Earlier this month, we caught up with Jon Gosier, the Founder of Appfrica, as he is actively preparing for a 15 African countries tour to discover, film and showcase the best of what is going on in Africa’s new creative class and rapidly evolving technology sector.
In this Interview Jon shared his passion to support African creative talent, gave us some glimpse on his upcoming book and movie, the “Cheetah Code”
SiliconAfrica (SA): Hi, Jon! Thanks for joining us, How are you?
SA: Earlier this year, your startup Metalayer won the Audience Choice Award for best Startup at O’Reilly’s Strata Conference, please tell us more about this
Jon: That was exciting an unexpected. Myself, and MetaLayer Director of Business Development Chris Burrage went to San Jose expecting that I’d give a talk, but we did not expect that.
Each year Strata tries to spotlight some of the best upcoming data companies. They have two awards, one given by judges, the other given by the audience. We won the Audience Choice Award for Best Data Startup.
It was important to us, because our product is all about democratizing access to information, clearly something that resonated there with the masses.
SA: Jon, you are also the founder of Appfrica, started in 2008, in Kampala, and Appafrica has been the launchpad of some very innovative african startups. What is the background story of Appfrica and where do you see Appfrica in the next years?
Jon: Yes. Appfrica started in 2008 and has steadily grown since then. We began as an incubator but have now evolved to provide access to early-stage capital to startups all over Africa. One way we do this is through our annual Apps4Africa competition. However, we have a few other things in the works. Appfrica also still incubates companies before they are ready to standalone, which we did for Uganda’s HiveColab.
SA: We can spend more time talking about the past, but you have more exciting things you are working on: the “Cheetah Code”, a book and a movie project which purpose is to showcase the best of what is going on in Africa’s new creative class and rapidly evolving technology sector. First what motivates you to start the “Cheetah code” project?
Jon: The motivation is that when I go to board rooms in San Francisco, London or Amsterdam, the reaction is still disbelief when I share the stories about the African technologists and entrepreneurs we work with.
It’s 2012, the reality of Africa is complex but part of it is incredibly exciting. I never get sick of shattering people’s limited views of the continent with new knowledge.
SA: You have done an amazing job preparing this project. You’ve made a great movie trailer, a great Kickstarter video, and you shared a lot of information on your blog. You’ve received 71 Backers on Kickstarter, raised $4,096, but unfortunately not enough. Are you disappointed?
Jon: No. There are many ways to financing things, but there are only a handful of ways to get a project in front of people’s eyes. Those 71 people are mostly people that I don’t know who are know following the project and some have even gotten involved. So while it didn’t yield the financial outcome I wanted, it’s brought public awareness and attention that the project would not have had otherwise.
SA: The movie shooting will start very soon, right?
Jon: Yes, beginning October 16th in Uganda.
SA: How many countries do you plan to visit? Why these countries?
Jon: Fifteen. Actually I’ve somewhat already been, so I’d be going back. The first time, and where I got the idea for the project, was while working with partners on the Apps4Africa contest I run.
As part of that project myself and my colleagues went to a total of 15 countries holding our App development competition. It was there that I began to meet entrepreneurs of all types. My goal is to go back and document some of their stories.
SA: What are your expectations? Are you excited? How will you know you have succeeded with his project?
Jon: I don’t worry about success or failure in the traditional sense. If I say I’m going to do something and I do it, I’ve succeeded. If I say I’m going to do something, and I don’t or I start making excuses for myself, I’ve failed.
SA: The main theme of your book and movie is that Africa needs more cheetah 🙂 How do you define the Cheetah? How you know you have a cheetah in front of you?
Jon: I actually didn’t define that phrase. Someone whom I respect, George Ayittey coined the phrase. He says, “Africa needs more Cheetah’s, not hippos.” Meaning, young, nimble, resourceful entrepreneurs who are hungry in the figurative sense. The alternative is the slow, inefficient, stubborn leaders of years passed. ‘Cheetah’s’ are go-getters, resourceful and can adapt to rapid change.
Ironically, in actuality hippos are pretty darn fast, too, but you get the point.
SA: Jon, You are also a militant of leaving the colonial past behind and move ahead. In Europe and America, many people still look at Africa through those past lenses. How can we change the world view on Africa?
Jon: My philosophy is ‘don’t get mad, get better’. People can think whatever they want about the continent, we’ll change their minds together. Anything else is a waste of energy.
SA: You are starting your trip soon, Do you need some couchsurfing in some of the countries you’ll be visiting? Do you need contacts of local cheetahs?
Jon: I’m a an AVID user of couchsurfing.com and if you’re on the site I’d totally stay with anyone, anywhere! This is a community driven project, it will be made better by your participation.
SA: You are actively involved in the african tech revolution. You have been director of Ushahidi, a non-profit organization that makes software for global disaster response. What advise will you give to a Cheetah who want to start his business on the continent?
Jon: There is a song called “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” by DJ Shadow. To me that phrase was always powerful. To me it means, do something with nothing. When you have no money, no support, no mentors, no investor, you still have that grain of salt…your passion, your inspiration.
SA: How our readers could contact you?
Here is a preview of the upcoming movie: