It is always exciting to get emails from people keen on getting onto the technology bandwagon and are seeking direction. Some are older business people who want a piece of the tech pie, feeling utterly lost in the buzz but clearly smelling the opportunity, others are students who have worked on an app or web service and want to know how to best push it as a business. A final lot of people exist, mostly venture capital types and prolific business analysts who keep asking “Why do we not see big indigenous, technology based service companies emerge from Africa?”
Running a technology based business in Africa can be a tough call, as technology changes so rapidly that it could render your innovation or service redundant in a flash. There is the proverbial build, buy, integrate or adapt conundrum. Business models for technology companies, more so those offering services are not as straight forward as one would think. There are numerous permutations to think of as consumers are a tough lot to please or convert. The debate for free, paid or freemium shall not be concluded soon, in as much as there are stellar examples of each out there.
While the above issues are pertinent to developing robust technology based businesses, I think the reason for not seeing big “indigenous tech based service ” companies in Africa, is that we are yet to nail the philosophy and ethos of our businesses. What do our technology services companies exist to do? Google for example seeks to organize the world’s information, Facebook seeks to connect the world and local poster child Ushahidi seeks to map out crisis information to aid in decision making.
When you look it from a philosophical perspective, you will realize that currently, we may be building services and applications without thinking deeply about the core purpose of our businesses. We need a reason to build beyond “it is a really cool idea” or “look I built it first”. It is a given that not all technology based service companies need to do this. For example a business to business services integrator whose clients are mostly on the enterprise level, usually have a clear brief to read off. If the consumer orders it, you build it.
This thought process needs to be adopted more by companies seeking to deliver services directly to the mass market consumer. Companies that seek to create services that eventually become utilities and gain mass adoption. Even government needs to think through why and how it will roll out the “e” and “m” government services.
Technology is but a tool, let us spend more time figuring out what services we need and developing the strategies that will see robust tech based businesses arise in Africa.