so it is with companies/businesses. How far you will go has very little to do with how you started but what you did since you started.

The world is full of great companies that started as a child's hobby -- Microsoft, Apple etc. We love to take inspiration from the humble beginning. Even the mighty Shell Oil Company started as a sea shell trading company (I think I am right, no time to cross-check). All the difference between them and every other company that started the same time they started but are no more or unknown (insignificant) is in all each company did after starting.

One company acted more like the child who paid attention in school, who had extra after school classes, who was sent to good schools, whose mind was well developed and who attempted great things. The other company just kept existing.

As a business owner, the bulk of your work starts after you set up the company. If you don't just want to exist or fade away, then you have to work hard (harder than you did setting up the company) on growing the company. On stretching the company's competence, competitive advantage, capacity, learning and on attempting big things (taking bold bets). Because that is how businesses grow.
image: spd.com.tr

For just some couple of $$ I have been able to automate sending tweets, twitter direct message, who to follow and who to unfollow. Also on LinkedIn, for just $10/month, I have automated sending messages to my connections, adding new connections that meet some pre-set parameters and visiting the profiles of big men/women hoping they'll notice my own profile. 

As much as I can, I try to automate things. 

For my business, I have a heavily automated digital marketing system put in place. People think I send out all the emails they get, they don't know that I have created those emails as far back as 2015 and programmed them to send automatically based on some set triggers. I have google adverts constantly running to automate refilling our client pipeline. 

Every month, I spend between N50,000 and N200,000 on digital automation (automated digital marketing and e-process automation). It is a lot but I get value for the money too. Rather than employ a personal assistant and a digital marketing staff, I achieve even much more with less and can adjust as I desire without looking mean (firing anybody). 

Finally, being accustomed to paying to automate my online based activities is helping me get comfortable with paying other people to do some of our offline business activities. So I no longer think with the mindset of I can do this easily and better why pay someone else. I now think in terms of will I be getting value for the money even if I could do better myself (but as I can't do everything).

image: sociallyawareblog.com

I have been reading a lot, lately, on Blockchain. It is the technology that powers Bitcoin and all the cryptocurrencies. My sudden deep interest in it is both due to the hype around it and the fact that I am writing about it in my MBA assignment (5000 words paper).

So far, I am amazed by what I have read about the technology and the potential it holds. It is truly revolutionary and will change the way we do a lot of things -- not just how we spend money (cryptocurrency). 

It is very difficult to write about it without bothering a non-technical non-finance person to tears. If you want to risk being bored, then you should head over to Wikipedia to read up on what the blockchain technology is.

Earlier this year, the European Parliamentary Research Service did an extensive easy to read and understand report on how blockchain technology could change our lives. I'll advise you to read it. It is very eye-opening. It explained how cryptocurrencies are just a fractional part of what the technology powers. And that even though it is the early stages and things are going to change a lot going into the future -- we might see the cryptocurrencies of today completely replaced by one more regulated and more robust just like how the early internet companies mostly died and the ones currently reaping all the gain of internet were mostly non-existent in those early days of the internet. And that the same technology is currently being used to power public service records, supply chain management and digital non-financial transactions.

Below is an excerpt from the report. Enjoy.

How does blockchain technology work ?

Before attempting to understand how blockchain ledgers work, it is worth taking a look at traditional ledgers. For centuries, banks have used ledgers to maintain databases of account transactions, and governments have used them to keep records of land ownership. There is a central authority – the bank or government office – which manages changes to the record of transactions, so they can identify who owns what, at any given time. This allows them to check whether new transactions are legitimate, that the same €5 is not spent twice and houses are not sold by people who don't own them. Since users trust the manager of the ledger to check the transactions properly, people can buy and sell from each other even if they have never met before and do not trust each other. The middleman also controls access to information on the ledger. They might decide that anyone can find out who owns a building, but only account holders can check their balance. These ledgers are centralised (there is a middleman, trusted by all users, who has total control over the system and mediates every transaction) and black-boxed (the functioning of the ledger and its data are not fully visible to its users). Digitisation has made these ledgers faster and easier to use, but they remain centralised and black-boxed.

