by Chude Jideonwo
The feeding frenzy is on.
If you’ve followed YNaija’s excellent technology pages, or that fine blog TechCabal, you would know about the Nigerian tech space’s trending issue at the moment: an enterprising young man called Celestine Ezeokoye wrote a post about a grant he received for his idea/business, Ticketmobile.
Apparently, the idea has not been able to take off the ground, and he is, albeit in an ill-considered fashion, calling out for help.
In a matter of 72 hours however, the music changed to a war song. In quick order, he has been called “stupid,” and “failure”, and those are the safe-to-publish comments. There was also one of this platform’s many columnists, Hauwa Gambo – calling him “entitled” and his piece “petulant”.
Now, let’s not cure malaria with popcorn – many of these writers are right. While we might not know the specifics of the story, and (especially in the light of Celestine’s tweet to me asking for understanding) it is possible some facts were mis-stated by Njoku, a few things are apparent: the grant was not well used, his blog-post was ill-advised, and he has put himself out as rash and ungrateful.
Still, he has done nothing terrible to warrant a lynch mob. All he did was run a business that failed.
In fact, as I shared this cautionary tale with people I care about, Lekan and Daphne, two of my team members, told me pointedly that I was wrong and Celestine might yet laugh last. After all, how many failed start-ups have been subject of so many posts in the history of the Nigerian tech space? This, for all intent and purpose, may be yet another pitch.
They are totally right.
I tell my team members and mentees any of these four things:
- Even if I think you’re making a mistake, I will be the last person to tell you. Because mistakes are part of the human evolution.
- Youth is a time to make a mistake – just don’t make too many, or make those that you could have avoided by listening and learning.
- The only person who can make you a failure or success is you. Can you learn from your mistakes? Can you be humble and pay attention? Can you make a turn-around when you realise your way’s error? Can you apologise not just when you are wrong, but whenever necessary? Can you pick yourself up and try again?
- Life is long. An employee today can become a client tomorrow; a fired staff can become a trusted partner, a failure a multi-millionaire with a story to tell. Never under-estimate the human capacity to change one’s own narrative.
I have also met Celestine. Last year, after The Future Awards Africa town hall meeting at the Co-Creation Hub, he introduced himself and his idea. I was visibly very excited by it.
I asked him about the value chain – has he met the bus operators? Has he earned their trust? Are they really willing to try this out? Has he investigated profitability? He sounded very sure of himself – that he knew what he was doing, and that everything was under control. So while I am surprised to see that he has hit ground zero, this much I know:
1. He is a smart person, who has come up with a brilliant idea.
2. People who come up with one brilliant idea are usually able to come up with another brilliant idea.
3. The evidence now shows that he was a visionary – since everyone else is cloning his idea.
Yes, as a notoriously risk-averse person, I am lucky to never actually run a business that has either failed or is not profitable, but I know wherever he is now, Celestine – even if he pretends otherwise – must feel awful, and his spirit must be crushed.
If that is the case, then he is making another mistake – and that’s the worst one. Because Tiketmobile.com and his capacity for innovation are not dead unless he says so.
He might have done everything, but that shouldn’t change who he is. More importantly, it doesn’t change who he CAN be.
He can be the person who everyone gawked and laughed at (and some of those laughing have failed worse, I assure him), but who resisted the temptation to fight unnecessarily battles, learnt the humility that is crucial for victory, paid close attention to the sense some are making, learned his mistakes, became his harshest critic, kept his head down, and got to work again – to do it better, wiser, stronger.
I promise you, Celestine – the same people who laugh at you now, will be scrambling to tell your story.
All you have to do is keep calm, and keep moving.