Aliaune Thiam (known by his stage name, Akon) is an American-Senegalese R&B singer, songwriter, record producer and businessman. He is globally recognised for hits such as “Smack That” and “Lonely” and has founded two record labels, Konvict Muzik and Kon Live Distribution.
Having spent some years as a child in Senegal in West Africa, he is also one of three co-founders of the Akon Lighting Africa initiative, which aims to bring solar power solutions to hundreds of millions of Africans via public-private partnerships. The initiative was launched in 2014 and already has a presence in 14 African countries.
How we made it in Africa talks to Akon about what it takes to be a business success, and his advice to budding entrepreneurs.
Address needs: there are so many
This is one of the most basic concepts of business, notes Akon. Identify a need and build a business around addressing it.
“Everywhere you go there will be something needed and that the people can’t live without – that they have to have,” he highlights.
“And, personally, I like the social entrepreneurship concept because you are not only making money, but also helping people and giving them what they actually need to survive.”
Actually, you don’t need money to make money
“There is this famous saying that it takes money to make money. But in actuality, in my eyes, it really doesn’t. It takes brains, a lot of drive and support,” he continues.
“As long as you have those three things, you can actually make money.”
Entrepreneurs should strive to be in a position where they can earn enough to reinvest back into expanding their ventures, he adds, but in the early stages it is clever thinking and determination that generates capital.
“I think what a lot of people do is they put themselves in a position where they can’t move unless they have money. But yet there is so many creative ways to generate money. I grew up in an area where, honestly, people survived on the basics. And then all you had to do was just use your brain a little while longer to find the solution,” recalls Akon.
“I think if you just think things through and plan things out – that thought process is worth more than money because with that thought process you can create so many opportunities.”
While he agrees it can be a lot more difficult to get a business off the ground without capital, those entrepreneurs who think strategically from the start will be better off.
“Don’t focus just on the capital from the beginning because that can actually slow you down. Find a way where you can make it happen without actually needing money.”
Don’t miss Africa’s opportunities, look local
So what is Akon’s advice to budding entrepreneurs on the continent? “Look around – there are so many opportunities in Africa.”
He notes that today young people do not need to go to Europe or America to seek out opportunities.
“It’s all sitting in Africa. Everyone is looking to Africa to invest in and to bring in opportunities. You should be there to catch them,” he emphasises.
“If they leave trying to find opportunities outside of Africa, they will miss the boat. All of the opportunities are actually in Africa right now.”