On Ideas, Strategy and Execution. Questions. Questions. And questions.
In the dawn of this new African Internet Commerce Era, what will win the day? Will Africa tweak internet commerce to its own specific situation, like China did, or will internet commerce tweak Africa? Will the hackneyed developed-world playbooks prevail here in Africa, as they did NOT in China, or will an entirely new African e-commerce paradigm evolve specific to the African situation, like mPesa in Kenya did for mobile payments in Africa?
The hammers have arrived Africa, and especially Nigeria, hitting on all nails in sight, left, right, and center. (But don’t hammers have a tendency to always see everything as nails to be hit?) Okay, just go a-hitting then (aka, a-executing). But wait. What will win the day in Africa? Idea. Strategy. Or execution? The Germans, like the hordes of Xerxes’ armies from Persia have arrived the Thermopylae of Africa, Nigeria, with huge and limitless resources and rocket-carrying warships to take over our frontier internet commerce landscape, seeking to capture the ?billion$ unicorns that are in plain sight. (Or so it seems.) They have landed via the Amazon river of the Atlantic, on taxis and cars, with shelters and hotels that have marketplaces in them, smoking delivered food. What should be our response to this economic onslaught? Should it be this, or this, or this. Or this—my personal favorite.
If they first came to you earlier as has been reported, carrying words of friendship and community (jumia, in Swahili) like they did to our fathers a century ago. And you saw through the rouse like Leonidas, in the YouTube embed above, did during his time. (Yes, some others did not.) And you had your well (konga, in Yoruba) well dug (pun intended) and have shouted like he did, “THIS…IS…NAIJA!!!” by taking some of their messengers captive into your well (konga, in Yoruba) like Leonidas did during his time. Should fairness still be an appropriate rallying war cry?
What will win this now OVERT wars in the many fronts of this battle for the African e-commerce space, where Nigeria is now the new Normandy? Is it
1.) Idea, or
2.) Strategy, or
3.) Execution (aka, Rocket), or
4.) Idea + Strategy, or
5.) Idea + Execution, or
6.) Strategy + Execution, or
7.) Idea + Strategy + Execution?
What do we need to win our respective individual battles? Personally, I believe it is mainly Africans with Jack Ma’s mindset, the mindset of a super excellent martial artist. People with the discipline, training, and experience of the US Navy Seal Team 6. People with the tenacity, formidableness and relentlessness of the 300 Spartan Hoplites that faced the hordes of Xerxes’ Persian armies and brought them to their knees. Personally, I don’t think we will win this war by trying to beat these German hordes at at their own game. No one beats the Germans playing their game. Not in business, not in football and, certainly, so will it not be in e-commerce in Africa. It is not for nothing that they are called The German Machine.
So who are those that will win these African Internet wars? Let me first borrow a quote from the introduction of the book Alibaba by Shiying Liu and Martha Avery, “Not everybody has set out to restructure the way business is done around the world by creating a new model for use of the Internet [like Jack Ma]…Almost everything about Jack Ma is counter-intuitive—he looks at the world from a unique perspective. His greatest delight is using small to conquer big, quick to conquer slow, and intuitive insight to conquer conventional wisdom. The abstractions by which he formulates strategic plans are based on moves of martial arts more than mathematical equations, and the mental discipline behind those moves informs his every thought. In Jack Ma we are looking at the incarnation of a traditional martial arts master.”
Personally, I think the ones who will win their battles are the ones who have peeled their eyes away from the conventional wisdom and models of how Internet Commerce has been played in the developed world. They will be the ones coming to these war with very fresh eyes knowing that Africa is not US or Europe—or even China for that matter. It is those who realize that the fact that a certain model of e-commerce worked and succeeded in US, Germany or even South-Africa, does NOT mean that model will succeed in Nigeria or Kenya. (Even mobile payments with a resounding success via mPesa in Kenya did not automatically translate to success of the same service in Nigeria!)
Dear aspiring African techipreneur, I think you need to go study the history of the Vietnam war to see why the US failed so horribly in fulfilling her mission for that war against a seemingly ragtag army, despite the wealth of resources at the disposal of the US, who eventually had to beat a shameful and painful retreat at the end. Or where else can we find inspiration that is fit for Africa and its unique terrain? Personally, my strategic inspirations come from the battles Leonidas and Hannibal fought—and won. Military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge once famously called Hannibal the “father of strategy.” (Sorry, I am a freak for military strategy because it is the simplest and purest form of strategy there is.)
What I find from my many studies is that advantage is usually rooted in difference. Advantage is usually rooted is a better understanding of the battle terrain where the battle will be fought. Advantage is usually rooted in a deep understanding of the psychology of the invading army and the people or king they left behind at home. From these spring strategic insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the competition. Battles are not necessarily won by which side has the greatest resources. Even the the wise King Solomon in the Bible made same observation, “I have seen something else under the sun: the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned.” —Eclesiastes 9:11
So of the seven items I have listed above, to which do i cast my vote as to what will win in Africa? My vote is for 7 above. The challenge of a formidable African ecommerce general is not whether or not he will engage in war. No. He can’t run from wars. It’s his calling. (In fact, some other hordes will soon arrive to join this war in good time.) The main challenge he has is to choose which battles to concentrate his relatively limited resources and focused attention on in a war of attrition, what strategic ways and means to adopt to prosecute these, playing the strengths of his army against the weakness of the competition, while adopting an OODA approach to the execution of the battles he has chosen to prosecute. So, dear aspiring African techipreneur, Go Figure, Go Win or Go Home!
You can share your thoughts on this post with me by tweeting @ me @docolumide.