When I started NaijaHacks, I did not know what I was getting myself into. I was a new Founder and the original idea was to have a small 50–100 person self-funded hackathon. But when I brought Blessing onboard, she saw the vision and convinced me to go big or stay home in Canada. And we went big! We became Nigeria’s biggest tech competition in year one and Africa’s Biggest Hackathon in year two. To date, no other similar event can boast of the numbers, funding, and impact of NaijaHacks, and we are just getting started. This came with a lot of challenges like lack of finance, logistics, timing, and many more. We did not know where to start. We did not realize that we needed to provide food for participants, so we did not plan for that. Participants went home hungry in year one. Oops!
Learn. Unlearn. Adapt
To solve some of the challenges before our first event, we reached out to sponsors. The regular email proposals did not work. We got a 0% response. Then we switched things up and went with a data-backed approach. We researched companies that sponsor Hackathons, reached out to them and asked for something they provided at previous Hackathons instead of just cash. For example, the venue and venue management, which would have cost us more than $5,000, was provided by one of our sponsors. And we had to put in some of our cash. It wasn’t easy, but it worked out well.
The first edition, 2018, was successful, and we just concluded NaijaHacks 2019. Through our two year journey, we failed in many ways and learned many new lessons. These are some of the most profound ones that we learned that we think will help founders:
- People are the best asset: Our friends and families connected us to Judges, sponsors, and many more. Talk to friends. They do not have to understand what you’re doing but they will likely support you.
- Be open to ideas: Listen to your team even though you think you have more experience in the space. Before NaijaHacks, I have attended over 20 Hackathons but I always listen to Blessing, who has attended 0. It’s still paying off till date.
- People are creative and are willing to work hard: Create the vision, sell it to people, and people will put in their lives to help achieve the big dream.
A Driving force. A new founder’s belief
All the lessons above will be useless if you, as a new Founder, do not have something that keeps you going. You need to have that one thing you hold on to and strongly believe in. For me, it is the potential to build an ecosystem that will set participants up for a great career as startup founders or top talent for great companies. The vision and mission are still the same today. The vision remains to be the platform that accelerates Africa’s technology adoption so that any young African can use technology to make their lives, that of their family or the world better.
How to start
For those that are looking to start a company or an initiative like NaijaHacks in Africa or somewhere else, I have two pieces of advice for you.
- First, Don’t quit your full-time job. At least, not when you want to start as a new Founder. In my opinion, and from talking to some successful friends, you want to be at the right place in your career before stepping up to help others. Most people and companies will probably want to work with you when they see things you have accomplished in your career.
- Use the connections and opportunities you have where you are. With NaijaHacks, 80% of the sponsors were North American companies. Most of them have never been to Nigeria, and they never met me, but they trusted me and even sent money to my bank account because I was connected to someone that works there or they saw my LinkedIn and work. In short, leverage your privilege.