Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

Launching Our Digital Documentation Project: Ibadan’s Tailors, Traders, and Textiles by Nigerian/British artist Folake Shoga

finalcopyAfter months of hard work, I am very honoured and proud to announced our new digital documentation project by my friend Folake Shoga, a Nigerian/British multidisciplinary artist with more than three decades of experience.

She went on a journey of discovery through the twists and turns of the informal value web that holds together West Africa’s famed textiles and fashionably styled culture.

Her window to this world is centered around Ibadan, Nigeria, and she takes us through an illustrated, personally narrated documentary that spans the experience of getting a new dress, from choosing the right fabric, all the way through building a fashion brand.

Come and join us for this fascinating peek behind the scenes! You can also find this unique photo-documentary again on my portfolio page.

The dangerous assumption that there’s no competition from the informal sector

In addition, the informal economy of open street markets still dominates 90% of retail in large countries like Nigeria and Kenya, meaning it’s a near safe bet there’s plenty of room to grow. ~ Quartz Africa, Jan 2017

Failure is a risk, and an inescapable function of the amount of resources invested, not just money. Time, effort, and managerial ambitions are also losses that destroy value for companies. Danger, then, lies in leaping to assumptions that turn out to be wrong. This is one of them.

First, a bit of history. Just over a decade ago, the Indian market was opening up to world’s investment flows in the retail sector, and estimates of the potential were as rosy and glowing as Africa’s today. From The Economist in April 2006:

Most Indian shops belong to what is known, quite accurately, as the “unorganised” sector—small, family-owned shops surviving on unpaid labour and, often, free land for a small stall. “Organised” retailing accounts for only 2-3% of the total, and of that, 96% is in the ten biggest cities, and 86% in the biggest six. However, organised retailing is growing at 18-20% a year and inspiring a rush of property development. Shopping malls are springing up in every big town: some 450 are at various stages of development.

By 2015, it was clear that these ambitious potentials were never going to materialize, though many malls did spring up in cities across the country. Last year, I covered this topic looking back at the growth projections and the subsequent real numbers achieved from the perspective of the resilience shown by the informal retail sector. I noted, in August 2016:

Yet if you look at the data from 2015, you’ll see that the forecasts were far too ambitious – formal retail has only reached 8% penetration in the past 10 years. Nowhere close to the 25% expected by 2010. Mind you, these were all the management consultancy reports bandying the numbers around.

I bring this up because I’m seeing the same kinds of projections happening right now for the African consumer market by the very same firms.

Second, this time it’s not just a management consultancy report with all the research and analysis efforts they pour into making their case. It’s not been distilled into one single yet dangerous sentence:

meaning it’s a near safe bet there’s plenty of room

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“Plenty of room” (Photo Credit: Yepeka Yeebo in Accra, Ghana)

There’s an inherent assumption within the assumption that the myriads of little stands, market ladies and their longstanding relationships with customers and suppliers, and the entire ecosystem which exists, such as in the photograph above, can simply be bulldozed over with a granite and marble mall development covered in shiny unreflective glass.
It didn’t happen in India, and it’s not happening in Africa. From Ghana, this news article on mall development says:

Ghana’s economic woes have translated into a variety of challenges for formal retailers who are competing for sales alongside the dominant and deep-rooted informal shopping sector. According to a recent report by African commercial property services group Broll overall sales in most modern shopping malls are well below historic averages, despite garnering sufficient foot traffic.

cth8lgkwcaauetyFurther, and more dangerously, this blithe assumption of a cakewalk where an informal sector so tangibly exists, overlooks the innate ingenuity of those who seek a dignified life even while hustling for a living. And that there’s no competition or customer service.

Future scenarios for sub Saharan Africa’s opportunity and market

teamfinland SSAWhen you look at selected sub Saharan African markets from the perspective of being a micro-SME up here in Finland, you discover just attractive they can be. This is Team Finland’s futures based report on four most promising (defined by size, growth and ease of doing business) countries: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania.

scenario oneUsing present facts and information, combined with future insights, signals, and scenarios, the report suggests possible futures and the related implications for SMEs interested in doing business in sub-Saharan Africa. Sectors in focus are: ICT, mobile & digitalization, education, health & wellbeing, energy & environment.

