Most times, competition is not your main enemy as you build that start-up or the product. Your main enemies are the internal elements in your company which could affect flawless execution. Do not fret morning and night about competition because ideally for an African start-up, you do not have many competitors!
Yes, most of our industries are still at infancy with the incumbents largely operating at sub-optimal levels. So, when you focus on competition, you lose the sights to think how to innovate and make great products. (You should be aware of competition, but do not think they are there, to snuff life out of your business. That is not the case.)
Failing as an African start-up or a product is not necessarily because any competitor took you down. The likely major reason is that you could not execute to fix that friction you have established that company or product to solve. For the solar companies that went under, they did not die because of electricity DISCOs (distribution companies), since the DISCOs are still not distributing enough electricity. Those logistics start-ups that went under did not collapse because of competition as our logistics systems in Africa are still at infancy. The farms did not collapse because we suddenly have excess produce capacities from big farms. Largely, failing as a start-up, in Africa, has nothing to do with excessive competition: it is a product of inability to execute. (I am hoping you do not plan to start another Facebook to make a case that competition does kill!)
So, as a founder or product champion, give yourself a break and focus on the real business: building great products and a fantastic company. Do not allow another new fund-raise by a perceived competitor to stress you. Do not allow another new city expansion by the same competitor to stress you. Do not allow another hiring of a Vice President to stress you.
But worry if you are not serving your customers and improving your products. Get back to work and stop being fixated on competition. Sure, you do need to be aware of competition but it does not need to stay in your face as you pursue your mission. You may see big buildings and expensive cars driven by (incumbent) executives, but if you check well, the market has not been scratched.
Pulse: Consider the insurance sector in Nigeria where we still have only single-digit market penetration (Vanguard has 0.4%.) There could be “competition” but if you are really innovative, you can create a new basis of competition and disrupt the market. Not doing well in the insurance sector cannot be due to competition, rather your inability to at least move the penetration to say 30% from the current single-digit. So, any failure in the Nigerian insurance sector is really an execution failure, not competition related.
[culled from Tekedia Mini-MBA Week 2 Lecture materials]