Even though the Internet is available in Africa and it is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, many African entrepreneurs struggle to make the most of this resource. There are many struggles in Africa generally which hinder the progress of the continent in the digital space, but I believe that with a very small mental shift, we can have globally disruptive technology emerging from Africa.
I want to share what I think are the main five reasons why tech African entrepreneurs (software developers and digitally creative people) fail to make it big from home to match the wonder stories like those from other parts of the world.
Inability to think globally.
I have spoken to many young people who are innovators in Zimbabwe, and most of the ideas they have are to solve one or two local problems. In many cases, the innovators are trying to replicate an online monster like Facebook which is obviously domineering.
The publicly successful digital businesses in the world today focus on bigger markets than their countries or continents. Today we live in a global village, we need to solve global problems with technology from Africa if we are going to succeed.
Why Africa has become everyone’s primary producer and the final consumer is that we have failed to solve global problems from here. With technology and the Internet, it is easy for an African entrepreneur to make a SaaS application to earn money from anywhere in the world. I am urging all African entrepreneurs to think globally and start solving global problems from here.
Focusing on narrow markets.
The second problem which comes out of the first one is that tech entrepreneurs tend to focus on very narrow markets. The world has 7 billion people, Zimbabwe has 15 million people, while Africa has about a billion people.
Honestly, the population of Zimbabwe is negligible when looking at the world at large. Trying to dominate the local market doesn’t really work in the digital space. People are exposed to all options, (local & international) and they choose what they prefer.
In the digital world, even though people may identify with the innovator and the product as a local offering, they may not all end up using it. You are only going to get part of the market.
If you focus on an already small market, while you are going to get only part of it, you would have reduced the chances of making it big as a business. Let’s focus on the bigger market, regions, continents and the world at large. This will make African Tech Innovators very successful.
Failure to build irresistible products.
If you build a product that is not good enough on the market and hopes to have customers because people are being pitiful, supportive or merely showing favour, that product cannot be a global success.
Honestly, some of the work presented in the market by my fellow tech African entrepreneurs is not good enough when compared with the global offers. I know about the financial constraints and all the bad conditions we have here but I still believe excellence is something we need to embrace as African tech entrepreneurs. Our products must not be used out of pity but we must produce the best for the global market. With programming and other creative work, it’s not very expensive to produce the best there is.
Mixed business paradigms.
This challenge comes when the product has been made. Many African entrepreneurs use marketing methods which are inconsistent with what they are selling. For example, because the founder focused on too narrow a market, sometimes they end up using printed fliers to market a mobile app.
Traditional marketing works great for certain products but when tech entrepreneurs use only traditional marketing and leave out the digital marketing efforts undone they will be shooting themselves in the foot. As many options as we have, as entrepreneurs in this generation, we must know exactly which methods to use for marketing our work. Which methods to use for revenue generation? Which platforms to use to spread the message?
When we use mixed business paradigms (the traditional and the digital), we fail to reach the people who will be interested in what we are selling or producing. For example, it is much better to advertise on Facebook if you want website visitors than to put up a billboard.
Turning ideas into business.
Sometimes there are brilliant ideas but they fail to get funding. There is limited understanding of how to make money out of the ideas. When we talk about blogging as an example, so many people cannot see how they can use blogging or podcasting as a source of income. I know there is a lot of hype around this subject, but honestly, there are people who managed to blog their way to success at all levels.
The failure to turn ideas into businesses caused frustration and led to the failure of many tech entrepreneurs in Africa. It is important to get guidance and information on this subject.
Orphaned tech entrepreneurship.
This is a bonus point. There are very few popularly known successful African tech entrepreneurs. Because of this there is generally a huge gap for mentorship or guidance practically available to African entrepreneurs. The available information is from outside the continent. I would like to urge all Africans who are successfully doing business online to come up and share their experiences. You can share those experiences here for the benefit of the whole continent.
As a tech entrepreneur, there is a need for you to get guidance from someone who is ahead of you. Having a guide or mentor will always reduce the number of fatal mistakes one end up making. It’s sad to know that many of the failures are caused by a few common causes. For example, most failed blogging efforts are due to the fact that the owner focused more on making money rather than producing good content.
I am so convinced that Africa has the brains and the capacity to make it big in technology globally. If the tech entrepreneurs are able to go over these challenges it is possible to have disruptive technologies being started in Africa as well.
What do you think about these points? Do you agree or disagree? Did I miss something or point you have around this? You can share your experience as well. Let’s discuss.