Then, they got acquired by Facebook for $1 billion (about 1/8th of the notorious fuel subsidy) in a shares/cash deal making the team of 13 and their venture backers very rich, very quickly. So, I know; the question on the lips of many in Nigeria's vibrat tech scene has been, "Can we build an Instagram in Nigeria?" My answer is a resounding NO, and here are my five reasons:
1. Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria (or whatever they call themselves these days)
The number one reason why you cannot build Instagram in Nigeria is the lack of power. What does that have to do with anything you ask? Well, in Nigeria, there are many scenarios - you either suffer periods of no productivity due to lack of electricity, you suffer reduced productivity because your small generator cannot "carry" your air conditioner, or you spend a lot of money on poor productivity with a noisy and expensive generator that can. Either way, you use all the time and energy that should have been spent building the perfect photosharing app dealing with power problems.
2. The in-built inefficiency of the Nigerian system
Everything in Nigeria takes twice as long to do. Want to register a company? Come back next month. Get an ATM card? Stay tuned for next week's episode of "the PIN is not ready". Want to 'quickly' get to Victoria Island and come back? Try astral projection.
One of the first things that people comment on when they leave Nigeria is how their productivity sky-rockets. Why? Perhaps because everyone else seems to know the value of time. Or perhaps everyone is not trying doubly hard to create a relatively normal existence-taking 10 minutes off work to switch on and off their generators, trying that call a 7th time because the first 6 calls were dropped or simply wondering how long it takes your staff to find a recharge card on Sunday! Nigeria is inherently inefficient and I'm not quite sure how you'll build an engineering-intensive application in Nigeria.
3. No ISP in Nigeria
You know the people saying that 29 is too late to be a billionaire? It's their fault you're 33 and still joining thousands together. How do you build a world-beating web application when you're struggling with a poor internet connection all day? Never mind that these connections are among the most expensive in the world. If you're struggling to attach a picture to your mail, do you honestly think you're going to be able to upload your app to the cloud today?
4. Where are the developers?
It's not that we don't have any developers, it's just that we don't have Instagram-level developers. As simple as Instagram looks, the amount of technical work that has gone into delivering a simple, seamless photo-sharing experience is insane. Ask any tech entrepreneur in Nigeria and they'll tell you that to establish a team of local developers that can deliver that level of technical detail is near impossible.
Kevin Systrom, the acquiree, isn't 30 yet. Mark Zuckerberg, the acquirer, is 24. In Nigeria, these men would currently be fighting mosquitoes in a village in the name of "national service". But what greater service than the capital gains taxes that would be paid to the US government from this transaction?
My position on NYSC should be well-known: it should be voluntary. I have nothing but respect for people who choose to leave lives of privilege to attend to the less-fortunate, but I have a big problem with it being compulsory. The current system, however, means that potential company builders would have to take a compulsory 1-year break for reasons that are spurious at best.
And there you have it: 5 reasons you cannot build Instagram in Nigeria.