I was on twitter the other day and I got into a discussion with someone about a website they are running and during this short discussion, he mentioned that despite my earlier doubts, his website was still going “strong”. So, I asked him what he meant by still going strong? Was his website suddenly making a whole bunch of money or what exactly had changed? And he responded by saying no…the website wasn’t making money, but it was still up and had visitors and therefore was still “strong”.
He then asked me to mention his website on this blog and I said no and responded that I was tired of dealing with Kenyan techies and all their hype. i.e. They get on Facebook and Twitter and talk up their sites and talk about “launches” and “going live” and when I start asking questions about them, I realize later on that none of them are really making any money, so why all they hype?
Anyway, I eventually told him that I was tired of hyping up non-money making sites. I mean, if your not making money with an E-commerce site why would anyone (on a blog about entrepreneurship) want to read about it?
So, after I was done talking to him, I began to reflect on that conversation and I made a few notes to myself, which included the following questions and which I then proceeded to answer myself and they are as follows:
- Maybe Kenyan techies are confused about what E-commerce actually means. For me, E-commerce is not about putting up a website. Anyone can do that with the kind of software that is available today. E-commerce for me, is like any other kind of commerce. The only exception being, it is done online as opposed to being done via a brick and mortar store. Therefore, because E-commerce is like any other kind of commerce, in order for it to succeed, the ingredients of basic economics need to exist wherever you are and what ingredients are those?
The people you are selling your goods to must have enough of a disposable income to be willing to go online and spend their money. That’s why E-commerce succeeded in America. It was not special e-commerce code that got them into online shopts. It was that America already had a large enough middle-class that simply shifted their buying online.
Does Africa have this “ingredient” yet? i.e. putting up websites won’t make a difference if that disposable income isn’t there in the first place. If people cannot afford to shop at a brick and mortar store yet, they won’t have the money to do it online either. There’s no special e-commerce monopoly money out there (at least not that I know of)
- My second point is about e-commerce and advertising and this is something that I am learning through my own minor ventures. If you have an e-commerce website, your fundamental goal is to rank highly on google for whatever product you are selling. Why? because most people, when they are looking for something to buy, will go onto google and do a search and they won’t keep looking beyond the first page. So, you want to be either on the first or second page of googles search results so you can pull in those customers who are looking for what you are selling.
Now, the way to rank on google, is not by going on facebook and twitter, showing off about “going live” and “launching” and all that nonsense. The only way to do it is to slowly work in the background trying to accumulate good back links, good content and let google get to know your site and it will slowly begin to move up in the rankings, but you have no control over that (it’s google that decides how good your site is and whether or not it should appear on the first page of it’s search results or not).
The other faster, but much more expensive way is to get pay google to put your company site on the right hand side of it’s search results and hope that people notice it and if you have a lot of money to spend on advertising, this is a good option.
Now, the Kenyan “tech” people act very differently from the American tech people I’ve encountered and that’s why I’m beginning to think that the Kenyans are all hype and no action and I’ll recount a story here to highlight my point. I know someone who represents some American e-commerce people and h3 began to tell me how much money people I’d never heard of were making — selling all kinds of silly trinkets (online) — and these were not big sites like amazon.com or wal-mart.com. These were sites I’d never heard of where 17 year olds were making over $100,000 dollars a month! And I would go to these sites and wonder: How the heck are these people doing it and I began to get some answers and I was astounded. They were quietly slogging away behind their computers doing the things I described above. However, if he hadn’t told me about these people, I would never have heard of them.
So, why the hype when the revenues are zero?
***on a more positive note***
I do see one bright spot for technology in Africa and it is with government records. I’m assuming that eventually they are going to have to be updated electronically and maybe someone who is already involved with this kind of business can clue us into what’s going on in that arena.