July 31, 2017

With Smartphones as the Gateway Tool, Annual E-Commerce Sales in Africa Could Reach $75 Billion Within the Next 5-10 Years

"The African e-commerce sector is growing strongly, largely on the back of increased smartphone take-up among African consumers, who are using mobiles to access a variety of e-commerce shopping platforms," according to a report, How technology is driving retail in Africa, published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). "This increasing access to technology, via avenues such as smartphones, is helping consumers in previously hard to reach areas to access all manner of e-commerce opportunities, including emerging African fashion. Estimates as to the potential value of Africa's e-commerce vary, but it could be worth as much as US$75bn per year within the next decade."

The report, however, notes that "several obstacles to e-commerce growth remain, including fear of fraud among African consumers, a logistics network beset by problems, the fragmented nature of African retail markets, a pressing need to improve telecoms network infrastructure and the entrenched problem of illiteracy among a significant proportion of the African population.

In its Executive Summary, the report explains how it uses "data to highlight the countries and metro regions in the African continent with the biggest potential for e-commerce growth, while highlighting the trends and developments in the market." Furthermore, "In this report, carried out in collaboration with analysts across our telecoms, retail and African editorial teams, we show how smartphone adoption and usage is helping to shape the African retail sector and bring a broader range of retail options to increasing numbers of consumers in the region."

The report's key takeaways include:
  • Nigeria is in pole position to take advantage of e-commerce potential, on the basis of its high business environment opportunity potential;
  • Estimates suggest that e-commerce sales in Africa could reach somewhere in the region of US$50- 75bn per year within the next 5-10 years;
  • Smartphones are a gateway tool to the internet for Africans, especially in Nigeria, where the mobile penetration rate is forecast to rise from 103 per 100 in 2016 to 122 per 100 by 2021;
  • Jumia and Konga are two of the biggest e-commerce companies in the continent, and in Nigeria nearly three-quarters of users access the Jumia platform via their mobile phones; and
  • Despite the opportunities, fear of fraud, poor transport and mobile infrastructure, supply-chain barriers and the fragmented nature of retail markets in Africa will hold back e-commerce growth in the continent.
Are you planning to invest in Africa's e-commerce sector?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

July 27, 2017

Why Collecting Data Early Benefits Your Startup

The following is a guest post by Alexander Brooks.

Startups come with a number of challenges and rewards for the entrepreneur. There's always something that requires our attention and effort. However certain tasks should be a priority over other projects in the infancy stage of launching a company. We're going to discuss the importance of collecting data from the start and how it can impact your business.

Clarity of Market Needs

As entrepreneurs, we often assume what we think the customers really want without discovering customer actual needs. By collecting data on your customer interactions, you can get direct answers to how customers will receive, use and share your services. This is key to developing a product/service that can gain traction and grow your business. Your product should be driven by market needs and not business assumptions.

Build a Better Product

Gathering customer data early in the start-up phase of your business will support effective product development. A number of customer acquisitions, feedback, and retention will provide insight to what features to improve. Your product/service will succeed or fail based on how you make adjustments from customer feedback. By collecting customer data early, you're structuring your company to make data driven decisions and not guess work.

More Customer Insight

Collecting data in the early phase of your startup will give insight to your customer shopping patterns. Having access to this data creates the opportunity to deliver unique and specific experiences. Creating unique customer experiences can be great for gaining a competitive advantage in the market. This can lead to increase customer loyalty and average revenue generated per customer.

If you're not using data analytics to support your startup's growth, now's the perfect time to start. Start identifying what questions you need to answer to make the best product. Create user groups to foster continuous product improvement by facilitating user testing. Ultimately you're going to discover what can be improved about your product/service by effectively collecting data.

Alex Brooks is the founder and CEO of AE Brooks, LLC (d/b/a Entreprov), a Seattle-based firm that helps small and medium-sized businesses increase their customer base and extend lifetime value of current customers through machine learning and business strategy. Mr. Brooks may be contacted at alexb@entreprov.com.