Unlike the majority of introductory reports to the African opportunities, Team Finland’s focus on scenario development and opportunity directions in unique, and very interesting to peruse further. They recommend reading it before drilling down deeper  into specific country level data. So do I.

Why am I so excited about an African hair style app released on smartphones?

tumblr_nzd9xeVbDO1qghc1jo2_250Darling, the pan African hair extension brand owned by Godrej of India, has just released an app in Nigeria aimed at helping customers choose their latest hair style on their smartphone. The implications are enormous, imho.

Mobiles are ubiquitious. E-commerce in Nigeria is becoming commonplace. Smartphones are default. The African consumer market is sophisticated in its own inimitable way. The hair extension industry is as informal a sector as you can get. Digital Africa straddles this complexity and exemplifies the Prepaid Economy.

It really should be considered a wake up call to the ict4d & m4d industry to rethink their assumptions on “poor Africans” and their cellphones.

Les entreprises nigérianes à l’épreuve de l’évaluation des consommateurs

Les nigérians viennent de faire un pas important vers l’amélioration de l’expérience d’achat dans le pays. A mon avis, lorsqu’on taxe les gouvernements de mauvaise gouvernance, on devrait également taxer les entreprises opérant en Afrique de manque de considération (parfois totale) pour le client. Ca peut être dû à une combinaison de manque de compétition et de fatalité du consommateur qui se dit « ici, c’est comme ça donc pas besoin de changer les choses ». Mais ce qui est sûr, de nombreuses entreprises sont défaillantes au niveau du service clientèle.

La création de la première plateforme d’évaluation des produits et services au Nigeria et de partage d’expérience, haveyoursay.ng (ce qui signifie Ayez votre mot à dire), va changer les choses. Toute personne accède au site et partage son avis et son appréciation d’un produit ou service dans n’importe quel secteur. Cette évaluation est accessible au monde entier.

Selon les concepteurs de la plateforme, la base de données aidera les consommateurs à faire les meilleurs choix quant à ce qu’ils consomment et les entreprises les plus attractives. Mais ce feedback met également une pression aux prestataires et entreprises car ils sont désormais sous les feux des projecteurs.

Dans d’autres régions du monde, la voix qui est donnée au consommateur est prise très au sérieux et représente une source de succès aux entreprises performantes et appréciées d’une part ; d’autre part, de sanctions à celles dont la qualité des produits ou services, le service clientèle ou la durée des transactions laissent à désirer. Le consommateur rend le prestataire ou l’entreprise responsable de la qualité de ses produits ou services et de l’attitude de son personnel. Ce pouvoir encourage la compétitivité entre entreprises et justifie la devise « le client est roi ».

Qu’en sera-t-il au Nigeria, la première puissance de l’Afrique ? Espérons que le pouvoir désormais conféré aux consommateurs affecte la culture d’entreprise dans ce pays de telle sorte que la lenteur, la médiocrité, le dédain dont souffre souvent le client lambda soient progressivement éliminés. Enfin, le client pourra être valorisé tout simplement parce qu’il désire acheter ou effectuer une transaction et non compte tenu de son nom, sa fonction, et ses relations avec le personnel/la direction d’une entreprise ou d’un service public.

Les pays francophones suivront-ils la tendance?

Nigerian retail transformation changing consumer expectations

0c9d4c1a267b44d04a7d5037414aa1c4c1fbbee4Drawing on insights from Adewale Yusuf’s expert observations in the heart of the Nigerian transformation, I wrote up a short piece for his tech magazine Techpoint.ng which looks at changing consumer behaviour and its implications for startups. Do take a look:

Shopping as entertainment – A trend that might bite

Sprouting mega-malls are offering a whole new way to spend the day in the comfort of air-conditioning, browsing the latest offerings on display or window shopping. And the plethora of eCommerce sites offering cash on delivery means you can experiment with ordering new products to try in the comfort of your own home or the convenience of your office without making the commitment to purchase. Retail therapy has evolved from the bored housewife’s pastime to entertainment for the entire family. The very same headaches that increasing popularity is creating for eCommerce sites are but a clear signal of this consumer trend.

