What is to be defined as the sharing economy? A quick Google search reveals it as an economic model often defined as a peer-to-peer (P2P) based activity of acquiring, providing sharing access to goods and services that are facilitated by a community based on-line platform. When taking a look at the startup ecosystem in the U.S, one may realize that some of the most valued companies - such as Air BnB and Uber - have successfully pioneered this approach to business and making life simpler for millions of people.
In Ghana, Swiftly has successfully taken this concept into the shipping space. Launched in 2016, the startup matches people with goods to ship with spare space in containers, whether being sent by sea, air or land. As most businesses stem out of frustration, founder Edem Dotse is successfully tackling the frustration people face out of transporting cargo and also preparing shipping documents for them. My conversation with Edem uncovers his entrepreneurial journey.
What’s your life philosophy?
It is an awesome world and it’s easy to get carried away. However long we are going to be here, it’s important to live in such a way that we don't assume the world belongs to us. Everyone has to find for themselves the reason why he or she is here and proceed to make the best of it. To summarize, it’s best to take what you do seriously but do not take yourself too seriously.
What’s something you do every day that is non-negotiable for you?
I don’t have one thing in particular that I do. I wish there are more stuff I could be more disciplined about and consistent in doing. The thing is I live in the moment and I follow my passion day in and day out. I am all about getting things done and whatever I’m inspired by at the moment is what I get done. I don’t abide by rule books because every day comes up with its own contingencies, which I battle for the day. However, if I fail to accomplish a certain task on a given day, I do not beat myself up for it.
What are the formative ingredients in your childhood that came to create your perspective?
In my childhood, I was raised by a father who taught my siblings and me that nothing is out of bounds. He believed we had to be the best and he knew we can be the best for ourselves. Growing up, that was the light ahead of me. Therefore wherever I found myself, I knew there was someone who expected the best of me. This propelled me to believe anything is possible once I set my mind to it.
What do you consider to be one of the greatest challenges and setbacks for developing businesses in Africa?
My mentor said to me “...it's 10 times more difficult to set up a business in Africa than anywhere in the world.” We have a country that is now advancing technologically yet we are still a bit behind when compared to other Western economies. We are still a developing tech space and people here are now becoming open to the different applications of technology. Access to certain resources outside of our continent is a bit easier, however, access to, for example, data and payment infrastructure is more difficult to get here. The good thing is the opportunities in Africa can be found in the challenges.
When you think about how you built your company, how much do you think was your skills, intelligence, and talent and how much do you think was just luck?
I think it’s 50/50. I’ve had to learn on the job and find ways to achieve our mission of providing quality service for clients despite the challenges we face. Knowing the ins and out of our industry makes it better to effectively use the resources we have. On the other hand, there has been a lot of luck or to put it better, blessings from the Almighty. For example, some connections came our way which helped us keep afloat. Mind you, without these connections, I could have easily been burned out.
If someone is trying to start a business and has no money or no connections - just an idea - what is the one thing they need to have or focus on?
It's more difficult to get backing with just an idea on a piece of paper. However, I’m not saying it's impossible. I actually know a friend who had just an idea and it got backed. Yet from my experience, it is always good to have a prototype or demo you can show. If you do not have a demo, then find a partner who can help build it.
There are a tremendous number of opportunities on the African continent. How do you stay focused on your journey?
You need to know why you started in the first place, test your assumptions, and make sure it's something that you can actually do. When you test assumptions, predictions, projections, and find that it's correct, that's enough to keep you going. If you test and your solutions are not working, you either go back and re-strategize, replan, or find something better to do.