The cursed Naira is a blessing for Nigerian startups

It’s a given at this point that everyone hates the Naira. It’s fallen so flat on its face; we might as well roll it out and use it as a carpet. Every time I check the rates on Aboki Forex app, my heart skips 100 beats.

This seems to be a big problem for everyone. But is it really that problematic?

A cheap currency is actually a blessing as long as you are productive. Oftentimes when we discuss Nigeria’s productivity, the conversation quickly shifts to physical goods, yam, oil, cassava, etc. But sometimes, productivity centers around intangible services and in more recent years, content.

None of us have control over the government and what they decide to do or not do about the Naira but we still have to deal with it. So where do we go from here? 

There’s no place like Nigeria, bonus points if it’s your home

If you’re a startup today, especially a technology/service startup providing Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms; B2B or even B2C solutions that are non-financial in nature, the best place to be right now is Nigeria. Before you look at me funny for saying this, I’ll explain.

The reason I say this is because in Nigeria right now, the cost of servicing your customers is so cheap that you can out-compete SaaS providers in other countries. You’d still have your infrastructure costs, of course, but it’s common knowledge that for a startup, people are the most expensive resource. And if your people resources are in Nigeria, believe me when I tell you to thank your stars; you’re in a great position.

For instance, if you’re an accounting/invoicing platform or a Lending-as-a-Service (LaaS) platform like Lendsqr, go out there, do your thing right and no one can catch you or beat your price. Lendsqr is currently doing this; we’re in Rwanda now.

Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth dying for 

As great as I’ve made serving the global market from Nigeria sound, I also have to make it very clear that it’s not going to be easy to do this. There are some burdens that come with expanding beyond the Nigerian shore. One of the most significant ones is the level of quality demanded outside Africa. Let’s be honest, we’re used to accepting and delivering mediocre results in this part of the world and even worse, most people will grumble and vehemently resist any attempt to push them to excellence. 

Additionally, the scary stories spreading about Nigeria in the global marketplace don’t help at all.

To find it easier to break into these markets, you have to be prepared to run a freemium model where you can either decide to make your services available for a trial period after which customers will be required to pay to continue accessing these services. Or you can offer limited functionality of your platform forever. In the latter, basic services will remain free and customers will have to upgrade and pay a premium to access advanced functionality and more services. 

You have to accept that no one is just going to hand money over to a Nigerian based on your assurances alone. What you’re selling must work and work well and there’s no other way to reassure potential customers than to let them test run and see what you’re capable of at no cost to them.

Now, on the issue of fraud and poor customer service, you have to put your life on the line, if that’s what’s required, to ensure that no such thing can ever be said about your business. Ensure you engage your customers properly and make sure they only have positive feedback for you. 

The ‘Nigerians are scammers’ narrative is already out there. You would be doing yourself and the rest of us a terrible disservice if you mess up. Yes, pressure. We have to be prepared to get it right or die trying.

There will also be other challenges if you expand your operations too far and don’t have people available to work across time zones; you shouldn’t be asleep when customers are awake and want to buy from you. Put a plan in place for meeting the unique needs of the customers in each market you enter.

Sometimes you have to spend a little to earn a lot

If you’re a service provider, this is the time to push yourself out there and earn in foreign currency. As a startup, push ads and position yourself to attract new business. Although, this can come with its own challenges. For instance service providers are not eager to help with foreign SMS verification, however, you might be able to find one that can bail you out.

The exchange rate can make paying for ads a pain, however, Facebook and Google ads can be done in Naira. But Google restrictions need to be properly managed to avoid a blocked account.

Also, invest heavily in your content. I’m not talking about money here. Invest ideas, time, research and  relevant effort to start writing content that meet the needs of your foreign target markets. Ensure that whatever you’re saying speaks to what you’re doing to solve their problems.

All of these are a relatively small price to pay to tap into the expansion potential for your business in the global market.

Although getting paid from other countries has proven to be a challenge and will remain so for the foreseeable future, TransferWise is effectively addressing these issues (but be careful not to get blocked). Domiciliary accounts in the traditional banks are also a great option to receive inflows.

Forget waiting for a sign from heaven, here’s the time to start

Operating from Nigeria and targeting markets outside Nigeria is a blessing. Perhaps we’ve found our own Nigerian dream. It allows you to spread your risk and earn in foreign currency. 

Beyond the opportunity to grow and earn FX, you’re able to charge more than you do domestically, in terms of the Naira equivalent. For instance, a service you make available for N100,000 in Nigeria can easily go for $200 outside; convert that and enjoy yourself. And guess what? Your pricing will still beat that of their domestic companies.

There’s a cost advantage from operating from Nigeria but quality must never be far from what you do. Your service will be scrutinized every step of the way. Don’t come up short.

With all I’ve said, don’t say I never did anything for you. These one thousand words are enough for even the foolish.