Talking startups with Moroccan non-entrepreneurs

One of the best ways to understand what can be improved about the technology startup environment in a country is to ask people who have chosen NOT to be entrepreneurs.  A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in a cafe in Fes, Morocco, and had the opportunity to have a conversation with three highly educated Moroccan university students.

We spoke about how popular Facebook was becoming in Morocco.  They said Facebook had grown like crazy recently.  These stats show that Facebook has grown from 1M to 1.7M registered users in the last 6 months.  Facebook now has 5% penetration in Morocco, which is actually quite strong given that only a third of the country has internet access.

However, when we spoke about startups, Facebook seemed to be one of the reasons why these students were not interested in tech entrepreneurship.  When I asked a student who was studying business management whether he wanted to start a tech company, he said:

“Facebook already exists so what else is there to create?”

As if there were only one great service to invent!  When I pressed him on this point, he exclaimed:

“I can’t think of any good ideas”

I would have been happier had he said that he didn’t have a good idea yet but he basically said that he didn’t believe he could come up with an idea worth pursuing.  Even better, he would have said: ‘I often wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea and jot it down before going back to sleep!  I have dozens of ideas and I’m not sure which one to pursue.’

Of course, this is only an anecdote from speaking with one person.  But it does raise some interesting questions: Why are some citizens entrepreneurial and others not?  How can we motivate and inspire people to believe that they can create amazing startups?  Countries in the developing world with little to no tech startup community should be thinking carefully about these questions.

At the end of the conversation with my Moroccan friends, instead of trading email addresses, they requested that we exchange pieces of paper with our names so we could find each other on Facebook.  Maybe someday we’ll be exchanging usernames for a global service that started in Morocco.  For this to happen, Morocco needs to create an environment where young individuals have the ‘crazy’ belief that they can come up with ideas that can turn into the world’s next Facebooks.

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