OK, so 2 years after the fact, this guy David Marete, is dusting off an old story, which he should have completed way back then, published and simply moved on. This sounds very much like a has-ran looking back at their only claim to fame with a wistful look in their eye. IKR? So why are we revisiting this story?
Look, I made a promise to Harry Hare, the CEO of DEMO Africa, that I would (finally!) finish my second blog post on the DEMO Africa experience. Why is this important to him, or to you for that matter? Because DA have put out a call for applications and we want you to send in yours. ‘We’ in this case includes Harry Hare, myself and the DEMO Africa alumni community/fraternity. We will cover that fraternity section shortly.
So let’s get this out of the way. The entire message of this post is, APPLY FOR DEMO AFRICA!! If you are running a startup in Africa, are involved in one, or are considering where to launch a product or service APPLY!! Special bonus points to you if you know you are onto something special, the product is smoking hot, the market is ripening by the day and you are ready to totally kill it. APPLY!!! Crypto guys need not apply though. Just joking. So the point is…
So, What’s In It For You?
Why should you as a startup spend 2+ hours filling in some forms for something that feels like a lottery ticket, when you could be pushing code, capturing market share and making bank? Runways end right? Hockey sticks don’t just happen. Let’s get into the meat of it…
WIIFY 1: The Selection Process
We covered this a bit in the first post. If you’ve been on the startup scene for any duration of time, you have come across startup ‘competitions’ and ‘challenges’ with vague and opaque selection processes. The ones where the winners fly in from off-continent specifically for the competition. The ones where the winners announce their win an hour before the judges do. Oh and the judges and winners are pals/dating kinda? Or the ones where you need to pay some weird registration fee just to compete? DEMO Africa is not like that. Ok? Underscore, italics not like that. I did a bit of digging on the selection process. Sources close to the matter say that there are panels who look at 2 sets of 10 startups each. So each startup is assessed in two separate panels. The overall score for each startup is averaged across the panels in which they were assessed. In summary this selection process is rigorous, transparent and competitive. It is partly what makes DEMO Africa (DA) what it is. The outcome of this process is a rather talented set of entrepreneurs and startups ready to take on the world. If you are running a serious startup, you want that kind of pedigree. It doesn’t hurt.
WIIFY 2: The Experience Itself
I have done gigs. But none of them matched up to DA. This isn’t exaggeration. Let’s start with locations. Business is location, location, location, right? DA always chooses smoking hot locations for demo day. They don’t pull punches on this one. During our year it was Sandton City. Sandton City is an alternate reality my friend, a glitch in the matrix. I could gush about it but we don’t have the time.
DEMO Africa can be a surreal experience for the startuppers who are demoing. You thought you beat 95% of startups in Africa to come and fluff around? Or you thought people flew from all over the world to watch you pitch so that you could disappoint? My ninja… think again.
You land on day one. On day two you go in for bootcamp training so intense your head wants to boil. (Head boiling doesn’t happen often for me.) The training itself is 100% relevant and 99.99% accurate. On day 3 you submit and test your presentations. These are the final copies guys. You don’t submit decks five minutes before you mike-up. Beginning day four you are unleashed on an unsuspecting world.
There was a lady there called Nichola Hodgson. She and her team were amazing. They scripted and scheduled us through the rough cuts and the actual thing like clockwork. The variables they managed included, how many presenters are on the team? Are you running a Mac, Linux or Windows demo? Will you be streaming a mobile device? What’s your cable interface like, is it HDMI or VGA? Does the actual demo have sound or it’s all from your mike? If yes, at what point in your demo? Then watching all these variables come together on audio-visual for 15 presentations in a day, was just something else.
On the material day, Toby Shapshak was our mcee. I was so stressed backstage he came and told me to relax. At this point I could have passed out. A couple of months back me and my boys were watching Toby on CNBC Africa and now we are backstage of the same event? But passing out was not what we went to do!!
The actual demo is about 6 minutes of you pitching and then 4 minutes Q&A with a preselected panel. Know your stuff coz the panellists are razor sharp. My panel had Agatha Gikunda – Intel Corp, Llew Classen – Newtown Partners and Collins Onuegbu – Signal Alliance.
The opening and closing graphics for DA 2016 were also quite inspiring to say the least. To be honest I came away from both feeling half-jedi/half-wakanda if you get what I mean.
WIIFY 3: The People
The rolodex you acquire from DA is also something else. Let me rattle off a list of VC’s that I kinda know now. To quote Eminem, “So here’s my list and the order it’s in”
- Tommi D – Arguably the biggest name in angel investing in Africa.
- Collins Onuegbu – Signal Alliance. Probably chair of Nigeria’s angel network.
- Lexi Novistke – Singularity Investments. Levi is one of the bigger and more respected names among women in tech in Africa.
- Vinny Lingham – Investor on Dragon’s Den
- Stephen Ozoigbo – Innovate Africa. He was our trainer on the bootcamp preceding demo day. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the funding process and startup life.
- Llew Claasen – Newtown Partners
- Wim Van Der Beek – Goodwell Investments
- Farouk Jivani – Invested in Mdundo.com and was one of the few Kenyan VC’s at the event. Kenyan VC’s are like black swans. You don’t know they exist until you meet them. (Or maybe I haven’t looked hard enough.)
