South Africa is a good place to start a tech business, the head of startup success and services for Google Launchpad Africa, Fola Olatunji-David, said at a recent media briefing in Johannesburg.
Launchpad is a global mentoring programme that helps startups build and scale products.
Google is taking its second intake of African startups through the three-month programme, with founders currently spending a month in Johannesburg. Last month they were in Lagos, Nigeria.
“We believe every ecosystem is unique — in its structure and its nuances,” Olatunji-David said.
“That’s part of the reason we’re in Johannesburg right now,” said Olatunji-David. “We have businesses from six different countries, [at least] six different ecosystems.”
He added that even two cities in the same country can be different. The ecosystem in Cape Town will be different to Johannesburg’s, for example.
“By design, we want to take what is best for every ecosystem and have the founders experience that.”
Olatunji-David said that Johannesburg is a thriving business location.
“If we look at funding trends over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of good movement.”
Solve a problem and get paid
Google declined to go into the specifics of the types of tech business that are likely to succeed in South Africa.
“You know what they say about perfectly laid plans,” Olatunji-David joked.
However, he did offer some general observations about successful businesses that come through the Launchpad Accelerator programme.
“What we’ve seen is that the characteristics of what makes a good business is really consistent,” he said.
“You must be solving a real problem, and you must be able to capture value. In other words, here’s what I’m offering, pay me or give me something else of value in exchange.”
Olatunji-David’s observation may sound trivial, but the focus on business model rather than other metrics is noteworthy. Startup culture frequently eschews talk of business models.
While the Internet has lowered the barrier to entry of offering goods and services, and platforms exist to make accepting online payments easier, in Africa this is often not enough to reach your target market.
Many people remain unbanked and offline, which means being able to offer your product or service to the right customer and accept a form of payment available to them is often non-trivial.
The statement from Olatunji-David is therefore a refreshing one.