Without question, I’m privileged to have a job where I get the opportunity to meet some amazingly talented people, while having novel experiences in far-flung corners of the world. Case in point, last month I wrapped up a 3-country road trip across Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, where I had the opportunity to talk to diverse groups of startup founders and aspiring enrepreneurs. As much as I consider myself well-travelled, large parts of Africa are completely unfamiliar to me, and this was my first encounter with the tech community in this part of the continent.
On the one hand, major African hubs like Lagos, Accra and Nairobi may still appear to sit on that delicate precipice of being labelled as a ‘nascent’ market, yet their startup credentials seem to state otherwise. A steady stream of global startup success stories have been emerging of late from the likes Jumia (Africa’s first and currently only unicorn), Flutterwave, Paystack, Cellulant, Sendy and Aella Credit, who are each applying their own unique form of innovation to solving seemingly impossible problems. On the surface, the propositions they offer may appear to be rather unremarkable; for example Jumia has a popular eComm store, while Sendy transports people and parcels. But think about how you transact online in a market with little to no credit card penetration, or delivering a parcel domestically where the vast majority of residents have no formal address, and the enormity of the challenges these startups have had to overcome quickly becomes apparent.
It’s very easy for those of us who live in western markets to get complacent about the abundance of opportunities available to founders; from a selection of funding options, a strong eco-system of accelerator and incubator programs, reliable infrastructure, connectivity and fast links to other commerce hubs, there’s much we take for granted. My Africa experience was eye opening to say the least. The entrepreneurs here are hungry to succeed, because as one founder put it to me, they have little in the way of prospects and therefore nothing to lose. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is seen as the gateway to social mobility. The sense of urgency I witnessed to understand how they could build a successful business, is likely to be the driver behind the enthusiasm for content and learning. The marketing strategy session I presented as part of the business track was standing room only in every location we visited, and I was impressed by the level of sophistication in the Q&A and thoughtfulness of how some of these entrepreneurs are tackling their unique problems.
I came away from my two weeks on the continent energized and hopeful in a way that I hadn’t been in a very long time. Seeing the passion and willingness to succeed filled me with positivity and optimism, and I look forward to continuing many of the conversations we started in person, through online channels. I’ll be posting my slides, along with detailed talking points from my presentation in a future blogpost.