Launching Your Business in Africa

Launching Your Business in Africa? Here is my proven recipe for success.

As far as I remember, for me, the word Africa has always resonated with endless opportunities, hard work, and career growth. Knowing the realities of my homeland – and being raised with a strong Beninese and Togolese culture – I made it a mission to help change the African narrative the best I could at my scale. For almost five years I had this opportunity with my previous employer before starting The METO DIGMA. The mission was exciting and fulfilling; to Help bridge Africa’s Digital Divide, especially in rural areas with the help of our satellite broadband solution. Most importantly, this position allowed me to learn more first hand about the continent from a business perspective. Here are the main lessons learned on how to successfully launch your services in Africa.

1- Understand your audience.

You can’t do business with people you don’t understand. This sounds logical, but all too often we have examples where brands have made erroneous assumptions from one neighbouring country to another when planning their launch in Africa. This continent is a puzzle of 54 countries, and each country is filled with different ethnicities having their own culture and customs. Your communication has to take stock and embrace these differences. For example, you don’t communicate the same way in a French-speaking country as you would in an English-speaking country. Being knowledgeable about these specific cultures helps you to adapt your product to customs and practices and ensure that the solutions you provide are relevant to your customers.

2- Do your homework.

Make sure you’re addressing a real problem that your audience faces. The story of the young start-up trying to replicate a product or a service that has been a success in the US or in Europe is now a cliché in Africa. Most of those experiences ended in failure. Try another way instead. Understand the country and, if needed, start from scratch and create a strategy specific to your market.

3- Good marketing is nothing without suitable logistics.

Make sure that your product can be available for your customers, everywhere. Set up good distribution channels or partner with companies that already have a good network if you don’t have the resources internally. Don’t just focus on the big cities, but also on the small ones and don’t be afraid of rural areas. The closer you are to your consumer, the more likely you are to be adopted by your audience, with the support of the right marketing approach.

4- Test your ideas until they prove right. 

Africa is the place where you can test ideas and try products until you find a good formula. Ridesharing services like Bolt (former Taxify) or Heetch have done that with success. First, develop a minimum viable product then test it and enhance it thanks to feedback.

5- Listen.

In Africa, like elsewhere, things can move fast. A dominant position can be earned by efforts and constant attention. But it can also be lost quickly as soon as one becomes complacent. So, you should keep asking for feedback from your partners, distributors, consumers, etc. Evaluate the feedback and implement the ones that can improve your product. Be really cautious about price-related feedback. Consumers are really price-sensitive, regardless of how good your communication strategy is 🙂

Remember that the vast majority of people in Africa live with less than 2 USD/day. So, not only should your product be good, but it should also be provided at the right price based on your targeted market realities. Price is the first determinant of the buying decision.

6- Don’t hesitate to go digital. 

According to Tidjane Deme, former Google Lead for Francophone Africa, “people underestimate the ability of Africans to adopt and use a technology that can simplify their lives.” Don’t make that mistake. This is something that our current coronavirus pandemic has made very clear: rely on digital technology too! But keep it really simple. The consumer can adapt to it more quickly than it seems, don’t underestimate them. Smartphones sales are exploding in Africa and the connectivity is getting better and better. But keep in mind that a large proportion of the population is illiterate, which is an opportunity to be creative and innovate on the most effective way to address this part of your target. For instance, voice solutions in local languages or clear infographics have proven to be efficient.

7- Use complaints to your advantage.

Complaining is human nature. So when your partners, distributors or customers do it, don’t take it personally. Instead, use this feedback as an opportunity for growth and create a positive outcome from it. Connect to the unsatisfied partner, distributors or customers to understand what the issue is from their perspective, and see how you can address it. Never forget to integrate your partner strategy into your own, especially in a B2B relationship — their happiness is yours, equally, their success is highly linked to yours. In Africa, customer service matters, it is of high importance and valued more than it is in most continents. If you treat your partners and customers well and you’re honest with them, you’ll reap confidence and they’ll be more likely to forgive the mistakes you make along the way. It’s all about developing trust while growing together.

8- The three attributes of success when doing business in Africa

You’ve already heard this, doing business in Africa is quite different from what it looks like in Europe or the US. Nevertheless, there are three attributes that will make your life easier.

  • First: Be resilient. If you can’t develop this mindset, it’s better you give up before even starting. You’ll face many roadblocks. Simple things can become very complicated. A good idea can turn into a nightmare with the wrong approach. Get ready to fail. Reinvent yourself as much as you need while remaining realistic. Don’t be discouraged. If you learn to use failure as a stairway, you’ll eventually succeed!
  • Second: Develop an open mindset knowing that opportunities are endless. In Africa, you’ll never stop learning. You should always be open to new perspectives. Things change fast and respect is a crucial part of a variety of African cultures. Your competitors are out there trying to develop new products that will wipe out yours. If you want to survive, keep learning, keep trying new stuff.
  • Last: Be collaborative and lead by example. Learn to work with everyone and involve your partners at the right stage. Bonding with a partner or a distributor is the most precious asset of a business in Africa. If you make the effort to really understand them, to listen and, most importantly, to respect them, they’ll support you at 100% and your business adventure will be easier.

As the saying goes, learning is sharing, so let me know what you think in the comment section below. Disclaimer: the points listed above are not an exhaustive list and only represent a summary of my experience on the ground. 

Thank you!

Content Marketing – Why it is necessary for businesses?

Anglophone countries VS francophone countries: How to bridge the gap?