July 24, 2017

Mobile Technologies and Services to Contribute to Economic and Social Development Across Sub-Saharan Africa

"Sub-Saharan Africa remains the fastest growing mobile market," according to GSMA's The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2017 report. "The region will have more than half a billion unique mobile subscribers by 2020, by which time around half the population will subscribe to a mobile service. The total number of SIM connections in the region reached 731 million at the end of 2016, and will rise to nearly 1 billion by 2020."

The report points out that "the number of mobile broadband connections will reach half a billion by 2020, more than double the number at the end of 2016, and will account for nearly two thirds of total connections in the region." Furthermore, "Key factors supporting the growth of smartphone adoption in the region include the increasing affordability of new devices and a growing market for second-hand devices. This trend, along with the uptake of mobile broadband services, is driving demand for digital content and, consequently, an increase in mobile data traffic. Traffic is forecast to grow twelvefold across Africa as a whole over the next five years."

The report importantly notes the economic value mobile technologies and services in Sub-Saharan Africa:
In 2016, mobile technologies and services generated $110 billion of economic value in Sub-Saharan Africa, equivalent to 7.7% of GDP. Mobile's contribution to GDP is expected to rise to $142 billion, equivalent to 8.6% of GDP, by 2020 as countries benefit from improvements in productivity and efficiency brought about by increased take-up of mobile services. The mobile ecosystem also supported approximately 3.5 million jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016. In addition to the mobile sector’s impact on the economy and labor market, it makes a substantial contribution to the funding of the public sector, with $13 billion raised in 2016 in the form of taxation.
Image: GSMA
Considering mobile is a key platform for innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa, the report encouragingly says, "Opportunities in mobile-based innovation are attracting talent and investment to the tech startup ecosystem in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some 77 tech start-ups across the region raised just over $366.8 million in funding in 2016, growth of 33% compared to the previous year." Moreover, "Mobile operators also play a central role in the tech start-up ecosystem through collaborative ventures with innovators and tech hubs, providing direct investments and access to key network APIs and distribution channels."

I agree that "mobile is a vital tool in delivering digital and financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa." As such, GSMA claims "mobile connectivity will play a central role in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - a 17-point plan to end poverty, combat climate change and fight injustice and inequality by 2030."

In addition, "The 700 million mobile connections in the region are enabling various services that directly impact the SDGs. Investors and social enterprises are leveraging the large area coverage of mobile networks and key mobile services, such as messaging, mobile money and M2M, to deliver scalable and commercially viable services that address a wide range of social challenges in the region."

Lastly, on the topic of regulation and competition in a digital age, the report notes:
Digitization is driving rapid technological progress and growth, generating significant benefits for consumers in both developed and developing regions of the world. However, rapid innovation, in terms of technology and business models, together with the growing importance of economies of scale and scope, is blurring the boundaries between once-distinct markets and regulatory regimes. Policymakers all over the world, including many in Africa, are now recognizing these challenges and working to implement reforms that will protect competition and consumers without impeding social and economic progress.
Infographic: GSMA
Sub-Saharan Africa is full of opportunities to develop localized mobile technologies and services. Do you have plans to support the region's tech startup ecosystem?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

July 20, 2017

Three Things International Students Should Know Before Starting Their College Internship

The following is a guest post by Yan Tang.

If international students of higher education institutions in the United States want a paid off-campus internship, they have to apply for Curricular Practice Training (CPT) from their college or university. CPT is temporary employment authorization for F-1 visa non-immigrant foreign students in the U.S. while enrolled in a college-level degree program. While many international students are focusing too much on how to find an internship, many of them pay less attention on details applying for a CPT. There is no doubt that getting an internship for international students is very challenging, but there are still many possibilities that you could get one if you work hard and work strategically on it (we will talk more about the possibilities next time). However, what I would like to share today is once you are offered a paid internship by an employer, the journey is not over yet; there are a few things that are just as important as internship hunting and you have to make sure to do every step correctly.

