We have heard it numerous times, Africa stands on the verge of incredible growth. Is it true?
Looking at the current challenges and the growth rate of some of the markets, it is possible to doubt if truly Africa as a continent is growing as fast as experts continue to predict. AfDB expects Africa’s economic growth to reach 3.2% by the end of this year. This is banked on private-sector-led growth. But the question that should be on everyone’s mind is not whether this growth prediction is the reality, but whether African businesses are ready to fuel the growth. More importantly, are the solutions being supplied to consumers the best to meet their demands?
Significant challenges require significant solutions. One of the areas that businesses struggle with today is in delivering to customers the right services and products that meet their everyday needs. African consumers are increasingly mobile, digital, ready to spend on things that matter; and demanding for better experience. In markets across Africa, customers demand more services than the market can provide and those solutions provided to customers are subpar. All these shortcomings in delivery are greatly influenced by the fact that businesses across Africa struggle to find the right “recipe”- not only to succeed but finding the right innovative and scaleable solutions for customers.
How? This can be achieved by building a business on the right foundation. A successful business should be build on a foundation of the right idea, the right team and the right partners. This translates into spending a significant amount of time on strategy and more time on refining execution.
The right idea
Africa faces a myriad of challenges that require the right idea that can transform customers’ lives at scale. With a spectrum of issues on the continent that range from education, power, health, water and agriculture, many entrepreneurs are quick to provide solutions that merely skim through the surface of these issues yet don’t solve much. Soon enough, these entrepreneurs will find out that the markets and their customers have moved on to other products and services, and they are left holding the remnants of a great strategy that cannot solve the essential problems that customers face in their respective markets. The right idea matters, but at the heart of the right idea, is making sure it is simple, and allows for agile thinking. Simplicity allows for easy pivoting in strategy execution and responding to market needs at lightning speed.
The right team
Building a business is a team sport. As the saying goes “you don’t build a business, you build people, and people build your business.” The right team will make the difference between success and failure. Entrepreneurs need to build their businesses around people because ultimately one cannot forget that Africans are very relational. You need a team that not only believes in your vision, but can pursue the impossible projects and make them possible.
As you build a business around people, businesses cannot forget an extended member of their team- the customer. This member of the team dictates the success of the business. If you target the right customer, they will provide the insights needed to build great products that will drive scaleable, and impactful solutions. Therefore, while a successful business might be about the size of the impact, it is also about the people that you build around it.
The right partners
Impact needs ambition and ambition needs the right partners. The right partners are your buyers of promise who match your goals. Because of their ambition, they challenge you to invest in the time and energy to achieving the impossible. Walk away from any partnership that seeks to belittle or diminish your goals. Sounds easy right? It is not. Finding these buyers of promise might not be the most challenging part, but as a business that needs to make money/profit, having the courage to walk away from partners who do not server your purpose is harder. In the end, you will serve your customers better if you work with partners who meet your goals and are able to collaborate with you to deliver better products and services to your customers.
There is a fourth, and possibly an unspoken foundation: stick to your principles, even when the odds are against you. Customers will thank you for it. A business is also build on reputation, and principles matter. Don’t slip into “social pressures” such as bribing because it is the expected practice. Once you give in just once based on an assumed marginal cost, you might regret where you end up.
Innovate. Disrupt. Be bold. Be significant.
Let’s go back to the basics — building a business in Africa is a journey of passion powered by a dose of the right infrastructural support. Even then, that is not enough. Impact and success in any country has now become a matter of thinking differently, but taking on big bets and putting all the energy in making those bets a reality.
This is not to say that all is lost. We have pockets of “genius” and great innovations around the continent; and some markets are doing better than others. Business environments across the continent do vary with different growth rates- but the challenges of doing business in the continent, to some extent, are the same irregardless of the country. If entrepreneurs are the cornerstone of any vibrant economy, then we can no longer operate with the usual business practices and expect to transform the African continent. We need to challenge the status quo of how we are doing business, and how we are innovating around providing better and impactful solutions to the myriad challenges in the various sectors. As the saying goes, you can’t do the same things and expect different results.