Two of the most difficult technology sub-sectors to make money are ecommerce and ride-hailing. They look increasingly easy to start but once you begin, you will realize one thing: accumulating leverageable factors is hard, and attaining efficient marginal cost positioning largely hopeless. So, what great companies do is to use those vehicles as one oasis and quickly activate double plays where they can capture value. Without AWS, Amazon would not be a $1.54 trillion plus business, if it has relied only on ecommerce.
Ecommerce is hard especially in Africa where marginal cost challenges make it an offline business. Yes, if the cost of logistics still dominates the transaction/distribution cost, making the operations bounded by geography, it is nothing truly online. As I noted years ago in the Harvard Business Review, we have a long way to go before we can fix most of the frictions in the sector. My summary is that ecommerce is a wasteful venture at this time in Africa unless you have free money to be throwing at it before things improve. And do not call it an online business because there is nothing in it that is truly online: serving an extra customer does not end with a click. It costs real money to reach that person in an area with no postal services.
So, the news today is that China’s Didi Chuxing is coming to Cape Town, South Africa to battle Uber and Bolt. As we already know, most local ride-hailing companies in Africa have exited or severely diminished. They have struggled to make money and without unlimited funding treasury, mainly possible in China, Europe and US, most pivoted.
DiDi South Africa is part of the world-leading transportation platform DiDi Chuxing, which offers a full range of app-based transportation services to more than 600 million users across Asia, Latin America & Russia.
DiDi South Africa understands the challenges communities and the transportation industry face with the evolution of urban mobility (rideshare) and as a result is committed to creating the freedom and convenience to go places, open up horizons and give access to new experiences through our platforms.
Our mission is driven by a dedicated team, who understand the operational landscapes of the rideshare industry. DiDi exists to help South Africans move freely and to unlock their potential and that of the cities they live in.
Ride hailing has limited IP-anchored moat and requires massive scale to trigger the virtuous accelerating returns. If you have options, do not waste time on it, unless you are using it to support a one oasis which you want to remain a category-king (think of Innoson Motors starting one in Nigeria)! But as a pure play business in Africa, it looks dimmed as Uber, Bolt and now Didi converge.
Those companies know what they are doing: I have called it geographical positioning where if Amazon invests $1 billion in India, Wall Street investors add $20 billion market cap for its Indian exposure even though it may not be making money therein. Jumia did the same when it battled Konga as it ramped up expansion in Africa, while losing money, and over time, investors stopped funding Konga, because they felt that Jumia had won! Typically, having access to that truckload of money is not common for most African startups. So, that makes such a playbook challenging: you do not need a business where after raising $400 million, you will still need more money to show results!
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