Innovation

The future of business is African. Image credit: Alex Niragira/ Flickr

 

This is a call to action for the dreamers of the world.

Imagine being in a market where more people live in a high-speed mobile Internet zone than have electricity. Where farmers with $50 Android 5.0 smartphones use WhatsApp to joke with their friends on one thread and confirm market prices for cassava on another. And data for one dollar per gigabyte is used to spread viral videos through villages of women singing Michael Jackson.

The art of the possible would be different in places like this. The innovative thinking that has defined the world’s best entrepreneurs would be able to create services that don’t exist today that would empower these users. This world doesn’t need imagining — there are many places like this in Sub-Saharan Africa today.

Something magical is happening in the poorest countries of the world. With smartphone prices plummeting, with ever-affordable, and fast, mobile data and with increasingly user-friendly services, tech has taken off in Africa.

On the other hand, outside of a few dreams of drones and balloons, the tech industry hasn’t really looked at Africa as an area of opportunity. This is a place to give aid, not a place to make money.

This is foolish; Africa is the fastest-growing economic and population region of the world. An influential study from UNICEF projects Sub-Saharan Africa to have a population boom from today’s 900 million people to 2.4 billion by 2050, with almost half of the world’s children being on the continent by 2100.

Couple this with an underlying growth rate of just 2 percent in the United States, a Europe that could only dream of such a number and a China that has already peaked in labor force population. Is it any wonder where the future of the world lies? As UNICEF reports, “The future of humanity is increasingly African.”

Why aren’t innovative projects sprouting to take advantage of this opportunity? The answer is that there are already seeds in the ground. Forums like East Africa’s PIVOT East showcase a startup culture that would be instantly recognizable to any Silicon Valley veteran.

However, seeds are not enough. The greater problem is that there is not yet critical mass in having the right mixture of dreamers, builders, money and support that let innovative businesses sincerely disrupt Africa.

WhatsApp and Facebook show that disruption is possible. But almost every single product that Western tech companies target in the developing world are developed in American or European startup hubs — by developers who have never heard of a boda boda, used Internet in the absence of electricity or had a user-experience case study that includes an illiterate farmer.

The biggest gap is from the builders and the dreamers. Until the world’s best and brightest decide to stay in Africa, instead of ignore it or flee it, there will be little headway in creating a tech ecosystem that innovatively confronts the opportunities and challenges of the continent — because no one understands them.

You can only solve the problems you understand. If you look out the window and see San Jose, you will solve problems for the people of San Jose. If you look out the window and see Kigali, you will solve problems for the people of Kigali.

So why is this a call to action? Are you a dreamer? Are you a builder? Don’t build the next WhatsApp in America, come to Africa.

If you want money, it will be here for the pioneers who unlock the mysteries of success. If you want to have positive impact, the people here are the poorest in the world, and can benefit the most from innovative products. If you want to build something beautiful, you will be operating on a blank canvas, building in a green field that doesn’t have to compromise with legacy systems or legacy thinking.

The challenges are huge, just as they were for America’s forefathers who decided to leave an atrophied Europe in the hope of a brighter future. Access to capital (or lack thereof), shoddy infrastructure, rampant corruption and overbearing bureaucracy all present huge headwinds that should intimidate any entrepreneur.

However, places like Kigali, with its strong rule of law, ease of doing business and ICT entrepreneur visa can be a test kitchen where startups can launch, iterate, then scale into larger markets.

We are looking into an African future. This can be a future full of missed opportunities, with mass unemployment and continuing failure for the poorest countries to give their people the opportunities the West takes for granted.

However, it also can provide opportunity, a place where innovative ideas for huge markets that have high impact can thrive and conquer. The choice is not passive. Africa needs ICT pioneers who will be a critical determinant in choosing which future it sails toward.

 

Barrett Nash via Techcrunch.com

Image credit:Wealthie.com.au

Failure to launch? What are the real reasons? Image credit:Wealthie.com.au

I have come across many articles (one as recent as last week) telling all of us the only reason we are not successful in business is down to us. The article I read last week was targeted at Entrepreneurs. The author believes quite strongly that there is absolutely no excuse for failure in starting up your business. He listed some “common excuses” business inclined folks give when businesses fail to launch.

Ok, here’s the slight irony, while I agree wholeheartedly with the fact that “we fail because we’ve told ourselves we’ve failed” , I am absolutely certain that external forces mostly beyond our control combine to make most startups fail to…. well… startup.

