Essentials for Entrepreneurs – Baby Steps into the Digital Age By Keno Ogbo

Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Humanoid Robots, Self-driving Cars and Space Tourism… The future is right here in 2019, and that future is all about technology, expanding possibilities and changing roles.

We have already seen a new trend in the way brands are ranked. In 2010, Coca Cola, Microsoft and IBM were ranked the top three global brands. Clearly recognised brands with an established brand history, these brands produce products for the consumer market. In just nine years, in 2019, there are two newcomers in the top five: Google and Facebook.

The incredible thing about these newcomers is that they do not sell a physical product; their business model is entirely digital, and empowered by the innovative use of technology. Another key thing to notice is the speed of growth. Whilst Microsoft, IBM and Coca-Cola have a combined presence of 278 years in the market, Facebook and Google have a combined presence of just 35 years, and collectively are worth over $226bn.

Looking back to the future

We are right in the middle of a technological shift, which will prove even more impactful than the Industrial Revolution of the early 18th and 19th centuries.

Before the advent of factories, people ran mostly small, home-based businesses, located in rural areas. The development of the steam engine, transportation and communication became much easier.  Then came the rise in mechanisation, which was a more effective method of producing goods in factories powered by coal. Innovations, like the power loom, industrialised the process of weaving cloth, and demand for these goods rose. This led to more innovations, and finally the presence of huge factories and industrial processes that we take for granted today.

People’s lives changed; urban areas emerged, and society became divided, with the wealthy becoming even wealthier, and the poor getting exploited with poor working conditions. Banking was introduced, and a new social lifestyle of entertainment and leisure activities emerged for the newly defined middle class in cities across Britain and North America.

Is this the Endgame?

Understanding the impact of the Industrial Revolution may prepare us in some ways for the changes that are coming soon. Already consumer behaviours are changing, as we expect our needs to be satisfied immediately. If we need to speak with someone today, we no longer have to wait to send a letter or telegram.

We do not even have to get to a telephone booth; we have our mobile device right at hand, with the options of sending a message, starting a voice call, or a video call regardless of where the person is located. We now expect 24/7 shopping. We now take advice from people we have never met; Google, they say, is your friend. Travel directions, what to wear, what to buy, what remedies to take… These are some of the things we find out for ourselves.

We have seen the emergence of a new class of successful entrepreneurs – built solely on social media and popularity. Big names in entertainment have emerged from young people posting video clips on YouTube (MySpace). We are seeing multi start-ups, as entrepreneurs realise that technology can deliver ideas without resorting to production lines in factories.

We now have a pending threat, as machines learn some of the skilled roles humans play.  According to a study from Oxford Academics, 47% of workers in America have jobs at risk of automation. In China, the push to AI is a source of worry, as many Chinese manufacturers have reduced up to 40% of their workforce as a result of automation (according to the Financial Times, August 2018).

I watched the hugely popular Marvel: Endgame in Lagos, and my favourite part (spoiler alert!) was right at the end, in the final battle with Thanos, when the allies appeared one by one into the battle. Huge cheers and applause rang out as each one appeared. It was the power of collaboration (somewhat) that won the Endgame.

Embrace the Digital Age

There is a lesson there for business owners and entrepreneurs: watch the playing field closely, and recognise when your allies appear. Make a huge cheer for each one; welcome them; know their strengths, and then select which ones will enable you to reach your goals. This is not the time for business owners to be anti-technology or anti-social media, or even to be ignorant.  The Digital age is here to stay.

Most business owners or entrepreneurs are already on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter – these are some of the more obvious allies – platforms where you can engage with thousands of your potential customers.

Business owners have discovered platforms, such as MailChimp, SurveyMonkey, InfusionSoft, Sage – these platforms enable them to engage better with their customers and manage their business processes. Others have discovered Amazon, Etsy and eBay as enablers of ecommerce; WordPress for content management; Xero for better accounting… but this is only the start.

Hundreds more platforms are on the way, including niche platforms for your industry. Uber recognised the potential of Google Maps, and used the power of APIs to build a business with GPS location technology at its core. Developers use the Apps Store and Play Store to provide apps that are relevant for our businesses. Everywhere you turn in the Digital Age, there is an overriding principle: collaboration empowered by people and platforms.

Take your Baby Steps

It is important to look critically at your business model to see how you can take those initial steps to collaboration. These questions below can help, as you consider a strategy to digital transformation.

1. What new digital technology is being adopted in your industry to achieve business goals (reach more customers, increase efficacy, improve customer service, etc)?

2. Are you or your staff consistently thinking and trying out business innovations using these platforms?

3. What value elements have our customers enjoyed from our business, and how has this changed? (Has digital change affected your customers’ value elements?)

4. What would your customers do, or where would they go, if they did not have your service or product?

5. What data do you generate within your business, and how can this benefit your customers or help you collaborate with others?

These are some of the baby steps you need to take in order to be a winner in the Digital Age. As with babies, you may take a few steps and fall, but that is part of the process. Simply pick yourself up and keep walking.

The Digital Age is here, and – regardless of your service or product – only those brave enough to step into it will survive and build long-lasting businesses.

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