Image: Tinashe Nyahasha of Techzim with Oswald Jumira of Liquid Telecom
When I was in Kigali last week I got to spend a lot of time with a diverse group of people from Liquid Telecom from across the continent. I spoke to Ben, the Group CTO, Oswald the Head of Innovation and Partnership, Hans the CEO for East Africa, Stanely the CTO for Rwanda and the new CEO for Kenya, Adil Youssefi.
My interaction with these guys afforded me a glimpse into Liquid and to get to see their game plan. I like what I saw and I am bullish about where they will take the market and where the market will take them. To be honest, I had always viewed Liquid as just another telco now that view has changed.
That is not a bad way to view anyone though, lots of businesses envy telcos. It is not an endearing view as well because telcos are generally very arrogant and they don’t see their imminent disruption. It is telco arrogance that makes them position themselves as competition to startups when they need startups more than any other business needs them. Yes, there are some telcos that have embraced startups and most have succeeded in escaping their own gravity as a result. Most telecommunication companies though, remain blindingly arrogant.
In Kigali I realised that Liquid Telecom get it, they understand the long game. The beauty of the long game in the age of the internet is that long actually means a few years from now. Liquid will reap from what they are doing right now sooner than I can say competition.
What is it they are doing?
They are empowering their next big customers. Liquid has created a culture within itself that feels like a startup and therefore they can identify with and understand startups in a huge way.
For Zimbabweans I have to clarify, startup is not equal to museyamwa type business. I will get to write a series of articles that really define what a startup is. Right now all I will say is that a startup is not a small business and not every small business deserves to be called a startup. Startups are scalable businesses that’s why you find most of them being internet businesses because nothing enables scale like the internet does. Examples of startups to give you perspectives are Uber and AirBnB.
Startups don’t start from scale though. What Liquid Telecom is doing is that it is looking for startups before they scale and forming relationships with them and supporting them. Guess whose services the startups will be utilising now and when they then get to scale?
They are being the Amazon of Africa
My favourite global business is Amazon because no other business understands growth, frugality and the long game like Amazon does. When Amazon changed the way infrastructure and software are deployed and distributed, ushering the world into cloud computing through Amazon Web Services, they used the game plan that Liquid Telecom is using in Africa right now.
When startups like Facebook and Netflix (yes they are startups) launched they didn’t have too much money for servers and stuff. Amazon had the right kind of product orientation for that type of business. They could afford to be Amazon’s customers from where they were and as they expanded the service would expand with them. The startups had a huge supplier (a fellow startup really) who had enough capacity to keep adding to their needs.
On the flip side, just by realising the potential of scalability on the internet, Amazon managed to acquire giants of customers like Facebook and Netflix when they were complete babies that the big boys like Oracle and Microsoft cared nothing for.
Liquid Telecom particularly through Oswald Jumira are connecting with pre-scale startups and hubs that house them and offering them support. This may seem so benevolent but it is some real crazy selfish genius there. The startups will feel loyal to Liquid besides the natural inertia to change service providers as they scale. As the Facebook and Netflix equivalents of Africa emerge they will most likely be using Liquid solutions.
Techzim has advised a number of large businesses locally to do this but they just don’t get it, they are telcos… The next big customers on the continent just cannot afford to be customers of the telcos so they will go to Liquid who are bending their backs backwards not to be a supplier but to be a support even with things like mentorship.
My gratitude to Liquid Telecom
So after the Africa Tech Summit Kigali ended on Thursday, I decided to stay in Kigali for a full day on Friday so I could visit the tech ecosystem and startups in that city. I mentioned this to Liquid Rwanda CTO, Stanley Magede who was my lunch buddy that Thursday. He immediately offered to show me around the places I wanted to go.
He got to have meetings on the Friday but he didn’t let me alone with my problems. He sent a driver to my hotel to pick me and to take me around. That was super helpful and helped me cover much more ground than I would have, let alone the saving on taxi rides.
Later on, I met up with Stanley and Oswald after work to visit a few tech hubs, meet some players in the African tech ecosystem. Like a good mannered kid I am I have to thank Stanley Magede from the bottom of my heart and I hope his boss sees this. He’s a good guy.