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BRIGHT LIGHTS, NO CITY by Max Alexander

BRIGHT LIGHTS, NO CITY

An African Adventure on Bad Roads with a Brother and a Very Weird Business Plan

By Max Alexander

Pub Date: July 17th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4013-2417-9
Publisher: Hyperion

The story of the trials of running a startup company in Africa.

“I never cared about Africa,” writes Alexander, a former executive editor of Variety and senior editor of People. “I never wanted to join the Peace Corps, raft the Zambezi, haggle in Fez or climb Kilimanjaro.” Nonetheless, he accompanied his brother, Whit, on one of his entrepreneurial quests there. Whit’s company, Burro, which rents batteries to people in villages in Ghana that lack electricity, aims to help the villagers save money while making a profit. It has been a worthwhile but arduous venture, and Alexander documents the many challenges of running a profitable business in an unfamiliar country. Burro is not Whit’s first company, however; he was also co-founder of the board game Cranium. Alexander notes that getting a startup off the ground is complicated even for the experienced entrepreneur, and sure enough, Burro ran into problems such as unreliable workers, faulty batteries and missed payments. There were two main issues underlying most of the complications: selling to a consumer base with extremely limited disposable income and working in a country without a viable infrastructure. Whit’s insistence that the company operate as a profitable business without handouts has made it an even more difficult, yet more rewarding, journey. After the author’s yearlong stay, Burro was still not breaking even, but it was closer to doing so with the help of a few interns and new advertising strategies. Alexander vividly describes the landscape of Ghana’s urban areas and villages; the portrait is beautiful at times, but the poverty is astonishing. Ultimately, the author’s colorful writing and humanitarian drive make the book well worth reading.

An invigorating reality check for anyone thinking about starting a business in a developing country.