Let’s Solve Real Problems in Africa

The Internet has given birth to a whole new generation of “business” folks with very entrepreneurial mindsets. These people are not interested in the regular 8-5 pm. No, these people want to start their own thing, run their own businesses.They are not interested in running businesses like we are used to. They want to run businesses powered by the Internet. They are experimenting with new business models and turning down “office” work.

One of my mentees called me regarding her new business idea. She had been talking to me about starting an online business for a while and had finally narrowed it down to e-commerce. She sent me a link to her site for review and I spent a few minutes going through the platform.

I was impressed. It looked very good – almost as good as the platforms run by Jumia and Konga. She had partnered with a friend who was a graphic artist and gave him responsibility for the look and feel of the website and it looked great. They hired an Indian fellow from Freelancer.com to build the website using a popular e-commerce engine called Magneto, and, voila! They looked like they were ready to go. The platform looked great and functioned pretty well too.

Then I asked her questions about their logistics. How would they store inventory? How would they handle delivery competitively? How would they ensure their competitive pricing? How would they handle support? How would they scale? She had no answers for many of my questions and this worried me.

Running an e-commerce site is almost like a fad in Nigeria. A lot of startups are going this route to start their own online business. It looks easy, but it really isn’t. Nigeria, and, by extension, several African countries, are totally stunted in terms of infrastructure, and this poses many problems for e-commerce businesses. Building the website is the easy part; running the business in a way that is profitable and can scale is not. Building a website doesn’t make you a startup, it’s about your business model and vision.

A simple Google search will reveal several hundred e-commerce businesses in Nigeria; some of which are niche based while others are “gbogbo ero,” offering every product they can lay their hands on. Nigerian and African entrepreneurs should be looking to start businesses that actually solve our problems.

One of the first things you learn in business and in startup school is that you need to solve real problems if you want your product to succeed (keeping in mind that no business is ever 100% guaranteed of success). People might like and use your product, but then you will have to crack your brain on how to monetize it.

This is what startups in more-developed nations are doing. They are building startups around their various problems – Uber – addressing expensive cab rides, Airbnb – addressing expensive hotels, PayPal – addressing payment challenges.

No continent has problems like Africa. I think it’s safe to say Africa is the HQ of problems that needs to be solved, so there’s probably no better continent to launch your startup in! Several international businesses are now focusing on building startups around solving problems in Asian and African countries. They see the problems we don’t and they are going about solving them.

I would love to see startups focus their efforts on solving African problems that we live with on a day-to-day basis. Trust me, there are plenty of Nigerian and African problems that need solving, and, by extension, great new business ideas for 2016 for your African startups. Start by finding a problem you can solve. Here are a few to get you thinking:

  • A startup that solves corruption or draws attention to it.
  • A startup that gets government officials to be more transparent.
  • A startup that addresses the infrastructural deficient on the continent.
  • A start that addresses the issue of power on the continent.
  • A startup that fights Boko Haram.
  • A startup that educates young girls in the north.
  • A startup that solves transportation/traffic challenges in Lagos.
  • A startup that helps farmers preserve their produce better and longer.
  • A startup that produces/finds really clean water.

Sometimes the biggest problems are solved with the simplest solutions. Don’t be intimidated. Be innovative.

What Nigerian/African problems would you like to see solved?

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