Joining the JAMLAB accelerator is helping me confront a problematic aversion to failure I’ve acquired over the years. Most African millennials will likely tell you (if they’re honest) that they too possess a deeply ingrained resistance to normalising the notion of throwing oneself wholeheartedly into exploratory ventures with the aim of “failing often” and “failing fast”. That thinking just doesn’t sit well with the traditional business ‘wisdom’ promoted by African society.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, I can sum up what I was taught to value in three simple statements:
1. Avoid experiments (because experiments are only for people who don’t know what they are doing).
2. Avoid risks (because staying safe never killed anyone).
3. Fake it till you make it(because no one likes a losers).
In the couple of weeks that the team and I have so far spent at JAMLAB, I’ve learnt to view experimentation as a necessary and instructive feature of creating things of value. I’m also learning to embrace risk because, as it happens, nothing worth doing is risk-free. And, I’m learning that failure doesn’t make me a loser, but rather a wiser, more confident entrepreneur.
In other news, as the team and I spend the next six months at JAMLAB, we aim to apply lean startup principles to building a sustainable business case for the African Tech Round-up platform. Since launching just over two years ago, we’ve prioritised the consistent production of insight-filled media content (mostly podcasts, social video and events) over making a case for commercial viability, or even investibility. That’s something we’ve only recently started permitting ourselves to contemplate.
Africa’s tech and innovation scene is arguably the sector most crucial to delivering a brighter future for the continent’s citizens, and yet most of the media content chronicling the emerging industry is riddled with PR-soaked click-bait and oversimplified tech hype. The lack of context and insight is a disservice to everyone — from members of Africa’s early-stage startup and angel investment communities to overseas venture capital (VC) and institutional investment interests. Our platform exists to address that void.
While we believe that our platform is unique and necessary and that our team’s ability to deliver truly useful, insight-driven content has been proven, we know better than to assume that our brand of media magic is sufficiently differentiated from the dozens of options out there. It’s also easy to naively assume that our brand makes for a defensible business proposition. That’s why we’re committed to researching some of the assumptions that have so far informed our somewhat unconventional approach to publishing African tech and innovation insights, commentary and news highlights for worldwide consumption.
The plan is to fortify our bouquet of offerings by testing new content concepts on our audience, improve community engagement through the clever use of social media tools, and to trial a few monetisation ideas that might ensure the long-term financial sustainability of our platform. It’s worth saying that we’re not necessarily trying to re-invent the wheel, here. Ultimately, we want to serve our community better and lay the ground-work for the African Tech Round-up media brand to become the global go-to for the realest news, commentary and insights pertaining to the continent’s tech and innovation scene. Possible? Yes, we think so.
Sometimes, I’m daunted by the knowledge that my team and I are undoubtedly some of the more privileged Africans in the world right now and I feel pressured to convert that advantage into something truly meaningful. After all, it’s exciting to be part of a new breed of non-journalists who espouse journalistic values — independence, the need for critical thinking and fairness, representation and inclusivity — and be part of helping to challenge traditional ideas of what constitutes the public sphere and who has a right to project into it.
As African new media broadcasters operating at the intersection of journalism and entrepreneurship, we fully embrace the responsibility to help formalise the values and norms that should inform our practice given the accelerating trend towards the proliferation of fake news and the deployment of so-called weaponised information.
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