First, attend the CPT session which is held by their school's placement center before starting to search internship opportunities. The CPT session is very informative and you will learn the eligibility for criteria and instructions: when you will be able to start your CPT, and how many working hours and how long you can work for the internship. If you have decided to do internships, at least attend CPT training once to get yourself prepared; The CPT you get will only allow you to do internships relevant to your course levels. For example, if you are an MBA student, you will not get your CPT approved if the internship is an undergraduate-level. Knowing the eligibility criteria helps you filter internship opportunities. Even after the training, make sure you ask every question that confuses you. The more specific, the better. If you understand about 90% of the CPT training information, it will save you a lot of time after you get a job offer and start applying for CPT.

Second, have a clear communication with your employer on CPT application process after being offered. There are two benefits if you can explain well to employers what CPT is. 1) Normally it will take two weeks or so for school to process your CPT (it varies in different schools); however, the school might have some questions about your job responsibilities or other questions, in that case, your employer might enable to help with providing additional documents that meet school requirements. Therefore, misunderstanding will not occur, and your CPT will not be postponed. 2) If your employer is able to extend the internship after you have used your first CPT, it will be much easier to start the internship extension by applying for the second CPT. Please remember to be clear and be patient when conducting the CPT communications with your employer.

Lastly, set up a one-on-one meeting with the staff member from the school placement center before being offered. Do not assume you have gotten all the information from the CPT session and then skip this step. It would be too late to make your cloak when it begins to rain. Getting CPT approved is not controlled by you and it is always good to take precautions. This one-one-one meeting with the staff is to confirm details you might neglect from the CPT training including the offer format and key information, and to ask how many staff or faculty members you should talk with to get approval. Figuring out who is involving the CPT process, you can check their availabilities making sure you get CPT approved by each person without too much delay. Once you have confirmed all the information and documents you need, you then go back talking with your employer about the job offer format and other documents your school needs.

These may sound very troublesome, but do not feel overwhelmed. It can be very simple as long as you follow the process, conduct good communications, and deal with each step carefully. For international students, it would be very fun to do an internship in your spare time as you can not only gain more corporate working experience and hone your business skills, but also expand your network and understand more about American culture. Though there are some barriers, most of them are manageable if you plan ahead and take proactive actions we mentioned above.

If you want to talk more about strategically preparing for internships and CPT application, please feel free to contact me at yan.tang@careerlight.net.

Good luck to you!!

Yan Tang serves as President and CEO of CareerLight, LLC, a Seattle, Wash.-based company that provides customized career training for international students to help them prepare for a successful career.

July 16, 2017

EIU Report Highlights Deepening Free Trade and Regional Integration in Latin America

My previous post provides an overview of a whitepaper published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) that focuses on quantifying market opportunities in Latin America's cities. This post addresses another EIU whitepaper that highlights Latin America's new trade agenda. Segmented in three sections: (1) An agenda for regional integration, (2) a new global trade agenda, and (3) economic benefits and political challenges, the whitepaper's key findings are copied below in its entirety:
  • Growing protectionism in the US under the administration of Donald Trump has spurred Latin American leaders to seek new, deeper economic relationships, both within the region and with trade partners in Asia and Europe.
  • With Latin America bucking the anti-globalization trend, The Economist Intelligence Unit is—for the first time in decades—more optimistic about the deepening of free trade and regional integration in Latin America.
  • The regional integration agenda will seek to deepen ties in three main areas: among members of the Pacific Alliance free-trade area (an integration project that includes Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico); between the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur (the Southern Cone customs union, comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay); and between Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
  • Latin America's leaders will have two key priorities in trade relations with the rest of the world: securing an EU-Mercosur free-trade deal, and resurrecting the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) without the participation of the US.
  • After initial skepticism, we are increasingly optimistic about the chances of these deals being made.
  • Greater integration and further trade liberalization would bring real benefits for businesses investing in Latin America, and for the region's growth outlook.
  • The main obstacle to the trade and integration agenda is political. Presidential elections in 2018 in major economies in Latin America, including Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, have the potential to spring surprises and shift the pro-free-trade stance that currently dominates Latin America.
I agree that "the Pacific Alliance will be central to regional integration efforts." The whitepaper further claims: "The Pacific Alliance touts itself as a market to rival Brazil or India in size. While it is true that the GDP of the four-country alliance exceeds that of Brazil, geographical obstacles and weaknesses in transport infrastructure mean that the Alliance is not a true single market. Yet it does have ambitious objectives that go beyond the free movement of goods (tariffs are set to be eliminated by 2020) to the free movement of services, financial resources and people."

