Product – Savannah Fund http://www.pccmworld.com Mon, 11 Apr 2016 13:38:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.4 What should Startups Learn from Africa Bank Failures http://www.pccmworld.com/2016/04/11/what-should-startups-learn-from-africa-bank-failures/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2016/04/11/what-should-startups-learn-from-africa-bank-failures/#comments Mon, 11 Apr 2016 08:22:11 +0000 http://www.pccmworld.com/?p=9247 End of last week we saw Chase Bank in Kenya, taken into receivership by the Central Bank. There is plenty of good reading from both a local and international perspective and I am sure we will learn more in the coming weeks and months- its an important story to follow especially if you are operating in the “financial services” or “fintech” sector in East Africa and as we know, most choose Kenya as a testing ground particularly building ontop of M-PESA for everything from payments, lending to remittance. But in spite of the mobile money success we should be reminded that a stable banking sector in a country is important- even M-PESA itself relies on banks to function.

I wouldn’t be writing this post if it was just any bank, after all there have been 3 bank failures in the last year in Kenya and we should expect more or consolidation as I believe there are too many in Kenya. You might even interpret Barclays’ broader exit out of Africa as a recognition they couldn’t focus on the continent given their global scope and intense the competition despite their strong brand. There are plenty of strong banks in Kenya, Equity Bank has proven itself to be solid as well as innovative. What makes Chase Bank interesting is that it was a preferred banking partner of many fintech startups operating in Kenya– they had build some good API integration with Safaricom’s M-PESA for instance that I know remittance companies and lending companies were using to get broader distribution within Kenya. In asking Kenyan startups in our portfolio over the weekend, at least one startup had their operating account with Chase Bank affected and one has had a client’s account with Chase and owes about 300,000/- to the startup. So the impact is both revenue/payments and assets- many Kenyans and businesses will know someone indirectly affected.

Should Bank stability affect startups ability to innovate in Kenya?

Some say the need for stability is an excuse for banks to not innovate and offer poor customer service whilst others like myself would say that stability in banking services is important for startups. This is especially true when in the last year all sorts of banks from Barclays, Chase to Interswitch have been setting up “fintech” hubs, funds or both to position themselves in the global fintech scene. Africa focused fintech startups need the banks as partners to reach scale or just comply with regulations across the continent.

With over 40 banks in Kenya, I believe we might have more bank consolidation and even failures to come – its important not to gamble your startup’s chances of success by not understanding the implications of working with any bank. I am particularly worried of startups that spend endless amounts of time in business development with banks who don’t really have the DNA, never mind systems and culture to innovate or move quickly and waste startups valuable time.

Bank Account for Asset stability and Operating to Innovate

  • The biggest advice I have for African startups is to assess the risks of using a bank like any other partner or investor. Work with a top tier bank if you need assets such as investors funds or hard earnt revenue protected that have strict controls- and sometimes this might not even be in your home country- for example a bank account in Zimbabwe is probably more risk than one in Kenya which is in turn more risk than one in Mauritius and then again one in USA (Govt offers protection with FDIC). I have nothing against Zimbabwe or Kenya, there are good startups operating there- they have more of a chance if their funds are in stable bank accounts just like good roads and electricity are important for operating a business (it can be viewed as infrastructure- more on this in a future post when we talk about our partnership with Stripe)
  • You can then open an account for operating if your tier one bank is not giving you the services you need (good forex, bank fees, online payments, APIs etc…) to operate or can move faster but make periodic transfers back to the safer bank (net of paying any local taxes if collecting revenue locally and moving money overseas). This might be a bank such as Chase that is more mid tier and had a reputation of working with startups on innovative solutions- but if it does run into trouble its not your main assets.

Do you have a CFO (seriously)?

The above advise is very basic and for some companies things might get a lot more complicated- in fact once you are a Series A funded startup and maybe operating in more than one country you may end up having multiple entities and accounts and the next best advise is to make sure you hire a competent CFO or outsourced CFO that can handle your business. This should also be a good time to upgrade other important and related aspects of your business- your Governance structure and protocols which will include financial. Doing so before things go wrong will not only protect you but enhance your startups reputation with investors for further funding- but more importantly, protect assets in an often risky African environment.

