Growing your customer base for early-stage startups in Africa

Published 10 February 2023
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Marketing for early-stage tech start-ups can be difficult, particularly establishing a consumer base, especially when marketing isn’t your core expertise. However, by employing the appropriate approaches and techniques, it is feasible to connect with and engage potential customers and create a solid customer base. From our experience supporting amazing tech entrepreneurs, we share our tips for growing your customer base for early-stage start-ups in Africa.

At The Baobab Network, we insist on customer focus, this is a sure way to build an excellent product. So, what can you do to grow your customer base as quickly as possible as a founder?

The first thing you need to focus on is understanding your customer/target. Knowing your customer doesn’t happen on paper, it happens by interacting, for instance, if you are an FMCG distribution start-up, visit the shops and retailers to find out what they need and how you can best serve them. A customer-oriented strategy ensures that you are solving a real-life problem, and can help you prioritize at the early stage of your business. You can create simple forms via Google Forms or Typeform, and simpler tools like Excel to analyze.

The point of knowing your customer is to build relationships. Relationships remain one of the best ways to build a customer base. This can be done by making yourself and your brand visible – attending networking events and conferences, and reaching out to potential customers online and through social media. There are lots of free events, so keep an eye out on LinkedIn or Eventbrite for events in your area.

It is crucial to understand the unique needs and challenges of your market. This can include researching cultural differences, understanding local laws and regulations, and adapting products and services to meet the specific needs of your customers. Most countries on the continent have their own cultures, contexts and laws, so make sure you are aware of what is going on in your market and anywhere you may wish to expand to.

Upon understanding your customers’ needs and context you can map the journey they experience with your business, from becoming aware of your offering to being a loyal customer. Miro offers a great template to guide you on this.

It is also essential to have a strong online presence in Africa. The continent had around 570 million internet users in 2022, a number that more than doubled compared to 2015. Depending on your customer target this could look different. This can include creating a website and social media profiles optimized for your target market and using online marketing techniques such as search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to reach potential customers.

You may have heard that Africa is the fastest-growing population coming online- use this to your advantage. Online media is low-cost and far-reaching. Furthermore, as a tech product, the internet is the primary channel for your customer to access your offering. Platforms like Google Ads and Meta allow you to increase your reach and brand awareness on your own budget.

Another key strategy for early-stage tech start-ups looking to scale is to focus on building partnerships with local organizations and businesses. This could be working with local start-ups and entrepreneurs, partnering with larger companies and organizations with a strong presence in the African market, or both! Consider using LinkedIn to connect with people in your industry/target market, and reach out. Another way to build partnerships is to seek out local associations or exhibitions for the same and attend events.

As always, it is crucial to be patient and persistent when building your customer base. The process can take time and requires a long-term commitment, speedy iteration, and testing, but by staying focused and continuing to engage with potential customers and partners, you can build a loyal customer base. As a founder, you know all too well about the value of resilience, so hang in there and keep pushing.

It goes without saying, that all this is only useful if you deliver excellence on the other side of awareness and acquisition.

In conclusion, building a customer base can be challenging for early-stage tech start-ups, but with the right baseline strategies and approach, it is possible to reach and engage with potential customers and build a strong, loyal customer base in this market. By focusing on building relationships, understanding the unique needs and challenges of your users, having a strong online presence, building partnerships with local organizations and businesses, and being patient and persistent, early-stage tech start-ups can successfully expand, not just in your individual market, but across Africa.