According to the author (name protected) of this article which I found quite interesting by the way, the most common reason given by Entrepreneurs for startup failure is the lack of funding. At that point, I wanted to scream. Make no mistake, lack of funding is REAL. It’s not an ‘excuse’, It is a legitimate reason for the launch failure and premature death of many startups. Lets get real, Entrepreneurs are rock stars (I wrote an article about that earlier) but we are not all geniuses equipped with all the natural talents under the sun – talents which can make you walk into any bank and come out with a loan or smooth enough to woo a panel of investors to put their money into your project.

Some of us are just regular folks with regular problems, regular credit reports –  meaning regular debts. And with regular debts, no bank, particularly after the last recession will lend money to any individual to service an untested project. The ones willing to lend will ask you to ‘show some commitment’ by providing anything from 10% to 25% collateral and capital. Where these banks expect to see startup show up with that amount of money as collateral beats the hell out of me. Loan providers that waive these ridiculous collateral have steeper interest rates which simply mean you are already in debt before your business starts. Throw all these in the mix and tell me how someone could say an Entrepreneur’s reason for pulling out of a startup is illegitimate.

Then comes the 2nd most common reason – lack of support. I will say it till I am blue in the face, I have met innovators that are quite simply BRILLIANT but have absolutely no clue what to do with their inventions or business ideas. It happens! When you look at business moguls these days, if the most successful ones didn’t know where to take their invention, they knew when to sell their invention, if they didn’t, they knew how to sell their invention (or themselves) Some Entrepreneurs do not possess those set of skills or the confidence to match. This is the job of business mentors, but how do you find them?

We live in such a cynical world these days that the risk of intellectual property theft is clear and present. If you are not thinking about it, someone out there is ready to steal from you. Another irony is this – those who have the time or energy to mentor you and your business idea with all good intent and purposes might not have the expertise to break your startup into the big time; those that have the contacts and experience to break you into the big time do not have the time or energy to mentor you, except of course you are willing to pay for their services. Ah, the money issue again.

Another ‘excuse’ for startups failure to launch is red tape (an idiom that refers to excessive regulation on the part of governments) Consider this, I know 2 female entrepreneurs who worked really hard on a product – home-made jam, chutney and mulled wine. They did their market research the very hard way, standing outside in the cold winter selling their product, and people came in droves to buy. The next logical step of course was to make a proper business out of it, formalise what needs formalising, get a sales outlet ( a shop) and sell these fantastic products to willing buyers.

They didn’t have the money upscale, but found a mentor through a popular start-up loan service provider. By the time they had been able to analyse what was needed to actually go into full-time production, it wasn’t worth starting, which was a shame because that business would have been a hit in the community. They needed more than 4 licences between them, and an unbelievable obstacle course of rigours and procedure that was so ridiculous it made the whole process worthless. Oh, by the way, the would-be startup costs was in excess of over £20k. For home-made Chutney and jam?? Yes, seriously!!

The above scenario is a classic case of bureaucratic complexities that border on lack of common sense. This is experienced everyday by Entrepreneurs. Some of these Entrepreneurs have the most brilliant business ideas but the moment these bureaucratic forces combine, the idea dies before it launches, or dies immediately after launch.

I do enjoy reading self-help publications helpful to anyone willing to start a business, but I found this particular article (and every similar one) very hard to swallow. I feel the author wanted to write, just for the sake of writing. Most people who want to go into business do that knowing the risks and challenges involved in starting one, however, many simply do not succeed in starting up due to the reasons listed above. It is unfortunate for these reasons to be termed as excuses. They are not excuses. They are just obstacles that are too complex to surmount sometimes.

The only thing I will agree with is that regardless of these complexities, Entrepreneurs must always, ALWAYS be resilient. The most successful business people today took a risk, took an opportunity but didn’t take NO for an answer. What I am trying to say is very simple, in your startup journey, you will encounter a lot of challenges, some of them will be difficult for you to overcome, some of them will be impossible to overcome but keep going at it, never give up and DO NOT STOP at the first  (2nd  or  3rd) hurdle because eventually you will get into the realm of success. 

If someone tells me that, I will agree TOTALLY.

Kole Obasa

www.thiskoleobasa.com

Business District in Lagos, Nigeria. Image Credit: (BuzzNigeria

Nigerians shouted and the electorate voted with their feet and ushered in a change in government. This change came in the guise of President Muhammadu Buhari, a former Military Head of State of the country. Amongst much fanfare, President Buhari promised change; which will directly alleviate the suffering of the common Nigerian, as well as improve their lives. The wind of change presently sweeping the nation comes with the hope that business opportunities can improve under this new government. While we await the manifestation of President Buhari’s plans for his country, here are 6 business areas that must be explored:

Oil & Gas: Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petroleum in the world and the 8th largest exporter, and has the 10th largest proven reserves. Petroleum plays a large role in the Nigerian economy, accounting for 40% of GDP and 80% of Government earnings. This is the numero uno of investment opportunities, however, investing in this sector is no mean feat. As with economies all over the world, oil and gas is a market dominated by a small number of oligopolists. This means entry into it is minimal to near impossible, but if you have the capital investment to get in, your returns will be astronomical.

