I can greet very well in Hausa up to five exchanges (you know, it can keep cascading). When I do that, I make sure you understand that it had taken me real efforts to master those greetings. Then, we will smile, and my host would ask me how I learnt those. Magically, I have neutralized any tension that may possibly exist. I have never greeted any host while in the northern part of our nation with English! Language is the most native element to connect with clients and partners.
In my teachings with startups in our advisory business, I have called that Nativity Design Construct. It is a way of looking at business from the angle of the customers by making sure that you deliver solutions and services within the natural nexus of the users, eliminating any possible assimilation friction.
As I wrote in a piece many years in Harvard Business Review, best global leaders are typically best local leaders because all businesses are local.
Future global leaders must be those who can develop local leaders with the ability to execute company-wide plans, across nations and regions, at the local level. Commerce is still communal in nature, regardless of the sophistication of the product or service. Intangibles like local fashion, language, and cultural norms must not be taken for granted at the physical interface where brands connect with customers.
Interestingly with the unbounded and unconstrained Internet distribution capabilities, every web business is global even when local. Largely, being a small web company in Lagos does not hide you from the competitive challenge from premier digital companies in Silicon Valley, Tokyo and London. So, to win, you must accelerate your GloCalization: ‘Glocal, an adjective, by definition, is “reflecting or characterized by both local and global considerations”’.
What Smart Nigerian Companies are Doing
Winning and thriving on the web will require new game plans because of the winner-takes-all philosophy. The domination from Google and Facebook will be existential if any indigenous company combats those firms frontally. As I noted in this Harvard Business Review article, the key is looking for ways to “gain a competitive edge over global companies”. Yes, you must differentiate in ways that no foreign ICT utility can automate out your business processes and models. And they cannot scale without hitting a roadblock as they plot to take you out.
Indeed, you have built moats by design and no company can easily overcome the relationships you have with customers and partners via software alone. No foreign software can “eat” that business model. For them to win, the competitors must have natives to compete if they expect to thrive.
Two Cases on Nativity Design Construct
Kobo360 is a digital trucking aggregator. It has a platform which links cargo owners and truckers together. There are many things in the ways Kobo360 engineered its mobile app which is totally fresh, and native. Truck drivers see Pidgin English as most of them speak pidgin. You see “U don reach”, “We dey wait”, etc for the app. But at the same time, Kobo360 institutional partners like blue chip Olam, Flour Mills and Dangote see the typical Queen’s English.
Largely, if you are competing against Kobo and you think it has an app alone, you are wrong. This company has built intricate linguistic innovations which make drivers, partners etc natively communicate in the natural ways they have done business without forcing anyone to change style because it has an app! This is why the firm is growing; World Bank’s IFC had called.
Cars45: What this company does is simply indigenous. It has hybridized car buying in ways no company can take it without doing what it has done. How many times do you see websites selling cars in Nigeria? Its business model has provided a solid moat for survival. Cars45 promises to buy, sell, rate or price your used car within 45 minutes. Innovation is not just about technology. Cars45 is innovating on business model. Hybrid is in the gene and Cars45 is a category-king company.
Winning as a local company in a globalized world will require doing many things differently. You must discover your nativity design which is necessarily going to provide the moats you need to “avoid” global ICT utilities like Google and Facebook. Those elements could be simple things like how Kobo app works, mixing languages in ways that a truck driver will not have to learn Queen’s English but can continue with pidgin which most truckers speak.