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Move Over to the African Cloud – Angani http://www.pccmworld.com/2015/02/15/an-african-cloud-company/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2015/02/15/an-african-cloud-company/#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 07:22:48 +0000 http://www.pccmworld.com/?p=8888 I have known both Phares and Riyaz since I moved to Kenya almost 3 years ago. Phares has always impressed me with his knowledge of the enterprise business across subsaharan Africa, he spent some time observing the Savannah Fund accelerator in the earliest days and also participated in our Venture Capital Course last year. Riyaz mentored one class in the first accelerator class and talked about the challenges of internet access and pan African scaling for Zuku Wifi Hotspots as the Wananchi Group CTO. ?When I heard both had teamed up to launch the cloud company, Angani, I was definitely interested and subsequently we participated in their seed round.

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Wait… isn’t this a very competitive market?

We invested in Angani?in part because of the unique skillsets the founders can bring to the table?to the nascent African?enterprise cloud market and to help facilitate and accelerate ?many businesses shift to the?cloud. I initially looked at Angani as a purely hosting business akin to Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, but as I learnt more I uncovered specific use cases for African businesses that only a local African company can address. Angani?details examples in the media sphere as Kenya and many countries transition from Analogue to Digital TV this decade.

So while?this is a very competitive market, if Angani positions the market it address carefully they could generate tremendous value working with the right customer segments and use cases. Most companies in East Africa?tend to worry about?archiving and disaster recovery as primary cloud use cases and often?want someone?they can call locally to address any?issues, this is a good entry point for many businesses interested in the cloud, as well as regulatory issues.?I also believe Angani?can accelerate the?shift in developer mindshare to the cloud and enable local cloud apps that can scale. It will be fascinating to watch the team scale their capabilities from Kenya across Subsaharan Africa as cloud adoption picks up. Given its early days in the cloud adoption in Africa- I am hoping they unlock unique African instances beyond what are?well known in the west.

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5 Things Service Providers Targeting Startups in Africa Should Keep in Mind http://www.pccmworld.com/2015/01/05/5-things-service-providers-targeting-startups-in-africa-should-keep-in-mind/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2015/01/05/5-things-service-providers-targeting-startups-in-africa-should-keep-in-mind/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 10:43:40 +0000 http://www.pccmworld.com/?p=8845 Over the years working with Startups in Africa I have noticed the steady rise of services providers who are trying set themselves up to help startups in Africa. In fact in the first week of 2015 a number of service providers have already approached us- the “Africa Rising” narrative will likely continue this year and I fear there may be more service providers than good startups (lets not get ahead of ourselves). Here is some of the advice I have for service providers, this may also form a guide for startups assessing partnerships with them.

 