Renewable Energy: Even though Nigeria’s economy is now classed as the largest in Africa, unfortunately, electricity supply in the country is at best epileptic. Past governments have tried but failed to solve the problem with power generation fluctuating between 1500mw and 5500mw. If the new dispensation is to be believed, then investors and entrepreneurs must actively look at finding lasting solutions to the power generation problem in the country. Renewable energy is the wisest solution.

Renewable energy is generally known as energy that comes from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. This type of energy replaces conventional fuels in 4 areas and one of which is electricity generation. The abundant supply of sunlight, wind and rain in this west african country, can only mean that with the right innovation and investment, power generation can be very lucrative. Wind turbines and solar panels must surely be considered and business ideas associated with both must not be discounted. This market is open in Nigeria but requires a significant amount of investment to be considered credible.

A few challenges await entrepreneurs or investors looking to go into this kind of business. Obstacles include (1) the cynical nature of Nigerians; this is due to the fact that many Renewable Energy companies have promised but failed to deliver in the past, (2) lack of support by past governments to assist companies who invested in renewable energy. However, there is every reason to be hopeful with the new government. (3) the technology has  not been completely tested for the Nigerian environment. If all this is taken into account, there is no reason investors in renewable energy won’t make a killing and smile to their banks.

Security and public safety: This is a major problem in Nigeria. The bane of armed robbery and street violence in the recent past has now been compounded by the emergence of terrorism and kidnapping. Most foreign countries now advise their citizens “against all but essential travel to” more than 10 states in the country. But in the midst of all that chaos is a business opportunity. The current government is aware of the country’s security lapses and as such business ideas that can improve the general safety of Nigerians must be considered. To make a profit, ideas that are simple, straightforward and non complicated should be pushed forward. It is important to understand that entry into the security and safety industry in Nigeria ranges from low to high investment, and as such returns will mirror the level of investment. I believe very strongly that Nigerians can invest in their own safety by coming up with security and safety innovations and make some money out of it.

Anti graft/ Anti corruption: If you want to make some money by doing business in Nigeria, this is it. The major campaign slogan for President Buhari was “Change” and the promise to significantly reduce corruption in his country by tackling it head on. Some countries have termed Nigeria as ‘the most corrupt nation in the world’ Rightly or wrongly, things need to be done to promote transparency in the country. President Buhari promised a reduction in corruption and was overwhelmingly voted into power based on this promise. With that in mind, there is an astronomical level of expectation placed directly on him (and rightly so). Any entrepreneur or investor worth his salt should seriously consider anti corruption ideas and innovations. With the present level of expectation, this is a ball Mr President cannot afford to drop. Entrepreneurs working in partnership with the government (Federal or State) will no doubt be successful in any business venture related to anti corruption.

Training: From banking to agriculture; from customer service to road safety, training (at all levels) is beneficial to any growing society. Nigeria should not be different. Short, sharp bespoke training combined with appropriate training facilities are lacking in the country. Nigerian entrepreneurs together with foreign investors can look at this area and devise solutions that are profitable but at the same time helpful to Nigerians. Captains of industry, Heads of Departments and even Chief Executives can benefit directly from training packages bespoke to their industries to align with the ever changing face of global business. Training providers can make a significant impact in Nigeria thus making training a major investment opportunity.

Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurship is ESSENTIAL for the sound and sustained economic development of a country therefore entrepreneurship development is essential too since entrepreneurs contribute to the national income. Entrepreneurs create upward social mobility, change, development and NEW BUSINESSES. It is my opinion (and many others) therefore that these ‘national treasures’ must be protected, promoted, supported and encouraged. As stated earlier, Nigeria is considered the largest economy in Africa, until recently, this was not the case, but the Nigerian GDP now includes previously uncounted industries like telecoms, information technology, music, online sales, airlines and film production. Industries that were single handedly created, nurtured and sustained by entrepreneurs without government support.

