African time redefined

Do you mean 9 o’clock AMT or GMT? That’s a common question one would hear when booking an appointment somewhere in Africa. Another phrase you’ll also often hear is ‘there’s no hurry in Africa’. If you haven’t guessed already, AMT stands for African Man Time. Fast forward to 2017, ‘Africa is in a hurry’ and your 9 o’clock better be the same as what’s on my watch.

The chaotic headlines have somehow reduced significantly giving rise to headlines highlighting the unprecedented entrepreneurial drive flowing through the African youth. Startups are springing up like surprises in the Big Brother house. African startups are winning competitions on world stages. The technology boom here is real. It’s AMT — Africa Magic Time.

This technology boom has happened before somewhere else in the west. I was quite young then but old enough to have seen companies rise with the boom and fall years later. That said, here’s my advice to my fellow African entrepreneurs.

Let’s be competitive — globally

There are two aspects to competitiveness

  • Building a world class product that’s Africa first but still globally relevant. Think about all the popular apps you’ve come to love. They were not made by Africans for Africans. They were made by companies for people. We ought to think in the same direction. Your product may seek to solve a problem plaguing Africa but note, Africa’s problems are not peculiar to just its continent. I recently saw in a shop, a Samsung TV that had been tropicalised for Africa plus an inbuilt surge protector to handle our frequent power outages. At the core of the product was still — a television. Yes it’s important to stay focused but focused never meant confined to geography. If you want your product to appeal globally, make sure it meets global quality standards.
  • Ability to maturely handle your immediate competitor in the same space. Often times we’re made to envisage our competition as enemies. Our political parties are always at each other’s throats because they’re aiming for the same price. Let’s not get political with our products. A competitor is never an enemy. Don’t stop talking to your friend because he built a competing product to yours. Competition makes us better. It brings out the best of our creativity. Embrace it. It’s never a dictatorship in product development. Customers will forever have multiple choices. Think more of how to always be a customer's first choice.

Don’t settle for the short lived media hype

Newsmakers will always be on the lookout for news, great or small, mediocre or not. Journalists can make mounds appear to be mountains. They can hype your not-so-good product till you even get confused and wonder if that’s really your product they’re talking about. Have a plan of what heights you want to take your product. Don’t be complacent when the headline says wow you have one million users. No. We are so many billion people in this world. You should weep instead of stomping the streets like a raging caterpillar when all you raked in was one million users out of 14 or so billion people in this world. Don’t relent till you’ve reached your zenith. If Facebook still has a sign up page on its website then you haven’t arrived.

Keep pushing. Nothing is as easy as it seems

Many times we hear of companies after they’ve gotten somehow successful. I never heard of Facebook or Google when they had just 100 customers. A lot of people knew nothing about Apple (or their MacBooks) until the iPhone was born. This is natural human nature. The poor man has no friend. We never get to hear the struggles a company goes through until they’ve gotten big. With the sudden rise of so many successful tech companies, entrepreneurs are left with the impression that they need to get successful — quickly. A few challenges and they choose the path to giving up instead of pushing on. Well, push on and you’ll definitely be counted among the successful companies 10 years from now.

If you are a developer and haven’t started building something to take advantage of this boom — you better! Extinction is real.