What does it take to thrive in Nairobi’s Silicon Savannah?
A few days ago we had a team from French 2 TV station visit our offices in Nairobi. They were curious about how Optimetriks has gotten where it is today. What does it take to succeed in Nairobi’s vibrant tech start-up scene? What are the challenges we have faced? What are the opportunities we have been able to leverage?
In 2018, African tech startups received $560 million in venture capital funding. Although this is far from the billions funnelled into America’s Silicon Valley, it is a 14-fold increase on the $40 million reportedly invested in 2012. Additionally, it is especially significant given the relative smaller size of African economies.
Nevertheless, despite the optimism, growing and doing business in Africa is still perceived as an incognito for many multinational and international companies. Given the importance of increasing regional investment in business infrastructure to sustain Africa’s economic growth, in this post we share the valuable lessons Optimetriks has learnt over the past three years as a results of iterative trial and error.
Find the right Places: Managing Diversity and Fragmentation
As of 2018, the african economy consists of 1.28 billion people, spread across 54 nation states. Combined with the fragmented nature of these markets, the varying regulatory, cultural, and business contexts, pose barriers to companies aiming to consolidate a pan-african presence.
At Optimetriks, we have dealt with this issue by seeking out unique platforms and hubs which aim to organize markets by bringing together relevant stakeholders. In 2017 we were selected to take part in the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Fund which aims to build synergies between start-ups and mobile operators in emerging markets.
More recently, we were invited to participate in the iHub’s East African Traction Camp. There, we have been able to share critical business insight with 27 other globally competitive, growth-oriented, digital technology businesses. In June, we are excited to participate in their one week in-house bootcamp taking place in Nairobi!
Similarly, as a french Kenyan company, getting involved in activities organised by the French Chamber of Commerce in Kenya has also facilitated our growth. Three weeks ago, Marc de Courcel — one of our co-founders -, gave a talk in Nairobi in which he discussed the company’s history and it’s road map. Delegates from other companies participated in the discussion, giving their opinion on how to overcome the issues we had faced and sharing their own success stories.
Critically, all of these experiences have helped us successfully expand our operations into 15 different countries across Africa. In the future, we aim to continue leveraging these opportunities wherever we go. In particular, the recent formation of the Global Distributors Collective has gotten us very excited!
Foster appropriate Partnerships: The multiplying effect of Trust
To paraphrase the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, “distrust is very expensive.” In Africa, trust can make or break the overall success of companies. Fostering good, proper relations with all types of stakeholders has been vital for us to realize our strategic aims.
Two weeks ago, Optimetriks attended Nairobi’s Tech Week. There, we not only got to meet other industry leaders and discover what they are working on. We also won the award for “Best Techmakers”! Apart from serving as a great ego boast… these awards and recognition really help us gain legitimacy and the trust of the local players. Leveraged by this newfound publicity, in the past weeks, we have initiated conversation with a plethora of new market actors. For instance, across West Africa, we have kicked-off a new project with Nestle which revolves around using our technology to gather granular, retailer level information regarding stock and merchandising effectiveness.
Patience + Persistence + People = Results
While it is often said that rewards go to the bold, in African businesses it is also true that patience is a virtue (and pays). Experienced foreign investors repeatedly note that nowhere else is there such a direct correlation between careful planning (and flexibility about plans once formed) and a successful outcome.
More specifically, with companies focused on reaching Africa’s underserved BoP market, success is dependent on a adopting a people-focused strategy. In the past, BoP marketing strategies failed as consumers were flooded with products ideated from a top-down perspective. For this reason, Optimetriks’ success relies greatly on our focus on developing products responsive to the needs and wants of Africa’s consumers (and our ability to help other companies do the same).