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How Startups Tackle Emerging Markets



Developing new business in emerging economies, especially rural ones, is hard. An entrepreneur has to create products and services that are able to withstand the vagaries of the emerging market context: no electricity, no spare parts, hardly any logistics infrastructure, customers with very tight budgets, and with an over responsive sensor for glitchy value propositions, etc.

Just like for the entrepreneur, investors also have a hard time figuring out how to get a foothold and support successful emerging market business. When can a business be considered successful in these overly tough market conditions that make business development so risky and hard? On what basis can they judge that a business has made meaningful progress?

This question came to me when I encountered a new entrant to the Unreasonable Institutecalled Juabar. JuaBar is a social enterprise startup building a pushcart mobile phone charging station in Tanzania. They intend to implement a franchising system to entrepreneurs who want to develop a business out of charging peoples’ phones. In this article I will take this case of solar powered push cart solutions to illustrate the investment decision problem, and what I suggest is needed to overcome it.

The tale of 2 similar emerging market startups
JuaBar is not the only startup working on this specific idea. There is another startup called ARED, which is developing the same concept, but then in Rwanda. Both startups have been at it for several years, with Juabar starting about 6 months earlier. Essentially ARED and Juabar are building exactly the same business, if you look at the pictures below, they look more or less the same.

The Juabar solar charger
The ARED solar charger






Given that these businesses are so similar, how would an investor choose which startup to put their money in if they were given the choice to invest in either? What would they need consider?

Lets put ourselves in the shoes of the investor, and break things down a bit. These businesses are both riding the same promising market trends:

  • Mobile phones are spreading everywhere in Africa, and they need to be charged
  • The grid is only beginning to spread, and has yet to reach rural areas, let alone provide a reliable supply. There is a huge opportunity for solar powered products
  • Entrepreneurs in this market space operate on low and irregular income streams. They can use the pushcart to create multiple revenue generating opportunities like selling accessories, prepaid cards, and other services, which is crucial for keeping your livelihood afloat.

Despite the similarities, there are some marked differences in their business design. ARED is aggressively promoting some additional features to charging, that could arguably give it an advantage over Juabar. Here’s a couple of the key features and their related assumptions:

  1. ARED is more mobile: it can be mounted on a bike. Assumption: It’s likely to be beneficial to the entrepreneurs because she can cover large market areas.
  2. ARED has developed a technology for faster charging. Assumption: Both franchisee and their customers benefit from that, and think it is really important.
  3. ARED is explicitly promoting the advertisement option as a way for additional revenue generation. Assumption: this advertising creates conversion for advertisers, and enables the franchisee to directly earn extra cash.

The first 2 features make sense. You can intuitively see them add value. Yet at the same time they are features, which can be copied quite easily. They won’t protect ARED’s advantage for long.

But what about the third one? Growing the franchise could create a defensible moat for generating advertising revenue that competitors can’t readily copy. It seems like a really powerful feature, already glancing at the next stretch in developing the business after it would have successfully expanded from its current investment round.

Successfully growing ARED could mean that a new, highly granular advertising channel with ubiquitous emerging market penetration will be created if ARED succeeds in achieving growth. Imagine an ARED cart on every meaningful market place in East Africa! This coverage would be the key resource that keeps the competition at a distance; something any investor drools over.

But despite the attractiveness of this advertising channel opportunity, the make or break question here is whether the basic premise of advertising works: does it create conversion for advertisers with ARED’s low, and uncertain income target market? Is it an opportunity worth investing in to achieve that scale? What can we put to the table now to somehow back the validity of this assumption?

Looking for elementary market insights from elsewhere.

To back the opportunity of the advertising claim we need to look elsewhere, and move to Monrovia, Liberia, where we will find Alfred Sirleaf. Alfred is a famous figure on the market, because he mans a blackboard newsstand. Alfred scans the newspapers each day for interesting stories, and writes them up on the blackboard for people who can’t afford newspapers. He developed this during the Liberian civil war, when news was scarce. But currently in peacetime, it is still very much in operation.

The interesting thing about Alfred’s business for our pushcart solar phonecharger case, is that Alfred offers advertising space with his blackboard. Apparently there are advertisers that get some kind of conversion from advertising to people who can’t afford a newspaper! Why would they otherwise pay for using that space?

Back to our discussion on ARED, you can see the similarity in advertising opportunity with Alfred’s newsstand. Both attract attention on busy marketplaces. Though this is still an open hypothesis about conversion, it could imply that there is a real case for the ARED advertising solution, and that it is investment worth pursuing.

Closing thoughts
From the arguments it is becoming clear that ARED is playing a stronger game than Juabar. It might be that Juabar is banking on its focus on rural areas, given that ARED is currently predominantly active in urban areas. If ARED is able to grow fast however, and expand beyond urban limits, then it will have created these advertising channels, whose ubiquity would make it a winning, maybe even invincible, business model.

But the point of my article is not about qualifying one idea over another. Juabar and ARED serve as a case about making better guesses on developing a business, sourcing insights on which to base those guesses, and showing what these insights could do to make better business decisions by entrepreneurs and investors alike.

