4 Fantastic Benefits Of Starting An Online Business In The African Market

4 Fantastic Benefits Of Starting An Online Business In The African Market

Ok, let’s start with the bad news:

You sit in your office focusing on your work and then….piu…..the electricity is gone, your screen goes blank, the office phone is dead (but having worked in the Sudan the most disturbing part is when the ventilators or air conditioning are shutting off, too). The silence is complete. Hopefully there is enough battery in your mobile phone to see you through, because you can’t charge that either.

A generator or a set of solar panels are good but still rarely available back up strategies.

Just a few days ago I called my friend in Addis to have a Skype meeting.

“I can hear you clearly” she says to me.

“Unfortunately, I have trouble understanding much of what you are saying.’ I respond. After dialing two more times hoping for a better line I ask: ‘Why don’t you go somewhere else,…somewhere where you get a better connection?’

Well, I then hear a repetitive stocking sound…right, laughter at her end. Followed by some words.


She then wrote me an instant message reading:  ‘The whole country is like this’

Welcome to doing business in Africa! ‘Patience’ was point number 4 in one of my very own blogs.

When it comes to ICT based businesses, particularly e-commerce, some argue that Africa’s telecommunication sector may well be growing, but that the continent is still not in shape and ready to do business online; others however are convinced that online African businesses have a great potential to turn into gold mines.

Surely, the majority of Internet businesses will never strike that lucky, but I certainly join the optimism, and this is why I wrote this blog.

Besides, when you start a business you also want to make sure it takes into account your personal circumstances, and that’s what we want to take into consideration here at Africa Business JumpStart, because this blog is all about making it happen for you regardless of your current circumstances.

Here are 5 benefits starting an online business in the African market:

#1 You are coming in at the perfect time


Only around 15% of Africa’s population have currently Internet access. With broad band cables being further extended across Africa, this is a number that will fast accelerate in the next few years. The masses of Africans may not be ready for e-commerce and online service provision right now, but that’s not bad news, because it gives you the necessary time to set your e-business up, position yourself, and be ready when the numbers of users skyrocket. Africans have fast adopted to new technology and various e-commerce models will without a question see immense success.

In fact, a recent MasterCard Study (2014) assessing online shopping behavior in Africa concluded that mobile shopping is gaining traction in Africa and 56% of respondents in Kenya and Nigeria had shopped or intended to shop online via their mobile phones. This was followed by 55% of Egyptian consumers, 33% of South African shoppers and 25% of Moroccans.

These countries make up Africa’s top 5 for having the most online users.

Here is a useful video about the development of the ICT sector in Kenya. I think the situation is comparable to what is to be expected in other countries soon. You can watch ‘Rapid Growth in Kenya’s ICT Sector’ here if you are interested.

#2  You can start your Africa online business anywhere in the world

Exactly, absolutely possible. This may be the perfect answer to one of the major worries of Diaspora Africans. While many embrace the exciting outlook of relocating to Africa, many are simply not ready to take this step right now or in future. Everyone has to make their own choices, but Africans in the Diaspora remain deeply connected with the continent and an Africa e-business is just a perfect model that allows you to participate in Africa’s renaissance anyway and build a grand lifestyle for yourself, even if you are thousands of kilometres away.

#3 No worries about capital or bureaucratic red tape

Who would have thought that setting up an e-business is not just a flexible undertaking, it is also one of the cheapest ways to start your Africa business and on top of that with minimum hassle: no need to apply for licences or building permission, you do not need to worry about slow bureaucratic officers or corruption. All you may need to depend on in the beginning is your creative brain and a reliable website designer.

#4 Scalability and business growth made easy


Many Africa online businesses are already targeting the whole continent or Africans across the globe. If you start to deliver a service or product in a particular African country it will still be very easy to replicate your model in other countries. If successfully executed, your potential customers may reach millions.

According to the MasterCard Survey in 2014, the most popular items purchased using a mobile phone in Africa included: mobile phone apps, music downloads, movie tickets, computer software and coupon/deal site offers.

#5 Freedom

I believe that becoming an Africa entrepreneur is a lifestyle decision in many ways. Instead of working in a 9-5 job being hired to work for the dreams of someone else, entrepreneurship will allow you to seize Africa’s vast opportunities while being in control of your own choices, preferences, timing, and creativity. It may sound like cliché, but while the driver behind any successful business is hard and smart work, an online business allows you to take care of your affairs on the terrace of your own house breathing the air of Africa, Dubai, or the United States, you may be working at a 5* beach hotel (ok, once you made it) sipping freshly squeezed mango juice, or … let’s face our bad hair days: you may attend work in your pyjamas.

A Way For You To Go About It:

Just one fantastic concept is that of iRocko TV a web platform that provides free and paid-for Nigerian fims on demand. The site was launched in December 2011, so just over 2 years ago, by Jason Njoku, the company’s CEO and his German friend Bastian Gotter, now COO, who met when they were both students at the University of Manchester. Jason Noku (who failed with previous online concepts) then had the idea for the website when he found it difficult to obtain Nollywood movies online for his mother, who he was living with at the time. He started researching the Nollywood industry and noticed the lack of infrastructure in place for international distribution of the movies. He saw a clear gap he could fill. The young entrepreneur flew from the UK to Lagos, Nigeria, and purchased the online licenses of Nollywood movies directly from the producers and started airing them via YouTube. In short, it became hugely popular and quickly profitable. Investors came in. Today, after less than two and a half years, iROKOtv which has been dubbed the ‘Netflix’ of Africa, is the world’s largest legal digital distributor of African movies.

This is how far you can quickly reach with a great idea and some courage to get started.

Here are some tips for your online Africa business

 1) Identify a clear gap or a growing trend, ideally in and area that is already very popular, this way you minimize risks when applying a new online-based concept.

2) Be clear about how you would make your money: Are you selling goods, services, information, or are you aiming at winning a mass market and providing information for free while selling advertising space and affiliate products instead?

There are many African and international corporate firms who may want to use your platform for advertising if you are targeting a special sector very successfully, as such platforms that are visited by a specific segment of African consumers are still rare.

3) Educate yourself how to build an online business and make sure you are well informed before getting started. There is a pool of information on the Internet in this regard.

4) Your online business must be compatible with mobile phones, especially when targeting the African market, as the majority of African consumers shop online using their mobile phones.

The perfect business, right? Or at least a good way to get some of us started in Africa! And you can start brainstorming straight away.

What did you wish was accessible online in Africa? Feel free to leave your comments and any other ideas below.

Dr. Harnet
Dr. Harnet Bokrezion is the Founder of africajumpstart.com and co-author of the book '101 Ways to Make Money in Africa'. She coaches individuals and consults existing companies assisting them to make smart and strategic business decisions in Africa’s new emerging markets faster and more confidently. Dr. Harnet also regularly writes for the renowned DHL powered publication howwemadeitinafrica.com. Get in touch to inquire how she can be of assistance to your own Africa business endeavors: harnet@africajumpstart.com

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