A Game of Numbers

“That’s a street in Lagos!”

I couldn’t help belch out those words in response to what triggered them. I teamed up with a Creative Director from Gabon on a Pan-African project. During a pizza break, we discussed economic peculiarities about our individual countries. It’s well known that Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa. By UN’s estimation, it ranks 7th in the world.

My Gabonese friend had mentioned that his country is “about 1.5 million.” My shock probably embarrassed him: I noticed his half-bitten pizza hung mid air as my face stayed livened with wonder. Perhaps it was uncouth to compare the population of his country to a street on Nigeria’s commercial city.

Within that short time, I imagined how business operates in his country. I wondered how all the businesses, assuming there are vibrant industries and competitions, share the country’s population. It’s typical for businesses to divide markets along demographic lines. Like, “we have 25% of the telecommunication market.” What’s that in actual figures? Again, I mentally compared whatever that figure amounts into with the number of subscribers on Nigeria’s smallest telecommunication company. I should not mention the difference. Although, by another comparison, a business in China may also wonder how businesses share the Nigerian consumers amongst themselves, given that an ordinary startup has more than half of the Nigerian population as users.

The dynamics of numbers, especially for small and growing businesses have occupied my thoughts for a while and it has risen with the growing economic interests and activities in Nigeria. The country’s GDP growth, fluctuating quarterly between 6%-7%, is a staple of economic reports. Foreign businesses queue to invest in the country. The numbers are attractive. The Guardian UK recently reported the significance of the Nigerian market alongside the spending power of the Nigerian consumer. It reported that the seven Shoprite branches in Nigeria sold more Moët & Chandon champagne than its 600 South African store combined. (Disclosure: South Africa is the parent country of Shoprite).

The implications are huge for businesses, especially the small ones. It’s important to mention that not all businesses are subjected to dynamics of racking up numbers. I speak especially for those who it relates to. Take for instance, one of my favorite business ideas – Bus.com.ng, favourite because of its immense opportunity and diversifying potentials that it has).

The numbers are predictable as they are significant. Take Lagos, a city of about 21 million people, and majority of who are in the spending bracket and travel from one state to another. These folks are certainly going to be faced with the challenge of traveling at ease, and will expect to do such with ease. One needs to look at the queues and rowdiness at Inter-State bus stops to understand the headache of traveling within Nigeria. So it appears that a business as bus.com.ng is not only timely but also relevant. And the numbers, customers - that is, are there.

21 million people. The number becomes more interesting when you consider having a consumer product that a quarter of them can’t do without.

As Africa becomes more attractive for foreign investors, local businesses are going to find themselves on a numerical battlefield. The constraints will be as telling and intense as more competitive businesses spring up.

Alarmists may raise fear about an erosion of the market by charlatans but the smart business gets its game on by getting numbers on its side and keeping those numbers with a sustainable promise that satisfies consumers.

There are numbers in Lagos, in Nigeria, in Gabon, in Africa still waiting to be exploited. We at Kwirkly are finding the numbers too.

The smart businesses are counting already.