We need to move beyond emerging market startup ecosystems that have to scramble for those valuable business model insights each on their own. It takes such a tremendous amount of resources to understand and validate these insights. You would spend equal, if not even more time understanding the marketing basics in your context, rather than actually building your business. This is a big constraint on business development, and it undervalues the potential of startups.

The good news is though that the market insights required to develop successful business at scale in emerging markets are already out there. They’re with shopkeepers, merchants, existing service providers, etc, currently running their businesses (remember our case of the Agrovet in Karatina). What if we had the chance to reach out to Alfred and discuss advertising conversion, and learn from him on what works and what doesn’t?

Such insights should be collected, categorized, and made available publically to any entrepreneur and accelerator program that supports startup entrepreneurs in emerging markets. In no way will this substitute for the groundwork that an entrepreneur needs to make to understand their customer. But based on such insights, entrepreneurs can make better bets, and everybody would get a more informed shot at developing metrics that are key to understanding business performance in emerging market contexts. It won’t make a bad business good, but it could make a good business better.

Now that you made it this far in the article, I would like to hear from you as a reader, what you think about a repository where validated emerging market insights (like on marketing, distribution, trust, and methods of market size estimation) are shared open source, and free for anyone to use. Would you think that it would be worth the investment to set up such a repository? Are you familiar with the lack of these insights? Would it support business development? Are the examples I have provided on this blog already triggering your next business hypothesis to test? Please do share your thoughts, and I hope to be talking with you soon!

[post publication edit: I have been in touch over email with the founder of ARED: Henri Nyakarundi. Henri emphasised that ARED’s strategy is to develop many more functional, income generating opportunities with their hardware for their franchisees. Currently they are exploring opportunities to build in WiFi connectivity into their cart, providing the growing population with smartphones access to the internet. The idea would be to have the franchisee function much like the Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker, a human interface to guide people around the internet. This is a very important gateway for connecting people who are as of yet unfamiliar with what the internet is, and what it can do for them.

Last but not least, this point: Henri has been very actively, but unsuccessfully seeking investment to further expand his business, despite his obviously entrepreneurial talent, and despite ARED having several contracts and demonstrated revenue generating capabilities on the ground. Investors are apparently having a hard time sizing up his business! I you see any possibilities to help here, then do get in touch with Henri!]


About the Author

This article was produced by Bart Doorneweert of Value Chain Generation. Value Chain Generation is a blog platform that aims to create a movement that lays out the design principles for upgrading the dismal and narrow view on innovation in business in food and agriculture. Bart hopes to engage people through powerful innovation and entrepreneurship languages like customer development, user-centered design, business model generation, and lean startup. see more.


“When Adam Draper does Crypto Standup, Singapore listens”



I live and work in Singapore and Santa Monica. Yes, I am blessed. However, my life has been by design, I think of what I want and so I make my life choices and make them happen in my life. Hence the bi-continent living and that comes with bi-continent and now global community living, being and ecosystems building. So I am now never surprised when one part of my world meets another.

I went to Wavemaker Partners venture capital event this evening, keen to meet Adam Draper, who is one of the many great presenters at Crypto Invest Summit, April 30- May 2 in Los Angeles.

Since I actively support leaders who are building scalable, sustainable businesses and movements for the betterment of many; of course I am learning about Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. I had been keen to report on the Crypto Invest Summit as I would be back in May to LA for my PhD programme. I was in communications with the organizers. However, I am being awarded an award at the Women Economic Forum in Delhi that same week and could not be physically present.

Still I wanted to report on the event, somehow.

I wanted to listen to the speakers and support some of the speakers who are already friends and experts I rely on for greater insights on cryptocurrency. I like learning and sharing with the greater audience, I have in Asia what I am learning from the US and vice versa. So I feel I had my chance tonight to do a bit of that.

I could not help but smile as Adam Draper shed light into his world of investing in more than 85 crypto related products because he was such a breath of fresh air to the last few Blockchain and Financial conferences I have been reporting on; especially here in Asia.

He just says it like it is.

He kept stopping the audience when they said Blockchain and he said, “You know you really mean cryptocurrency.”  He hit the nail on the head because I have seen so clearly how this phrase had been said in Singapore time and again – “I am not into cryptocurrency but I believe in Blockchain.”

When he said how there was an incongruity as he sat across bankers who personally invested in cryptocurrency and when faced with an inbound of requests from their clients on the same investment; are tied by regulations and are unable to respond.

Here’s some of his best lines. If you don’t laugh or “ah-ha” the way I did, you probably just had to be there. The truth is funny because it calls out for something we all see but sometimes just do not want to admit.

There is a growing understanding of the underlying thematics that the cryptocurrency world has been experiencing as the interface between centralize; de-centralize and personal autonomy becomes more and more apparent and lines get drawn.

Adam Says:

1) The newest phenomenon is that some of the ICO founders are now just so rich from their ICOs that they really don’t need to work on the project they asked for money for.

2) For the crypto-world, money doesn’t matter anymore!
They need talent

It’s so founder friendly now.

3) What Bitcoin made us ask is “What is money?”