- Tom Tshingano – IDF Managers
- Lia Mayka – At the time she was with Village Capital.
- Marcello Schermer – at the time he was with Seedstars World. He since moved to SA.
- Kezia Njeri was representing Viktoria Ventures whose principal is Stephen Gugu, the other Kenyan VC who was present as far as I know.
A couple of disclaimers are necessary at this point. One, I haven’t raised any funding. (These things take time! lol) Two, I doubt whether most any of them remember me. But what you might not get from these names is that these are principals not analysts. These are the market leaders who will corral a team and shepherd them into a funding round. This network is where the deal action is, it’s where the competition is (but it’s also where the sharks are. Good luck!)
Other big names who were in attendance and I later got to meet included:
- Toby Shapshak – Hosts a weekly tech show on CNBC Africa. He is also an alumnus of TEDx.
- Amrote Abdella – Head of Microsoft Africa.
- Christine Nganga – Strategia Advisors Ltd. Worked on Wall Street
- Liz Muange – Trade Africa, official YALI alumnus
- Doyin Adewola – BoxOffice Nigeria
- John Kimani, Andy Volk and Aniedi Udo – Google SSA
- Idriss N’daho – Orange Africa
WIIFY 4: The Freebies
No other launchpad gives you as many freebies as DEMO Africa. Useful ones too. Seedstars tries yes. But DEMO knocks this one out of the park. All conferences need your signage and stuff. DA handles that for you. DA organises deal rooms so that VC’s can take you offline very fast, lock you down and sign some term sheets, if you get what I’m saying. Some of the training that they give you cannot be gotten from any measure of scouting the internet. These include how to handle VC’s, how to structure employee equity, personalised pitch deck coaching etc. I haven’t gotten come across this level of goodies anywhere else.
For the techies, these included AWS credits. There was another freebie that made a world of difference for me. I was on assignment with my startup in a foreign country and I realised I had to tweak some aspects of my technology stack. I popped into my freebies and pulled out a Visual Studio subscription that was just sitting there waiting for me. I used it just yesterday to update my Visual Studio Enterprise subscription. Without it my life would have been exponentially harder for 6 months. So courtesy of DA and Microsoft, my life was exponentially easier for 6 crucial months.
There’s a level of the DEMO Africa game that I failed to unlock. The top 5 startups get to visit Silicon Valley on an all-expenses paid tour in spring. How cool is that!
WIIFY 5: Credibility/Legitimacy
As you would well know the world revolves around trust and credibility. This is doubly so in the corporate world where I ply my trade. Unfortunately credibility for startups can be a very scarce resource. Let me give you two examples of how DEMO Africa gave me more credibility.
I put up a youtube video of my demo during DEMO, then added that link to my email signature. Quite simply, my email response rates went up. It’s like people now had a reference point to see that what we are doing is verifiably legit.
The same email signature saved me in a spot of trouble late last year. I was on an implementation assignment in Kampala with the startup and I had a cash crunch. I needed to pay my rent and my cash wasn’t coming in for a week or two. So eventually I went to my host hat in hand and said, “I’m sorry. I’m out of pocket right now but cash is coming next week or so.” He told me, “I saw your youtube video. It’s fine. I trust you. You are legit.” Have you ever felt grateful? Somehow in the process of swapping interesting articles and links with my host, I had used my official email; the one with the automated signature; the signature that had the youtube link in it. He’s called Gary Mugisha by the way. Best host you can ever ask for in Kampala. Please don’t go abusing his kindness.
Did I mention that the youtube video was a very high quality recording from DA’s official videographer? This was yet another freebie from DA.
WIIFY 6: The Fraternity
If you are a startup CEO, you are a hero in your own right. If you are in Africa you deserve 2 extra medals. For goodness sake you are bearing the weight of the world and its ancestors on your shoulders. Chances are you are walking a very lonely path. However, you are not alone. DEMO Africa is a community of people who are positively rooting for you, who want you to succeed, who understand some of your challenges and are willing to open doors for you. This is something you don’t want to and shouldn’t walk away from. This is a culture with the DA team. In some hubs you will find some people who get it. But I found this to be the culture with the whole DA team – Harry, Pam Sinda, Hany Zuhudi, Francis Nderitu, Mbugua Njhia, the late Eng. Obuya (May he RIP.)
There is also the fraternity. The cohort looks out for each other. Are you visiting in my country? Please feel welcome, let me help you knock down doors. Am in your country? Let’s meet up and discuss… Even non-cohort fellow alumni will generally speaking have your back.
Findings, Summary and Conclusion
Ok, so that’s it. You now have the full breakdown of why DEMO Africa is the launchpad of choice for game-changing technology and startups in Africa. (And also why this post took 2 years to write – I knew y’all would think it’s way too over the top.)
In short, there is no other launchpad that gives you as much as DEMO Africa does or will. Ok? There just isn’t. It remains unrivalled, unparalleled and unbeaten.
Please. Go and apply.
Bonus Facts: Past DEMO Africa Members
You have made it this far. Your attention span is long. Your patience is legendary. You have endured 2000+ words of inept selling. You are quite simply a champion. This is another reason why you need to apply.
So as a bonus for staying with us this long, here is a list of a few of the larger names on the continent that launched/made it into DEMO Africa.
Again I ask: Please go and apply.