Why do so many companies in Africa die young?
As I crisscross the Continent, I meet dozens of companies and entrepreneurs who say that it’s extremely hard to find funding and talent.
As they struggle to win trust, engagement, recognition from investors, employees, customers and other stakeholders; entrepreneurs add that the hardest-to-find capabilities are knowledge resources, technical assistance, sponsors and mentors.
Result: not feeling empowered, a huge number businesses fail within their first five years. Among those who survive, many chronically underperform. They see excellence and growth as impossible.
This is even more true for women entrepreneurs and leaders.
I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be a mentor and a speaker at the Sprinters 2017 in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria on July 31-August 6, 2017.
Sprinters is a global series of high productivity workshops that has the ambition to provide women entrepreneurs and leaders with keys to capital, networks and knowledge. I had to take their call.
With consumer insights, market intelligence, data-driven strategies, and an in-depth experience in navigating and doing business across Africa, I’ll be examining and validating business ideas, products, and projects.
I’ll be empowering entrepreneurs and leaders and enabling them to achieve excellence in complex environments.
Africa is Rover’s land. That’s one of the conclusions of my twelve-month investigation on the success of Range Rover across the Continent, from Johannesburg and Nairobi to Kinshasa and Marrakech. A section on this website called ‘Beyond the Drive’ gives a glimpse of my encounters and interviews with Rover drivers. They candidly talked about their choice, experience, loyalty, car-related expenses. A few of them own several Range models, others just stick to one model, the Defender.
What makes Range Rover so successful with Africans? What lessons can be learned? To complete the research, I needed to go inside the product. So like my previous product trials – the coffee beans Starbucks Reserve Eastern DR Congo Lake Kivu, the water purifier Tata Swach – I did a test-driving of the new model Evoque Convertible, just days before it lands at Rover dealerships in Africa.
Evoque Convertible belongs to the tight family of the ‘beyond products’. It addresses needs you didn’t know you had, it answers questions that you are yet to ask. Beyond needs, beyond expectations. How do you go about exceeding expectations in products, in relationships, in life?
I’m suggesting ideas in my upcoming newsletter. Among the topics featuring in the newsletter are:
- Travelling in Africa. It is a contentious topic to say the least. I am bringing you inside my personal experience as an everyday traveller through airline services, duty free shopping, hotel discoveries, and explorations of some of Africa’s best secrets.
- Brands x Africa That Must Be On Your Wishlist. High quality brands and products inspired by-, made in-, available to- Africa are gaining greater exposure and prominence across the world. It is a wide array spanning furniture, food, fashion, tech, eyewear and more. Let’s see what I have selected.
Make sure you subscribe to the monthly GainXperience Newsletter.
CNN regularly runs commercials like “Invest in Macedonia” or “Invest in Remarkable Indonesia” that present reasons for foreign investments in these countries such as a growing middle class, corporate tax breaks, a youthful and educated population, political reforms, etc. When it comes to promote the business-friendliness of African countries, so far that message has been mostly carried by events across the world, from invitation-only, highly priced, industry conferences to global platforms headlined by renowned CEO’s and heads of government. The ConnectAfrica conference in Brussels Belgium early 2016 was a hybrid product made of the best of the two categories above.
Hosted in the Galeries du Roi, a prestigious heritage site neighbouring the Grand Place, a world top 10 tourist attraction, the conference was packed with high-level public officials, corporate decision makers, early-stage start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs. The atmosphere was strong-focus, straight-to-the-point, high expectations.
I presented two case studies. Real world, on-the-ground, actionable insights on consumer-facing enterprises. The phrase that attendees retained the most out of my exposé was “Doing Business in Africa Not For Sissies”. “What do you mean exactly?” many of them kept on asking me.
The best part of the questions-and-answers sessions (Q&A) I participated in this year is sharing ideas, discussing investment opportunities, learning about business best practices, promising innovations and projects from raw concepts and product prototypes to rising SME’s.
But several attendees at ConnectAfrica at the entr’acte said that they were “surprised” that there had been no Q&A after my presentation! What happened is that after I concluded my presentation, the MC told the audience that he had realized that the whole event had started late and was behind schedule as a result. He had no choice but to push the button Catch Up. That meant, unlike each of the two preceding speakers, no Q&A for me.
