Starting Right in Africa Tip #1

Starting Right in Africa Tip #1


Decided to start a business in Africa? You have a brilliant idea and are 100% sure it’ll turn into a goldmine? Well the reality is – deciding and actually starting are two different things altogether.

For those of us that have actually started a business in Africa, we found out the hard way that it wasn’t as easy as the Entrepreneurship books and magazines made out. While start-up businesses in the Western and Asian world have some sort of guideline to follow based on their already laid down structures, the African continent is still developing hers. What works in Berlin, Germany may not necessarily function well in Lagos, Nigeria- due to several factors including government and financial regulations but most especially Africa’s strong traditions.

The African continent is unique and wonderful with its numerous tribes, cultures and diverse ways of functioning, so not having its own ‘standard entrepreneurship bible’ seems like such a waste. As a brand new entrepreneur, you may need a few tips on how to start right in Africa.
Permit me to share…

Do What You’re Passionate About

So your friend hit it big in retail. She discovered a huge demand for sports wear (especially football jerseys) now that everyone is going gaga over the new wave of health awareness and the European premier League! She went to China, bought loads of sports clothing and accessories, set up a fitness shop and now has a chain of 3 stores in your city. Her sister franchised the business and is opening a 4th store in her town next season. Both tell you they are making crazy sales (as you can see) and you decide to give it a shot yourself.

Success is guaranteed, right? Wrong.

The question you should ask yourself first is – are you passionate about sports or even about retail? Most people start businesses in Africa based on others successes forgetting that everyone has to write their own story. Try and be original or if not, at least do your homework ( a proper research ) on what you’re getting yourself into – but most especially do what you LOVE. When you do, the work doesn’t seem as heavy and because it’s born out of love the business will put others first ( clients, employees, communities and country). That way its real purpose will shine through and turn into a collective movement of progress. The business will feed off this passion and love and THRIVE!

Find A Need

Bill Murphy Jr said in his book, The Intelligent Entrepreneur, there are two types of businesses, the ‘pleasure’ and the ‘pain’. ‘Pain’ businesses tend to have a higher success rate because they address more urgent needs and problems.

In my opinion, finding a gap in what Africa needs will most likely help any start-up. As a rapidly developing continent, I believe Africa is hungry for innovative ways to have her needs met. ShopRite started it’s first store in South Africa in 1979. The organization must have recognized that Africa needed large departmental stores where Africans could shop in comfort and style but at low costs (as opposed to going to a local markets).

Growing up in Delta State, Nigeria, I remember as a child having the opinion that large departmental stores were where we would go to get imported (and more expensive) goods. Shopping there was for the privileged. Nowadays this is quite the opposite and ShopRite has been able to merge the economic and social class divide when it comes to retail. With over 500 stores on the African continent (and counting) Africans are now exposed to goods from all over the continent, bringing retail cultures closer together. People must need your solution. A need could also be an alternative for cheaper options. It could even be that what is needed is just a matter of providing the link for separate solutions to merge and become a bundle.


Many people imagine several pages of questionnaires filled with monotonous questions administered by tired looking ‘marketers’ when they see the word ‘research’. Others picture long hours of testing and analyzing results, or hours on end on the laptop, but research could simply be asking questions.

It could be talking to people (strangers, family and friends) and getting their honest opinions on topics you’re interested in. Asking questions and collecting answers is a refreshing approach to listening to views other than your own. It is looking at subjects through the eyes of others and showing respect to their opinions. It is an exercise in communication.

Through questions and answers, I believe people, through the tone of their voices (be it excitement, melancholy, or anxiety), can give an almost clear picture of how successful your research topic may be. Do you see a need? What you think and what you see may not be accurate. Ask questions! If you find at least ten people requiring the need you have discovered, you have a small market already.

Make Sense Of Your Answers

Collate all the answers you have gathered and read them again and again. Study them well – create a daisy chain to see how they connect and determine where you can enter and provide your services.

Make friends with the people you may serve, so that returning with your products will be easier and more comfortable for you.
Lay out your business idea in a plan, and include projections into the future for starting, and growing.

Ask For Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance – especially from existing entrepreneurs, family, and friends. Don’t let yourself be discouraged. There are now several entrepreneurship centers around the continent that can help in making your idea a reality. There are even hubs and accelerators that can provide services for a reduced fee (such as working spaces, legal or admin support), office spaces and amenities are becoming smaller and cheaper to rent ( look for them in your area) – all for you to hit the ground running.

All the best in your business endeavors.

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