The funnest part about working in Africa is also the most frustrating: The unpredictability. When asked why I’ve chosen to leave a perfectly comfortable life in Canada to live here, in Zambia, the only answer I can come up with is that it’s just more interesting. No two days are alike. I’m constantly kept on my toes.
A major challenge of running a business in a place like Zambia is being able to build a predictable but robust model that can handle all this variability. Mobile Transactions has been toiling for over two years to develop such a model, and we’re pretty darn close.
But when I tallied up the October numbers for my product, I was surprised to see that the numbers were down. We were tracking nicely, and since the sales from my department are closely linked to that of Zambia’s biggest soft drink manufacturer (if you’d like to guess what it is, it rhymes with ‘poke’), I thought we’d have a huge spike in what is Zambia’s hottest, driest month.
Instead, I saw a small decline. I searched through the system, looking for clues as to how I had dropped the ball. I was confounded – we had done nothing wrong. So I called our client to see what was up.
Turns out, the manufacturer had run of carbon dioxide and simply could not supply the volumes they needed to meet the demand of the month. “They ran out of CO2?” It seems that optimizing supply chains a la Apple is a far and distant dream compared to the realities of markets in Africa. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Things like this happen all the time. Businesses face so many trials and tribulations that it’s a wonder that they make any money at all. We are forced to be incredibly attentive, creative, and persistent. And of course, to have a sense of humour. For if we took any of this took seriously, we’d be out of business (and out of our minds) before we knew it. That’s the fun part of it, and it’s a big part of why we’re here.