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  1. Avoid the use of “consultancy” approach or confusing broad business terms:?I was careful in NOT choosing the word “consultant” in describing these organizations. Startups and consultants just don’t mix- they often form the wrong expectations on the relationship including?short term goals vs the long term and uncertain and different risk profile that startups exhibit. The best service providers are very clear about the value they provide and are able to work at the timelines of a startup on the right things, many are not sexy for consultants to work on or the startup is too busy iterating to find the right product market fit to assign a specific issue to a “consultant”. Ones that offer fundraising services (very tough in Africa)?for a success fee is an example of a better approach, these are not consultants, but “investment advisors”. The more?specified in writing the better.
  2. Offer real value to?what startups actually need: “We offer value added mentoring and network”, may sound like a really catchy phrase. But when your advisors are based overseas or have never started a startup then you are probably starting off on the wrong foot. Think basics and often unsexy. Do you know the statutory legal fillings needed for your business? What about tax? Have your books been audited? These are often quite trivial and easy in developed markets for the founder or even early employees to do on their own but are really tough to do in many African countries without specialized and experienced help, and getting them done?puts you on a much higher credibility path going forward and is often more needed. Governance is a competitive advantage in Africa.
  3. There are probably not enough venture backed startups that can afford your services:?I have seen it many, many times. Startups get funding and they spend it all on new laptops, salaries, drive an online marketing campaign and before long at the bottom of the list they have a small budget for those service providers. This is the reality of early to seed funded startups in Africa which leaves very little true venture backed startups or startups making meaningful revenue. Sometimes the startups are stubborn about spending money on essential services (see 2nd point). This means many services providers may struggle to find viable market, especially in smaller countries outside of say Nigeria and South Africa- the quality of service providers country to country can vary dramatically. Taking equity is one strategy but many will say “equity doesn’t pay the bills” (at least not yet, its too early in the ecosystem). Postponing billing is another suggestion that is more practical- service providers like lawyers that have diversified clients into larger corporates are most able to do this, I wish more accounting firms would do the same, let the larger clients subsidize work for startups (wich one day a few may become big clients of yours that you feel more satified to have truly helped from the very beginning (code name = ”impact” and not the touchy feely kind).
  4. Are you trying to take over the startup and be like Rocket Internet??Another approach I have seen is service providers stating that they will come in and make key strategic decisions and even straight up run the day to day of a startup (this is often pitched by local firms positioning themselves to work with overseas startups or investors). First off, if you are a one or 2 person firm, this is like saying “I want to work with you but not as part of you”– a strategy to clearly diversify by putting eggs in many baskets, but also contradicts in being “hands on” which is hard to do with multiple clients and dealing with multiple issues. Many claim they can do this across sectors- real estate to retail- no problem! Finally it also reminds me a lot of a Rocket Internet strategy, except you are not rocket with the control, assets/capital and expertise they bring to the table- if you remember, the Samwer brothers were real entrepreneurs to start. Finally, startups are fundamentally about independence, so coming in and taking over kills that entrepreneurial spirit at the earliest stages. Startups in Africa will already have to deal with this at the investor and board level should the founder/CEO make mistakes as the stakes get higher.
  5. Who is the real customer. Perils?of donor dependent business model:?Finally, my least favorite issue. The impact of donor related funding in subsaharan Africa as it creeps more and more into the startup ecosystem. Many donors will increasingly set up “technical assistance” funds or budgets?to help startups in areas of perceived weaknesses. With this money, they will hire consultant-like organizations (see my first point)- further problems will be how the donor defines success and how and why they get paid will determine the fate of that relationship and it is very likely not tied to the success metrics of the startup. In short, the interests will likely not be aligned. It should be clear in most of the scenarios the donor is the client not the start-up and hence not a the foundation for a good relationship. Because donors have a lot of money, there will be many consultancies new and old that will get into this arrangement. This is the same approach as aid has been and the accountability issues it creates for the last 50 years in Africa.
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Zevan Limited: Lessons from a Kenyan Startup http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/05/20/zevan-limited-lessons-from-a-kenyan-startup/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/05/20/zevan-limited-lessons-from-a-kenyan-startup/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 10:30:59 +0000 http://www.pccmworld.com/?p=8402 Being a part of a startup is like deciding what kind of a house you want to live in and then laying its foundation. It’s tough work. It’s the time you build networks, acquire documentation, and pitch to investors. Here are some of the valuable lessons we learned as we started building our return trip optimization platform at Zevan Limited.

Comply with All Government Requirements

A lot of young people fall into the trap of not complying with government requirements like acquiring registration documents and remitting taxes and instead, they concentrate on building the business. Their reasoning is?that they will ‘deal with all the bureaucracy’?when their company is?at the verge of making it. This wrong kind of thinking makes investors quickly shy away and mistrust you. Every time we?impress investors during a pitch, they?wanted to see our compliance documents immediately. To give an example, if we didn’t have these documents at the time we pitched to Savannah Fund, we would have lost our opportunity to be a part of the accelerator.

Read! Read! Read!

Read newspapers. Read magazines. Read books. Read government publications. We cannot emphasize this enough. Reading opens up your mind to new ideas and keeps you updated on the business and economic trends in your region and the world. This knowledge enables you to keep in touch with what affects your business, so you know what to watch out for. This gives you foresight so that you are able to plan how to best align yourself with a dynamic market and investors. Our clientele happens to be at two extremes with the small-scale ordinary farmer on one end and the sophisticated logistics company on the other. Keeping up with these two?groups enables us to find a voice?as we create different communications strategies.