Entrepreneurship must be encouraged in Nigeria and in return entrepreneurs must develop themselves. It in encouraging that entrepreneurship come naturally to the common Nigerian who need little or no motivation to start a business. But these guys (and girls) need honest but hefty financial backing in order to sustain and grow their entrepreneurial flair. I have come across business ideas that could quite simply change the way Nigerians live, but the lack of support and finances have stymied the realisation of these ideas. Quite unfortunate really.

If President Buhari keeps his promises to the Nigerian people, this can only mean business opportunities will abound and lead to an improvement in business and investment during his tenure. We are praying and hoping.

Kole Obasa

 

Image credit: Entrepreneur.com | Pixabay

Image credit: Entrepreneur.com | Pixabay

I love giving back and helping others. I recently created a Facebook group that now has more than 4,000 entrepreneurs. We discuss startups and share information. It gives me good insight into some of the different obstacles entrepreneurs face all over the world.

I’ve been able to drill down this list to five specific areas I see entrepreneurs fumbling. This is my advice:

1. Stop talking, start doing.
The wantrepreneur disease runs rampant in different circles. I hear and see it frequently. There’s a reason why the “Just Do It” slogan became so popular. If you want to be an entrepreneur, be one. There are thousands of people who are less talented, less intelligent and less driven living the lives that they’ve envisioned because they figured out how to start. That’s obviously step one.

2. Stop building, start testing.
This is my favorite approach to business. I love testing ideas and figuring out if my assumptions are correct. Even better is when they’re incorrect because I get to learn why. There’s a reason why the lean startup methodology has been so popular and why agile development continues to be the best approach.

It makes no sense wasting time, energy, effort and resources before you’ve determined if there’s even a demand for whatever it is you are building or offering. Testing your ideas saves you time and helps you build or offer something people actually want.

3. Stop looking for funding, start providing value.
I was guilty of this early on in my startup career. I thought that investor funding was the solution to everything, and if I just was able to find the right investor I would be able to build my dream company. That’s hardly the case. In fact, funding is a result of business value (especially now, with traditional seed rounds non-existent), not a means to it.

4. Stop selling, start sharing.
Nobody wants to be sold these days. People want to be engaged with your story, vision and/or value of your product or service. Case studies and testimonials are a great way to share the benefits of your product or service. Learn the art of storytelling and share your excitement about your business, the opportunity and the benefits your company provides, and share that.

5. Stop being busy, start being productive.
There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. I used to catch myself being and feeling “busy” all of the time. Busy is a mental state. Productive is actually accomplishing tasks and objectives that help move your business forward.

We all have a million things that need to be done at any point in time. Figure out how to prioritize, set aside specific time for specific tasks and the times of day when you’re most effective. Use this information to be productive, and lose the mindset of “busy.”

Andrew Medal

 

No need to step on others to get ahead. Image credit: 1stwebdesigner.com | Kole Obasa

No need to step on others to get ahead. Image credit: 1stwebdesigner.com | Kole Obasa

During a networking event, I was once asked why the most successful entrepreneurs seem to be heartless or just completely stone-cold wheeler dealers.

It is very easy to see why most people have that perception about entrepreneurs; particularly successful ones. I once had that perception.

I have since understood a few truths about people in business. One common trait of successful entrepreneurs is shrewdness – which in other words mean showing sharp powers of judgement, astute or shark’ very easily translated to being insensitive. The richest entrepreneurs in the world possess powerful instincts, are very astute and are sharks. They roam the waters (business environment) and once they smell blood (business opportunities) they pounce (strike a business deal) and move on to the next one.

Aliko Dangote. Image Credit: Forbes

Aliko Dangote. Image credit: Forbes

It is the case with ALL of them – Sir Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, Aliko Dangote etc. They simply have that unmatchable (killer) instinct. They take no prisoners, but this astuteness can sometimes be perceived as insensitive.

You will not hear Sir Alan Sugar speak without using the phrase “Its a Dog eat Dog World” making you understand that in the business world, you either kill or be killed. But is it really?

Sir Alan Sugar - Its a dog eat dog world. Image credit: pressgazzette

Sir Alan Sugar – Its a dog eat dog world. Image credit: pressgazzette

Here’s my take on it, the business environment differs, but as we have already established, successful entrepreneurs are shrewd. Observers, followers and aspiring entrepreneurs have over time held on to this belief that in order to succeed in business you MUST be an insensitive and cold hearted bastard.

The business world is an open ocean, filled with sharks with very little food; you need to be able to kill other sharks to survive right? Wrong. You need to be cleverer thats for sure and you simply need to match (or even surpass) the skills and power of the biggest shark. That is the only way you can survive. You don’t need to step on others to get ahead.

