Your company has done well for itself. You had a great idea for your product or service, turned it into a business, developed your marketing plan and had success selling to your neighbors and country mates. Your sales have grown year on year but you know that sustained growth requires finding new markets for your offering and your domestic market is reaching a point where you are close to saturation. The next obvious step is international expansion, but to what markets?
If you’re a Canadian or US company, Europe is a logical safe next step because the markets are similar in many respects. Same goes for European markets expanding across the pond to the “large” US market. Most small to mid-sized companies, however don’t think about expansion to Africa and that is a shame. African markets are growing at a rate much faster than most world markets and good products and services that do well in the Western World will undoubtedly do well in many of the African markets as well.
While doing business in Africa may seem a massive scary step forward in terms of international expansion, in reality it isn’t. There are dozens of excellent markets in Africa for every type of product or service out there and with a little bit of research, a little bit of effort at finding the right partners, and some help on your side with people experienced in those markets and the best ways to reduce your risks, there is massive upside.
There are many examples of industries that have seen tremendous growth in African countries with good timing and an understanding of the markets in question. Like much of the developing world, there is very little telephony infrastructure (cabling) throughout the country. When South Africa started with mobile phone operators, there were two dominant players in Vodacom and MTN. Vodacom started about a year before and maintained a larger market share. When it came to launching in the much more populated Nigerian market however, MTN got there first and mobile exploded. Despite charging very expensive prices for SIM cards and telephony hardware, MTN was selling millions of lines very quickly when they were forecasting tens of thousands and gained traction with the dominant market share in that country. MTN’s growth was so massive, so quick, that Vodacom never even had a chance to get a foothold there and subsequently left the market. MTN built that Nigerian experience into becoming the dominant operator across Africa. A position which was Vodacom’s for the taking. MTN took a chance on a market ripe for a service that they could offer and it paid off in multiples. The landline telephony industry is by comparison miniscule to mobile telephony and the vast majority of Nigerians on the web are mobile users. It essentially is a technology that was bypassed in most developing markets.
Not all of us are the MTN’s in the world, but there are hundreds of examples of companies with a superior product or service that have yet to offer what they have to African markets. It doesn’t have to be a risky endeavor. It doesn’t have to involve massive expenses. It just has to involve the right people who understand the market and who can help you (and themselves) by getting your fantastic product to their fantastic customers. One thing for sure is that you shouldn’t overlook this opportunity. Get there before your competition gets there first.
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