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On Time Management and Priorities

Most startups find that there is too much to do and little time to get everything done. Being able to manage your time and prioritize your needs becomes a necessary skill. There is no proven?way to organize your schedule to be the most efficient way to manage your time, but most people find a balance along the way that works for them. One thing we can tell you for sure is this: there is time for meetings, time to prepare for meetings, and time to deal with?emerging issues. Balancing the three is the trick. Some people find it easy to have meetings during certain hours, while others prefer to have them during certain days and spend?the rest of the week getting other work done. Just keep in mind that?if you spend too much time on one thing, the others are bound to suffer.

Do Not Underestimate the Power of Social Media

Social media has taken the corporate world by storm. CEO’s and managing directors are on Twitter and Facebook, as are presidents and board of directors?from multi-million-dollar companies. If they have found social media as?a vital part of doing business, so should you. Engage your market through Facebook and tweet people you are interested in working with. Follow what they are doing, know their interests, learn their mode of engagement, comment on their wall–do whatever you have do to be noticed. At the end of the day, it is the person who stands out that gets the attention, not necessarily the modest one. Some of the strongest relationships we have built have been a result of engagements on Twitter.

Find Yourself a Mentor and a Good Lawyer

A mentor does not necessarily have to be someone in the same business field you are in, but they have to at least understand it and share?the vision for your company. Mentors steer you towards paths you should take and encourage you to be persistent in the face of challenges. In some cases, they “pull strings” for you when you are stuck and pat you on the back when you break through challenges.

As a startup, you will enter into partnerships with many people and companies, so having a good lawyer you trust is crucial. Contracts will be signed, terms of engagement written, among other things. A good lawyer will always look out for what is best for your company and advise you accordingly. They will explain terms and contracts and give you their professional perspective on issues that you would have otherwise been inadequate to handle.

As a startup, we have benefited a great deal from the mentorship we’ve received from Savannah Fund as well as our personal mentors. We know we do not know everything, so having someone to point out the way is therefore necessary.

Stephen Kimiri, CEO of Zevan Limited

Stephen Kimiri, CEO of Zevan Limited

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

Challenges and set backs will always be there. Be ready to stand firm and fight. It’s not about how many times you fall. Rather, it’s about how many times you get up and keep?trying. You most probably won’t win that contract or bring that investor on board the first or seventh time, but who knows, the eight might time might be it. Do not give up.

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5 Things to Know About Drones in Africa http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/05/15/5-things-to-know-about-drones-in-africa/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/05/15/5-things-to-know-about-drones-in-africa/#respond Thu, 15 May 2014 05:47:58 +0000 http://www.pccmworld.com/?p=8382 Google recently acquired Titan Aerospace, a startup firm that makes pilotless drone aircraft.

(Photo from Titan Aerospace, a drone startup acquired by Google.)

1) Facebook and Google’s attempt to connect rural Africa with drones

These multi-national companies are increasingly interested in ‘connecting the world’ with Internet, with both?acquiring?companies like Titan Aerospace and Ascenta that create high-altitude drones. Since internet access is mostly covered in the developed world, the future growth will come primarily from the remaining 5 billion people on earth who are still without great internet connection. While these companies may have noble reasons for wanting to connect the world, the more people online there are, the higher their revenues will be.

2) Tracking poachers

The poaching of elephants and rhinoceroses at night has been a known problem in Africa for years and the threat of extinction of some of these targeted animals is high. And with the development of drone technology with thermal cameras, conservationists believe they have found the answer to this problem. Over a year ago, Google gave the World Wildlife Fund a $5 million award to look for new ways to deter wildlife crime and the WWF has spent a majority of the grant on implementing bungee-launched drones in some of Namibia’s national parks.

3) A more affordable alternative to fully equipped air force

Governments from Ghana to Uganda to Ethiopia are using drones for a variety of reasons, from monitoring potential terrorists to patrolling pirate-dominated waters. This has drastically reduced their costs that would have other gone to equipping and maintaining an air force.

4) To solve problems of poor infrastructure

The roads and highways in Africa are not up to par by how quickly the economy is growing. While drone technology will not solve problems with?land rights, food security or water rights, there is high potential for it to affect other areas. In e-commerce, Savannah Fund portfolio company Ahonya recently announced?their acquisition?of drones to deliver products in Ghana. Modeling after “Amazon Prime Air”, Ahonya aims to shorten their delivery time by using drones to overcome issues of vehicular traffic (this was actually a PR stunt ?? but the potential is actually real one day).

