Just 20 years ago, when Adebowale wanted to call his brother in Minnesota or check on his son living with relatives in the big city he would have to walk the long distance to Mekas Business Center on the edge of his village to make the call. Sometimes he might have to wait a few hours under the punishing sun, if Meka was away from the shop or there was long line of customers.
The small corrugated tin roof kiosk sat among a few other shopkeeper huts where proprietors sell reams of detergent packet singles, sachets of water, personal items and biscuits in glittery paper from Lebanon and the Philippines. Now Adebowale doesn’t travel to Meka’ s shop to make calls anymore. Instead he dials direct from his own mobile phone.Why is this such an amazing story? And why are we able to pull market lessons from it? Because it demonstrates the creation of a new market reaping huge benefits for the businesses clever enough to endeavor.
Samsung, Xiaomi occupies some of the largest shares of the smart phone manufacturing market, with Apple and other brands bringing up the rear. And while Apple and Nokia may be in pursuit of Huawei, it is India that has overtaken once hot smartphone manufacturers in their category; now peppering the international and local market. In fact India is the second largest mobile phone manufacturer according to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation.
It is truly remarkable what these companies from non-traditional corporate traditions have been able to accomplish targeting markets that mainstream businesses had written off. Most conversations about the viability of markets in Africa had been bleak, mostly noting the infrastructural and social challenges. It has only been until recently that “mainstream” business has showed renewed interest in markets once relegated to resource-colony status.
There are lessons in that for you and I. These lessons encourage us to look beyond the prevailing cultural conventions in the mainstream and find opportunity in new markets or create them. Many small and large countries recovering from the ravages of colonialism have rediscovered their own philosophies and approaches to work and business which are helping them grow.
The smartphone market is booming in Africa. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) the market grew 4.6 percent quarter on quarter (QonQ) in 2020–and that during a pandemic! While it would have been nice if African companies had endeavored to create or transform their smartphone/mobile phone market; others were able to find extraordinary returns in creating value for unlikely populations.
An important market lesson teaches us the importance of seeing value in markets and being keen enough to exploit deficits. Old mainstream ideas about technology and convenience revel in the idea that such amenities should only be available for the rich or an exclusive segment of society. Companies and cultures thinking outside of that narrow market box were able to reject that level of thinking, expand the market and capitalize in an unprecedented way.
There are countless market’s waiting to be created or expanded. Businesses that tend to exclude buyers because they have narrowly decided a market is luxury, special or simply not for certain segments of society and culture tend to chop their own market returns down to sizes–and that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. But you don’t have to follow the old paradigm that will suffocate your business and your ability to grow. No matter what market you are in, you can expand it. From property rentals to jewelry; Wearable technology to lux apparel. You can move your niche beyond your niche.
No one could have imagined mobile phones would be proliferating this quickly across the continent of Africa. Could it be the ethno-business culture of these businesses that are allowing them to expand and see opportunities where the old business brass can’t see anything? Perhaps. But our aim is to learn from their efforts and grow.