– J. R. R. Tolkien
I remember the 1st time i stepped on her shores at the GW. bush international airport in Houston to connect to west coast and eventually to Stanford… from that day i understood the substance of America’s success is centered around a critical mass of people who are free to use their imagination and follow their dreams. These people have built a system that rewards richly when you serve people in creative ways. And now I had return again, this time via Atlanta, back to Silicon valley… And I was back with a pride of Lions… but first, the back story….
The US state department came together with a handful of forward thinking organization and formed the Lions Africa Initiative. DEMO Africa is one of the flagship initiatives of LIONS Africa and aims to connect African startups to the global ecosystem. DEMO Africa is the place where the most innovative companies from African countries get a platform to launch their products and announce to Africa and the world what they have developed. DEMO Africa turned 3 last year and event was held in Lagos Nigeria for the 1st time.
(read more on DEMO Africa 2014 here).
So last year, 5 teams including Nerve emerged on top from DEMO Africa 2014. In addition to the massive bragging rights of forever being crowned a DEMO Lion, our teams were sponsored on the grand Lions Africa Tour which was to cover extended immersions into all the elements that make Silicon Valley so epic. The Lions tour would also see our five teams have golden moments to talk about over ventures on stage at DEMO Fall event in San Jose . The Lion teams were Chura (from Kenya), Paysail (from Ghana), SpacePoint (from Nigeria) & off-course Nerve (from Nigeria). Jifunza the team from Rwanda couldn’t make it.
The Lions Tour really kicked off on the 17th of November 2014 in a private meeting room at the San Jose Marriott where we were logged. At this private session, the legendary DEMO Coach; Nathan Gold, was brought in by Neal Silverman to refine our elevator and extended pitches so as to have maximum impact on stage and at one-on-one interactions that would happen anywhere over the period of the tour. Nathan was brilliant & insightful. He taught the secret of a great pitch and how to get one’s “butterflies aligned in formation flight” while on the big stage. After this , the show was taken over by Stephen Ozigbo who runs the Africa Technology Foundation and he was to be our fairy god father for the rest of tour. Stephen made a comment at this time that has stayed with me; He said “You are Africa’s Ambassadors to Silicon Valley and so take off your default cultural-deference-humility and rise to the occasion”.
And so the Tour began;
Day 1 – 17th November 2014
– 1st stop : TechShop San Jose:
This was an intriguing fabrication facility in full swing with 3d printers & CNC machines buzzing. Having been involved with fablabs and product development earlier than now, what really astounded me was not the equipment but rather it was how well thought-out the business model used at the TechShop was. This made the shop profitable and sustainable.
– 2nd stop : Santa Clara University – Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) ;
The strong link between educational institutions and companies forms part of the secret sauce of silicon valley success… that is why a visit to Santa Clara University (SCU) was pivotal. SCU is reputed to produce some of the best engineering talent on the west coast. Another reason we went to SCU was to gain unique insight from the good people at the GSBI on how best to highlight & strengthen the social impact aspects of our ventures. The GSBI is the arm that manages a social impact fund for SCU. And so the 2nd pitch session of the day began, people from our 4 teams took the stage and got grilled/advised by the GSBI board on several areas of our ventures…all in all we came away stronger and better able to tap into impact funds 😉
– 3rd Stop-: Nest Global Silicon Valley (GSV) incubator:
Indeed there is really no innovation ecosystem without the incubators and accelerators. Nest GSV is an accelerator that assists start-ups by providing extensive business support in terms of working space, business introduction and other business services. NEST GSV sits in an impressive land mass that is part of a larger Stanford university complex. Other Nest’s innovation spaces are also scheduled to be setup around the world with a focus on emerging trends in the growth economy, such as big data, Ed tech, sustainability and mobility. Nest currently host start-ups with impressive traction including TellyLabs. . Nest Business Model is quite unique with offers deeper industry engagement than we currently have in the Lagos start-up hubs but I guess Lagos hubs will grow into this soon.
Checkout the really cool reverse chess board piece on the ceiling in one of the Nest’s meeting rooms… I found it inspiring in an ‘inception’ kind of way.
