Innovators

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: 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.

 

Picture courtesy of Entrepreneur.com

Picture courtesy of Entrepreneur.com

Starting and growing a business feels overwhelming at times. You have a million things on your to-do list, and there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished.

There may also be some reading this who aren’t entrepreneurs, yet. You want to be and are working on making the transition. When you are building your business on the side, there is even less time and a longer to-do list.

Despite working hard and staying busy, you are not making the kind of progress you want to make. No matter what you try, it seems like you are hitting roadblocks. You are not getting closer to leaving your day job or taking your business to the next level.

You are busy with home life and everything you need to accomplish. There is something, however, that you do not want to think about or admit. The busy-ness of life helps keep these thoughts buried in the back of your mind.

If you were to slow down and get honest, you would realize the reason you are not making the kind of progress is because you are waiting for permission.

You are waiting for all the stars to align or a pat on the back from someone successful. The waiting has kept you stuck and frustrated. It is taking your most precious resource: your time.

Here are some reasons why you do not need to wait for permission or the right circumstances, and why you have what it takes to build your business and dream lifestyle.

1. You have what you need for success.
Look around you. Amazing technology and the power of the Internet are a part of entrepreneur’s everyday life. These advances have removed the old-school gatekeepers and given us the permission we need to build a business on our own.

We have everything we need to research and create a plan for success. You do not have to wait for the right credentials or validation from an outside source. Life experience, technology, social media and the Internet offer what you need to create a thriving business.

Related: The One Tool You Need for Success? A Mirror.

2. Opportunities abound.
Every day there are 2.5 billion people logging onto the Internet. If you want to start or grow your business, the Internet offers you a wealth of possible leads.

You do not need permission to tell these leads about what you do and how you can help them. You can reach them where they are at and in the way they will respond. You can show them how you can help them with their biggest struggles.

3. Masterminds offer support.
Mastermind groups have gained popularity in recent years and for good reason. They offer you a chance to brainstorm and network with those on a similar journey as yours. You can vent or ask your mastermind group for advice.

These groups have created an invaluable support system for entrepreneurs to share what works and what doesn’t. They have created an environment of success that you can absorb and incorporate into your business. Entrepreneurs can network and grow together without waiting for permission.

Related: Need Some Communal Inspiration? Consider Masterminds or Mentorships.

4. Life is too short.
I realize that phrase has become cliché in our society, but it’s true. Each of us only gets one life to live and time is the one resource we’ll never get back. You could spend your whole life taking the safe route and dying empty.

When you wait for permission, you waste precious time. You miss out on a life and business you love. Life is too short to wait for the right time and circumstances. You should not wait.

Waiting for permission is another form of a self-limiting belief. It is an excuse that keeps you from the amazing life and business you could have. Any successful entrepreneur could tell you that success starts with the right mindset.

You have what you need to beat your doubt, fear, and self-limiting beliefs. You have to ignore the naysayers who tell you to go through some elaborate process. Use what’s available to us today to create real freedom in your life and business.

Some of the greatest business were born when an entrepreneur ignored what is considered “normal” and chased what they believed. Stop waiting for permission and do all the things you want to do in your business and life.

Kimanzi Constable

This is why I choose Apple. To stand out and be successful, every business must have 1 of 2 things: they must be cost leaders or they must be different. The truly successful businesses have both qualities.

The leadership and direction of Apple under Steve Jobs was truly revolutionary and should be the template for many businesses today.

Enjoy the video.

Steve Jobs on Innovation. Click to play the video.

 

 

Got a business idea? Where do you begin?

Got a business idea? Where do you begin?

 

Here’s a proven initial action plan:

Identity – The product must be identified in order to have a relevant presence in the market place. For any product, it is wise to incorporate a company (a partnership or sole trader registration can also suffice)

Registration can help with ensuring your preferred name is registered and not taken by someone else. A registered company is liable to relevant taxes, so ensure you do your research before registration. Following this, extensive research must also be done to ensure an idea like yours does not already exist. If it does, what is the competition? What are their weaknesses? and how can you beat them?

