Launching and running a part-time business in Africa can be a low-risk method for entrepreneurs to explore exciting new opportunities while making a real contribution to the development of the continent as a whole. This month’s Africa Expert Forum event held 25 August 2016 at the Verity Club in Toronto heard from Mr. Yannick Lefang PRM, Founder & CEO of Kasi Insight who spoke about his experience in setting-up an Africa-focused Market Research Company as a part-time endeavour all the while working full-time in a senior capacity for Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD).
Yannick challenged members to invest their time and energy to change the African landscape. “One of the advantages in being in Canada is that it is very easy to set-up a business and get high-quality advice from a broad range of subject matter experts. But the key is to start today and put in place the basic building blocks of an organization. “To start with, this may only require an investment of 2-3 hours per week and can evolve based on personal circumstance. “When I started the business I would get up at 6:30 am, now I start my day at 4:00 am. With the enormous explosion of connectivity and social media tools, these few precious hours in the morning allow me to stay in regular contact with my team that spans half a dozen countries across the west, east and southern Africa.” However, he cautioned against the naïve belief that many Diasporans and North Americans hold in the supremacy of their own skills to navigate complex African realities. “We assume that we know a lot, but the reality is we know very little – they know a lot”, he observed.
There is no substitute for local knowledge and Africa today is a global hub where there is enormous competition – learning the new rules of the game is no easy task. Today, as before, many investors do not have Africa’s best interests at heart. As diaspora entrepreneurs, our strategic advantage is our capacity to leverage our skills and abilities and share these in mentoring, training and building capacity of our staff and consultants using various connectivity tools. This requires persistence, and most importantly humility to work as true partners. All too often people see Africa as a way of making a quick return, but without taking the time to understand the intricacies of the market, assumptions are all too often proven to be flat wrong. Yannick highlighted one example in which he has worked with a client from the car rental industry who had assumed that the best entry point to Africa was to introduce a low-cost product because (as it all too often assumed) “Africans are poor and ergo must be first and foremost price conscious”. However, the market research revealed in the fact that customers were prepared to pay a premium for a superior product that was reliable and capable of handling the rigors of local road conditions. Fortunately, this client took the data to heart and is reaping the rewards, but this is far from the norm. Investors typically rush to market without investing in quality market research assuming that emerging markets are synonymous with greenfield opportunities that are there for the taking.
As diaspora entrepreneurs, we have an undeniable advantage, but this window of opportunity is finite Yannick cautioned. “Rest assured that the day you see articles written in the Globe and Mail or the Wall Street Journal about a major player moving into Africa, is the day that window has closed tight!” “Get the ball rolling today because success will only come to those who are persistent. It will easily take over two years to establish your company. Finding the right people in Africa that share your hunger for results is a long-term process.” But for those who are prepared to make this investment, the reward is having the opportunity to leverage your extra time to make an impact in Africa while maintaining a successful career until it’s time to take the plunge.
Yannick concluded. “While there are many who choose to focus on Africa’s numerous shortcomings, I am often reminded of the work of Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang in his 2008 book “Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, who finds that ultimately the only salve to curing poverty and corruption is nationally driven economic growth.
It is time for us to do our part.
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