Peter Thiel in ‘Zero to One’ says “The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”
In Africa it is not the absence of talent that betrays her and her potential, it is the need to mirror what has already been done. I have gone through so many business strategies from startups that speak of innovation in terms of virtual reality or augmented reality or creating the next Facebook.
Their ideas, though brilliant, speak to innovating a product that is already in the market. They too fall in the trap of forgetting the continent they operate in.
I am blessed to work with an amazing analytics team that does the ground work of assessing any insights that I may have and, more often than not, many of my insights are driven by an adopted Western perception and [I too] forget to pay attention to the continent that I operate in. I forget to pay attention to the nuances of the continent.
“The Lobola app, though controversially based on a snake skin algorithm, did speak to a narrative of a people”
Understanding Africa’s story
It is not the absence of ideas or innovation towards creating a billion dollar app that betrays us it is purely the absence of understanding the need of the markets for content that is relevant to them and products that cater to them.
I speak of content mainly because therein lies the key to unlocking the potential of Africa itself . It is when we begin to understand the stories of the land and it’s people that we begin to attain unique insights. At times they are glimmers of hope that fall on the way side because of clear lack of foresight by the innovators in question. The Lobola [calculator] app, though controversially based on a snake skin algorithm, did speak to a narrative of a people.
A brave insight
Although Africa is one of the largest consumers of Western content and brands , to make an innovation here that actually works and gives return on investment there clearly needs to be an understanding of narrative.
“To succeed here learn the story and gain insight”
For any entrepreneur to succeed here, there needs to be an immersion into the narrative of a continent and understand that no one solution fits all contexts.
It’s important to note that the alluring temptation to over-homogenize Africa should be avoided if you seek success here.
The western world tends to think of Africa as a cohesive unit, while countries as close to each other as Egypt and Rwanda are in reality as diverse as Luxembourg is from Turkey.
The continent is diverse and she has a story to tell that has long been ignored and in her tragedy she rises from the ashes like a phoenix . To succeed here learn the story and gain insight and from there on, the rest as they say, will all be history. Welcome to the new frontier.
- This is a shortened version of the article. The full article is available on his Linkedin profile.
About the author: Tavonga Musingarabwi is a behavioural economist with a focus on digital strategy. He is currently a digital strategist at the marketing and advertising agency, Aqua. He has over a decade of experience in both traditional marketing as well as new media marketing. He has worked with many brands pertaining to their digital presence and sees a future whereby Africa can truly utilize and harness the power of technology. Musingarabwi has also successfully helped South Africa in it’s bid for the Commonwealth Games of 2022.