An Open Letter to Social Enterprise Startups Looking at Africa

Dear Young Entrepreneur,

I receive emails from you, on average, once a week, sharing excited news about your plans to enter the African market, or pilot an innovation, or disrupt some existing solution. I’m thrilled and pleased for you, and wish you the best for your future plans.

However, I must write this today, after receiving yet another email last night. Most of you write me asking for insights on your planned approach, or to request a call to “tap my deep expertise” of the African informal economy and consumers. I truly appreciate your thinking of me as the go to person for these matters.

Yet, there’s a gap here between our thinking that’s rather obvious to me but doesn’t seem to be as obvious to you. Professionals like doctors and lawyers have studied and worked hard to build their deep expertise in their areas of speciality over decades. I have done the same. I am now in my 50s, and have accrued over 25 years of experience with new markets on 4 continents.

Would a doctor or lawyer agree to offering their insights and deep expertise to you based on an email request for a phone call or conversation? Or would they prefer a business appointment be made or consulting fees for the call be discussed first?

If the latter, then why is there an expectation that I, with my business operating expenses, and overheads, would be willing to give away the same effort and time invested in developing expertise to you?

I understand that startups are cash crunched, I’ve consulted with many of them, but they’ve always found a way to respect my learning and my experience even if we discover that our fee structure may be nominal or there’s an extension of time for payment. Offering something in return is not simply a matter of a business transaction, its a matter of respect. Respect for my time, my effort, and that very experience and expertise that led you to reach out to me in the first place.

I welcome inquiries and enjoy working with young people. I look forward to hearing from you. I just hope that this letter will offer you some food for thought on how to frame your approach to me.

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