It’s been said that an entrepreneur is someone who can see opportunities where others see only problems. I’d change that saying slightly: an entrepreneur not only sees opportunities but is able to seize them, and turn them into value for customers and cash for her (or his) business.
So I’ll share a problem I have been battling recently, which I know affects a large number of businesses in Ghana and across Africa, though many of them may not realise it.
I’m a big fan of Google Maps and have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly the mapping has improved for Accra, where I live. I use the Uber and Taxify services which rely on Google Maps to work out how to get you to your destination. A few years ago, map errors on my trips were pretty common: now, it’s a surprise if the mapping goes wrong.
But when I advise friends running businesses in more rural areas, trying to help them literally put their businesses on the (Google) map, I’ve encountered a Google glitch. If your business is located on a road that is not captured and named in Google Maps, you probably will not be able to add your businesses location, although frustratingly you will be able to fill out all Google’s forms for doing so: it is just that Google will then either refuse to let you save the information entered, or will arbitrarily relocate your business (in the case I am currently working with, to about 10 kilometres from the correct location!)
And that means lots of potential new customers may not be able to find you.
My conversation with the Google support people about this problem went something like this:
Me: I’ve found I cannot add a business to Google Maps because it is not located on a named road on your map. Could you help me fix that?
Google customer service: Hello. Let me look into that for you. (5 minutes pause). The best way will be to use the Google business owner form.
Me: I have already tried that, and it gives the same problem.
Me: If Google wants to be truly international, it needs to understand that in Africa, there are a lot of roads that are not on maps and not named, and there a LOT of businesses located on such roads that want to be easily found. I can see this won’t be an issue too often in the USA, but it is a common issue here in Ghana. It is possible to use a Google Map geocode pin to record exactly where these businesses are located, but the software does not then allow that location to be saved as the business’ address. Can you tell me whether that is a deliberate policy by Google, or a glitch that could be corrected?
Google customer service: Neither.
Me: Really? It’s not deliberate and it’s not a mistake. Hmmm…
Google customer service: The best way will be to use the Google business owner form. Have a nice day.
This surreal conversation left me wondering whether the intelligence I was speaking to might be artificial, as well as puzzled and frustrated!
I am still in contact with Google support sporadically on this issue, and hope that it may be possible one day to meet their rigid Western-centric criteria for adding a new business location, but who knows?
Reflecting on this issue highlighted some reasons why there are many opportunities for entrepreneurs in Africa.
Existing global businesses generally have business models and policies that reflect their countries of origin and their current biggest markets (typically North America and Europe). Despite the rapid growth of African markets, they are still small relative to North America and Europe, so global businesses may allocate some marketing budget to Africa but are less likely to re-engineer their products and business models to fit the African context, as illustrated by my Google Maps experience.
In contrast, African entrepreneurs should have a deeper understanding of the African context, and are likely to have that context shape their products and business models from the beginning. They therefore have an opportunity to develop their businesses to be aligned to the opportunity of the rapidly growing African market. It is more difficult for existing businesses that have a core focus outside Africa to do this, as changing their models to suit Africa may disadvantage them in their main current markets.
In other words, differences between the African context and global context may be a problem for businesses developed outside Africa, but an opportunity for those developing in Africa.
How well are African entrepreneurs seizing these opportunities?
I am happy to pay say 20 cedis a time to anyone who can help me solve the map location issue for my friends’ businesses that happen to be located off the Google road map. The benefits of being easily findable on commonly used digital maps could be many thousands of cedis a year for these businesses, so I think that would be well worth it. Any takers?