1M/1M Strategy Roundtable: African Tech Entrepreneurs Emerging
I liked all of the companies that were presented at this week’s roundtable. And it was really cool to see a company from Tanzania. I LOVE the international nature of the 1M/1M initiative.First up today was Joshua Schwadron presenting Betterfly, a startup he founded earlier this year that aims to offer an easier way to find the best individuals (not companies) providing various services. By using social media to spread the word, this free site currently lists over 10,000 service providers, ranging from hairdressers to personal trainers to piano teachers.
My first question was what categories is he focusing on as his market entry points. He told me music, yoga, weight loss and SAT prep since they have been the most popular so far. The problem with this segmentation as a market entry strategy is that these categories are not synergistic. He needs to target a customer who could use all of the related services offered. I asked Joshua to put the user at the center of his strategy, choose women or men of a certain age group who are tech savvy and then offer a few services that apply to them. Following along these lines, if you consider the four categories he mentioned, SAT prep definitely does not fit. I recommend he pick one to three service areas that are synergistic to focus on as he goes to market. Don’t spray and pray!
Next Taha Jiwaji of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, gave us an interesting snapshot of some opportunities opening up in Africa. He discussed Bongo Live!, an advertising and mobile services company that has subscribers and vendors as customers. Subscribers opt-in to receive advertising specials based on their interests, like coupons, special offers, etc. He launched last week and through Google and Facebook advertising he has acquired 1,800 subscribers so far. Five bulk SMS vendors and two advertisers have signed on as vendors.
His main question was should he focus more on acquiring subscribers or vendors. Taha needs to grow both bases, but subscribers a bit ahead of vendors. A larger subscriber base is needed to get better vendors to sign up. We discussed marketing, advertising and direct marketing agencies as being the best channel partners for him.
Again, a bit of spray and pray is going on here as well. Taha is focusing on too many categories for subscribers. I recommend he picks three categories to focus on. Since two of the vendors so far are mobile/computer electronics businesses, that is where he should focus to start.
One very interesting point in the conversation was when Taha said he was surprised that job/career is the most popular category so far. With no other job portal operating in Africa so far, I suggested that could be a separate venture for him to explore. We discussed leveraging vendor relationships by, for example, offering to list the vendors’ job openings on his site. More to come from entrepreneurs in Africa I’m sure.
Last up, Adarsh Jain pitched Fippy, a web-based interface offering consumers customized mobile phone numbers in India. As presented, this is a classic nice to have, but not a must have business. Initially I thought he was targeting young Indian consumers, but then he started discussing small business owners. Again some spray and pray. I told him he needs to pick one segment to go to market. Marketing to consumers is very different than marketing to SMEs. In fact, I think SMEs is a much stronger starting point. The customized phone number can be representative of the business and a small business owner has a commercial interest in paying for such a service as a way of marketing and branding their business. The right direction is for Adarsh to capture the same concept as the 1-800 toll free phone number service in the U.S. Businesses pay for these numbers so consumers can reach them easily, think 1-800-FLOWERS. This venture is much better as a B-to-B business than as a consumer business. I suggest he offers a service, like SEO marketing, that is related to his venture to continue to bootstrap this business. His homework is to research the 1-800 service in the U.S.
It is clear to me, after doing these coaching sessions for over two years, that entrepreneurs need a lot more training on positioning and go-to-market. As such, I have created video lecture modules with case studies in the 1M/1M premium lounge on these topics with very specific guidance on what analysis to perform and how. The easiest way for me to teach a large number of entrepreneurs some of these basics is to have you spend 30-40 hours on the curriculum I have created, and THEN have you come work with me on refining your strategies and positioning.
I have thought a lot about how to make entrepreneurship education and eco-system scalable and accessible to a vastly larger number of people. The answer to that question, I believe, is the 1M/1M Premium Lounge. Over the upcoming months, the program will become much, much richer. But for the moment, we can get you started and give you a significant jump-start.
Sramana Mitra is a technology entrepreneur and strategy consultant in Silicon Valley. She has founded three companies, writes a business blog, Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and runs the 1M/1M initiative. She has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her Entrepreneur Journeys book series, Entrepreneur Journeys, Bootstrapping: Weapon Of Mass Reconstruction, Positioning: How To Test, Validate, and Bring Your Idea To Market and her latest volume Innovation: Need Of The Hour, as well as Vision India 2020, are all available from Amazon.