Scale — The elusive achievement for enterprises

For some startups, a partnership with a major mobile operator is a strategic pathway to scaling their business.

Across Africa, the mobile telecommunications industry has consistently delivered progressive scale and growth in country after country, under uniquely challenging economic circumstances. With almost 600 million mobile subscribers, the continent now presents a cross-continental mechanism for scale, leveraging the strength of mobile operators’ brand, reach, customers insights and infrastructure.

This level of mobile connectivity ushered in digital economies across Africa and produced business models that were uncommon in developed markets. Mobile operators have become enablers for economic building blocks like identity management, financial services and advertising; key ingredients for scale that allow home grown innovators to find and connect with audiences across Africa.

I’ve been uniquely privy to view some of the issues that challenge mobile operator partnerships for small businesses. These entrepreneurs are trying to leverage mobile operator assets for their businesses, and while the obstacles can seem insurmountable, the pathways to success really depend on perspective and approach.

The magic usually happens when the right proposition meets the right opportunity. Historically, the partnerships that work have a few distinct commonalities, the consistency and convergence between what both parties know and how both parties think. Without a clear understanding of these factors, negotiations will continue to falter.

Before approaching a telco for partnership, businesses need to know how their product will make money, and learn to express this by drawing parallels with the revenue models of their target telcos.

In the current African context, I would advise that any proposed technology (product or service)leverages SMS and USSD in its design. Once you’ve identified a telco partner, businesses need to think about (or maybe rethink) their approach in terms of risk.

Firstly, they must understand that mobile operators have surmounted this risk to achieve scale, and that current operational processes cannot be completely abandoned to enable the partnership.

Stakeholders across the ecosystem need to support their digitization strategies with these perspectives, and all parties to these transactions need to change and grow, to overcome the collective threat of obsolescence that will constrain African ecosystems in the absence of constant and rapid innovation.

About the Author

Adia Sowho, is the Director of Digital Business at 9Mobile. She started her career as an engineer with a mobile telecom operator in the United States. After obtaining an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and a stint at Deloitte Consulting, she returned home to Nigeria. In her current role, Adia works on developing mobile content, technology and financial services products through partnerships with 9Mobile.

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