“Africa is fast becoming an adopter of cutting-edge technologies to overcome its infrastructure gap. Commercial drone technology has strong potential here to help overcome the limitations of the continent’s transportation infrastructure and deliver goods and services in remote or regions — spurring new models for business and service delivery.”?-Kamal Bhattacharya, IBM Research

5) Drone challenge in Africa

Flying Donkey is an organization that has created a challenge to roboticists, engineers, logisticians, designers and regulators worldwide to build large drones capable of lifting heavy suitcase loads over long distances. Before 2020, they plan to host a race of the created drones around Mount Kenya for under 24 hours. They plan to release their first commercial ‘Flying Donkey’ in Africa by 2020. It will carry at least 20 kilos for over 50 kilometers in less than an hour.

“Since Africa is growing too fast to build out its road network, transportation will have to be supplemented from the sky. It is hoped that tens of thousands of low cost flying donkeys will be operating on established networks in Africa and globally within a generation, lifting Africa by creating jobs and enabling e-commerce and community to community exchanges in a shared economy.”

 

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Doer, not a Dreamer http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/05/12/doer-not-a-dreamer/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/05/12/doer-not-a-dreamer/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 13:12:47 +0000 http://www.pccmworld.com/?p=8350 Having an idea is one thing and making the idea happen is another thing. This is what differentiates those who dream and those who transform?their ideas into a reality. It takes patience, perseverance and focusing on your vision to make it work. Startup founders are often described as courageous and optimistic people?because of their faith and boldness to start a journey into the unknown.

As Ron Conway puts it, “Any time is a good time to start a company.”

I’m Samuel Masinde and I began Cardplanet Solutions Ltd. with Rogers Muhadi. At the beginning, I?didn’t know starting a company would be a lot of work, na?ve as I was. I had just graduated from college with?no experience because I didn’t want?to work for a corporation. For those who have worked for a startup, you probably?understand the many obstacles and rock bottoms that almost every startup would face. But rather than making you give up on your dream, these obstacles?should make you work even harder. With this attitude you will succeed sooner.

When you look at tech giants like Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, Google and Twitter, one may be tempted to think they became overnight successes. Realistically, it took patience, time, perseverance and courage to make the companies what they are today.

As mentioned earlier, Rodgers and I started Cardplanet Solutions Ltd back in 2012. Rodgers created the vision to develop state-of-the art solutions using card, mobile and web technology, and soon after,?he decided to quit his job to pursue his goal. That same year, I had just graduated and decided to join him because of our shared passion. We complemented each other well because we were both tech-preneurs armed with little skills but had a dream. We were determined to bleed and sweat to achieve it.

In a nutshell, below are some of the key lessons I’ve learned when starting up a company:

  1. Create your own rules

As Pete Seeger puts it,?“Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.” Theory is advisable when you want to learn something new, but nothing replaces actual experience. You don’t learn to walk by following the rules, but by facing?a challenge, creating your own rules and working on them practically. You learn by falling over until you get it right. When we started Cardplanet Solutions, we were equipped with only basic programming techniques; even hosting a simple website seemed to be a major setback. Rodgers and I gave ourselves tasks and deliverables and through them, we have been able to acquire vast knowledge and skills. We usually joke about the first version of our product, because it is clear how far we’ve come since then.?

  1. Learn to learn

Usually, a startup is still in the process of figuring out?what its product is, how to make money and how to identify its customers. Every possibility?seems like a big catch for a startup and at times, such startups face challenges such as how much they would charge their customers. If a startup is not clear on who their customer is,?then it is a total waste of time. Why create an awesome product that nobody uses because you have not met the need in the market? What has worked for us is to identify one’s target market, build a good product and your company’s image and reputation. Another thing to consider is that as leaders of a startup, you have to chase your company’s vision and not just money.?

  1. Perfect what you are good in

It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, but there is a difference between having a skill and being a master of it. It is advisable to acquire as many?skills as possible in relevant fields and perfect what you are good at. This could be sales, designing, programming, marketing, etc.