Importantly, "the Pacific Alliance is, essentially, in the driver's seat in terms of developments that could bring real benefits in the form of increased foreign direct investment (FDI), economic diversification and raised productivity via the establishment of the value chains that South America currently lacks."

Lastly and most crucially, The EIU says:
Greater integration and free trade would bring real benefits for businesses investing in Latin America. Along with the reduction of tariffs and non-tariff barriers themselves, harmonization of rules of origin and regulatory standards, and a greater focus on trade promotion would bring more opportunities for trade and investment. Associated infrastructure development to support increased trade—backed by an improving regulatory and institutional framework for public-private partnership (PPP) projects—also represents an important potential driver of growth. Developed fully with a schedule of supporting structural reforms and investments in human capital, the trade and integration agenda could also lead to participation in global value chains from which the region is currently mostly absent. This could in turn be a driver of a move up the value chain and an increase in Latin America's productivity and economic growth.
Separately from its report, The EIU held a webinar, "Brazil: Back on track?" on June 29, 2017 about the future of Brazil in light of the corruption scandals surrounding the president, Michel Temer. The webinar poses three important questions:
  1. Will the Temer government survive?
  2. Will Brazil get its public finances in order, and what will happen to the economy next year?
  3. What is the outlook for elections in October 2018 and beyond?
Despite the political turmoil taking place in Brazil and Venezuela (the latter facing a significantly greater political and economic crisis compared to the former), deepening free trade and regional integration in Latin America presents an opportunity for businesses seeking to take advantage of a market where The EIU is forecasting a rise in the region's gross domestic product.

How does Latin America fit in your business's international growth strategy?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

July 14, 2017

Quantifying Market Opportunities in Latin America's Cities

"For Latin America’s megacities (those with populations over 10m) and its rapidly-growing mid-sized cities alike, the burden on housing, basic services, transport infrastructure and the environment requires good governance, efficient long-term planning and the shrewd outlay of limited resources," explains a whitepaper, Measuring the middle: Quantifying market opportunities in Latin America’s cities, published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). "But the continued dramatic rise in the region's urbanized population also offers huge potential in the coming decades as the emerging middle class grows and expands into new cities." The report highlights some of the fastest growing city markets in the region and looks ahead to explore the opportunity and risks they will present, up to 2030.

Similar to other emerging and developing countries in Africa and Asia, Latin America will see growth in urbanization as people move from rural to urban areas. "Between 2016 and 2030 The EIU projects that more than 47m inhabitants will be added to the 122 largest cities in the region." Of these cities with populations above 500,000, in the next decade six will become megacities of more than 10m people, while the vast majority (112) will have fewer than 5m people and around one-quarter of these will have fewer than 1m residents." Furthermore, "In 2016-30 The EIU expects the number of people earning more than US$15,000 per year to more than double in these cities, increasing from 34.6m to 88.4m. The past decade has seen an even larger increase, from 13.7m in 2006."

