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How Entrepreneurs Can Create A Service Or Product From The Ground Up


CEO of Lamah Technologies. Supporting technology innovation in Libya. Built the first digital address app in the country, Makani.

You go to the bank to apply for a loan, and they ask for proof of an address. You don’t have one. You try to order food online, but without an address, you can’t. You apply for a credit card, and it asks for a delivery address, and? You can’t.

Most people think that creating addresses and postcodes is a government job, which is pretty reasonable considering that most countries started using addresses in the 1700s. My home country of Libya started in 2018 — and my company was the one that got it done.

We faced the unique situation of capitalizing on and catching up on 300 years of technological progress and innovation. While the situation was unique, the challenge was one that’s well-known by many entrepreneurs: How do you build a system or network from the ground up?

My home country of Libya is not most people’s idea of a tech hub. About 95% of the economy depends on fossil fuels. A drip of national revenue comes from tourists visiting ancient Roman-era castles and fortifications. I know that doesn’t scream “innovation,” but that’s how it is.

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Unlike a lot of innovative companies out there, we couldn’t just write some code and try to sell it a million times. In a sense, we had to build our own customer network from scratch. Let me tell you about how we did it and some steps other entrepreneurs can take to benefit from these learnings.

Build a roadmap to success that’s paved with data.

Systems and networks rely on datasets. If that’s all complete, great. But if the dataset is incomplete or totally missing, you’ll need to build your own. Think of data gathering like a puzzle. Start with the foundational pieces, and fill in what you can. Is the data accurate enough? How complete is the picture? Just like trying a puzzle piece, put the data into practice. Does it work the way you wanted?

We needed to know what the map of Libya looked like. Okay, no problem! Just use Google Maps, right? Satellite images from Google Maps had some detail, but not enough. Where you’re from, you might see a Google Maps employee driving around taking pictures. Libyan citizens, on the other hand, occasionally see employees from Lamah driving around neighborhoods and taking notes of every building in the area.

Since the data set from Google Maps was incomplete, we had to build our own. Combined with our own sourced satellite images, we started forming a detailed picture of Libya that previously didn’t exist. Not all data is as complete and accurate as you’d like, so using different methods and data sources can help build the full picture.

There are more resources to evaluate data available than you might realize. Speak to peers in unfamiliar industries to learn what datasets they use. Data systems like ArcGIS and QGIS are open to all and used by many companies and governments. Your mission may not be to gather new data but to collate and use it in a new way.

Look for ways to provide more value.

Facebook didn’t start as a place for people to sell products, promote businesses and advertise. It started as a social platform and grew in response to needs. Amazon started as an online bookstore, and once Bezos realized how valuable the system was, he grew it.

You can’t build a tower without a solid foundation. Likewise, you can’t grow a company without a reliable base infrastructure. Then when it comes to innovation, it’s helpful to think less about the corporate side of things and more about the experience. Test out the product or service as a consumer. What’s the ultimate benefit you want to deliver?

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Not only did my company want to provide a digital postal system but also some of the same benefits found on Google Maps or Yelp: reviews, directions, contact information for businesses and the flexibility to add new buildings and roads. However, we needed to perfect the system before iterating.

As we scaled the system, we had to test it by acting as a delivery service. We partnered with a local bank, and our employees delivered paychecks. We delivered products for a local cosmetic company, too. And as we did so, we were able to see the value and gaps in our system in real-time.

As business starts building, use feedback and conduct interviews as inspiration. If users are complaining about a certain functionality that’s missing, that’s your cue. Whether it’s an educational blog or an entirely new feature that needs adding, let your customers tell you what they need.

Show, don’t tell, the value of your system.

Consumers don’t want to know how profitable your business is. They want to know that you understand their problem. And for many entrepreneurs, that’s truly the case. You identify a problem, and you build a solution.

You can tell someone that this shampoo will make their hair grow, but it’s much more convincing to give them the shampoo and let the results play out. Whether it’s a group of friends or a market research group, the best way to demonstrate the value of your offering is to, well, demonstrate it.

For my company, the only bright side of the pandemic was that it organically demonstrated the value of an address. With people being at home more, they needed deliveries, services, all based around their address. We were able to show new customers in real time the value of an address and how life-changing it could be. The pandemic also shed light on another tool we had: relatability. The chaos impacted literally everyone. And nothing bonds people more than sharing the same problems.

That dream I had of connecting people all over the country? It happened, and I was proud to build that. Using these steps, you can be proud of what you’ve built as well, getting even more excited — as I am — about the road ahead.


Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?

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