Blockchain offers the same record-keeping functionality but without a centralised architecture. The question is how it can be certain that a transaction is legitimate when there is no central authority to check it. Blockchains solve this problem by decentralising the ledger, so that each user holds a copy of it. Anyone can request that any transaction be added to the blockchain, but transactions are only accepted if all the users agree that it is legitimate, e.g. that the request comes from the authorised person, that the house seller has not already sold the house, and the buyer has not already spent the money. This checking is done reliably and automatically on behalf of each user, creating a very fast and secure ledger system that is remarkably tamper-proof.

Each new transaction to be recorded is bundled together with other new transactions into a 'block', which is added as the latest link on a long 'chain' of historic transactions. This chain forms the blockchain ledger that is held by all users. This work is called 'mining'. Anybody can become a miner and compete to be the first to solve the complex mathematical problem of creating a valid encrypted block of transactions to add to the blockchain. There are various means of incentivising people to do this work. Most often, the first miner to create a valid block and add it to the chain is rewarded with the sum of fees for its transactions. Fees are currently around €0.10 per transaction, but blocks are added regularly and contain thousands of transactions. Miners may also receive new currency that is created and put into circulation as an inflation mechanism.

Adding a new block to the chain means updating the ledger that is held by all users. Users only accept a new block when it has been verified that all of its transactions are valid. If a discrepancy is found, the block is rejected. Otherwise, the block is added and will remain there as a permanent public record. No user can remove it. While destroying or corrupting a traditional ledger requires an attack on the middleman, doing so with a blockchain requires an attack on every copy of the ledger simultaneously. There can be no 'fake ledger' because all users have their own genuine version to check against. Trust and control in blockchain-based transactions is not centralised and black-boxed, but decentralised and transparent. These blockchains are described as 'permissionless', because there is no special authority that can deny permission to participate in the checking and adding of transactions. They can also be described as embodying social and political values such as transparency and the redistribution of power.

It is also possible to set up 'permissioned' blockchains, where a limited group of actors retain the power to access, check and add transactions to the ledger. This enables 'mainstream' actors such as banks and governments to maintain substantial control over their blockchains. Permissioned blockchains are less transparent and decentralised than their permissionless counterparts and, as such, they embody somewhat different social and political values...

Read the full report at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/IDAN/2017/581948/EPRS_IDA(2017)581948_EN.pdf 

Culled from: https://www.d-prize.org/
Apply at: https://www.d-prize.org/submit

Who Should Apply?


You should have enormous ambition, and can imagine yourself as a successful entrepreneur. You are ready to launch your new venture, and - if a pilot proves successful – you are excited to grow it into a world changing organization.

If you are still a student or have existing commitments, you should have a clear idea how to transition into a full-time founder.

D-Prize is exclusively interested in ventures that will scale distribution of an already proven poverty intervention in the developing world. We do not fund prototypes of promising new interventions.





Eligibility


D-Prize challenges are open to anyone or any teams. The sole restriction is that individuals and their immediate family on the judging panel may not participate as a contestant.

D-Prize is also open to any business model (for profit, non-profit, and everything in between). All winners will be awarded up to $20,000. The award is offered in the form of a convertible grant.

Up to 25 of the most promising proposals will be selected for funding awards, regardless of which challenge track was selected.





Submission Policies


      Proposals must be submitted following the instructions in this packet.

      Extra material outside of the proposal will not be considered.

      Revisions to proposals after submission will also not be considered.

      Only one proposal per person or partnership will be considered.

      Proposals must be written in English.







Round 1


First Round proposals will be accepted on a rolling basis, using the following deadlines. We strive to send decisions out within three weeks. Judges may request additional information via email before making a decision.