Branding – This is the core of the business. Your product must have a solid logo, banner, name and presence. Reflect carefully about names that will resonate with consumers and customers alike. Your logo must be catchy as this will be what your product will be associated with……Forever!
Protection – Your business idea must be protected in order to stand a chance of success. Protection comes in many guises but there are 4 main types:

  1. Patent – A patent protects new inventions and covers how things work, what they do, how they do it, what they are made of and how they are made. Patenting costs between £230-£280 and can take up to 7 yrs to come out, but once patented, nobody else has the right to your idea.
  2. Trade mark – is a sign, which can distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors (you may refer to your trade mark as your “brand”). It can be for example words, logos or a combination of both. TM’s cost £170.
  3. Copyright – this automatically protects your idea. It’s free, but you still need to make it official.
  4. Design – simply protects the shape of an object. If this is relevant to your business idea, then you need to strongly consider this level of protection.

Marketing and Promotion – Once the identity and branding has been done, you can then start the marketing and promotion process. I’ll advice though that some form of protection is in place before any marketing is done just to deter anyone from copying or duplicating your idea. Marketing is an ongoing aspect of business. You can never have too much marketing or promotion. There are several channels for marketing and its best to utilise the free ones initially. Facebook, Twitter, Linked In are all sure-fire ways of promoting and marketing your product. I suggest a Facebook page as well as constant tweets about the product to build fan and follower base. The more followers you get on these platforms, the more users you get for the product.

Business plan – a complete and comprehensive business plan will be needed regardless of the type of support needed. Business plans are very important documents to keep and maintain not just for investors but for the entrepreneur too. Any business plan needs to be regularly updated in order to know what stage any business is at, next steps to take, updates on your competition and market trends.

Costs – In order to be able to determine the type and level of support, its important to put a figure on the business idea. Every investor, Venture Capitalist, Bank or loan company will want to know the product’s associated costs and how much investment you’ll need in total. This can be worked out by determining the costs of production, maintenance, servicing, admin, salaries, marketing & Promotion, miscellaneous expenses etc.

Investor or loan support? – It is imperative to determine the kind of support you would need to push this business forward. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Getting a loan is much more straightforward however, banks RARELY give loans any more to start-up businesses. There are several loan companies that are designed for new start-up businesses; all they need is financial projection, business plans, cashflow, profit and loss accounts etc. However, with any loan you have to pay back! Which leads to investors and Venture Capitalists. It’s extremely hard to get one these days especially in the current climate, but it can be done. There are several ways to hook an investor. I’ll talk more about investors next time! Just know that if the product is good, the product is good. Investors will not shy away from a good product.
Follow these simple steps when considering bringing a business idea to market.

Kole Obasa

Business instincts should flag up stop/start signs during startup.

Business instincts should flag up stop/start signs during startup.

Instinct is every entrepreneur’s greatest asset.

Starting up a business as daunting as it is could be ridiculously easier if entrepreneurs learn to trust their instincts.

The rigours of bringing a product or idea to market is enough to dissuade the weak-minded – company formation, idea protection (patenting, trademarking etc) marketing, promotion, finding investors or loans are just some of the processes entrepreneurs have to go through.

There are several books, articles, blogs that will tell you the perfect way to bringing your product to market and while some of them might be right, the average entrepreneur always look to consult with some sort of consultant or the other during startup.

The trouble is that the biggest and the best business consultant reside in us all; that is our instincts. Never discount your instinct in business. Your instincts tell you if your idea is simply an idea, if it will be accepted by consumers, if its viable and if to put an end to it all if it’s haemorrhaging.

Startup success vary from person to person; the most successful startups have a few things in common but the biggest trait of successful entrepreneurs with successful startups is self-belief, which is a form of instincts.

There is nothing wrong with consulting with specialists during the process of starting up, but first and foremost, you must listen to your instincts. That is your greatest asset.

Kole Obasa