Mark Essien: My advice to Nigerian start up founders

  • Focus on making users use your product before you over-invest time in building the product. If people don’t want to use a simple version of the product, they won’t want to use a complex version. Building the first version of the product should take at MOST three months.
  • Give your technical co-founders equal stake, or have enough money to pay for the good guys. Or be convincing enough to convince someone good. If you hire a 50k programmer and give him 3% equity and you are not technical, you are doomed.
  • Understand the Unit Economics of your startup. If you don’t know what Unit Economics is, spend the next seven days reading up on it.
  • Read the book called ‘traction’ by Gabriel Weinberg.
  • If your product does not have a clear and single primary method with which you will gain your first customers, then don’t build it.
  • Social Media is not a distribution strategy. Advertisements are not a monetisation strategy.
  • There are some very common startup ideas that nobody has made work yet (e.g small e-commerce stores, artisan recommendations). Do not go into them unless you clearly understand why the others failed.
  • To go from idea to product to first revenue or first users – this is YOUR job. Don’t try to raise money to achieve the above. Save money to get to those stages. This is your traction benchmark: 100 daily active users OR 100k in monthly EARNINGS. Not SALES VOLUME.
  • Don’t confuse SALES with REVENUE. If you sell goods worth N1million, it makes a huge difference if your margin is 30% or 1%.
  • You will raise money through recommendations and through introductions, not through cold emails. If you want to send a cold email, send your numbers and traction. If you do not have 100 active users 6 months after you started working on your idea, move on or change something.
  • Consumer internet is very hard in Nigeria. B2B is much easier. If you are going into B2B understand ‘SALES’. Read up on various sales books.
  • If you consider yourself D-Class in the tech circles, get the C-Class excited about you. Then work your way up to the B-Class and ask for intros to the A-Class, who are the gate-keepers of investors.
  • If you are going to ask someone to mentor you, come with something. If you go to visit a chief to ask a favour, you take a gift, right? If you request someone to give their time, then also offer your time in return.
  • A word is enough for the wise. Ask for just two sentences feedback from people you respect about your product. Fix those two, ask another two, etc.
  • Don’t be stubborn. Doubt your own idea. Don’t defend it, join others to criticise it, and try to think if the criticism is fixable or if it cannot be fixed. If it can be, fix it. If not, work around it. If nothing can be done, move on.
  • Hire people you are scared to hire because of how good they seem.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Mark Essien is the founder of

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