Of course, you can be successful too if you manage to kill some of the other sharks, but is that how you want to be known? The entrepreneur who will do anything to be successful? Is that what entrepreneurship is about?

I have seen entrepreneurs resort to the unthinkable in order to gain competitive advantage over their competition. Negative press release, bad comments on comparison sites and even sabotage are just a few dirty tricks employed by entrepreneurs these days. “Integrity is dying a very slow death in business these days”  

Sir Richard Branson - gentleman businessman. Image credit: artoflivingguide

Sir Richard Branson – gentleman businessman. Image credit: artoflivingguide

Some successful  business men (and women) display a hardened outer body, but some are just plain gentle but are equally as successful. Take Sir Richard Branson, widely considered a gentleman businessman; he is of a different ilk from Aliko Dangote or Alan Sugar, but he’s a shark nonetheless. He spots opportunities and take them. But he didn’t step on others to get there. Not suggesting Dangote or Sugar did, but do you see the difference? They are the same but not the same!

Michelle Mone – Founder of Ultimo bras seriously questions integrity and general attitude towards business. She created an empire, is a multi millionaire but didn’t sell her soul to get there.

Michelle Mone - Consistently highlights the lack of integrity in entrepreneurs today. Image credit: Virginmedia

Michelle Mone – Consistently highlights the lack of integrity in entrepreneurs today. Image credit: Virginmedia

Succeeding in business is only about being smarter, sharper, more intelligent, the better marketer, the one with the best instinct and MOST IMPORTANTLY the luckier. So, its not about working hard to completely destroy your competition.

They will always be there, even if you kill some, others will appear. So live with them but be smarter than them.

Entrepreneurs (established and aspiring) thinking they ought to display a kill or be killed attitude in order to succeed need not bother starting a business. They can try soldiering.

The message is simple: Rather than kill or be killed, all I’m saying is: “Don’t kill but try not to be killed” 

Kole Obasa

Image credit: cutthroathippiehang.

Image credit: cutthroathippiehang.

 

Pursue your dreams, don't let anybody dissuade you.

Checkmate – Image credit: David|Flickr

Whenever you try to make positive changes in your life, you’ll experience resistance.

Sometimes, the resistance is internal, meaning you vs. yourself.

Waking up earlier to go to the gym sucks. Much easier to press “snooze.” Politely declining that slice of pizza when your coworkers just happen to be throwing another impromptu party….agony.

Same thing with starting a business. Sometimes you put so many obstacles in your own way that you forget why you wanted to start the damn thing to begin with.

That’s all internal resistance to change. Usually, that type of resistance is actually a good sign. It means you’re stretching yourself. But along with internal resistance, you’ll also face a lot of external resistance from people around you.

From parents who tell you to “be realistic”… “I know you like dance…but are you sure you don’t want to major in computer science? Starting salary is $80,000!”

To coworkers who tell you that you should just be happy for even having a job…”OMG in THIS economy??!!”

To friends who mock you, discourage you, or don’t even take the time to listen to you.

This is all external resistance. If you let these people affect your decisions, the results can be disastrous. Here’s the truth: People who criticize you, overlook you or belittle you for doing what you love don’t actually understand your “why.”

Related: To Motivate Yourself to Success, Find Your ‘Why’

They don’t understand why your passions, dreams and desires are so important to you. And that’s OK. It’s perfectly OK to live a life that others don’t understand.

It’s perfectly OK to choose a career that isn’t “normal”.

It’s perfectly OK to stay up all night, working on something that you care about, even if it isn’t even making you money right now.

It’s perfectly OK to be the freak, the misfit, the outcast.

The only thing that isn’t OK is giving up your unique personality or hiding your gifts because someone else shamed you into shrinking from your potential.

So today, go out and live life on your own terms. In due time, all the people who mocked you will go from disparaging you to asking, “Hey…how’d ya do that?”

And all you’ll be able to do is grin.

Daniel Dipiazza

Everybody’s understanding of Entrepreneurship is understandably very different.

Entrepreneurship means a lot of things to a lot of people and it involves constant learning and adaptation. The best learners are entrepreneurs, and so are the best teachers. Since working for yourself involves a lot of critical but constant decision making, it only makes sense if you are open to constant learning.

Read Full Article

Contactelle – A must-have for growing businesses.

Any individual or business seriously thinking about acquiring a Contact Management System or software for their clients/customers or staff must seriously consider Contactelle.

Contactelle simply allows you to securely store, manage and communicate with your contacts via email, SMS and social media (twitter) whether friends, customers, members, clients or even your email.

It does more!!! Simply visit their website and be amazed at this piece of genius.