Someone ought to start policing Ugandan [tech] startups, Now!

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One of the four Ugandan Startups that Won Seed Fund at the Up Accelerate Hackathon

A big part of the problem facing the tech startup scene is the disturbing absence of constructive criticism from within and without the startup ecosystem. Phrases like brilliant apprevolutionary idea and amazing concept that are made with no solid basis, are stunting the growth and development of startups (if they even deserve to be referred to as such).

All over the world, every industry that thrives has systems in place that are designed to provide quality assurance…checks and balances, if you will.

The film industry in the US (Hollywood) has a proper balance of reward and castigation; there are meticulously organised awards for the best and worst movies and actors every year. This culture guarantees that everyone gives their best self to the cause.

Restaurants in the west are inspired to be their absolute best, all in a quest to earn the prestigious Michelin stars. If a restaurateur were to get things horribly wrong and serve underwhelming food to their guests, they would be sure to find scathing reviews of their restaurant in lifestyle publications; heck, they could even lose a star. It’s this system of checks and balances that keeps everyone at their best.

Motoring shows like BBC’s Top Gear and Amazon’s The Grand Tour have dedicated their very existence to candidly reviewing cars made by “big” and “small” car brands alike; they will call anyone out and show them their car’s flaws. The companies recognise the value of constructive criticism, which is why season after season, they offer their cars to the showrunners for testing no matter how scathing the reviews get.

Mindset shift

What we need to do as Ugandans is stop the culture of seeking political correctness every time we speak. We cannot get better as a people if we applaud every effort, however pathetic. We need to learn the benefits of brutal honesty with regards to helping startups grow.

For as long as I’ve followed Ugandan tech startup news, I’m yet to see a single criticism of any Ugandan startups or their products. All anyone does is publish article ’pon article, filled with praise for non-functional or imaginary products. Granted, there are those who have done the hard work and have created (truly) amazing products…these should get the credit that they deserve.

However, those who have not done enough to be lauded, should be served a healthy dish of constructive criticism while taking care not to trash the idea/product (unless absolutely necessary) as this could break spirits…you don’t want that.

So, who does the policing?

The simple answer, everyone! The saying goes, it takes a village…

For purposes of clarity though, I will break it down so that no one claims they do not know their role;

  1. Media

The members of the media fraternity shoulder a lot of the blame for the current state of the tech landscape. Young tech entrepreneurs have turned into fame-hogs, always craving their next appearance on tv, newspaper articles, tech blogs, name it!

It’s only natural for the tech entrepreneurs to lust for fame & name recognition and, an argument could be made that it helps them push their products (for those who have actual products). The onus is on the journalists who write the features for all these amazing innovations to test the products and verify that they work (if any such claims were made by the developers). If a product is still at concept level, it’s the journalist’s duty to follow the journey of said product, and report on any and all progress.

The media has the power to keep tech entrepreneurs honest and so it should.

  1. Judges at hackathons

I’ve been to a number of hackathons, organised by by various companies — both as a participant and member of the audience. On the whole, these turn out as an embarrassment to hackathons everywhere, here’s why:

  • Winners are (always) chosen based on a couple of presentation slides and technical demonstrations are ignored. This is the birthplace of technically inept startups.
  • Judges mostly givehumane feedback; judges are not meant to be nice, they are meant to give their honest and/or professional opinions. (There’s a thing or two to be learnt from Simon Cowell)
  • Little is done to follow up with thewinners and ensure that winnings are channelled towards growth and progress.
  1. Incubation hubs

The number of incubation hubs in Uganda and the East African region is growing exponentially — great stuff! What needs to happen next is that these incubators need to set standards and KPI’s that the users of their co-working spaces need to meet.

There are simply too many startups in the hubs’ portfolios and not nearly enough products on the market or in progressive development to match. The management teams of such spaces need to do their part in lighting fires under the developers’ bottoms to ensure that incubation hubs are only apart of the journey and not the destination.

  1. Tech entrepreneurs

The other stakeholders in this industry most likely do not possess a firm understanding of the technical aspects of product development. As such, the ultimate policing force is made up of peers from within the tech-space. Tech entrepreneurs can nudge each other towards success by reviewing each other’s work from a technical perspective to keep everyone honest.

This requires all tech entrepreneurs to stop working in the dark and bring their products out into the light amongst their peers, prepared to absorb all the feedback and opinions. These will not always be pleasant, let alone cordial but in the long run, product quality will inevitably improve.

  1. General public

Perhaps the most important stakeholders, the general public should use review platforms to make all their pains known. If you go far back enough in time, every product received horrible feedback at some point in time. As users, you should always make it known when your expectations are not being met because silence guarantees that you will never get what you desire from a product.

In conclusion

Tech entrepreneurs and developers have chosen their path…there’s no need to baby these guys. Constructive criticism from everyone will go a long way towards ensuring that we all start to enjoy quality products from the Ugandan tech scene.

In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport. You must also be prepared to work hard and be willing to accept constructive criticism. Without one-hundred percent dedication, you won’t be able to do this.
Willie Mays

 

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