Entrepreneurs hoping to expand businesses into Africa should take a leaf from infamous colonist Cecil John Rhodes’s book. That is according to Konga.com founder and CEO Sim Shagaya, one of the keynote speakers at this year’s eCommerce Africa Confex in Cape Town.
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It might take you by surprise that such a dividing and perhaps controversial figure would be referenced at an ecommerce conference, but it’s worth hearing the Konga.com founder out.
Shagaya has been building his Nigerian ecommerce website Konga.com over the last few years to become an “Amazon of Africa”. The website sells everything from electronics to beauty products to a sophisticated market that has helped Konga overtake its largest rival Jumia.
One of Konga’s biggest successes is its MarketPlace platform, an online market place similar to the way Alibaba operates out of China. The platform allows vendors and resellers to offer their products on Konga around events like their annual Yakata sale, their uniquely Nigerian take on Black Friday.
Shagaya says as a British businessman attempting to build a railroad stretching from the Cape to Cairo, Rhodes is seen as someone who almost single-handedly took on Africa in an effective (“but not the nicest”) way. Regardless of your opinion about the man, there is something we could learn from his approach to Africa, Shagaya says.
“Africa is a baobab, it takes time to grow and it takes a while to build infrastructure.” Although manufacturing is rising across the continent, Shagaya says its important to set realistic time-specific goals. Rhodes didn’t attempt to conquer Africa in a day and neither should you.
Secondly, Rhodes set an example in the partnerships he built that helped him enter new parts of African continent. Represented and protected by the British crown, Rhodes was able to obtain mineral rights throughout Africa.
Similarly Shagaya says entrepreneurs should not attempt to expand into Africa on their own. Using his own company as an example, Shagaya says Konga.com relies on an extensive network outside of the company that has become key to its success in Nigeria. With the help of the Nigerians who create their own drop-off points and deliver packages on behalf of Konga.com, the site saw a record US$300k in sales per hour back in November.
Similar to how Rhodes prioritized Kimberley as an important point of departure, business owners should prioritize sectors within different markets according to Shagaya. “One country is different to the other. You need to know who you are focusing on.”
Finally, Shagaya says you need to localise in making yourself part of where you do. Before porting your product into Africa, you need to rethink the context of your brand, pricing and the product within different parts of the continent. But the most important thing says Shagaya is to “have ambition, lots of ambition.” With that you’d be able to, like Rhodes, conquer Africa.