You can’t avoid the Africa Rising rhetoric and if you’ve read any article or listened to any speech on the topic you would have heard that at one glorious moment in recent history Ghana’s economy grew more than 14%. Those figures look good if you are looking to enter Ghana and benefit from high ROI. So of course, you’ve made up your mind. You’re going to Ghana. It’s going to make you rich! Congratulations! However, unless you have a whole wad of cash behind you to mitigate any unforeseen obstacles it might not be all British-Empire-I-have-conquered-simply-by-placing-my-flag-here. If this is your first company, or first time setting up in Africa here are some tips I can share with you after my time there. My tips are inspired by this article which first appeared on inc.com.
The money. You’ve just dropped down in Kotoka International Airport and in any direction you go, you will find yourself in gentrified Accra. Cantonments to the South, Airport Residential to the West and East Legon to the North, the army barracks on the East- that’s not your concern. Of course, the temptation to immediately live the expatriate life is strong, afterall one common pound will get you six Ghanaian cedis. Before you know it, the taxi bills will add up, the cupcakes and lobsters will also leave a mark on your bank account. Heck! The bank account fees will leave a mark on your bank account! So once you’ve got your big get-rich-quick Ghanaian-then-global-takeover idea be very careful to keep your personal expenses low, and also company expenses low. Networking is good and yes that means going to the right places to meet the right people, but could you just visit the Accra Polo Club instead of taking a membership? And don’t look down on some of the chop bars. If you’ve seen the cars driving in and out of Bush Kanteen in Shiashie you’ll know what I mean. You don’t need to have lunch for 50 cedis in KFC when the money bags are eating fufu for 12 cedis – think it over. And you don’t need to let people know you’re saving money, just pass it off as your undying love for local cuisine, I’m sure that will earn you more friends too!
Balance your mind. Ghana will take it’s toll on you. When I felt that I couldn’t keep my mind at ease, I checked out of Ghana quicker than you can say “independence now”. Now I know how the British felt back then. You may have a great idea and as Africa as a whole is still developing, there is still space for things you have long taken for granted here in the West. So yes, it sounds like a great – no, perfect – business idea, but please manage your expectations. Manage the expectations you have about the support you will get. Manage your expectations on how long anything will take to do. Officially in Ghana, starting a business should take 14 days, a friend of mine complained to me on his Day 15 and when I left Ghana 8 days later it still hadn’t come through. There are all too many people willing to pile on the feeling of failure if you give into that feeling to begin with. But the right mindset is the difference between perseverance and giving up, or making the right business decision or yet another mistake.
Relationships. If you are going back to live with family, these people are just as important to your journey as a romantic partner. Obviously there will be a difference in their importance to your plan depending on whether you left them behind in London or met them in Ghana. You will need strong networks if you are going to weather the storm of building a company in Ghana. Family connections could help you by-pass the red tape which will of course make life easier, but equally sceptical family members who do not understand the plan could be a hindrance. Some people do not see how someone could leave London to live in Ghana either permanently or temporarily for the purpose of creating wealth. Some Ghanaians truly believe in the greener grass of the West and so if you are unable to convince them they’ll do their best to convince you that you’ve made a mistake and should go back. In the article I read before writing this it read “the last thing you need during the startup phase is home drama”. It couldn’t be said truer. Not long after I started my last job in Ghana I was faced with “home drama” which I sadly had brought into my work. Immediately I just wanted to check out of everything and a launch event that I had been working towards and looking forward to since day one of my employment became the night I dreaded attending, and that marked the beginning of the end for me in that place. People often say they compartmentalise, but it’s not guaranteed that that will work forever so just try to minimise the home drama. It’ll give you more brain space for this really ambitious company your building!
Co-Founder. There isn’t really a pattern I can refer to as to whether people go solo or not. In Ghana you will hear “you can’t trust anybody!” a lot. It’s not that deep. That being said if you’re going to put your money on the line you have to have a serious talk with any business partners about rights and responsibilities. I had a couple ventures and ideas that I went into with some friends, but they always began so informally. As a result, there were crossroads where tension would grow, which one of us had more to lose? Who was doing the most run around and therefore, how large of the profits should their cut be? Was business just business and friendship just friendship? That’s important because you don’t want to lose a friendship over money and you don’t want to lose money because of a friendship, so be sure speak openly and clearly about those things otherwise, you end up with a business disagreement becoming the topic of discussion in your entire group of friends and forever operating your business through the frivolity of ‘he said, she said’ gossip. I’ve seen this happen for an acquaintance of mine who eventually walked away from the business. Now the whole company is a “could have been”.
Market. Like I said earlier having a great idea doesn’t mean you’ll be successful in Ghana. It may even be something people need rather than a consumer product they may want but you are not going to know and understand your market if you live in a bubble excluding them. In my opinion, don’t come into Ghana with an idea to disrupt the trotro system when you’ve never used one. It’s just good research, get to know your arena and target market well and then provide something people in Ghana or Africa actually want, not just a cut and pasted idea from your time in the West.
So there you have it. To be frank, I doubt I’ve given you anything you’ve not heard before but if you have found it useful, please share.. especially with your Afropolitan friend about to make the leap. There’s a saying “a wise man learns from his mistakes, wiser men learn from the mistakes of others”. Nante yie! (Go well)