For the past few years, until recently, conversations regarding the Nigerian Tech Developers exiting to other developing countries had been rife. People were concerned by the rate at which Nigerians relocated to countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
In more recent years, the trend appears to be changing. The developer move has been towards eastern European countries, with Ukraine topping the list and countries like Cyprus, Estonia amongst others. However, currently, the developer move has been towards much more developed European countries with Germany and Netherlands taking the lion’s share.
The relocation drive is however not limited to developers and designers alone. Nigerian doctors, I believe, initiated this trend. It was reported that over five thousand Nigerian trained doctors are currently working with the British National Health Service. This implies that Nigerian medical practitioners constitute 3.9% of the foreign staff working with the British Health Service. According to the NMA President, Dr. Mike Ogirima, the situation was blamed on poor remuneration for medical doctors, poor working environment and inadequate medical equipment and infrastructure.
The crux of this article is to examine if we should actually be concerned about this trend and how a startup can operate irrespective of the desire of developers to migrate to greener pastures.
Cheap Education, Poor Education, Great Students
I have always argued that good quality education cannot be cheap, and it cannot be free. The best-rated universities in the world are usually the most expensive. However, the Nigerian situation appears to be peculiar. We have some not so great schools (at least a few of Nigerian universities appear in the top 1000 universities globally), but we have one of the best-motivated crop of students.
The current age has improved learning outside of the university system. I was speaking to a developer, and he confirmed to me that he did not learn how to code within the university system because his lecturers are stuck with BASIC and COBOL programming languages.
Bringing this to the current scenario, Nigerian students are really motivated. Some will put their grades on the line to just learn C#. Once these guys graduate, since the school contributed little or nothing to the body of knowledge they gained, they look to earn the most from this knowledge.
Why are our Developers Leaving?
Taking a cue from the president of the Nigerian Medical Association, few things might have contributed to the situation. They include:
Poor Remuneration – Unfortunately, in a capitalist community, money flow is expected to be directly proportional to value creation. Additionally, the higher the demand the higher the price of the item. Putting these 2 together, most businesses in 2018 will require the services of developers to ensure long-term sustainability. Everyone is looking for the “tech angle” to their business, hence, the value of being a developer. These developers are however in very short supply, hence the high cost of hiring them.
These developers are so much in high demand that Nigerian businesses are facing stiff competition from foreign businesses for them. These foreign tech businesses have higher bargaining powers since they offer relocation opportunities and compensation in foreign currency (this is redundant though since your cost is in foreign currency as well except for those working remotely).
Sadly, due to the stage of the Tech ecosystem in Nigeria, remuneration will continue to be an issue, because most startups cannot afford to pay what developers actually want to earn. If they manage to, then people in marketing and sales will complain. You might just shut the business down anyway.
Poor Working Environment – Due to capital constraints, a lot of startups still will be unable to create the most conducive work environments for their staff. Some will have to cool their offices with fans because they cannot afford air conditioners. Surely the work environment questions transcend the pay.
We have, however, noticed that most startups deliberately try to create good working environments, similar to what is obtainable at google, Uber, Salesforce and Co. This is only possible when the startup raises its funds or just got back from Y Combinator, 500 Startups and more recently, Techstars and Google Launchpad.
What then would a Startup do?
Based on the premises above, it is clear that most startups cannot afford to pay what most developers want to earn. Hence, these developers work for the most established, or the best-funded startups. These well-funded startups then lose many of the developers to foreign companies, especially booking.com. So the question is how do you attract and retain the best developers even in the competitive environment.
Side Hustle to Empire – Rather than trying to raise money at the early phase of your business, I will recommend that you fund the business out of the proceeds of your current salary. By this, I mean that you should start your business as a side hustle first, before jumping into the deep end. With this method, you can pay a crop of good quality developers to build your Minimum Viable Product.
Once that has been built, you leverage your network to conduct a Proof of Concept (POC) and iterate based on feedbacks from the POC. Once the concept has been proven, you initiate a soft launch to understand adoption and if the model can scale. Once this is done, you can then focus on your new startup to accelerate growth.
This model will allow you fund the initial development phase of your product. All you might need following this is a junior developer to maintain the system rather than building additional features.
Technical Co-Founder – Another way is to find a technical co-founder who has the skill and the ability to build the product you are trying to launch. With this technical co-founder, you will not need to be out of pocket too soon as your co-founder will build the product with assistance from his own network of UI/UX designers, front-end guys, etc. You, however, need to know that for you to get a co-founder, salary will not be the motivation; he needs to have skin in the game. So, some equity split is usually the catch.
Employee Stock Option Pool – Another way to ensure that you can get your technology business up to scratch and retain your top developer talents is to have a path to ownership for your employees through the employee stock option plan. These employees know that they might be earning below fair market price right now, but at exit, they have a share of the exit value.
Outreach and Remote Internships – A creative way is to hire 2 senior developers, but build your products leveraging remote internships. These interns will build your product for you, be the evangelists of your company, and learn to become great quality developers from thereon. From this internship opportunity, you identify the best talents and recruit those to work for your business.
In this day and age, you have to be creative to start, remain and grow a business.
Follow me on twitter @AremoFisayo