Longtime readers and listeners of The Flip have heard me talk about our endeavor to aggregate and disseminate contextually relevant insights. While I knew some elements of Silicon Valley-style startup dogma didn't apply to African markets, the work became interrogating what did apply. And increasingly, what did apply from other, non-western markets too.
To that end, I was excited to see a recent comment from Stripe Co-founder and CEO Patrick Collison, I suspect that staying abreast of important new patterns emerging outside US/Europe will become more important for many businesses in the years ahead...
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Stripe recently launched payment links, simplifying "the process of building a payment page by allowing businesses to generate a custom checkout page directly from their Stripe Dashboard, without needing a website, app, or any coding skills". As it was launched Patrick shared a post on Hacker News,
Paystack launched payment pages in 2016, in response to customer feedback from merchants who wished to use Paystack without involving a developer, and last year they launched product links as a part of their wider Paystack Commerce toolkit. Flutterwave, of course, has similar features, whereas startups like Stax offer payment links for mobile money, automating USSD behind the scenes.
I hope to see Africa discussed less as a "final frontier" consumer market and more as a place from which the rest of the world can learn.
A developing thesis: decentralization, democratization, P2P is today's tech zeitgeist.— Justin Norman (@just_norm) February 14, 2021
The interest in Africa as a market ought not (necessarily) be due to "final frontier" or "next billion" as much as that the opportunity for P2P & decentralization is widest on the continent.
Fortunately, when Patrick Collison has something to say, lots of people listen!
A second thought related to payment links, which are linked (pun intended) to social commerce - I was reminded this week that social commerce is much more than just selling goods (and collecting payments) via social media.
The first model requires 4G ubiquity. The third benefits greatly from physical ubiquity.— Stephen (@mrstephendeng) June 8, 2021
For me, the second has promise, especially when mixed with the community best-practices from the third. pic.twitter.com/D8kmHxlhny
I believe these models, pioneered in China and (perhaps to a lesser extent) India, have merit in African markets - last year, I teamed up with Future Hub to publish Pinduoduo and the social commerce opportunity - and I think it's increasingly important to look at these businesses with the nuance they require.
But these business models also have requisite conditions, as Stephen argues.
I read a related article this past week, entitled The A/B Sides of the Internet, which gives us greater insight into the approach that Chinese entrepreneurs take to startup strategy. The piece borrows thoughts from Wang Huiwen, a co-founder of Meituan, on segmenting Internet companies into two categories: one that supplies and fulfills online (the A-side) - e.g., social media, chat, and gaming - and the other that supplies and fulfills offline (the B-side) - e.g., ecommerce, ride hailing and food delivery.
The B-side is then broken down further:
The author argues that each category of companies require entirely different core competencies, infrastructure, product strategies, and even talent.
For A-side, where supply and fulfillment are conducted online, the core competencies of the company lie in product design, understanding the users, and managing communication, socialisation and content… For B1, the company's core competencies lie in understanding SKUs, understanding the supply chain, and understanding pricing... For B2, if you were to inventory B2 companies, you'd notice a remarkable commonality among them - a large offline team. Having a large offline team is one of the biggest differences between B1 and B2 companies...
The infrastructure for Taobao is logistics and payments, whereas for location-based services (LBS) - food delivery, bike-sharing, ride-hailing, restaurant reviews, etc. - the core infrastructure is maps and location-tracking devices.
The development of China's Internet sector is framed as an evolution from A to B1 to B2. Looking through this paradigm, I think the African ecosystem is largely in the A and B1 stage of development.
But as ever, drawing inspiration from outside ecosystems requires contextualization. The above-mentioned article discusses some benefits Chinese companies have - including labor cost, population density (which is especially pertinent for B2 companies), and population size.
And other benefits it doesn't mention, which African companies cannot (yet) take for granted, include proximity to manufacturers (in the case of ecommerce), cheap data costs, digital payments ubiquity, and increased consumer comfortability with transacting online.
Like Patrick Collison, we'll continue to look around the world for new patterns - I think there's a lot to learn from China - and we'll do so critically.
See you next week,