Some weeks before the Christmas of 2012, I spent almost three hours with a d.light design team coming up with volume projections for the number of solar lamps we hope to sell in Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, in 2013.
We factored in and questioned several assumptions here and there. We took a second look at all the plans being put in place: scaling up sales teams in phases, marketing, partnerships development etc. We plugged in figures prudently and the final predictions shocked us. We projected a sales volume that represents a 300% year-on-year increase from last year. Seems impossible, right? The team members all looked concerned at the amount of work it would take to reach this projection, but we left the meeting believing it is indeed possible. We even joked that each person on the team would get a vacation package if we hit the target volume, which brought a hopeful glimmer to some eyes in the room.
One of d.light’s rechargeable solar lanterns
After we finished the volume projections that Wednesday, I kept thinking: how will we get all these solar lights out to consumers? To ponder the question further, I took a walk that night – my version of highly informal, yet informative market research – and found out most people were using their generators but some had nothing but their kerosene lanterns and candles. I did some mental calculations and found out that the huge numbers we projected represent just a drop in the ocean. The real goal should be reaching every street in the country and convincing all users of kerosene lamps to switch to solar lanterns.
Still, the biggest challenge we face is last mile distribution—whether that ‘mile’ is actually 100 miles or 500 miles. d.light has superb products with life changing abilities, but they will simply not fly off the shelves due to the unique location, mindset and purchasing power of the target market.
On my way back during this market research stroll, I stepped into a shop to pick up some supplies. While inside, an elderly man came in to buy a stick of candle, and he kept telling the shop keeper that he hates using candles, but is only using it tonight because he forgot to charge his electric lamp. For me, this man’s annoyance at having to use a candle represent a major shift in attitude—a shift which we need to build on in order to sell these great products and services developed by d.light and other social enterprises. I decided to chat with this man and introduce him to d.light’s solar products. He had seen the product before and after he heard more of the benefits, he assured me he would buy one.
At the end of a long day in which audacious, seemingly insurmountable goals had been set, I went to bed with a renewed sense of hope.
Note: the title of this post comes from the 1994 book Built to Last by James Collins and Jerry Porras.
Mustapha Abokede is a 2013 Global Fellow working with d.light design in Nigeria.