How I Use My Phone – Extracting consumer insights from purchasing patterns

The Mobile Experience Center of the Co-Creation Hub in Lagos, Nigeria conducted a survey series – How I Use My Phone – where they looked at phone use among university students, white collar professionals, blue collar workers and market traders*.  I’ve screen-capped the section on airtime purchase patterns from each infographic to analyze a little further.

*Before we proceed, an observation that the survey on traders is the smallest sample (around 50 people) and only one market, while the rest of the segments have a population sample in the thousands. Still, theirs are the most interesting patterns and to me, the most significant. I’m also hampered by the fact that each infographic is unique and every survey is not the same i.e. some show salary or income, some don’t etc – I’m mentioning this upfront and won’t refer to these discrepancies further on.

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Nigerian University Students

Some context to set the scene: @prepaid_africa Not exactly! Most Nigerians have a daily budget of between N1000 – N2000. This covers recharge, transportation & feeding.

— Area_Boy (@EUgwu) June 23, 2015

bluecollarNGairtimepatterns

Nigerian blue collar workers

We can see the similarities between students and blue collar workers – both on limited budgets – the majority of weekly recharges for both fall in the lowest bracket of 100 to 500 Naira, and the preferred voucher amount is 200 Naira. Most people are not topping up their mobile airtime everyday, though students are spending a bit more.

whitecollarNGairtimepatterns

Nigerian White Collar Professionals

Professionals are definitely adding more value to their airtime every week, and broadly speaking the preference for recharge amounts is equally split between higher and lower values.

markettraderNGairtimepatterns

Nigerian Market Traders

Here we can see an interesting difference after I convert these numbers into a percentage of mobile owners – 52 is the total.

20= 38%  10 = 19% 17 = 33% 4 = 8% and 1 = 2% – grossly rounded & totalling 100%.

Without converting, the first thing we note is that nobody purchases recharge denomination above 200 naira and the preference is more or less equally split between the lowest two values. Even the blue collar workers had some who purchased 400 naira of airtime, while a similar percentage of students purchased amounts other than 100 or 200.

We find that unlike the other segments who preferred these smaller denominations, more traders spent more each week. That is, they tended to very frequently top up with small amounts. While their total weekly purchasing pattern in terms of weekly recharge resembles the white collar professionals, their choice of denomination is significantly an outlier.

What does this mean? Low margins, high volumes

Even with all the disclaimers on sample size, consistency and quality of the data gathered, one can see quite clearly the cash flow patterns of the traders in the informal market. Small denominations, high frequency.

While every trader in the market may not be doing the same volume of business, there’s enough of a suggestion that there is a dynamic aspect of trade. Its made visible by the not insignificant number of traders whose total weekly expenditure on airtime recharge is 10 or 20 times the denomination value of the recharge coupon. They are most definitely topping up more than once a day. And on the phone, “doing business”.

Trade – in the informal economy sense of the word, not the formal container ships of industrialized goods – happens by negotiation, haggling, bargaining, brokering, mediating and communicating. Biashara, in this sense is a better word, for the marketplace as a bazaar, not a cathedral. Markets are conversations, to unearth a cliche, and the pattern of mobile phone use, coupled with the pattern of recharge, is an indicator of informal trade.

The implications of these surveys validating a hypothesis are immensely useful for design planning for the informal market.

 

Uber’s problems with women’s safety in India – my 2 rupees worth

In its mindless rush for scale, Uber leapt into the Indian market with their “hassle-free” service of hailing a car with a push of a button on your smartphone. I call this mindless because “will it scale” is an unquestioned imperative for a startup, not something that is thought through. Nobody asks should it scale, or, is this the right place to scale? Neither does anyone look at the compromises made, to the brand and to the customer experience, in this drive to scale. Thus, its no different from the mindless growth of an amoeba, responding to the instincts imprinted on its DNA.

