By Simbarashe Mswaka
START-UPS are the future and they have been glamourized as being Uber sexy without considering how difficult it is to build the next Uber or the next Air BnB. Sometimes the stars just align at the right time and it all comes together successfully and for others the ship sinks like the Titanic and causes ample heartbreak.
2020 was a year like no other because everything that a start-up knew in January 2020 went out of the window by April as the world began closing its doors and operating on a scaled down model due to Covid-19. Businesses like Amazon thrived and Zoom experienced growth that even Nostradamus could not have predicted as a result of businesses and people moving to virtual communication and engagements.
Below is a small glimpse into the things that a start-up needs to know in 2021, whilst the list is not exhaustive, I feel these things are important as your grow your business and yourself.
It is very important to know your customer and even more important to know how they receive your communications. We live in a world whereby there is so much information at our fingertips and not enough time to see it all. So as a start-up you cannot limit your communication to just one social media platform or email only. You need to be present where your customers are and give them options on how to reach you and see your information. The best example in recent months has been TikTok. Artists have had songs that were released years ago come back to life through the popularity of TikTok. Meaning some customers have migrated there and your communication should follow suit.
Strong Digital strategy
Covid-19 changed the world completely and this means start-ups must change the way they operate going forward. Big and slow corporates that looked at change like a cumbersome HR process and were stuck in their ways had to suddenly incorporate more technology into their businesses and might not go back to the old way, whilst others will have hybrid models.
For start-ups this means that your business must be able to serve the customer with minimal human contact because you just never know when the next outbreak will come. No start up should rest on their laurels in 2021, the market has changed in so many ways now. Having a good digital strategy is now oxygen for survival.
Keep your ear on the ground for business funding opportunities
The amount of funding coming into Africa has been on an upward trajectory over the last 5 years and this will only grow as the continent becomes more attractive and technology becomes more ingrained amongst the population.
According to Partech Partners, “VC funding raised by African tech start-ups in 2019 totalled US$ 2.02 billion, compared to US$ 1.16 billion in 2018. This represents a 74% growth year on year and the funding amount has also expanded by 5.5x over the last 3 years.” This is a combination of more deals and more funds chasing those deals, it’s a good exhibition of progress on the continent.
Africa has the youngest population in the world so it’s inevitable that they will embrace tech much faster than their parents did especially as they live in a digitalised world. It is important for start-ups to know the various sources of funding that are at their disposal both locally and abroad. Join a Hub, join the ecosystem, join a community and become plugged in.
Information is free and readily available, make sure you are plugged in as much as possible to the benefit of yourself and your fellow entrepreneur. Get to know one Angel investor and they may just introduce you to more, thereby causing a snowball effect.
Collaboration is the new competition. Competing is fun for athletes and other sportsmen but for start-ups it is much better to collaborate and share knowledge and expertise. Collaboration allows one to learn from others’ mistakes and also to overcome hurdles together. Building a business can be a very lonely process and having someone else doing a similar thing as a sounding board would be a godsend. Don’t work alone as a start-up, even if you can’t find a cofounder, at least find like-minded people to work with. This will help your business, reduce burn heart and protect your mental health.
Thinking outside the box
Start-ups need to stop thinking small and think beyond their locale. Don’t let where you are restrict your thinking, especially if you live in a country with a small population. Use your locale as the testing area for your product or service. If you think that your product is that good, you should be targeting the region and then the continent and beyond. Having a big picture vision of your company helps you create a sustainable business with a strong competitive advantage over competitors.
And finally, 2020 has been a rollercoaster year for most people and it has also been a protest year. Black Lives Matter, protests against lockdowns and Hong Kong protests. There have been countless acts of defiance. This is a reminder that start-ups need to forge ahead and break things. Disrupt the industry and shake the room, apologize afterwards when they find you building something great. Just don’t do anything illegal.
If people had waited for banks to innovate for us, we would still all be running to the banking hall to fill out forms and collect our money. If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse, but Ford broke the norm and built cars. Start-ups need to believe in their ideas and proceed to build, authority will hinder you and they are also late to catch up to the party. Armed with these insights, let’s go out there and conquer with the lessons from the current virus and beyond!