In defence of the FartApp

Ope Adeoye 9 minute read

This is partly an egg-in-my-face article as it is a challenge of the "startup culture". Especially the Silicon Valley variant that Nigerians seem to want to model after.

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After putting my thoughts down about a checklist for assessing who can fit the description of a generally relatable role model for the average young techie in Nigeria, someone disagreed with my points (though I'm convinced he generally misinterpreted my overall position which I hope I have adequately pointed out) and I sort of promised to give elements of his arguments some further thought.

This is me fulfilling that promise.

This one is on the point about apps/startups and social impact. Looking again, I might have to relax this position in my head a little bit. You know, superior argument. Second thoughts. That sort of thing.

I remember a few years back, we had this discussion in my office about the future of Facebook at a time when it seems they were running out of money while scaling and scaling. They had a few acquisition offers and kept turning it down. My position then was "this guy can't be so smart, Facebook doesn't do anything serious and it'd be dead in a few more years, take the money and skip!". Well, 4 to 5 years later, Facebook (the company) is now a force to be reckoned with in the tech business and even some social impact programs. I got it wrong.

Looking over an expanded enough timeline, an aggregate of all the "useless" apps and products have sort of contributed to a better, possibly more open world.

Between YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and some of the other social platforms; the Arab spring was coordinated and made more effective. Whether that's a good thing or bad, depends on the side of the wall you drink your gari from. But in general, social dissidence and public outcry in oppressive societies have been amplified to the point where they must not be ignored in the world. And various governments have taken notice. In fact, in Nigeria, social media outcry ultimately helped contribute to the removal of a generally-perceived-as-corrupt-and-ineffective government.

There are now loads of small businesses acquiring customers strictly through social media marketing. You know, able to feed their families and pay salaries.

I think I can spot a pattern. It seems that when startups or products have crossed the threshold where they are able to extract financial sustainability out of servicing the "vanity needs" of those of us who are fairly privileged, it then affords them the luxury of a platform from which they can pursue social impact. Then they can hire teams of smarter people, sit at the table of more powerful people, finance more meaningful ventures (as long as it doesn't destroy their core business) and tackle more significant issues like freedom for the oppressed or energy for the poor.

At times, the mere natural evolution of their product just kicks in as they approach scale and more people then find practical use for their originally head-scratching proposition.

Think about it, in the early days of the PC era, the proponents had a vision of a PC in every home. But what they were selling in the early 80s and late 70s was really just an expensive "fart app" for the privileged techie. An expensive piece of electronics that was hard to use for the uninitiated and doesn't really do much. Definitely doesn't end world hunger. Nor cure cancer. But as they are able to stay alive and mop up income from that segment, they have then extended to other segments, the category now does more. All the way down to one laptop per child as a way to bring education to the poor and disadvantaged.

In a nutshell, it seems the frivolous app for the comfortable, when it has attained sustainability can (and arguably naturally does) evolve into a viable social impact engine for the general populace with time. That Nigerian video streaming app for those with unlimited internet access and free time in VI may evolve into a significant video education platform with time if it can attain sustainability and take off.


The payment company that started out making it possible for the banker in an expensive suit to withdraw cash from an ATM in Marina (instead of queuing for tally number) will further down the line start to drive financial inclusion for the underbanked.

Hell! Maybe even Linda Ikeji will someday evolve from Kardashian news, hotbod show offs & clapback reporting into a proper impact engine pursuing more significant social contribution.

Hehe, even Donald Trump wants to now run for president to "make America great again" after hammering from luxury real estate and Daddy's money.

The problem is that 9X% of startups die before they can get to that stage. And there are many "startups". Many FartApps. And we may just have to endure them all while waiting for the few shining stars among them that will pull through and contribute to moving the race forward.

I would personally love to see startups that pursue direct social impact from day one rather than slowly evolving towards it. But I guess wishes are not Teslas.

But wait, what does Yo, do?