When it comes to personal mail delivery from the air, Africa may already have beaten Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who announced plans in December for 30-minute delivery drones, according to an editorial in Mashable.
That’s because Amazon isn’t the only company ramping up digital business, nor is the U.S. the only region in the game, says Monty Munford, an expert in mobile, web and digital who writes for Mashable. Nigeria and specifically fast-growing Lagos, may produce the next great e-commerce company, Munford says.
Munford is referring to the Flying Donkey Challenge, a competition to build a mail-delivery drone and race around Mount Kenya. African companies have to deliver and collect 20-kilogram payloads as they go. The stakes are high: the winner gets a prize of more than $1 million.
African countries have leapfrogged fixed-line Internet because more people own cellphones than computers. Entrepreneurs will likely tackle transportation in a similar way, Munford says. Why build roads to inaccessible places when the air is a better and increasingly cheaper option?
Lagos isn’t Nigeria’s capital city, but it is the largest in the country with a population of 17 million to 21 million, and 30,000 new people arriving weekly from across Africa.
“Delivery in Lagos is utter chaos,” Munford says. “There isn’t a viable postal service in the city — or the country, for that matter.” The city shouldn’t work, but it does, and e-commerce companies are proliferating. Some guarantee delivery of products across the city within 24 hours.
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Betty Enyonam Kumahor is managing director of Africa for global IT consulting firm ThoughtWorks. “By 2030, one in every six Africans will be Nigerians, and its economy will have the largest gross domestic product on the continent,” she told Mashable. “But understanding how to launch an e-commerce business in Nigeria requires an understanding of the ecosystem and country, and other aspects such as the cost of generators and the relative dearth of the talent pool.”
It’s Nigeria, West Africa, where today’s transportation challenges are almost unfathomable in scope — and, yet, also where future “African Amazons” are likely to emerge, Munford says.
E-commerce innovation isn’t limited to Nigeria, but entrepreneurs like U.K.-based Ivan Mazour are watching Nigeria closely. Mazour is CEO of Ometria, a software company providing an e-commerce intelligence platform to retailers.
“E-commerce is the next frontier for emerging markets — an unstoppable wave in the evolution of retail,” he told Mashable. “The MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) are the future, and Nigeria is the most interesting of this new group. As an economy, it’s projected to go from the 39th largest GDP to 13th in the next two decades.”
E-commerce startups in Lagos, such as online grocery business Gloo.ng, face the problems of getting through Lagos’ horrible traffic and finding addresses that often are not on a map.
While Bezos dreams of drones and talks hot air, and while some African companies rush to join the race to Mount Kenya for the Flying Donkey Challenge, it’s Nigerian e-commerce startups that are overcoming the challenges right now, Munford says.
They’re finding quick success in one of the most competitive cities in the world.
“We’ll see drones over Lagos sooner than we think, and probably a lot sooner than the cities in the West,” he concludes.