I’m due to arrive in New Delhi next week. Would I use Uber? No. I’d rather walk across teh street to the Sardarji sitting in his tent at the local taxi rank and ask him for a car and a reliable driver. It could be for the day or for the week but I’ll insist on the same guy showing up, without extra company in the front seat, and register my home address and phone number with the taxi rank. For additional peace of mind, I’ll walk back across the road to the guardhouse at the entrance to our apartment complex and point out the taxi fellow responsible for driving me around.

In the neighbourhood where our apartment is located, we are recognized as original owners, not newbies, and the local taxi standwallah isn’t going to risk his future business and his reputation if there’s even a peep of complaint from me. The eyes of the community should be sufficient to keep the animal instincts of the average Delhi eve teaser under control. A little further down is the auto rickshaw stand, under the shade of a large tree where the chaiwallah makes his brew. More strangers come and wait here unlike the taxi stand, but one can still spot a regular or two. At least, that’s how it used to work back when I was taking a scooty to work every morning.

In neither case would I think of wandering around after dark, if I was alone in the vehicle.

Uber arrives.

Why do we hear of women taking these cars at night all by themselves?

Things might have changed in the last couple of years since the horrific news of the bus rape in New Delhi, what do I know? So I did a little digging to see if my premise on why Uber was enabling women to lower their barriers to conventional common sense in India.

“To the extent that the Uber brand name induces a sense of security and this is used as a business strategy, a proper legal regime should allow the Indian woman’s strategy to succeed,” source

Because it needs a smartphone, knowledge of English, and an internet connection, is there an implied raising of standards of who’ll show up at your doorstep? Implicit here is that education and data plans imply greater security?

On the other hand, this knowledge hasn’t helped this lady in Chennai whose Uber driver kept trying to ‘cancel trip’ in the middle of a secluded location.

The internet’s explosive growth in India, coupled with smartphones, mobile wallets and e-commerce, seems to have lowered the barriers to services such as these, which probably leads to a greater acceptance of an app driven service along with the perception that it’s somehow “safer” than hailing a regular taxi on the roadside.

Yet, the very same internet has always provided trolls with the anonymity and impunity with which to harass and abuse women without consequence. This element of the web seems also to have now transferred itself onto the app driven sharing economy.

SOS buttons in a context where the police aren’t likely to jump in their vehicles and race over to save you, nor can they be trusted not to molest you, is a technological solution meant for the VCs back home.

Taking a taxi ride is not the same thing as purchasing a book or making a restaurant reservation.  Can you scale trust and local context as instantly as you do an app?

Assessing the size and value of investment opportunities with an informal economy footprint

There’s an interesting snippet from the Nigerian news yesterday that led to this framing of a necessary problem statement. KPMG’s head of private equity is quoted as saying:

Meeting current needs of the one billion plus population and, the future demands of the rapidly emerging middle class consumers will drive the next wave of Private Equity investment on the continent.

However, investors, according to KPMG, are keener to do business in sectors that have little to no direct relationship with government, or through structures that limit government control and undue influence.

This was the view of ‎Partner & Africa Head, Deal Advisory & Private Equity at KPMG, Dapo Okubadejo, who said that throughout the firm’s ongoing interactions with foreign investors, it was clear that concerns about ‘red tape’ and perceived corruption are still top of mind for investors who are looking to enter African markets.

Given that private equity investments are currently the hottest thing in key African markets, this shift in emphasis to more consumer facing sectors brings to light some unique challenges that investors will have to face beyond the oft mentioned challenges such as variability in quality of infrastructure and inadequate systems:

  • African consumers transact mostly (90-odd% in most markets) in cash.
  • Emerging consumer classes are more likely than not employed in informal sector activities, in small business and trade. This has impact on both their purchasing patterns as well as their cash flow regardless of income strata.
  • Services are mostly part of the informal sector.
  • Greater degree of retail formalization at the front end (B2C) is no guarantee of similar degree of formal structures at the back end (B2B). Distribution, delivery, payments – the entire supply chain – may have components from both the formal and informal sectors.
  • The role of personal relationships and social networks in the information ecosystem and impact on B2B and B2C decisions.

What does this actually mean, though, to the investment community?

