Can the Ghanaian Techies try China’s way of copy and innovate? Yes, but that’s just my thought. I think emulating the Silicon Valley model where everyone tries to create a nouvelle idea/product and then build a company around is not going to work in our tech ecosystem.
GHANAIAN TECHIE CAN COPY FROM CHINA
Silicon Valley always sticks to this “global product” model where they take the same product and try to use it to gain market share in another country ignoring that country’s special peculiarities. Chinese techies have built companies worth more than their American counterparts by copying and innovating to suit their ecosystems and that of others as well.
They copy the same American product and adjust it to Chinese taste, gain market share and then go back to the NYSE to raise capital and eventually build companies that are worth more than the American product they copied. E.g Weibo/Twitter.
I believe there’s a market in localising these American products. It might not sound morally upright but we can’t afford moral uprightness in an environment of Scarcity. This is something China understands very well.
The Story of Jack Ma (Alibaba) vs eBay
Jack Ma made an art out of these things. Alibaba was founded in 1999, and in 2002 when eBay entered the Chinese market, it was already the biggest e-commerce company in the world. eBay acquired EachNet, its Chinese copy cat in an attempt to gain grounds in the population.
Alibaba was seen as just another copy cat who couldn’t kick it with the big dogs but when the market share war was over, only Alibaba was left standing in the Chinese colosseum. How? When eBay acquired EachNet, the number 1 Chinese impersonator, it was a marriage of the ultimate power couple.
eBay immediately stripped the identity of EachNet which had been built to the Chinese state and reinstalled the American identity which didn’t match the Chinese surfing habit. Meanwhile, Alibaba was busy copying eBay’s core functionalities and localising.
Jack Ma began by launching Taobao an auction site to directly compete with eBay’s core business. From there he tweaked functions and tacked on features that meet unique Chinese needs. He created Alipay which was in direct response to the distrust between buyers and sellers.
Alipay held payments in escrow until the buyer has confirmed the delivery of their purchase. It also added instant messaging to the platform to allow buyers and sellers to communicate in real-time. eBay’s global product model made it slow to react to these changes.
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Alibaba was busy clawing away at market share. The biggest and haymaker that took eBay out was “freemium”. This kept basic functions free while charging for premium services. By then, eBay was still charging sellers premiums to list and after-sale fee if PayPal was used.
Ma, on the other hand, made all the listings free. The conventional wisdom was that without the frequent income stream the company will die. But what it gave up in fees, it won in goodwill. This won a huge market share and the market became so big that if any seller wanted to get their products noticed they ended up paying more premium than they would have actually paid in the first place.
Ma used the peculiarities of China being a low trust society against eBay and despite multiple tries by eBay to get market share back, they failed. Jack Ma won.
Why all these? I remember sometime last year when a friend had just come back to Ghana and complained about Google maps pronouncing every street name in English even the Twi words. This was very uncomfortable as he had to sit through Google calling Oyarifa, Oyahrefa.
He was curious as to why the language wasn’t localised to pronounce these names correctly and a lot of people replied and told him it wasn’t that easy.
Why hasn’t any Ghanaian Techie company done this? In that time that it took to adjust if he had found another app that pronounced these names correctly and the GPS was actually as good as Goole Maps he would have ditched Google Maps and went for that one.
That’s where the opportunity lays.
Copy these Silicon Valley companies iterate, and remodel them to suit the Ghanaian taste. From Ghana, you can move to other West African countries which you certainly understand than some Google executives in Silicon Valley who would have a hard time making changes to their “Global product”.
You can win the African market share and build truly great companies. You don’t have to wait for a novel idea. Just take advantage. You can become the next Jack Ma.
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I understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. The technology, funding, facilities, talent, and the environment need to all come together. But maybe we can start a conversation around what kind of government can support and deliver these things to bootstrap a Ghanaian technology revolution.
Link up in the comment box below or hit the chat box on this page.