Mark Zuckerberg once said, “If you just work on stuff that you like and you’re passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out.” I was not a developer back in school;?in fact I hated programming. I tried design but am naturally poor with colours. I tried?networking and even went further to pursue a certificate course, but that wasn’t where my strengths?were. I later came to realize I am better as a developer than anything else. I built?my first website in Joomla and acquired webhosting and design skills; later both Rodgers and I created?our first custom-made web app. Being new to web apps, we decided on Codeigniter?for a framework which made our learning process even harder, prompting us to try another framework (CakePHP). We tried out to other languages before settling on object-oriented PHP and accounted for its faults by hiring a designer to do the graphics. Rodgers had skills in building the USSD and SMS solutions and I worked on?the web front and backend.

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(Rodgers, right. Sam, middle).

  1. Complement each other

You don’t need to have a 100-person company to develop an idea. All you have to do is to plan yourselves, share roles and complement each other. Always choose your co-founder based on who you want to work with, can be friends with, and who can complement your strengths. Never choose your co-founders based on valuation. Rodgers and I complement each other in so many ways. He is an engineer by profession but naturally good with his words,?so his main role is business development and sales. I focus on?tackling?code related issues.

  1. Make mistakes

Do not be afraid of?making mistakes. As?much as they are terrifying, they should not be viewed as setbacks but instead as ways?of showing you what needs improvement. Without making mistakes, we cannot know what needs to be worked on and the amount of energy needed. Actually you ought to see?mistakes as stepping stones! Since the genesis of Cardplanet solutions, we’ve faced a lot of disappointments both internally and externally, but we didn’t quit. Instead,?we rise back up and learn from our mistakes. We have written proposals, signed NDAs and agreements, have had doors shut on our faces and even had among the worst decks ever, but we NEVER gave up. When you get to learn from your mistakes, you become a better, more creative and interesting person.

Last but not least, a good entrepreneur should also be a good sales person. If you can’t sell your product nobody else can. In fact everyone on the team should be able to sell?your product. When we started Cardplanet Solutions, we were all techies, and today, we are finally all good sales people. It is time you turn that dream into a reality.?A true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer. So get out of the bed dreaming and start chasing?your goals!

 

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Problem Definition Problem in Africa: Solutions for a Diverse Continent http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/04/16/problem-definition-problem-in-africa-solutions-for-a-diverse-continent/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/04/16/problem-definition-problem-in-africa-solutions-for-a-diverse-continent/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 13:35:53 +0000 http://www.pccmworld.com/?p=8176 African innovators often suffer from a chronic problem of “problem definition”– an issue where problems are defined without the right context, wrong assumptions and often cultural conditions that don’t translate well when it comes to seeking out solutions. This is beyond just “cloning” startups, but it can be a key symptom. And often media is part of the problem, but there are rare gems like this Silicon Africa article on top 10 problems you are not thinking of.

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There is a reason Savannah Fund is betting on?

e-commerceI have recently started to use the term “solutionism”– for those who jump straight to solutions that are ill fit for often poorly defined problems.

I would argue that many startups might be on the wrong path before they even start due to this issue. Of course some of the most fatal are anchored on incorrect western problems translation to Africa or emerging markets. E.g. mobile gaming for feature phones in Africa, Uber/Taxi share for Africa. They can also stem from classic views on Africa such as “microlending to farmers” or “rural energy for the poor”. Sometimes you will see impact investors or social enterprise focused accelerators or incubators try dive directly into supporting these problem areas mainly due to the way their organizations are structured around key aid pillars; health, education etc… For example, is there such a thing as a “big data for slums” department at donor offices in New York or DC? If mobile money and financial inclusion are such hot topic areas that are generating a TON of data, I often wonder if there are adjacent problem areas we are not seeing addressed if only folks knew the potential of mining such data.

One of the key reasons why “problem definition” is a problem is because of another issue- what one of my friends, Amy Lehman working on the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic calls a “multifactorial problem”- in other words; a problem on problem- realizing one often needs to solve 2 or sometimes more problems at once to resolve it. Some examples:

  • The cashless transit problem of Matatus (buses) in Kenya is also the traffic police?corruption?problem.
  • The online retail and ecommerce problem is really the?logistics?and payment problem. The prize is unlocking billions?of dollars in middle class retail for brands for the emerging middle class.
  • Providing e-learning is really a device affordability, availability and affordable bandwidth problem or local & relevant content generation problem.?

