Challenging the ‘copycat’ culture

Four weeks in, the greatest challenge I have been faced with is the instinctual copycat tendencies exhibited by many Kenyan entrepreneurs. Throughout Nakuru there is an abundance of identical businesses in direct competition with one another, and they located only a few paces away from each another. To the common ‘mzungu’ this seems a flawed concept, as the latecomers to market can seemingly only bring with them lessons learned from others’ shortcomings. Yet in this enterprise oriented society exactly the same product or service tends to be offered for the exact same price, which largely negates business differentiation of any kind.

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The groups I have worked with mainly consist of current business owners with intentions of expanding through moving to a bigger location or buying more stock. The assumption being that if they are to succeed with the loan, they will inevitably gain a larger customer base regardless of competition. Our role as facilitators is to question their thought process and to instigate thinking in a new way; the customer’s way. Using customer insight we can gain a new outlook on the underlying motives behind purchasing and therefore provide something different and unique, creating their USP.

There are many budding and innovative entrepreneurs ready to create the next MPESA here. However I feel that there is a lack of resources available, particularly for those of a lower socio-economic status, which currently hinders their innovative scope. For example the Internet is less readily available in Kenya, it provides most of us with an easy opportunity to search and investigate almost anything and therefore develop and nurture our thoughts. Without this resource, locals may be less knowledgeable and informed of creations and innovations around the world that could be applied or improved to a fruitful venture in Nakuru.

My point of view is one of an Englishman’s without question; with our cut-throat competitive markets, we must be innovative in order to survive. Yet in a country where MNC’s are common in only specific industries, it does provide a platform for several relatively successful businesses to exist alongside one another. This is perhaps the largest cultural difference I have been exposed to since my arrival in Kenya. Making ends meat is considerably more difficult for the majority here than it is in England; therefore allowing everyone to have a little ‘piece of the pie’ isn’t such a crime.

Written By Paddy Hartigan, 2013 Fellow