Photo by Mohamed Osama on Unsplash

I used to do a lot of personal blogging a long time ago. Then social media (read Twitter) happened. Over time, I have however realised that I gain a lot more understanding on a topic when I write, and so I made a promise to myself to write a lot more in 2022, and to do so each Thursday (lots of my posts have been a form of #TBT). Initially, I thought to chronicle my journey of learning and discovery as I figure out my next career step and was focused on diving deep into cloud and data. I still am, but on speaking to a few people over the last few weeks, and after my experiment with ‘Ask Me Almost Anything’, I have realised that I have been limiting myself, given my diverse interests and past experience. I guess this is part of what a friend has called a journey of self (re)discovery.

Last Thursday I posted about collaboration. Later on that week on Friday evening, after been nudged (hard) by Soud, I participated in a Twitter Space hosted by Mwango Capital on the state of the start-up ecosystem locally or in east africa. (Here is where I confess that it was my first time listening in live or speaking at a TS :/ ). It was a great discussion with a diverse set of opinions. I learnt quite a bit. I didn’t get to contribute as much as I could thanks to a finicky connection and/or device.

Ecosystem: Community or Communities?

For various reasons, I find nowadays that I am in touch with probably less than 10% of what’s going on in the ecosystem. I think this is ok - actually great! The number of people building new products and businesses, the funding rounds and amounts being raised - particularly this year, and opportunity being created is leaps and bounds over the ~20 years I have been part of this ecosystem. With the vantage point of a ‘recovering' ecosystem builder and convener from the early .ke tech community, it is easy to see the massive growth over the last two decades. This is not to say it couldn’t be better.

Then: A Single Community?

Skunkworks started in 2007 as 25 people at a restaurant called Steers on Wabera Street in Nairobi. A lot of people who attended that first meet were sys admins and telco people. It grew to be one heterogenous group with developers, system admins, and tech enthusiasts in general. Prior to that we also had a vibrant open source community, which was somewhat subsumed into Skunkworks. Here are some early snippets from 2007:

A lot of people knew each other or knew about each other. One could describe this phase as one of discovery with lots of collaboration. The focus wasn’t quite building startups though there were several that started at about this time.

Now: Multiple Communities

Today we have a variety of tech groups gathering or connecting around specific and general interests (e.g. a particular front end technology). It really doesn’t make sense nor is it practical to attempt to cluster everyone under one umbrella due to the diverse nature of interests and problems being solved, along with the sheer number of people creating and building.

Building Thriving Ecosystems

This Twitter Space also got me thinking these elements of a thriving ecosystems (according to Kauffman Foundation):

Entrepreneurs who aspire to start and grow new businesses, and the people who support entrepreneurs.

Talent that can help companies grow.

– People and institutions with knowledge and resources to help entrepreneurs.

– Individuals and institutions that serve as champion and conveners of entrepreneurs and the ecosystem.

Onramps (or access points) to the ecosystem so that anyone and everyone can participate.

Intersections that facilitate the interaction of people, ideas, and resources.

Stories that people tell about themselves and their ecosystem.

Culture that is rich in social capital – collaboration, cooperation, trust, reciprocity, and a focus on the common good – makes the ecosystem come alive by connecting all the elements together

Different people and organizations have played different roles at different times over the years in bring .ke to where we it is tech wise. Fundamentally these elements are about people and culture. Communities are about people. Also when one hears about poaching, and skills gaps, we are talking about people. I’ll not dwell much on the talent piece, leaving that for another time, but wanted to mention that a key reason for writing this particular post is with the intention of contributing to the ‘stories’ people tell and will tell about this ecosystem. I could certainly be better at doing those and this (small) habit of writing on Thursday hopefully will allow me to get better. Also this:

Podcast Loading

No, I’m not stuck in the past. There is a reason for me sharing some of this. Watch out in the coming weeks for new podcast series featuring people without whom the tech industry in Kenya and Africa to a degree would be quite different. More soon!