How investors and donors might interpret this that can be misleading
In investors speak, this might also translate to an industry being “immature” or has intractable barriers- but often the market research study will point to billions of dollars of opportunity (expect to see more of these reports as consultants rush to set up offices in Nairobi, Lagos and Johannesburg if they haven’t already, often to help investors or donors better define the problem and pay for it!). For impact investors and those big social enterprises, it can be ?addressing a huge unmet social need. Sometimes a sector might need market education to shift traditional African consumer behaviour to a mode that enables them to value products or services ?they didn’t previously spend on- this is made worse if similar services were made available for free by the aid sector. It’s often important to clarify with both investors and donors of ?what is needed to expose the problem more for a potential solution (time, education, more research or all of the above?).

 

Problem Definition Process Ideas:?How should one go about in defining the problem in Africa? I advocate working within the design thinking process- a requirement we make all our startups who join our accelerator go through with the iHub UX lab.

  • Bound the problem tightly and factor in cultural and political barriers that might prevent you from being able to really address the problem with a solution effectively, sometimes a clear demographic segmentation may help a lot. Electronic utility payment in South Africa will look different than say Kenya or Nigeria for a number of reasons from regulatory to maturity and adoption curves.
  • Understand if the problem can really be solved in the timespan that you intend to apply. For example, trying to build a cashless MFI might be impossible if there is low mobile money adoption. Or an ecommerce dependent on mobile payments may not be ready for a country that has high peer to peer mobile money transfer but adoption of person to business payments has not caught on yet.
  • Whose problem is it anyway? Is this a problem westerners want to solve or locals (middleclass or BOP)?: The traditional way many entrepreneurs approach solving a problem is on solving a problem that they have. I started Savannah Fund because I had a horrible experience with an angel investor in Tanzania for a travel ecommerce venture, not explicitly to make money- however many investors come to Africa looking for a quick return and from often more formal finance backgrounds- this leads to a totally different fund solution and often even how they identify and find eligible startups.?If you are solving a problem you have, check to see if others indeed have the same problem.
  • Can you find a solution to take care of one of the multifactorial problems that allows one to focus another? This could also mean the use of soft money that is often available in Africa for some of the problems areas you can’t address yourself directly as a startup.

 

Check for classic business model and user experience assumptions that need to be completely revisited in the Africa context:

  • Unit economics that might check out as favourable in some markets, but are often much harder to make work in Africa and require an order of magnitude of scale to be viable. A scale that might be tougher to achieve. Think logistics, immature payments infrastructure, lower GDP/affordability.
  • The time it takes to achieve growth or “product market fit” might require more patience than investors or the entrepreneur might have time for. Often due to lack of market education or even lack of education to understand the benefit of the product or service.
  • A completely different way to address the business model- e.g. cash on delivery for ecommerce vs relying on electronic payments

Observe African consumers in different Contexts to generate ideas

  • The fact that the internet ISP complain that their networks are clogged with torrenting might suggest an opportunity in digital media.
  • The fact that flights from Dubai, India or China to Africa are often full of traders might translate to a retail opportunity at home that’s more?convenient.
  • Overloaded buses or lorries companies that transport cash, produce and goods from one country to the next might suggest a regional remittance opportunity.

 

Prototype solutions with a diverse network first
Maybe you have a solution to a problem that you are sure will work, but before rushing in to raise seed financing and start building (or worse, scaling up prematurely) you should start to collect evidence to validate that you indeed have demand and that customers will use your product- at the same time you will help avoid one of the biggest startup killers, building a product no one wants to use:

  • Test both the idea and messaging of your solution by talking to as many people about the idea (don’t just focus on expats, diaspora and urban elites) and don’t worry about your idea being copied. Execution is what matters (and yes, execution of your problem definition!)
  • Set up a landing page and start capturing e-mails, but don’t announce launch or attract a media frenzy too early.
  • Do a kickstarter or crowdfunding campaign, Savannah Fund Partner, Erik Hersman and his team at Ushahidi recently did this with BRCK. You get initial funding plus validate there are real customers at the prototype stage.

