Saturday, 15 June 2013

Don't be caught napping

Reliable reports have it that when Western Union (WU) came to Nigeria, they approached one of the most reputable banks in the country and introduced their ‘novel’ method of worldwide money transfer services to them. They had high hopes of appointing the bank as their agents in Nigeria but this was not to be. The reports continued that the management of the bank was disinclined to the idea but favoured the old wire-transfer method, via telegraph, which took several days and often required beneficiaries to open a bank account instead. 
Whatever reasons for not signing up with WU might be, we do not know, but it was said that WU took their business away and went shopping elsewhere for willing banks to engage with. Fate shone on them when they found a forward-looking group of directors on the board of another bank. 

The directors asked the right questions, did their groundwork and closed a deal with WU to be their sole agent in Nigeria. After a number of years of fruitful relationship with the willing bank, which by the way had pocketed tons of cash in commission, other banks were pleading with WU to have a piece of the action. I might also add that the bank initially approached by WU is not so reputable nowadays.

No business exists in a vacuum; rather it is surrounded by an external environment and occupied by an internal one. You need to examine both environments because as long as your business exists it has to respond to stimuli from both environments (remembering your Biology lessons?). Failure to do so is a tell-tale sign of a dying business and a reactive response is not good either as it signifies an apparent lack of foresight. Today, we will consider one of the factors of the external environment for which an entrepreneur needs to be on the ball – Technology. This factor rapidly changes the way business is done because new gadgets and devices are invented everyday somewhere in the world. If you were a marmot and you went into hibernation in March 2007, pleased that you had a Facebook account with 2,030 friends, you would feel so out-dated waking up eight months later to find that the trending social networking service is now Twitter.

One major reason why an entrepreneur does not want to discount the impact of technology on his business is that there are only so many new ideas out there to build a business on; most of the new businesses around are simple modifications and improvements on old ideas, leveraging on technology. In all honesty, how different is tweeting from sending an SMS to all the contacts on your phone? Not so so much, except for the cost! (Twitter fans, please close your eyes to the last sentence). An entrepreneur will therefore have to be on the lookout for ways to integrate new technology into his business so as not to be sidelined by new entrants into the industry.  Let’s take a look at three businesses that either capitalized on technology or integrated it into their business model and cornered the market. 

Linda Ikeji’s Blog

Before the advent of Linda's blog, followers of celebrity gossip, high society stories, fashion tips and entertainment gist had to go to a store and purchase lifestyle magazines (both foreign and domestically printed ones) to get their ‘gist-fix’. Linda sought to modify the way this was done; she looked for a way to bring their much-needed information to the comfort of their bedrooms and even their office cubicles! 

And she found a willing helper in the internet that had provided blogging services. Today, her readers not only enjoy the convenience of carrying their e-magazines with them wherever they go, they also get the info cheaper, can share the stories and pictures with friends on Facebook and Twitter and at the same time protecting the environment, by reducing deforestation in a bid to make paper for printed magazines. Her blog is worth more than $1.9m as at June 7, 2013 and has a daily readership exceeding 59,000 visitors a day, while the old magazines have either gone out of print or are tirelessly gathering dust on supermarket shelves and those that have tried going the e-magazine way are as good as being nonexistent because they took the plunge late in the game.

I live in Ibadan and a month ago my wife had me drive her to all the highly regarded stores in town in search of her facial cleanser, but they had all run out of stock. Each morning after that, while taking her shower, she made it a point of duty to remind me how rough (coarse) her face looked because she had run out of the cleanser. As a man’s man, I could not ignore the daily reminders and had to do something about it. I therefore placed an order for a tube of the cleanser with Konga (in Lagos, over 140km away); to be paid for upon delivery. In a few minutes they called to confirm my request and promised to deliver it to me in Ibadan for a small additional fee. Two days later, my wife’s complaints changed to compliments (and a kiss) and I changed from a patient listener to a proud provider! 

All Konga does is to use the leverage of technology to provide a platform where they bring the market to their clients’ doorsteps. They are able to deliver the merchandise to your home and leave with a smile from you. Using technology, online stores have modified the way we shop; they provide additional benefits to their clients like better time management, cheaper prices while avoiding haggling with traders and high quality products. Smart retail businesses are also beginning to go online while maintaining their shops and malls. 

Tablets and smartphones manufacturers

I was driving along a ring road last week and there was this large billboard displaying a Dell laptop advertisement. Someone in the car commented that it was the first of its kind he was seeing. He did not mean the first of such billboards but the first of Dell ads. The comment called to mind an article I read on the declining sales of personal computers as more and more buyers favour the slimmer and sleeker tablets and smartphones; it made me wonder if the advertisement was not a desperate effort by a drowning business.
In most homes, laptop PCs antiquated the bulky desktop PCs by utilizing the technology of miniaturization. Tablets and smartphones now appear to be antiquating laptop PCs by employing ultra-miniaturization, like someone said. Although H.P. and Dell, the largest laptop manufacturers, are now fighting back by introducing the H.P. TouchPad and Dell Latitude 10, they are somewhere at the back seat. Surprisingly, Microsoft, the software provider that never stops reinventing, is the fifth largest tablet manufacturer with its Surface RTahead of both laptop manufacturers. I think Microsoft is a fighter by anticipating the market and it will not lose relevance even if sales dip in the short term. This is the way to do business in a rapidly ever-changing industry.

I don’t know what business you are into, or the one you wish to launch soon but I know that technology will not spare you the heartaches of bygones if you do not make it your friend. Churches are collecting offertory nowadays using POS terminals, sushi bars and pizzerias are making deliveries using remote controlled helicopters, so you need to look for ways to incorporate new technology to remain at the cutting edge of your business.

Do not be caught napping or Technology will become a foe; rather, embrace the western unions that come around to usher in tomorrow.

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