Why early stage African startups should ‘throw out’ traditional business plans

Staying in business plans and theory and talk just won’t get you that far
— Camille Kramer C., designer & co-founder at Baobab

DAKAR, SENEGAL — A team of eight innovators is devoting itself to providing African entrepreneurs with the tools they need to launch thriving startups in Africa. Their motto, to be successful, ‘throw out the traditional business plan.’

The co-founders of Senegal’s Baobab Entrepreneurship said it’s not that they believe a traditional business plan approach is wrong, just that it’s not suited for early stage startups in Africa. “When you have a business plan alone, it’s more difficult to find investors compared to an entrepreneur who has a business model they’ve already tested on their potential clients,” said Baobab co-founder Camille Kramer Courbariaux.

Forget the Business Plan, ask ‘Who are your clients?’

Camille Kramer C. discussing product value in Concree’s October workshop.

Baobab’s non-traditional approach to building a startup begins by asking entrepreneurs questions like, how can you give value to your product? what do your clients need? and encourages them to get out and speak to their potential clients.

But, Baobab’s co-founders said, when speaking to your targeted clientele it is important to know the right questions to ask. Their advice, “don’t tell them everything, it doesn’t make sense. Just tell them what concerns them, how they can use your product to solve a problem.”

Baobab Entrepreneurship started in 2014 as a way to share their alternative approach with early stage entrepreneurs. One year later, the seven original co-founders launched CONCREE as an online platform geared toward teaching entrepreneurs how to get out from behind the desk and into the field where their product is needed.

“The end goal is really to have a platform that helps every entrepreneur in Africa start a project with the right tools and methodologies. And really just help their own country develop — Ibrahima Mall, Baobab Digital Manager

Your plan should be to build your MVP

“We are giving them the skills to be autonomous but still the safety net of a method instead of a fixed business plan,” Kramer C. said. The co-founders said most business schools in West Africa teach young people to set up a business plan projecting how their company will grow over its first twelve months. But Baobab’s Digital Manager, Ibrahima Mall said, that’s just not realistic for those in the earliest stages of development.

“It’s just not like the business plan methodology where you have to write your plan from A to Z. We really encourage people to bootstrap and put together the first version of their product or service. Or just have the minimum viable product and just put it on the market and show it to people, try to get feedback. The business plan is just traditional, I personally don’t think its good for companies who don’t know what they want to do. Business plans are just based on predictions.
— Ibrahima Mall
Co-founder Babacar Birane helps aspiring seafood business owner Francis Ngom find value in his product.

CONCREE hosts monthly in-person workshops where striving business owners are taught how to target their clientele, create a pitch, develop a brand, and maintain financing for their business.

There are a lot of people targeting startups that are already advanced and making some money but very little is done for the mass of people who want to start up but don’t know how. So all the methods being developed in Silicon Valley, like the business model canvas, value proposition canvas, and all those other methods can be really adapted for the African context– everything that’s lean entrepreneurship, or design thinking, really has huge potential here. We’re bringing all of that and putting it online.
— Camille Kramer C.
Team CONCREE. From Left: Babacar Birane, co-founder, Ibrahima Mall, and Karamokho Badianem, co-founder, legal and international.

Baobab co-founders said the platform is still undergoing modifications based on early user feedback but said they plan to open CONCREE to the public in December 2015.

Featured in this story:
Ibrahima Mall (@mall_gabriel),
Camille Kramer Courbariaux (@CamilleKramerC)
Abdoul Sy (@AbdoulSy6)
Sophie André (@SophieMAndre)
Karamokho Badiane (@truthseek3r1)
Babacar Birane (@BBirane)

Find CONCREE and the Baobab team on Facebook and on Twitter at @startupconcree and @startupbaobab