In Celebration of Entrepreneurship in Africa

Back in April, I sent SafeBoda co-founder Ricky Rapa Thomson a cold message on LinkedIn –

I decided to create a podcast on African entrepreneurship and was particularly interested in talking to Ricky about his experience going from a boda driver to a tech entrepreneur. Ricky agreed to be interviewed, and just like that, this journey started.

At that time, I was eager to connect with entrepreneurs and investors as a mechanism to learn, and I had a vague sense of the value I’d be able to create for others in the ecosystem by aggregating and disseminating the conversations I had.

Now, on the eve of The Flip’s launch, a wiser, more weathered me is feeling reflective on the experience I’ve had over the past six months or so. 40+ interviews and 50+ hours of conversation later, here are a few things I think are worth sharing.

There are incredible stories to tell from across the continent.

And entrepreneurs are willing and eager to share.

Why Ricky – or anyone else for that matter – agreed to take their time to do an interview with me, before I had any sort of track record or ledger of past interviewees, I have no idea… but I am appreciative!

Many entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed have espoused the importance of building and growing a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration. In an environment that’s historically been focused on scarcity and zero-sum, the abundance mentality of tech-enabled businesses and its entrepreneurs can accelerate learning and development, help build value chains and ecosystems, and allow those who build together to share in the success together.

I suspect it’s why Ricky and so many others agreed to talk with me. Sharing insights and stories in a public forum and creating greater access to information is important. And not just any information, but specifically local, contextually relevant and resonant information from the practitioners doing the work and with real insights gained from experience.

I know, for my part, I’ll keep asking entrepreneurs and investors to contribute to the conversation, but I hope to see many more podcasters and content creators sharing entrepreneurship stories and insights from across the continent.

All it takes is one cold LinkedIn message to get started.

A by-product of resource scarcity is that entrepreneurs across the continent are building better, and more sustainable businesses.

A pervasive theme when talking with entrepreneurs and investors alike is resource scarcity. There is simply a smaller pool of funds available for early-stage ventures in Africa, compared to startups fundraising in an environment like Silicon Valley.

Part of that is systematic – in South Africa, it’s hard to compete with high interest rates and the opportunity to make a 10-12% return putting your money in a savings account, whereas VC liquidity in the US is very much a function of its low interest rates. Another part is practical – there’s simply less of a track record on the continent, and an abundance of challenges and complexities for startups to overcome to create a return for investors.

The ultimate implication – and silver lining – is that startups have to focus on revenue over growth to reach profitability faster. And post-WeWork, with Silicon Valley (gasp) starting to reject the “growth at all costs” model, perhaps this is a great opportunity for local startups to demonstrate to the world the strength of the businesses they’ve built.

Impact and returns are not mutually exclusive.

Does that even need to be said at this point?

I’m so awed by the variety of problems that are being solved – in a commercial, dignifying and sustainable way.

LifeBank is delivering blood to hospitals in Lagos in under 45 minutes.

Kasha is getting stigmatised health products in the hands of bottom-of-the-pyramid women in Rwanda and Kenya using an ecommerce model.

Lumkani is leveraging its IOT heat sensor to create and sell the first short term insurance product for informal settlement homes in South Africa.

Hello Tractor‘s marketplace allows smallholder farmers in Nigeria, Kenya, and Mozambique to prepare their fields for harvest using tractors in 30 minutes, work which otherwise took farmers 30 days using manual labor.

These are but a few examples of for-profit, venture-backed companies who are creating massive impact, dignifying their end-user, and building a sustainable business that they expect will offer a sizeable return to their investors.

The Flip launches on Thursday, November 13th. You can listen to the trailer episode here.

Updates and insights straight to your inbox.