      Early decision deadline: November 19, 2017 at midnight PT (Pacific Time). Early decision proposals are more likely to advance to the next round, and will have additional time on for the full proposal.

      Regular deadline: December 10, 2017 at midnight PT.

      Extension deadline: December 31, 2017 at midnight PT. Extensions are limited to the first 200 people who register at: www.d-prize.org/extension


Round 2


Top entrepreneurs invited to participate in Round 2 will be asked to draft and submit a full plan of their venture, roughly 10 pages in length plus any desired appendices. The plan will include more details on operations, a budget, milestones, and other items. Participants will receive a Round 2 Proposal Packet with full instructions.

Those invited to the Second Round will have about four weeks to submit a plan.





Final Round


Entrepreneurs invited to the Final Round will interview with judges over email and on the phone. Depending on the promise and cost-effectiveness of a proposal, judges may award up to $20,000 in funding. The average D-Prize award size is $12,000.





Piloting Winning Ventures


Besides direct funding, D-Prize can assist in helping your venture attract future funding if the pilot proves successful. We will also provide you access to the D-Prize network of past winners, and will do our best to support you in other ways.







Judging Process


All proposals will receive an initial read from at least two judges, and if advanced will receive up to two additional independent readings.

We strive to send decisions within three weeks of your submission. Judges may request additional information via email before deciding.





Judging Criteria


The D-Prize judging panel is composed of individuals with professional experience distributing life-changing technologies in the developing world.

Contestants are evaluated based on:

      Passion and potential for candidate’s success, as evident by their academic and professional background, relevant skills, and quick leadership trajectory.

      Focus on distribution. Proposals must focus on distributing a proven poverty solution that needs greater access in the developing world.

      Potential for scale, based on the organizational model proposed in the concept note and the entrepreneur’s desire to commit and grow.





Proposal Tips


      Be succinct. Successful proposals are objective and to the point. Orient your proposal towards an educated judge who is relatively knowledgeable with the key issues.

      Scale, impact, cost-effectiveness. Successful entrepreneurs will build a plausible case that their intervention is highly scalable, cost-effective, and will lead to enormous impact.

      Keep within scope. The most successful startups have a narrow focus and avoid spending resources on too many areas. A tightly scoped idea will perform best in this competition.





Concept Note


Please prepare a concept note which responds to the following prompts. Concept notes are limited to three pages.

      Introduction: please begin your concept note with a short 1-3 sentence summarizing your idea.

      Problem: what are the most critical issues preventing better distribution of your selected intervention in your pilot region? Be specific.

      Concept: what is your solution? How will your new pilot venture implement your solution?
We want to understand what you will do, and how you will do it in detail.

      Goals: during your pilot, how many poverty interventions will you distribute during your pilot, at 6 months, and at 1 year? How many people will you help during your pilot, at 6 months, and at 1 year? (This can be a simple table).

      Future Growth: explain your vision for scale. How do your operations grow through your first year? What additional staff will you require, and how have you funded your growing operations?

      Team: list all the people on your team, their responsibilities, their location during the pilot, and the average hours per week they will commit to this venture. If not local to your operating region, please note any developing country experience.



Resumes / CVs


Please include a resume for each person on your team, limited to one page per person. Resumes should highlight the most relevant past leadership roles and accomplishments.



Additional Information


Custom Challenge: are you submitting to a Custom Challenge category? If so:

      When submitting, we will ask you to provide a URL link us to one website with credible evidence that supports your intervention.
      We also recommend you include 1 additional page elaborating on your intervention, and citing evidence that it is proven and in need of greater distribution.

Existing organizations: has your organization already launched? If so, we will ask you to include a summary of your activities since launching, and your current budget / income statement in the submission webform.





Proposal Instructions


      Prepare your concept note and resume, and clearly name your files. Files must be PDF and are limited to a size of 4MB each.

      Input your contact details and upload your documents to www.d-prize.org/submit


Questions?



Email the D-Prize team at help@d-prize.org.