Before I start talking about what the African entrepreneur needs to know, let’s first of all answer the question; who is an entrepreneur?
According to Wikipedia, Entrepreneurship is the process of designing, launching and running a new business, which is more often than not, initially a small business, offering a product, process or service for sale or hire. The people who create these businesses are called entrepreneurs
Also, according to Investopedia, An entrepreneur is an individual who, rather than working as an employee, runs a small business and assumes all the risks and rewards of a given business venture, idea, or good or service offered for sale. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as a business leader and innovator of new ideas and business processes.
From both definitions, it is clear that an entrepreneur is a person willing to risk what he/she has to pursue an objective rather than that of another, which he/she hopes will pay bigger returns. This is perhaps just a reminder of who we are here because I know most of us visiting are entrepreneurs or potential entrepreneurs.
When it comes to the African entrepreneur, my definition varies a bit from the general definition of who an entrepreneur is and I think every African entrepreneur needs to know why and where the variation comes from. If truly the African entrepreneur will be successful, he/she will need not, be a stranger to the unfair grounds of competition that stirs at him/her. There is no way that one can avoid the foreign competitions, so the earlier we recognize it the better our chance of success as entrepreneurs.
The African entrepreneur is one willing to take risk and rewards, in the midst of a pool of opportunities but lacks the general economic basics (basic essentials that provide fertile grounds for the growth and development of new businesses) to enhance his/her efforts as an entrepreneur to grow his business.
The successful entrepreneurs in Africa today, are people who understood this definition from day one, and that is why they have stood firm and won most competitions, be it foreign or local. DANGOTE is a good example. Despite the foreign competition in the cement industry in Africa, DANGOTE cement is still expanding and flourishing. He has the biggest cement factory in Africa.
As they say, “The strongest man in a battle is one that knows his weaknesses”. Most start-ups in Africa have failed because they did not understand exactly their position in the business environment. Don’t get overexcited by the article and motivational speakers here and there asking you to go for it so long as it’s your passion and all that, most especially people who have no idea about the African business environment.
Don’t get me wrong, it is good to listen to motivational speeches, read articles about starting up and chasing your passion but, before you put that to use, consider your business setting first. I have read a lot of articles and books about starting up, and all they tell you are general principles of starting a business anywhere in the world. I remember speaking to an entrepreneur friend of mine who is into digital marketing about his business in Ghana. He has had the opportunity of setting up a similar business in abroad and wants to do the same in Ghana
He said “I underestimated the cost of internet services in Ghana. Moreover, the quality is very poor for the price at which internet service providers charge”. Also, the power outages are too much such that I had to get a generator set to supplement my power supply.
These are some of the realities on the ground that every potential African entrepreneur must know about. If you must succeed as an African entrepreneur, after you have found your passion, there needs to be an extensive investigation into the field or industry that you are about to get into.
Africa is not like the first world countries where there are fertile grounds for the growth of new businesses. Countries like U.S have well set up structures to develop small businesses and to encourage entrepreneurship. The basic feeds for the smooth operations of new businesses are well catered for e.g. electricity, the internet, availability of detail financial, environmental and economic data and business idea development facilities accessible to the public and entrepreneurs.
I remember there was a time when I was writing a white paper for one Construction Company in Ghana. I literarily turned the web upside down searching for the number of registered construction companies in Ghana. I searched the websites of the Ghana statistical service, the registrar general and the ministry of information all to no avail. I did find something at the Ghana yellow pages but it was not accurate enough. When you go to the registrar general asking for this information, the protocol alone can take you days if not months.
Please, this is not in any way discrediting my country Ghana or, discouraging entrepreneurship in Africa by any means. I am a born and bred and proud Ghanaian and these facts are to help make what the African entrepreneur needs to know very clearly.
In terms of Competition:
What the African entrepreneur needs to know.
The truth be told, the foreign competitor will always have an advantage over us. Why? Because;
- They have access to information about your country that you don’t have or can’t afford.
- They have access to numerous sources of capital and consultations
- Their currency is probably thrice or quadruples your currency. E.g. USD to GHC is $1 to GHC 4.41 so if you all had the same amount in your own currencies as capital, the foreign competitor will be four times as rich as you are.
The above-mentioned advantages of the foreign competitors are the exact disadvantages of the African entrepreneur like it or not. Those who have already started will testify to these facts and the struggles they had or have to go through to access funding for their projects. It’s quite sad how some of us struggle day- in day out to get the information we need to run our businesses.
What the African entrepreneur needs to know is that we are or will always start on the down side of competition until our governments put in place the necessary structures to change the situation. This, you and I will agree whether we like it or not that, it is not something that is happening anytime soon.
With all the above, does that mean the African entrepreneur can’t succeed?
NO, as I said earlier on, “the greatest strength of a man in battle is his knowledge of his weaknesses”. Now that we know what we lack, the African entrepreneur can now plan, knowing exactly where he/she stands on the ladder of success and that is; way down at the bottom.
I hope we all understand the picture I am trying to paint because the better we are able to envisage this picture, the more we will be able to be objective in our decision making. Let me use this example to illustrate. Imagine you were to climb a mounting, and you had no idea about how high or wide the mounting is. In another situation, you were giving just a picture of the mounting. Which of these situations do you think you have a good chance of succeeding?
what you can do
When you have a good picture of what you are looking for,
- It will guide your decision making
- It will aid you in securing the means that will enable you to reach your goals
- It will help you take precautionary measures as you can estimate the risk that you are likely to face
- It gives you the right state of mind and motivation that you need to run and develop your business
- You will be able to differentiate between what you need and what you want at what stage of your endeavor.
There are no calls for alarm; we stand a better chance fighting an enemy we know than fighting a blind battle. All the above must have made entrepreneurship look a lot harder in Africa which is the reality anyway, but with the pools of opportunities available, we would have to find ways to use them to make ends meet.
It is a good thing to know that when you are finally looking your boss in the eyes and saying I quit or turning down that mouth watering job offer to follow your dream, these are what I stand to face.
“as entrepreneurs or potential entrepreneurs, let us put on shoes made with car tires because they last longer and can withstand heat, let us wear helmets made of concrete and steel because we can fall as hard as a rock from a mounting, let us think as if we had two brains and let us never give up because we might not know how close we are to reaching our goals” BY Y. Bagora