In a short entry by Guardian NG, a Google engineer explains the key challenges before Nigerian startups. The list includes the usual factors plus an important one: scalability, mentorship, finances, connectivity, market size and changing consumer needs. That last one – changing consumer needs – is the most important factor for any startup. Indeed, for you to create a new basis of competition, i.e., to become disruptive in your sector, you must invent a new demand system.
For technology startups coming out of Nigeria, and Africa, the challenge of lack of product scalability, and poor mentorship may continue to pose serious limitations to their growth. These are aside others, including access to finances, connectivity, market size, and changing consumer needs.
As identified by Google chiefs, on Wednesday, at the ongoing Global Accelerator and Launchpad Programme, in San Francisco, United States, startups needed to change the way people consume products and services.
While stressing that Google currently focused on startups from emerging markets such as Nigeria, he noted that the next target for the firm was to reach the next billion people with technology.
To Luke Wroblewski, also a Product Manager, startups must measure the kind of design that works specifically for the task; focus on core features, grow critical engagement and ensure adequate ergonomics.
Wroblewski advised startups to stake a balance between quantity and quality to create a lasting solution.
For companies like Google, they understand that they would be unable to have next billion users if they continue focusing on already met (or known) needs. So, what Google has to do is to invent a new demand system where customers have new needs (think of googling over going to Library). And once those needs evolve, meet them as a category-king entity, enjoying the first to market (yes, the first mover advantage) benefits.
How do you change consumer needs? You create products which serve users at the levels of expectations or perceptions, with perceptions being better. In other words, you create products which stimulate new needs in the lifestyles of users. Things they never thought they needed, but when they see your products, they would quickly activate a latent (existing) need which that product would solve.
Steve Jobs, Apple Founder, was legendary for stimulating demand. He worked without surveys or focus groups. He was a genius, peerless in his generation. He saw an unborn future many years ago. He was an icon, who changed his world. He developed a good design paradigm of working at the perception of customers, beyond their needs and expectations. He found glory and Apple triumphed with iPod, iPhone, iPad and more.
I discuss why organizations must focus on developing products and services that go beyond the needs of customers to their expectations and perceptions. Focusing on the needs of customers is a recipe for disaster. The whole desire must be to deliver products and services at the level of customer perception where they are offered products and services which they might not have even imagined would be possible. But the day they see the products they will say wow: That is the thing I have been thinking. This also explains the limitations of focus groups because focus groups are tethered to what the customers think they need. Perception of customer level service is offering something which could not have been requested during focus groups, because such products will not come into the imaginations of the people being studied.
Simply, we have a challenge in Nigeria: we cannot be solely building products for needs which are already met by products in the markets. For us to have millions of users, we must make products in Nigeria that can stimulate new needs which do not currently exist, and then serve them efficiently.
Comment 1: A tough one, in a country where lots of people are still struggling to meet the basic needs, without much success ofcourse. While they try to run away from their problems, it becomes more apparent that their intended destinations even have more problems.
In the middle this challenge, startups now have to make products at perception level. But there’s an impediment: how affordable would those products at perception level be? If they fail the affordability test, everything goes back to purchasing power conundrum; which oftentimes makes great products more or less appear useless.
It’s a big challenge, investing the energy, intellectual and financial resources, and after coming up with such a great product, only to be hit by that ultimate reality, which is: consumers LOVE your product, but CANNOT afford it. The Google guy talked about achieving the right mix between quality and quantity, and in our case; you still have to figure out those who can afford.
Perhaps it could be the reason why everyone is almost doing the same thing: from telecom to banking, and everything in between; because those who tried to be different have practically gone out of business. All the troubles in the land are closely related, startups facing same.
1. Nigeria is a peculiar market. Very peculiar that when you intend to wow your customers sometimes, you wow no one – only dwindling sales. As mentioned by Francis Oguaju products borne out of the perception construct tend to be high-end and rarely affordable at scale.
2. Changing consumer behaviour/ needs is largely identified by data. At startup level, you either don’t have the scale or the data to draw insights on consumer behavioural patterns.
Therefore, generally speaking, my take is let startups even get the rudimentary very right. Let them even stay in business n turn in a profit first. Let the business environment be enabling and at ease first. Then they can start thinking of wowing their customers.