All startups are difficult… and they don’t get easier when your startup is in a foreign country… selling a service that no one there has seen before. Few books due the startup journey justice. Bright Lights, No City is one of the rare exceptions, telling the story of Burro in Ghana, a company founded by Whit Alexander, creator of Cranium, as told through the eyes and talented words of his brother, Max.
Burro’s initial plan was to replace disposable batteries with a subscription to rechargeable batteries, sold to people living in off-grid villages who used batteries for lighting, news, and entertainment.
Whit spent a few years of his early adulthood in Africa, living in off-grid communities, and thus he didn’t start Burro with a “we know better” mentality that many NGOs bring with them. Plus Burro was always a for-profit company, with the idea that only profits will allow for the solution to scale nationwide, then continent-wide.
Despite having a better product at a lower price to customers, the company struggled to meet its projections. The book covers the first business model pivot along with the issues of growing a native sales and operation staff. Some of those issues are unique to Ghana and some ubiquitous across the developing world, but mostly this is a good read showing the struggles that all startups face, no matter where they are started.
If you are an entrepreneur seeking solace in your own struggles, or someone dreaming of being an entrepreneur, pick up a copy and enjoy a bit of well-written reality.