Are the disruptors old wine in new skin?
This week, we got a look under the hood of Nigeria's tech sector
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The disruptors are falling to old patterns
This has been quite the week for tech. In a year where most of the high points have been the large amounts of money raised by startups and most of the coverage has bordered on hagiography, it was easy to forget there were really ugly parts under the hood. I think about it as a high-end restaurant; in the front and on full display are all the things for which they earn their Michelin stars, the ambience and the proper people who make it all tick. In the back, it’s pure chaos and the cost of running these places are people; their minds and bodies.
To be fair, there have been signs of the cracks beneath the surface all year, with employers and founders throwing jabs about money, how much constitutes fair pay and the ethics of remote workers holding more than one full-time role. Yet, these conversations really were about how people were being treated. Here’s an excerpt from a newsletter I wrote in August about tech workers holding multiple jobs:
“The common theme that emerged as I spoke to more developers was the feeling that they were underpaid relative to their skill level, and taking multiple jobs is the only way to get the money to add up.”
Most of the employees within these companies who spoke to me insisted that they were taking multiple jobs not because they wanted to, but because they were poorly paid. Almost on cue, months later, founders had conversations on wage inflation in the sector, throwing jabs at employees who they felt were demanding way above their talent level. One question that was right on the mark through those conversations was: if companies are raising big sums of money at eye-popping valuations, why should talent not feel entitled to earning more?
Still, salaries were only a small part of the argument. Per TechCabal, one bank that had been driving developers pretty hard had to deal with mass exits. As far as I know, some of these exits happened in other major Nigerian banks, forcing small but important changes in work culture. It is now possible to work remotely in some roles for Nigerian banks and in some departments, these banks are relaxing things like strict dress codes. These concessions may not seem like they matter, but they’re a way of showing that even big banks are learning- albeit very slowly from their mistakes. It is unrealistic to expect any big changes soon; the clock is simply not broken enough for them to attempt a fix.
In the startup ecosystem, the news of the poor treatment of workers by TekExperts in July 2021 was a big story, but some may argue that it wasn’t big enough, perhaps because TekExperts isn’t a local startup. It didn’t spark the kind of conversations that could markedly change the culture, or maybe I’m only measuring the perceived outrage it received. The expose on Bento, the HR startup, which was sordid in its details and sent chills through the coldest of hearts, was outrageous. It is sad that we needed something of that nature and the health and personal experiences of people as collateral damage to be this outraged. It made for some relief that the founder at the heart of the story announced that he’s taking some time off while an independent investigator makes their findings.
If there were any hopes that this would trigger a sober moment for tech and its insiders, it quickly became evident that it would not happen. Founders were largely silent and any hopes of loud and united condemnation of Ebun’s actions were quickly dashed. Iyin Aboyeji, who often accuses people of bias, made a few comments that were as ill-timed as they were confusing. Why couldn’t someone that powerful start with a message that was clear in its displeasure with Ebun’s actions? And why didn’t his peers also say as much, given that on Twitter, no one misses any good moment to virtue signal?
Many anonymous accusations and subliminal tweets followed, but those are hardly the stuff with which we can crucify people. But it’s hard to wave off detailed events by some ex-employees of some startups. Many of those would never make it to the media, but it feels like a moment startups shouldn’t miss.
Disruption as far as Nigeria is concerned should not just be about one-upping incumbents with new products or features. It’s not bragging about record-breaking seed rounds or beating the drums to say that startups can now poach employees from legacy players more easily than before. There should be disruption in how we treat the people who work for us, and passion or the fact that you’re building something that will change the world- by your own estimation- is not a reason to become a bully. The true strength of your vision, if you can’t go at it alone, is being able to get the buy-in of your team to bring it to fruition.
For today, startups can take solace from the fact that “na who them catch” be thief, but it is worth thinking about getting their house in order before they’re next on the whipping block.
That said, let’s move on….
Let’s go up in arms against Multichoice
In Nigeria, food prices can increase by 200% and people barely bat an eyelid. Unemployment, underemployment, headline inflation… all of these metrics, which have worsened in the last few years, have not driven Nigerians to the wall. Where we well and truly draw the line is our DStv and GOtv subscriptions.
In a time where inflation is forcing businesses to adjust prices and the price of diesel is skyrocketing, Multichoice, the South African brand that owns DStv and GOtv isn’t allowed to adjust prices upward. This week, Nigeria once again started the familiar dance that kicks off when a price hike in cable TV happens.
For the uninitiated, the price of DStv has at one time been a legislative issue, with Nigeria’s National Assembly condemning their “monopoly.” This idea that Multichoice is a monopoly drives many of these arguments and too many people are convinced that a Nigerian company should rise up and bring a change.
The problem is, we’ve kind of tried that before with HItv, and more recently, TStv. TStv had lots of people in a frenzy and then, it faded from the public view. I hear that TStv is back in operation again, but many Nigerians often miss the important conversation in cable TV pricing.
Content is expensive! Every year, the rights to some of the biggest and most important sporting events must be paid for, movies must be licenced and agreements with content producers must be signed. Many of these things cost a ton and the prices are rightly passed on to the end-users, and in a country like Nigeria where devaluation has shaved off the Naira’s purchasing power, Multichoice is between a rock and a hard place.
Yet, none of this is a way forward. The bottom line is that Nigerians need to start thinking of DStv and GOtv as just one more service. If the entertainment on offer isn’t deemed valuable, then it’s worth subscribing to Startimes. Other alternatives include Netflix, which has also recently increased its prices in the U.S and will require a data plan. But one thing is clear, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission must expend its energy on other things and cease its tiring charade every time DStv increases its prices in response to economic factors.
And for you, say to your neighbour: DStv is not a monopoly, and if you think you can get better value for money, please vote with your wallet.
What I’ve been reading
Another Nigerian Paradox: High Oil Prices, Low Government Revenue
Rolling Stone’s Burna Boy feature is worth a read this weekend
IOCs fear collapse as FG says N1.36tn crude stolen in 14 months
Nigerian startups with abusive work cultures have been put on notice
Edited by: Alexander Onukwue