Mawuli Tse is the director of Solar Light Africa, a Ghanaian company that provides design and installation of solar electrification systems to the wider West African market.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
… A few years ago, we had the opportunity to work on a large project of 315kW for a Japanese client. At the time, that would have been the largest solar facility in Ghana. The challenge was to convince the client that we were up to the task and, beyond that, [able] to deliver on the project.
Fortunately, we were selected for the project and we were able to pull the needed resources to deliver on time and within budget. That project helped us expand our scope and go in for some larger projects.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
Staying the course. When busy trying to build a business, it is easy to forget just how tough it is to stay afloat. After more than 20 years in the entrepreneurial space, and seeing all the other companies that have fallen away, I can proudly say that staying alive is in itself a big achievement. Growing and spreading out are a bonus.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
… I have been driven more by seeing things work than by making lots of money. There have been many instances when I have … forgotten about the profit incentive and spent too much time and effort on solving a problem. Greed is good, but sometimes I forget.
I have tried to overcome this by selecting partners and staff who are more driven by profit than I am, and putting them out in front of the customer. This helps me focus on my problem-solving interests while making sure the business side is functioning well.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
Serving the bottom of the pyramid with substandard products is a misguided notion. Yes, it is true that many poorer people cannot afford expensive things, but it is also true that human wants and desires are the same across all income groups.
We all appreciate good things and the little joys of life with family and friends. I try to give the same level of experience to all customers, whether high or low income, and not to tailor substandard products for low-income customers.
With the right user experience, we can all aspire to the same standard of products and services without losing sight of the bottom line.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
I wish I’d known just how difficult it is to raise capital, especially in new markets where the product is not well understood. When we started in the solar space in the late 1990s, few people understood the vision well enough to invest in the space. We wanted to put solar systems on average urban African rooftops with the same quality of electricity enjoyed everywhere else. Getting others to share this vision was more difficult than I anticipated.
Today, we take rooftop solar for granted, but it took the awakening of industrialised markets for the African market to accept and appreciate that the technology is sound.
6. Name an untapped business opportunity in Africa.
Intra-African trading: just think about someone having breakfast in Kenya with a warm cup of Ghanaian cocoa, and someone in Ghana sipping Kenyan tea. We do it today, but it passes through multinational hands.
Handy Jobs App: think of AngelList or Craigslist, but with a system that allows users to track and trace service providers in a reliable way. There are a few service providers with apps in this space, but I don’t see them doing the track and trace part well.