How well do we really understand how business owners use the internet in Accra and Lagos?

Emmanuel Quartey
Jul 16, 2017 · 4 min read

This article is exclusive to The Flint, a magazine about internet culture in Ghana and Nigeria. to receive the next article in your inbox.

We carry unexamined assumptions about who uses the internet in places like Ghana and Nigeria, and how they use it.

For example, consider this poster right outside ’s head office in Ikeja, Lagos.

If you’ve spent any time walking around Lagos or Accra, you might have encountered similar posters advertising a straight-forward value proposition: “I can build a website for you.”

Initially, it seems pretty unremarkable. But if you think about it for a moment, this poster implies a number of very interesting things.

Amongst startup folks I talk to, there’s this easy assumption that most African businesses don’t really need a website. The entrepreneur who made this ad — Precious — apparently disagrees.

The fact that he invested his capital into making these posters implies that he believes that there is a demand for his “I will build a website for you” services by average Nigerian businesses. In fact, Precious believes this so strongly he’s willing to charge Nigerian SMEs the equivalent of ~$143 (NGN 45,000) to build a website for them.

What does Precious know about Lagosian small business owners that we don’t?

Other questions:

  • What’s the difference between a “Business” website and an “eCommerce” website, and why is the latter twice as expensive as the former (~$143 vs ~$79)?
  • What constitutes “Web training”? What web-related skills do people consider critical enough that they’re willing to pay to acquire them?
  • What is a “Donation” website, and why does it warrant the equivalent of enterprise-tier treatment (you need to call to get a quote)?
  • Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen is well known for his , which posits that customers “hire” products to do specific “jobs,” (job = what the individual really seeks to accomplish) and that the job a product is hired for might be non-obvious (for example, a parent might “hire” an iPad for the job of keeping a child quiet in the backseat). What “job” are Nigerian SMEs “hiring” websites for? Ranking higher in Google searches? Signifying legitimacy in order to get business loans? Something else?

Quick note about Donation websites: at , one of the organization groups we put extra scrutiny on were NGOs. Turns out that it’s hard to figure out whether an NGO is legit.

A few weeks after I took the photo above in Ikeja, Lagos, I saw this poster in East Legon, Accra.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely certain what this poster was selling. Based on this Instagram post, however, it looks like they’ll help you set up a custom email address?

Again, I’d love to understand what insights led this agency to advertise against this very specific value proposition.

  • In the past, it was normal for business people in Ghana (and even high ranking members of government) to conduct business from Gmail and Yahoo email addresses. Is that changing? Has business etiquette in Ghana evolved to the point where a custom email is considered status signifier?
  • Is the reason this agency leads with email because it allows it to get a foot in the door, and later up-sell clients on more expensive services like mobile app development?
  • Does it mean something that this agency decided to place this ad close to a whose mission is explicitly to “facilitate the creation of entrepreneurs”? Are younger entrepreneurs more likely than older ones to want custom email addresses?

These posters, and the questions they raise, make me suddenly aware that I actually understand little about how African SMEs engage with the internet.

If you’re someone building online for this part of the world, I encourage you to stay awake to your surroundings as you walk around your city. It might reveal insights, or at the very least, questions that might help you come to a better understanding of your customers.

Responses to this story

Victor Asemota is the CEO of , a Google partner that helps the company sell G Suite across Africa. Victor shared the objections his team encounters when African SMEs are pitched internet subscription services.

He writes:

We went to a Microfinance Bank and pitched them G-suite. The CEO told us that corporate/branded email made no sense to him especially as he could reach all the people he wants to reach via Whatsapp. His loan officers, his customers… everyone was on WhatsApp. He even grew his business because of WhatsApp. The email/Slack for African small business is now Whatsapp.

This WhatsApp matter, eh — years later I still can’t believe Google let WhatsApp get away. It’s a misstep that I suspect will haunt the company for decades.

Read the rest of Victor’s response:

The Flint

A magazine about internet culture in Ghana and Nigeria.

Emmanuel Quartey

Written by

Curious about media, marginalia, and how thoughts become things (and vice versa). Head of Growth at Paystack.

The Flint

The Flint

A magazine about internet culture in Ghana and Nigeria.