Importantly, the whitepaper notes:
Viewing the opportunity presented by Latin American cities purely in terms of the addressable market is a useful tool, but it should never be the only metric applied when assessing the potential of that market. Latin America has seen significant economic, political and social volatility in recent years, and any assessment of its urban middle class should be conducted hand in hand with appraisals of the other opportunities and potential pitfalls that any given market presents. 
For example, while Mexican and Brazilian cities seem to offer the greatest opportunity in absolute terms to tap into Latin America’s burgeoning urban middle class, they will continue to pose operational challenges. Within the region, it is Chile that offers the most benign business environment, scoring 7.8 out of 10 in The EIU’s Business Environment Rankings (the highest score achieved by any Latin American country). Mexico scores 7 and Brazil 6.3, with opportunities in cities in both countries constrained by challenging labor markets, unstable political environments, inadequate infrastructure and difficult tax regimes (although they achieve much better scores for their policies towards foreign investment).
Supplementing its whitepaper, The EIU held a webinar, "Latin America's Urban Opportunity," on Feb. 17, 2017.

The EIU whitepaper presents a good case for why companies should consider the business opportunities in Latin America. I see opportunities for companies within a variety of sectors including: telecommunications, information technology, power generation, transportation infrastructure construction, environmental project management and technology, and education. What opportunities and potential pitfalls do you see in Latin America's Cities?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

July 10, 2017

An Analysis of 'Diagnosing Health Care in the GCC'

The following is a guest post by Haton AlFreidi.

A report published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and commissioned by Abbott discusses health care strategies in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). The report, Diagnosing Health Care in the GCC, begins by explaining how health and lifestyle in the GCC affected by the revolution of oil, causing the prevalence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, heart diseases, and obesity in the GCC societies. One of the important key findings that is mentioned in the report was, the lack of professionalism in early diagnoses and the lack of awareness of the importance of preventive health care, appears to be one of the main causes of chronic diseases spreading among GCC citizens. Even though GCC governments provide free treatments to GCC citizens through their public health facilities, chronic disease figures are increasing compared to other countries.

The report goes over how the GCC countries are the leaders in obesity, diabetes, and genetic diseases compared to the world due to the high consumption of sugar sweetened food and depending on imported products rather than local production. It is also mentioned how smoking in all of it forms are accessible to the vast majority, and governments are not taking necessary actions to educate and prevent smoker numbers from growing. Therefore, it is emphasized on how early diagnosis is important to prevent and decrease the number of people who are affected with chronic diseases. In addition to changing GCC governments strategies from funding curing health care to include preventative health care too. By doing so, chronic diseases can be mitigated and numbers of affected people can be driven down.

But, to look more into the issue, we need to know why people are not going to hospitals until they have a health issue. The EIU report reveals a more depth information about public health, and what issues citizens of the GCC are facing. First, being treated in a public hospital is not an easy process. Second, having an appointment can take up to months. Third, most public hospitals are located in the cities so hospitals are not easily accessible to everyone. Fourth, shortage of workforce in all the hospitals divisions. Most importantly, the lack of trust citizens have toward hospitals due to the poor monitoring ministry of health is performing. And the same applies on private hospitals except that waiting time is less but at the same time it is more expensive for a low-quality treatment. This also contributed in decreasing the role of primary care, where the vast majority go to hospitals instead of a primary care.

Ultimately, the report suggests that GCC countries health sectors should start adapting and implementing a strategy of preventive approach instead of only a curative approach. Early diagnoses and screenings can help prevent most of these diseases along with having a more active lifestyle. Some GCC countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have started aiming toward healthier societies by implementing strategies in their visions encompassed within SA Vision 2030, and UAE Vision 2021 to adapt an encouraging environment for an active lifestyle, health public education, private sector involvement, and encounter tobacco and sugar sweetened products.