– 4th stop- start- stop- start ; San Francisco Traffic:
Living in Lagos makes me no stranger to a traffic jam, however the freeway traffic we got into en route to the San Francisco was special because it reinforced a valuable lesson which is that; some problems are continent agnostic and an apt solution will sell globally irrespective of where the solution originates. The Lions ride in traffic also provided a great time for our cross country teams to bond. We finally got into the beautiful San Francisco city.
– 5th Stop : Meltwater
225 Bush Street SF was the address, Meltwater was the name… this was the HQ of this company that was shaping the future of tech miles away in my home land of West Africa (via the MEST). I was intrigued by Meltwater, the ambiance of the office was alive with interesting paintings on the walls and interesting people having conversations inside. Paysail is a MEST fellow and thus we had been invited to this special mixer and pitch rehearsal session tonight.
The show got going immediately and once again I found myself pitching before the Meltwater panel assembled. I chose to test out another version of my pitch and got candid tough-love feedback. The rest of the evening was delightful with a relaxed cocktail networking session.
– 6th Stop: Dinner
Day 1 ended brilliantly at a Thai restaurant located on the San Francisco pier. We largely ordered rice which came is many different recipes. I tried out a pine-apple fruity rice dish which was fruity-weird in a memorable way. After dinner we drove back to San Jose playing Nigerian music on the radio all the way.
Day 2 – 18th November 2014
Day 2 was off to a grand start and we were back to San Francisco…
– 7th Stop : The Law office of Reed Smith
The quality of your legal advisory team can make or break your start-up! I came to learn that Silicon valley success stories usually have very good legal backing from the onset or get them on their growth curve. So the message to us visiting was this; to grow globally, we have to think better about our legal relationships… And that is why we were visiting Reed Smith.
Reed Smith is a full service law firm with extensive international experience as well as a dedicated African business team in operation since January 2013.
I’m usually weary about suits because sometimes it feels like lawyers profit off innovators that take the time to actually make stuff. However, an innovator could get screwed without good lawyers.. and so I usually tolerate suits. Still, every once in a while, you’ll find lawyers that see beyond the transaction and are in your corner working preemptively for your good… that is what Reed Smith felt like, and I like the way the coined it in their slogan which is “ The business of relationships” (don’t take his as a blank recommendation, do your own research).
And so we spent the day in Reed Smith’s SF office and saw presentations on how to get operations rolling in Silicon valley and how to leverage global opportunity (gosh, US tax laws are just unnecessarily complex). It was an enlightening session… checkout reedsmith.com
– 8th Stop: Mind The Bridge:
Mind the Bridge is another reputed start-up hub in San Francisco that houses famed companies like Donut-meets-Bagel & Grammerly. The Lions took a tour of the facility and I was impressed by the diversity in the teams accepted into the program (there was a team from Kenya… ha!). I would recommend a sort of exchange program between tech hubs in Africa with SF-based hubs, it will help!
– 9th Stop: OrangeFab Accelerator:
Till now, all we had only toured independent tech accelerators/hubs. Orange fab was the 1st corporate backed accelerator we were now going to meet with. Working through the door at Spear street of OrangeFab’s building, I instantly knew another thing I wanted to do with the massive billions in profit Nerve will be making soon. We would either start or partner with a corporate-backed accelerator. Corporate backed accelerators do social good by empowering start-ups to make a difference while at the same time providing a pipeline for continuous innovation for the company, it a win win! OrangeFab had helped launch several successful firms including FlameStower, Volo mobile etc.
The Lions pitched again to a panel of seasoned tech/biz people at orangeFab and we got the most grilling feedback given so far… all in all we gained valuable insight here also.
– 10th Stop : The Golden Gate bridge:
Now was a time to kick-back and go into tourist mode… our team was chauffeured to the San Francisco golden gate bridge where it was just pure fun.
Day 3: Demo Fall 2014 – Kick –off
Demo fall was finally here!
DEMO is the premier venue for launching new technology. The conference is a unique blend of general sessions, one-on-one demonstrations and networking, all in a relaxed atmosphere that promotes casual business interaction
– DEMO Day 1 – November 19th 2014
The event proper kicked off with a welcome session given by the legendary DEMO SVP Neal Silverman & DEMO executive producer Erick Schonfeld (recognize the name from tech crunch anyone?).