As the business world expands, business opportunities become ubiquitous. The major challenge remains the ability to pursue and seize such opportunities to fruitful ends. Doing so, however, requires overlooking differences and building bridges. This paradigm is beautifully illustrated by the French-speaking and English-speaking worlds. Beyond their geographical and historical differences, France and the UK have over time, shaped distinct visions and models of business. Fortunately, the gap between these visions is not unbreachable. What are the distinctions between the English and French business realms? Which assets should one possess, towards fully tapping into these two markets? Beyond the language barrier, what other differences are there between these two worlds and how can they be overcome? These are the questions that businesses must crucially answer if they want to understand the intricacies of these two worlds.


Global differences

Differences between the francophone and anglophone go way back in history, but it is during colonial times that the gap between the French and English powers became global. The two powers reshaped the world’s political, economic, and social models, trade standards, and even the orientation and perception of some countries across the globe.

In Africa for example, British settlers opted for indirect rule, a governance system that leverages pre-existing sociopolitical indigenous power structures. The impact of this system on trade was rapidly noticed afterwards, as British colonies quickly adopted a way of living based on trade, business, and exchanges.

Meanwhile, in the francophone world, arms of state Governance and administration, are preeminent. Generally, English-speaking countries are perceived to be business-friendly, as is reflected in the ease-of-business ranking. This perception, however, is changing over the years and now countries like Côte d’Ivoire are rapidly emerging as top reformers, relative to the quality of their business environment.

10 keys to bridging the anglophone-francophone gap

Whether you are from the francophone world and wish to do business in the anglophone world, or vice-versa, the gap between these worlds is an ever-present obstacle. However, here are some keys to tackle it:

1- Have a good product

Regardless of where you operate, be it an English-speaking or a French-speaking country, the first factor to being successful is the quality of the product or service you provide. The latter needs to be adapted to the target market. It must solve an actual and evident problem and be accessible at a competitive price. Bar meeting these prerequisites, all other efforts may be ineffective.

2- Build a network, Hone your background

The personal background is crucial, especially in the francophone world. Where you studied, the companies you worked for or with, your professional experience, are all factors that could make your life easier. And while it is true that English-speaking countries are more tolerant towards newcomers, in French-speaking countries experience is highly valued. Also, it is very important for one to take care of their address book. Great contacts can make your life easier, especially in the francophone business world which operates a lot on recommendations and favours.

3- Know your why

If one’s background and address book are greatly important, the same stands for their motivation. In the anglophone world especially, you might get opportunities depending on your “why”. Therefore, it is important to know and more importantly to make known what drives you, why you do the things you do, and what your goals are.

4- Master the political context

No matter how amazing your product or service might be, it would be catastrophic to launch it at the wrong time. Understanding the political dynamics of the market you are going to operate in, is vital. What are the ambitions of its leaders? How are they reflected in their economic policies? What measures are favourable to your business? How can you guard your activity against measures that could hurt it? In a region like Africa, mastering the political context is essential, especially if you are looking to make long-term investments there.

5- Know the differences related to employability

Generally, when it comes to employability, anglophone systems are more flexible than francophone systems. It is both easier to hire and lay off staff. In French-speaking countries, it is quite tedious to hire or suspend an employment contract and this could affect one’s business. Understanding the differences between these two worlds will help you know what types of contracts would be best to offer, if you should outsource or not, etc.

6- Understand the language

We must convene that trading is more difficult when parties involved don’t understand each other. A language is a major tool in trade. Understanding the language, or having someone who does, is the first step. In the anglophone world, all efforts to understand the language are lauded. Although, French speakers are a little more demanding when it comes to the level of fluency required to do business with them. Whatever the case, make efforts to understand both French and English. For French speakers, speaking English is an undeniable asset, given that it is the primary language in the business world. For English speakers, speaking French – fluently – is not only an asset but a tool to surprise French-speaking business partners. This also facilitates talks and sets the stage for a trustworthy and friendly collaboration.

7- Know the law

Laws in place in one world are completely different when moving to another. It is important to fully comprehend them or be close to people who do. Though it is true that major economic blocks (ECOWAS, CEMAC, SADC, COMESA) have shared regulations, at the country level, there are specific laws that can determine the success or failure of your business.

8- Understand the cultural context

Two neighbouring countries, despite their geographic proximity, can have completely different cultures. Here, understanding what works at the global level and adapt it at the local level is key to succeeding in your venture. Simply applying the same strategy one would use in a francophone environment in the anglophone environment wouldn’t necessarily work. Tweaking your strategy by taking into account cultural peculiarities is necessary but tricky. However, failing to do so could result in failure.

9- Master structural risks

One of the main challenges that businesses face is foreign currency risks. In Africa for example, anglophone countries have their own currencies and most francophone countries share the CFA franc. In the latter, the risk related to foreign exchange is lower. Therefore, a business operator who enters a country that is part of the Franc zone would mitigate this risk, especially if the value of currencies in the anglophone zone falls.

10- Be informed

Whether you are in a francophone or an anglophone zone, the worst thing you could do is to think that you understand the zone based on assumptions. It is vital to stay informed and to really apprehend how the information you get can affect your business. It is also, like anywhere else, important to have a well-packed address book and to establish robust partnerships.

What’s next?

Far from being an obstacle, differences between regions where different languages are spoken can be an advantage, provided that you understand some rules and how to play by them. This reality stands for the francophone and anglophone worlds. Besides, many countries are mustering efforts to bridge these differences and build stronger economic spaces. A project such as the African Continental Free-trade Area (AfCFTA), is a perfect example of such efforts, in Africa.

As my favourite saying goes, learning is sharing, so I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments section below.

Thank you, and/or, Merci 🙂