A few years ago, Emerging Futures Lab had the unrivalled opportunity to work with Village Telco, a South African social enterprise whose corporate mantra emphasized open innovation. We can openly share our experience of qualifying, from the perspective of investment and potential for returns, an industry sector for which little or no market data is available due to its significant footprint in the cash based informal economy.

While the industry itself – cyber cafes or internet cafes – maybe in decline today due to the proliferation of affordable smartphones and data plans, back then it was a significant market opportunity for an innovative communications technology. Our task was to assess the size and dollar value of this industry and the market potential for Village Telco’s Mesh Potato device. This was complicated by the fact that not only had we to offer product pricing recommendations but we had to elicit purchase intent for an unknown product category.

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Implications for Investment in B2C

This experience was an eye-opening exercise in shedding light on assumptions made in traditional market analyses and pricing exercises.

When such a significant proportion of the industry is operating in the informal sector then many of the heuristic methods and frameworks either did not apply or resulted in skewed outcomes.

The assumptions underlying pricing, for example, focus on utility value, whereas we discovered the majority of informal sector businesses looked at revenue generation potential, intent on maximizing the returns on their capital investment in new technology.

The implications for risk and returns, as assessed by consumer facing businesses, are also influenced by the cash flows and patterns of the informal sector. When the majority of transactions are in cash, how does this influence decision making?

The specific business or industry itself that PE funds are considering may not be as informal as the internet cafe industry but any consumer facing business in this operating environment will face the implications of the propensity for cash.

To summarize the challenge for market assessment:

  1. Heuristic frameworks for market analysis developed in the context of more developed operating environments may not always offer accurate insights on potential for sales and market share.
  2. Assumptions made on purchasing patterns, pricing and buyer behaviour should not be left unquestioned, particularly if the industry segment has a significant footprint in the informal sector.
  3. Risk assessments may be skewed by the impact of the above two factors in the qualification of a market’s potential or industry viability.

Caveat:

Many of the most visible investments till date have been in FMCG such as dairy or biscuits but The Economist offer their opinion albeit without mentioning the increasing emphasis in the B2C space.

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Quality of service at the last mile will make or break African e-commerce startups

Photo: Techpoint.ng

Photo Credit: Techpoint.ng

With new e-commerce startups sprouting up everyday, competitive advantage in the urban African context will boil down to their quality of delivery and logistics managment. Given the lack of infrastructure such as home addresses, post codes with embedded information, or  as is the case in India – the last mile of delivery in the form of the village postman – the responsibility for ensuring customer satisfaction lies squarely on the shoulders of the online businesses themselves.

Online stores in more developed operating environments can focus on the aesthetics of their web presence, the design of an order form, or building a loyal community of users. Their business models emphasize the way they will distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace and build brand awareness to gain a critical mass of customers.

But for the slew of  startups in emerging markets such as Nigeria’s or in the Cote d’Ivoire, it will be their distribution strategy and logistics management in the last mile that will differentiate the winners from the losers. Does the business plan have a viable solution for addressing this challenge?

New players are emerging who see this distribution need as an opportunity space, one such is ACE in Nigeria, whose last mile solution has been documented in detail by Techpoint.ng today. Others eyeing this lucrative space include the global courier behemoth DHL, whose forecasts are rubbing their hands with glee. Big or small, their ability to serve their customers’ needs will have impact on the entire value chain, both online and in the real world.

A matter of strategy: In house delivery or third party support?

With so much dependent on the quality of the customer experience at the moment of fulfilment – timely delivery, ease of payment, courteous service, receiving the correct order, etc – the decision to invest in building in house operations, like the well-funded Kongas and Jumias, or to outsource to third parties becomes a critical component of corporate strategy.

  • Which approach will allow you the opportunity to offer the best customer experience for your brand’s needs?
  • What happens when the still nascent market matures enough for potential conflict of interest with competing brands being delivered by the same service?
  • How important is your branding in the real world as compared to the virtual experience?

These are all the questions and more besides that startups will need to ask themselves, before their potential investors ask it of them. Word of mouth travels as fast the smartphones that are fuelling the internet boom and no amount of PR will help with ensuring quality of service that will make customers return for more.