Next came the Product launches and boy did they rock! Here’s a high level rundown of launches made and talks given on DEMO day 1;
1st was Wearables & Hardware; Umbrela Smart Inc, Healium, LikeAGlove, Curb & Top Flight are the companies that took the stage. Amazing stuff!
2nd came Enterprise Product launches; I was particularly impressed by Steve Woznaiks new start-up Primary Data. Also revolutionary is Make Time Inc which is a time share solution for manufacturing.
Next was a an insightful talk by Benedict Evans on “ What Comes Next after Mobile?”… wearables, Internet of things, VR/AR are just some of the possibilities.
We then got an update from DEMO alumni, Scully helmets. They’ve got brilliant traction !
3rd came Mobile product launches which included novel apps such as “Valet Anywhere” and PathSense. PathSense has a genius navigation technology that allows mobile users use maps without the mad battery drain of GPS (I see a potential juicy Google acquisition exit on this one)
4th came Smart data product launches.. most stuff that helps business and individuals visualize data better.
Sometime after, the DEMO pavilion opened up and the DEMO party actually started us. Myself, Seyi and Chiggy manned the booth and had a great time sharing Nerve with the people that came by.
The other high point of the day was the Founder’s Keynote given by Peter Thiel on “How to build the future”. One of his striking comments was that “great companies are monopolies, bad companies are competing with other companies” – check it out :
The day ended with the Launch-A-Rama party sponsored by Primary Data that featured adrenaline filled thrills…it was fun!
– Day 4: Demo Fall 2014 – DEMO 2nd Day – November 20th 2014
This day started with a blast with more product launches;
1st was Bitcoin & personal finance products: I got a brain wave listening to this product launches… will share this in another post.
2nd was The work Cloud products; these includes SAAS & back-end infrastructure solutions. The firms launched were Opstarts, Venture360, Student Loan Benefits, AccuSure, Survmetrics.
3rd came Messaging product launches like Lifebox and MeshMe
4th was the Internet of Things product launches with GlanceAt, Kandid & Klink. It’s about how machines & devices get connected and let us know important information to help us manage them better.
The DEMO Pavilion was opened again and it was elevator pitch after elevator pitch for people that came our way and we’re now carrying on building those relationships started.
Seyi & I thereafter attended the DEMO Founder workshops on “How To Hack Growth” with Hiteh Shah (Co-founder of KISSMetrics & Crazy Egg). I have been following Hiteh Shah on twitter and hearing him in person was very very insightful.
After the workshop, I went to a hide-away and rehearsed my DEMO fall pitch . After a few rehearsal, I went and found-out Stephen Oziogbo and he helped me make last minute adjustments to the pitch that made it rock. Stephen pep talk felt like the legendary “This our destiny” pep talk given by Matt Damon from the Invictus movie .
The time finally came for the DEMO Global showcase. Our four winning teams from Africa and the winning team from Brazil took the stage… we were introduced by Neal Silverman & Thomas Debass and when my time came to take the podium it felt like time slowed down and I went into “the zone”, it was epic! I think I used less than the allotted time and then an applause broke out… all the rehearsals and demo pitches were well worth it.
Finally, DEMO God Award™ Winners was announced. Congratulations to the following companies that were honored with Fall DEMO God Awards during DEMO Fall 2014:
The Work Cloud: Student Loans , Wearables & Hardware: Curb Mobile: PathSense , Smart Data: Celect and Ghostery ,
Traction Showcase Winner: Templafy
Here’s the video on all the Winners at DEMO… (Note: Africa starts to full feature at 14mins 15 secs)
After this there was celebrations, pictures, drinks, music and very delightful well earned sleep! A dream come true!
However, this is not the end… this is not even the beginning of the end… it is at best, the end of the beginning.
The next day there was a trip to Napa Valley for the SFC-IFC emerging markets forum and after that we headed to DC for the Diaspora DEMO day., this is where the actual funding conversions were meant to take place .. but that is another post.
Let me know your comments below.. live your dream!
Thank you DEMO
Thank you LIONS@FRICA !!!