The next question is “What is government and governance?”

He highlighted if an entrepreneur is looking for a problem to solve., then the entrepreneur is always looking for horrible industries with poor services and high costs. So yes – Governments are those horrible industries and they need to be disrupted.

4)  Any company who comes to an investor and leads with how much ICO has raised; is a red flag. Leave immediately and go read a Harry Potter book instead.
If they are leading with value and not the problem they are solving. Beware. (read more here

5) If you are going to invest in where the brains are. It’s in crypto.

6) Philosophically, Coinbase is against ethos of what Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency movement is trying to do. However to do such a move from fiat to digital currency, there would need a way to do that. So Coinbase acts like a browser does for internet. One day there will be no need to cash in or out as everyone is already there on digital. Cryptocurrency is the exchange of value. His advice and we know his bias as he is invested in  Coinhako; is to hold onto an exchange for 3-5 years since onboarding of all users to the new digital currency will take some time.

Adam met with many banks and government bodies on his trip to Singapore – I hope they got his truths.

I ended the night by thanking Adam for making me laugh. He reminded me of how much I miss LA.

Want more of this?

If you are in LA on April 30 – May 2.



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Callum Connects

Adrian Reid, Founder of Enlightened Stock Trading



Adrian Reid escaped the rat race and became a knowledgeable trader. He now shares his trading knowledge and empowers others to take control of their stocks.

What’s your story?
After working 12-16 hour days in the corporate world for many years I had a moment of realisation on the 1 hour bus ride to work. It was here at this moment in time, I realised that I felt trapped, desperate and isolated. Trapped in a job I hated, and a life I had not designed. I had long been interested in investing, but I made the decision at that point to become the best trader I could possibly be and escape the rat race.
My dream was to be free; free of the 9 to 5, the commute, the stress and the exhaustion. I threw myself into my stock trading research and study and emerged 3 months later with the trading rules that would ultimately buy me my freedom. I am now retired from the corporate world, I trade full time and share my knowledge with other aspiring traders through my online education program which puts them in control and empowers them to take control and accountability for their trading results.

What excites you most about your industry?
So many people are trapped in jobs they don’t like or are feeling immense financial pressure in their life. Trading education is typically done extremely badly today because of the conflicts of interest in the industry. Fund managers want to hold onto your money forever; brokers want you to trade more frequently; forex brokers want you to use more leverage. Why? Because that is how they make their money.
By teaching traders how to develop and test their own stock trading systems I am able to empower them to find trading rules which fit their own personality, objectives and lifestyle. This is the only way for new traders to be successful. This process transforms people’s financial future, their relationship with money and wealth and gives them hope. I love that!

What’s your connection to Asia?
I recently spent 3 years living in Singapore which I absolutely loved. This put me in a good position to observe the other Asian markets. As a stock trader I am interested in many markets and economies around the world, however the Asian markets have some of the best potential for trading profits. I have traded stocks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo and I have developed trading systems that work in many other Asian markets as well.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
My favourite city is Singapore. After living in Singapore for 3 years my family fell in love with the city. Life is great in Singapore for the whole family and the pro-business and investing policies of the government make it a wonderful place to build your financial future as well.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
On a personal front: Find something you love, throw all your energy and passion into it.
On the wealth front: Spend less than you earn and invest the difference. Take control of your finances and always accept 100% responsibility for your investment decisions.

Who inspires you?
My wife Stephanie inspires me. Her commitment to everything she does, her compassion, her insights into people and her ability to uplift those around her, make me want to be a better person.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
No matter what we think we know, there will always be a different perspective that can change our opinion. In my own trading, I continually find that the truths I cling to are not absolute and they can be misleading if held onto dogmatically. Striking a balance between taking a stance and knowing when to change that stance based on new information is critical in all areas of life.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more action earlier on. My fear of mistakes (which still limits me on occasions, like most people) has always proven to be baseless. Playing small to avoid the embarrassment or pain of mistakes is very limiting and I would have taken more action earlier, if I had my time again.

How do you unwind?
To unwind I like to read, meditate, run and ride my mountain bike in the forest.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I just love the small island resort at Batu Batu. It is beautiful, isolated, quiet and surrounded by clean water, full of sealife. After a week at the resort I felt like a different person.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. This book teaches the art of clear and structured communication. My time working as a business strategy consultant gave me a great appreciation for the importance of communication in business. Clear and effective communication can solve a myriad of challenges in your business and professional life, and as a strong communicator your employment prospects, business relationships, team performance and family life are all dramatically improved.

Shameless plug for your business:
Enlightened Stock Trading ( is the only stock market trading education business that empowers you, as an individual trader. It shows you how to design and test your own unique stock trading system that fits YOUR Personality, Objectives and Lifestyle. We have no conflicts of interest and we are focused on teaching you how to trade stocks profitably in a way that fits your life.
After working through the Enlightened Stock Trader Certification Program you will find yourself confident and empowered with your own battle tested trading system and trading plan to guide you through the markets.

How can people connect with you?
Email me directly at [email protected] or through my Facebook Page (

Twitter handle?

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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