The Tomorrow People
“Planning a city is a necessary but risky business.” – Cate Blanchett
“Africa rising!” “Africa: the last frontier!” “The Race for Africa.”
We’ve all seen the headlines. We’ve all seen the uptick in deal announcements and investments. We’ve all read the many articles and even passed them on excitedly. Heck, the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit was held in Africa for the very first time, in an overt effort to woo the continent. So it’s true; Africa is rising.
What, then, does this mean?
For African entrepreneurs: This is the time to grab the low hanging fruit and ride the so-called gravy train. It’s never been easier to raise capital, scout opportunities, win over otherwise skeptical partners, gain regulatory approval and basically build a firm foundation for business.
For foreign investors: This is an opportunity to consolidate and exploit opportunities in the last part of the global market that has great untapped potential and predicted growth. It’s cherry picking time for foreign investors are they look to grow their business operations.
The next decade promises to be a heady time of growth and exploits. But to all the African entrepreneurs, I’ve got a question for you: Are you a tomorrow person?
While many sectors are poised for growth, it’s quite easy to get sucked into the milk and honey and, in the words of Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow, forget that “winter is coming.” As we African entrepreneurs ride the gravy train that is the current expansionary cycle, are we thinking of and planning on the coming ‘plateau’ cycle? The ride won’t go on forever.
Eventually markets will get saturated and once that happens the tide will run out. We’ll get to see who’s been swimming in their inner wear. The tomorrow people look past today to survive. The tomorrow people are those who, in the middle of the milk and honey, look at the markets that are a step ahead to learn from them and plan for the inevitable ending of the milk and honey.
As you ride the gravy train, look at the west and see what the coming post Africa rising cycle will look like. What will you do once your corner of the business becomes saturated and growth opportunities dwindle? What will happen once your competitors have been able to grow and have gained enough expertise (due to investors being over eager to pour financing into almost any business for a piece of the pie) to match or even beat you?
Once the Africa rising wave subsides, the capital will dry up. Consumer spending will reduce, cutting into earnings for businesses. Those who haven’t invested in constant innovation structures will suddenly find that simply having more money isn’t enough to secure growth in the face of flagging revenues. Only the tomorrow people, those who in midst of this current gravy train still take time to look at the businesses in their sector that are undergoing the plateau phase, will survive.
As you grow dear African entrepreneurs, take a look at the west. Look at those businesses that have grown too rapidly and are now having to cut back and restructure to keep afloat in the face of slowed down growth and increased competition. What lessons are they learning? What are the mistakes that hindsight has taught them?
Only those who plan now for the coming slow down in growth, increase in competition and increasingly scarce resources and human capital will be prepared to face the post Africa rising era. Only the tomorrow people will survive.
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