Pain points in startup-telco engagement – ATS London


Startups approach corporates too soon, and need to show they have active users and make revenues in order for large entities to engage with them, according to Adia Sowho, director of digital business at Etisalat Nigeria.

Speaking at the Africa Tech Summit London, Sowho said while startup-corporate partnerships can prove fruitful, startups often seek to engage with large organisations such as telecoms providers much too early.

She said startups need to first prove their model and that they have a strong value proposition before approaching large organisations.

“It’s much more difficult to engage with a pre-revenue entity. If you’ve got no revenues and no users, it’s a no. It’s too early to engage with a large entity like a telco,” she said.

For those startups with proven revenues and users, Sowho said telecoms can primarily help in achieving scale.

However, entrepreneurs speaking on the same panel said corporates can do more to help startups, and many large organisations are missing mutual opportunities by not being more responsive to startups’ requests.

For example, Adam Farah, co-founder of Zambian agri-tech startup Zazu, said a major pain point for the company was the length of time it took to achieve communicational capacities through a telecoms provider.

“It took a shocking amount of time and relationships were needed for things which are fundamentally necessary to a startup’s activity,” he said.

On the other hand, Stephen Haggard, executive chair of Kenyan e-learning venture Eneza Education, said in his experience, telcos are missing opportunities by not being more willing to find ways of making partnerships work.

In Eneza Education’s case, Haggard said telecoms providers have so far proven unwilling to unlock access to the vast amounts of data they have.  Access would allow the startup to offer a number of premium services, he said.

“You [telcos]are sitting on a gold-mine of data and you have a partner willing to unlock revenues from it.  You need to find ways to unlock data for startup partners,” Haggard said, adding that corporates need to “take risks” and “take a leap of faith” when engaging with startups.


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Inspired and excited by the African tech entrepreneurial scene, Gabriella spends her time travelling around the continent to report on the most innovative tech startups, the most active investors, and the latest trends emerging in the ecosystem.

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