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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Taking a step back in Lusaka, Zambia

As I sit at a cafe in Lusaka, Zambia, I am writing this post with an Americano in the making and the sun showering me in warmth. But, it didn't start that way. I arrived in Lusaka not two weeks ago, but unfortunately, my checked luggage didn't. I know, I know, who checks their luggage? Anyway, besides that snafu, things have been going swell in Zambia.

A brief background on what I'm doing here: I'm working for an eBay-like startup that launched back in the March-April time frame. We're a small outfit, with one incredible country manager, a couple eager sales captains, and yours truly. Previous to this I was in consulting. The differences are endless, while the similarities are nearly non-existent.

Since day one I've been on a Zambian high. There is no typical day - every morning, afternoon, and evening is as different as it gets. The only commonality across the days is the morning sunrise I get the opportunity to witness as I walk a kilometer to the gym in near pitch black darkness. Oh yeah.

Since starting up my internship, I've gone into the field (the Kamwala and Comesa markets for those familiar with the area) with the sales team to better understand how the team functions, as well as how consumers are responding to our service. These field adventures surfaced a lot of interesting insights. I won't go into all of them, but will just emphasize one.

Similar to Mercado Libre in Latin America, we work in a region that lacks the physical delivery infrastructure that we take for granted elsewhere. But unlike Mercado Libre, Carousell in Asia, and eBay in North America, we are also trying to figure out how best to educate our sellers and buyers on not only our service, but also e-commerce in general. With internet penetration at roughly ~12% in Zambia, distrust of it is prevalent and misunderstandings of how it works are common. To add to that, computer-based connectivity is limited. These are just some of the many challenges - including order management, delivery logistics, buyer and seller acquisition, payment partnerships, etc. - that I'm working on over the next couple of months.

Anyway, enough with the work stuff. In general, life in Zambia has been wonderful. The people are incredibly friendly - much more so than in any other country I've visited. The transportation options are taxis or "buses," the equivalent of Latin America's "chicken buses." Except, instead of jamming passengers on a school bus, we're pumped inside caravans. Food options are a bit more limited than I'm used to, but I've finally settled into my place, so maybe some cooking is in order. Entertainment is certainly no San Francisco, Boston, or Philly, but sometimes you have to make your own fun. My first week in Lusaka included a night at an Italian joint by the name of Portico, fashion show at Sky Bar, wine and cheese at an expat's abode, overindulgence of oversized avocados, a farewell party to the old pub location of Bongwe Barn, an international food fair sponsored by the Diplomatic Spouses Association, and the Zambia (Golf) Open.

Until next time!


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