Category Archives: ideaexchange

Black Panther vs. Wolf Warrior

How do you write about a movie without giving away parts of it to anyone who has not seen it? I was spurred to see the movie “The Black Panther” after attending a networking dinner where half the guests had seen it and eagerly wanted to talk about it across the table while some of us pleaded that there not be any discussion until the rest of us had seen it.  

As I write this, the Black Panther has crossed the $1 billion revenue mark. When I saw a preview of the movie sometime in December it looked like another mindless action movie set in an American city. But the film with a predominantly black cast is set in Los Angeles, Seoul, and primarily in a fictional African country called Wakanda. 

The movie has been well received in many markets due to its positive portrayal of Wakanda which has massive mineral wealth reserves that the residents have harnessed to develop an advanced technological economy while remaining hidden and portraying themselves to the world, as another poor African country.

It has a mix of new and-well established stars, as familiar faces like award-winning Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Lupita Nyongo have meshed well with several upcoming stars who have worked hard in their careers to get to their big break in the Black Panther. Fred Swaniker, the co-founder of the Africa Leadership Academy, recently wrote about Danai Gurira, a Zimbabwean college-friend of his, who he advised not to study theatre, as it was a waste of time; but she ignored his advice and now portrayed the scene-stealing female general in the Black Panther. 

Black Panther is directed by young black director Ryan Coogler who has a knack for turning movie budgets into large paybacks. And Black Panther is now the 20th highest-grossing movie of all time on a list dominated by comic and children themed movies. Films get on this list when audiences enjoy, re-watch, and tell others to see them. And local entrepreneurs and celebrities have offered to pay for whole groups and classrooms in cities like Atlanta and Kisumu to watch the Black Panther. 

For Kenyans, the film has been well received, and one report that it is probably one of the largest-grossing local films due to Lupita’s appearance.  I got in touch with my friend Chris Foot, Chairman of the Kenya Film Commission to ask about if Black Panther could have been shot in Nairobi and he mentioned that Coogler had actually visited Kenya for research but ultimately the producers decided that the movie would be primarily filmed in the US. 

What’s remarkable about the Black Panthers’ billion-dollar haul is that it was achieved before the movie was shown in the large China movie market. In reading about expectations ahead of Black Panther’s opening in China I came across this article which looks at if the Black Panther movie would change the views of Chinese citizens about Africa.

The article mentions a movie, called the Wolf Warrior II, which was released in July 2017 and became best-selling Chinese movie in history, grossing $874 million. Wu Jing directed and stars in it as an indestructible Chinese soldier who foils rebels in a fictional African country where senseless wars break out that have soldiers shooting at each other and killing civilians even as an Ebola-like disease decimates communities. In it, Chinese are revered as do-gooders in medicine and industry who are not to be harmed in Africa, except by the white mercenaries who are orchestrating the wars. 

Finally, the imagery of Africa in Wolf Warrior II, which was filmed in present-day South Africa, is more realistic than Black Panther’s futuristic utopia of Wakanda. And the global success of the Black Panther movie will not change American or Chinese views about Africa but it may inspire more interest in African countries, stories, and projects.

This was written in March 2018 but not approved for publication as my regular column on financial issues.

Edit: Reading “The Ride of a Lifetime”, Robert Iger’s autobiography of his time as Disney CEO, in which he made three huge acquisition – of Pixar, the Star Wars franchise and Marvel comics into the Disney empire, he writes that one of the proudest creations of his tenure was the Black Panther movie. 

It defied the notion that a black-led superhero movie could perform at the box office, on top of challenging a prevailing view in Hollywood that movies with predominantly black casts and black leads struggled in international markets. This had resulted in fewer black-led films being produced, with fewer actors, and smaller budgets to mitigate box-office risks. 

Antler Nairobi Demo Day

VC funder and startup accelerator Antler Global held a demonstration day yesterday in Nairobi where founders of four companies got to explain their practical solutions to existing challenges in the sectors of health, fintech, advertising and e-commerce.

The Singapore-founded Antler has offices in London, New York, Amsterdam and now Nairobi, among others. Antler aims to turn exceptional individuals into great company founders through networks of advisors and by providing funding to enable the building of strong teams to launch and scale ideas. They currently have a portfolio of 120 investee companies.

The four new ones in Nairobi are among fifteen companies that have received pre-seed funding of $100,000 from the Antler East Africa Fund. They are drawn from 1,250 individuals who applied to join the Nairobi program which started in August 2019. The Demo day talks were by:

  • AIfluence: an Artificial Intelligence-based platform that connects influencers with brands and measures the impact and ROI of their campaigns. The company has lined up additional funding and advertising deals with Tik Tok.
  • Anyi Health: Enable patients to apply for credit right at hospitals.
  • ChapChapGo: Aims to fix the broken supply chain of fast-moving consumer goods, in which 70% of trades are still informal – with these purchases happening in a 19thcentury system where people queue to buy, queue to pay and arrange their own delivery. The company aims to leverage on wholesalers through an app, and by using WhatsApp for customer service and sales, to deliver goods at prices that are up to 25% cheaper for consumers.
  • Digiduka: Enables kiosks and shops receiving cash from low-income buyers to also process digital payment on. Many kiosk merchants find mobile money payments too costly and make many trips a week to purchase goods and permits in cash. The company aims to have kiosks double their income by offering digital services that will see them earn 75% of the commission, with Digiduka keeping the 25%. The founders say that pilot has been viable, with a payback period for kiosk owners of one month.