Some GCC governments started the journey of changing bad habits that existed for a long time by supporting outdoor events, create more indoor facilities and gyms especially for children and women, taxed tobacco and some sugar sweetened products such as soft drinks and energy drinks, applied a mandatory premarital screening to tackle genetic diseases. Also, many individuals started campaigns to spread awareness about chronic and genetic diseases, and one of the recent one is called Genome. The campaign started by targeting parents and educating them about the importance of early diagnosis for newborns, to reveal any genetic disorder or disease that can cause chronic illness such as physical disability. It was eventually adopted by the Saudi Arabian government where testing newborns is now a mandatory procedure. The Genome campaign is now continuing to other GCC countries and it is expected that some GCC countries are on their way to adopt newborns early diagnoses too.

Being a citizen from one of the GCC countries, I am not surprised by the high numbers of sugar consumption or chronic diseases rates that exists in our societies. Oil revolution contributed in starting a cycle among generations of replacing an active lifestyle with a passive lifestyle. However, I think adopting a preventative strategy is not sufficient to decrease the huge numbers of diseases. Chronic diseases are the result of years and years of bad habits, and the lack of a healthy culture.

Health sectors in the GCC need to work together and with other sectors such as ministries of education, ministries of media, and ministries of commerce and investment to work on changing the GCC societies understanding and awareness of early diagnoses and the importance of lifestyle on affecting health. Health education and awareness should start from early ages in schools. Also, weather is a big challenge in GCC countries that should be highly considered in affecting lifestyle and being active. Many GCC governments provided outdoor facilities to encourage people be more active, but with the extremely hot weather it is harder to do so. To conclude, I find the report rich with valid information and analysis, however, the suggested solutions are harder to execute with governmental strategy change and it need more collaboration among other ministries to have healthier societies as the described in some GCC countries visions.

Haton AlFreidi is a Research Analyst at ROI3, Inc. in Seattle, Wash. A native of Saudi Arabia, Ms. AlFreidi received a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration in Finance and International Studies from Seattle University. She may be contacted at hatounfreidi@gmail.com.

July 1, 2017

Three Tips for using Machine Learning to Automate Sales Prospecting

The following is a guest post by Alexander Brooks.

Sales organization waste most of their time prospecting instead of closing deals. Studies show that over 98% of a sales professional time is wasted on prospecting. Machine learning has the power to supplement the heavy lifting of prospecting through automation. Today we're going to cover three tips for automating your prospecting.

1. Gathering the Data

Anything that can be tracked can be improved is more than a cliche statement. Start with creating an efficient process to track all sales related behavior and decision making using a customized CRM tool. Get Everyone involved by creating a lead rating system and a record of thoughts and actions on every account. This process will eventually provide you with a solid understanding of what information is important to the sales team.

2. Identifying Important Data

Gathering the right data is a key factor in building a robust prospecting tool that serves your organization's success. This is a tedious process that involves multiple revisions along the way to make sure you're asking the team the right questions. I suggest starting with assumptions and then collecting a consensus on better questions from your team. Expect several iterations of refining your questioning process. These questions should be focused on what makes a lead good or bad and why.

3. Consulting Machine Learning Expert

Once you have enough data it's time to partner with a expert to start the automation process. The effectiveness of this process will depend on the amount and accuracy of data collected. One of the most cost effective ways to implement a automation model is through hiring a consultant to design the tool. This will keep your cost down compared to hiring a full time data scientist.

With automating the prospecting, a sales manager and sales person can focus more on closing and up-selling opportunities. No more wasting time on prospecting when marketing should be focused on nurturing prospects. Capitalize on spending more time engaging with a prospect that’s ready to move forward.

At Entreprov, we assist small and medium sized businesses get more customers and extend life time value of current customers through machine learning and business strategy.

Alex Brooks is the founder and CEO of AE Brooks, LLC (d/b/a Entreprov), a Seattle-based firm that helps small and medium-sized businesses increase their customer base and extend lifetime value of current customers through machine learning and business strategy. Mr. Brooks may be contacted at alexb@entreprov.com.