This “surprise” turned out to be a unique opportunity. In general, in Q&A sessions, the moderator only takes a limited number of questions and gives only one chance to individual attendees to ask a question. Therefore, in this particular event format where attendees are experts and connoisseurs, a majority refrains from asking questions. The reasons are varied. Some have more than one question or they have a question from which they expect a true discussion with the speaker. Others don’t have a question: they want to give their point of view or to tell their experience at length. Others favour a one-to-one with the speaker as their talk might include specific information.
Consequently, the absence of a Q&A unexpectedly offered me the opportunity to have a rich panel of targeted questions and in-depth conversations; not only at the networking event that followed the group of presentations and speeches, but also post-event as a handful of attendees and I took the conversations to a brasserie downtown Brussels. Then the following days and weeks I had various followups with several attendees.
One gentleman was planning to become a tomato grower in DR Congo, a lady was developing an amazon-type of service in Rwanda. With a public official from Ethiopia, we exchanged views about the new developments at the Addis Ababa airport and at Ethiopian Airlines. Some attendees had tough questions like “When is the best time to quit my job to fully dedicate myself to my business”. Or “I hear this and that about African consumers: will they be there for my product?”. With the ambassador of Botswana, I had the chance to learn more about where the country’s economy is headed: I look forward to exploring Botswana some day!
As I am writing this, I am salivating at a particular couple of meetings due to take place within the GainXperience European Tour. They will have a special flavour as they were born in that no-Q&A Brussels evening.
More info on The GainXperience European Tour 2016 here.
Photos: David Olkarny
Many thanks to Connect Africa
A key part of my work on the field involves meetings with a variety of people from consumers and influencers to press professionals and entrepreneurs. There are times when these meetings painfully come to life as, at the agreed date and time, I am reduced to wait the other person, call them to find out whether they are on their way, wait, call, wait, call. One lesson among many others is that time is conceived, named, interpreted differently across cultures and environments in Africa. One time I happened to witness a curious scene in Congo, in a plane ready to take off for a 45-minute trip. As the aircraft was slowly taxiing-out, prompting the flight attendant to repeat the no-use-of-electronics-during-take-off instruction, the passenger next to me makes a phone call: “Hi…yes…I am coming…I am right there…in a few minutes…actually I am just right there, so wait for me“!
Another lesson learnt from crisscrossing the Continent is that lengthy waits or standbies are a common feature of travels. So I learnt how to make the best use of them. They are no longer dead time, but rather opportunities for doing many things.
The most recent wait-call experience sees me in Westlands, the shopping epicentre of Nairobi. As if endlessly waiting would become more bearable, I positioned myself at the precise place where matatu’s finish their journey, spotting them as they enter the street, following them as they approach, then examining each traveller getting off, hoping for good news. The matatus are private-held minibuses that are the most used public transportation in Kenya.
At that big bus stop, waiting turned into a true spectacle: the matatu’s are flamboyantly decorated, they feature portraits of Jesus, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, Khadafi, etc. They have powerful sound systems that play loud ragga/dancehall, Congolese rumba, hip hop/R&B. They bear popular slogans and sayings and extracts of the Bible and the Koran. They have grandiose or evocative names such as Amazing Grace, God’s Favour, Alvin, Young Rich And Reckless. In addition to the driver, a matatu is staffed by a conductor. I had the chance to come across various types of conductors, from extravagant showmen to resourceful gentlemen.
This spectacle led me to use matatu’s for a couple of trips around Nairobi: it is quite an adventure!
Here’s the beginning of a guide to navigate the matatu network:
- Matatu’s are the most budget-friendly way to get around. For instance, a 20-minute trip from Westlands to the Central Business District (CBD) costs 20-30 Kenyan Shillings (KES). They go from one hub to another where dozens of matatus line up to shuttle off people to all parts of the city and beyond.They operate on routes – which are known by their numbers – and stop wherever people are on the road or wherever they want to get off.
- Knowing which matatu goes where, what route it is likely to take and how much it will charge may not be easy task for the inexperienced. You have to rely on reliable sources, ask questions again and again, and compare.
- Matatu drivers are rough riders. They know no rules but theirs. So be prepared for a wild journey spiced up with big noise coming from both the sound system and the conductor, contrasting with the stoicism, sympathy and helpfulness of commuters.
- Matatu’s offer a true Nairobi experience – one very few outsiders see, but which opens the doors to some of the intricacies of the real urban life in Kenya.