Baraza Media Lab launch

This week saw the launch of the Baraza Media Lab in Nairobi as part of an initiative to foster more collaboration towards a better future for journalists and media to tell their stories.

The Baraza Lab is a $1 million investment that is supported by the Luminate Group which is a spinoff of the governance and citizen engagements funded by the Omidyar Network. Ory Okolloh, the Managing Director, Africa for Luminate said that different media organizations were dealing with their industry problems in their own silos. The new Baraza lab, which is being run in collaboration with Mettā Nairobi, is a place where like-minded creatives could meet, share, and collaborate on the future of media.

At the launch, it was said that no industry has been as disrupted by technology as much as the media, whose business models have been eroded by new advertising platforms. This is also a time when propaganda and fake news divides societies and where personalities had more followers than countries. Yet media remains a necessary arm of inclusive and democratic societies, and organizations such as AmaBhungane and Africa Uncensored were cited as two entities that had done a great deal to expose corruption issues in South Africa and Kenya, respectively.

Media coach and “recovering” journalist Uduak Amimo, who was the keynote speaker at the launch, spoke about the revelations and opportunities brought on by new media in the last few years. As an example of collaboration, she said that the data dumps by Wikileaks had not made much sense until the organization partnered with traditional media houses. But the opportunities for media had been hampered by a focus on profits over purpose, media that shared messages that they had not checked or analyzed, pay discrimination and tolerance of harassment among other factors.

Amazon’s Working Backwards

Earlier this year, I got introduced to a simple business process tool that I find myself using every day, for every task, no matter how mundane. It’s called “Working Backwards” and it is a central feature of innovation at Amazon, the second or third most valuable company in the world 

With “Working Backwards”, you start by listening to the customers before thinking you can innovate. As a manager or a champion of a company, you begin by writing a press release for a product or service. What it will do, and the problem it will solve.  The release is written in the voice of the customer. not the company. 

Then you write the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s), the typical questions a customer or partner will ask, about how a product or service works. 

Then you build a visual of the concept, from the perspective of the customer – a rough drawing showing how the customer will use the product or service. Human beings are very visual and understand things better when they see how it works. 

They do all this before they start designing a product. One fundamental aspect of the process is that the manager or champion becomes an investor in the process. He /she pledges a percentage of their annual bonus to go towards the development cost of the process. There is a gain if it succeeds, and a loss if it does not. This aligns the manager with the process he/she is steering the company towards. In this way, one may not be a CEO with executive options, but with “Working Backwards,” they are a venture capitalist invested in a successful outcome.

The “Working Backwards” process enables a company to invent on behalf of the customer. It has led Amazon to give customers enhanced home shopping experiences with Amazon Prime, deliver a book to a customer within 60 seconds through Amazon Kindle and enable busy workers to quickly shop and walk out of a store without having to queue to pay for items with Amazon Go.

The process allows companies to spot customer problems and opportunities and to better validate innovation concepts. Can we see more examples of “Working Backwards” used? At more companies? How would that change decision-making? Would it mean less loss of corporate resources or product flops because the customer was not considered in the first place? Fewer white elephants? Try it out. 

Absa and the Spirit of Highway Africa

My first trip to South Africa was back in 2006 to attend the combination of Highway Africa, and the inaugural Digital Citizen Indaba which was Africa’s first-ever major blogging conference.  Highway Africa, billed as the largest gathering of African journalists, was run by the Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies. It was supported by the South African Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa’s Department of Communication, Absa bank, Multichoice, MTN, South African Airways, Sunday Times, among others.

So it was a pleasant surprise this month to encounter the spirit of Highway Africa and reconnect with those  pioneer conferences. This was at a data journalism masterclass, at Enashipai Resort, in Naivasha, Kenya. Absa has been sponsoring the data class that aims to assist financial journalists to report on complex financial matters since it was a part of the two-decades-long Highway Africa that is now on hiatus.

In 2019, the classes have been held in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia and  Tanzania. Four more countries will be covered in November. The program is done in conjunction with Rhodes University and is led by Peter Verweij.

The masterclass had themes of finding and scraping data, and also analyzing, mapping, and visualizing data for presentations that enrich stories. This was done using free tools and diverse data sets to infer correlations on subjects such as sub-Saharan African debt, sovereign ratings and financial inclusion.

There were also sessions about the ongoing plans at Barclays Africa which is rebranding to Absa in twelve African countries. Barclays has been operating in Kenya for 103 years, and the bank which is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, remains one of the top-performing banks this year in terms of capital efficiency and returns to investors.