 

Africa, continent of problems. Do it for the right reasons.
Where there are problems there are opportunities and Africa definitely has its share of problems for innovators to tackle, but in the rush to jump into the cool startup scene or be the next Zuckerberg of Africa fuelled by media?together with?rising number of investment and soft money channels, I often see many wannabe entrepreneurs jumping into startups and hence solutions too quickly. I want more startups to succeed as much as anyone, but first let’s start with defining the problems to tackle well first. I often learn a lot about the authenticity of problem solvers based on the process to which they arrived to the solution they are pitching.

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Adieu Kenya http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/04/10/adieu-kenya/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/04/10/adieu-kenya/#respond Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:29:06 +0000 http://www.www.pccmworld.com/?p=7956 Reposted from?Ailende Truston Oiselenjakhian’s blog.

On the 26th of August I landed in Kenya. It was a wonderful time. I have never been so stressed like I was in Kenya. Never had to be so conscious of time because of what needed to get done. I am happy it is finally over. This blog post is a summary of my stay in Kenya. It will be a long one. So please bookmark this page and sit down to read it.

Week 1 Arrival

We would leave Ghana around 8 am on route to Nigeria. I don’t remember the time we got out of Nigeria. The plane took time to load and we had to wait for at least an hour on the plane. From Lagos, the plane would head to Kigali. Once we reached Kigali, we had to disembark from the plane. We waited for some time before we boarded another plane heading to Kenya.

The flight to Kenya was smooth. We arrived at 9 pm local time. The first thing that would hit me would be the chill. Nairobi is cold! We would wait together in a group until a bus would arrive take us from the tarmac to a tent. Kenya suffered an airport fire so no airport. All West Africans have to apply for a visa. But the children of the African Emperor (Nigerians) must bring a gift for the king of East Africa.

Kojo and I landed in Kenya with no cash. We had money on our MasterCard but because of the fire no ATMs were working. I would be detained for 2 hours until we would be able to make an arrangement to pay the money. Our taxi had been waiting for us for over 2 hours and still had to pay money at the gate to be allowed out. I got to see what MPesa had come to represent in Kenya. It isn’t perfect but its a functional and reliable system that has become part of everyday life in Kenya.

The taxi takes us to our apartment where our city guide and hostess have been waiting for us. There is food to eat and I am grateful for a bed. Its already a new day in a new city by the time we get to the apartment.

On the 31st of August, the accelerator program would finally begin with a session with two mentors. It would be a time to get an overview of the world of venture funding. It was also a time for all the teams in the accelerator to officially meet each other.

Week 2 The Dust Settles

In the second week Mbwana shows us our office space. We also get to meet the other teams in the accelerator and we start to interact. I actually got pointed in the right direction on what shopping cart application I should look at.

Its amazing that being in the accelerator gave me access to a depth of knowledge that I couldn’t find by searching on the internet.

Week 3 Tajriba

Tajriba means experience in Swahill. Its the start of the User Experience month at the iHub. In the third week, we meet with the owners of the Savannah Fund to discuss our goals in the accelerator program. Later in the week we had a session with the lawyers from ALN. I got some deep insight into corporate governance.

This week was particularly eventful because I got to meet 2 people from Nigeria. The first of which is Mr Akinwale who is the head of West East and Central Africa for Microsoft and Udeze Kene who is a UX designer working out of Co-Creation Hub.

Mr Akinwale came to the iHub because of a Windows 8 event. I didn’t know about the event until Kojo told me about it. The timing was perfect. I found out that on the following day, there would be a Windows Azure session.

The following day was Friday September 13th. I arrived early and learnt about all the features of Windows Azure. At the end of the program, participants got a free 1 month sandbox access to Windows Azure from the presenter. I registered on Windows Azure before leaving the iHub.

Week 4 Westgate Siege

On Tuesday the 17th we sat down in a session with the team from 3G Direct Pay for a session on online payments. I learnt a lot about credit cards and payment processes.

Thursday would see Mbwana give us a presentation on Fundraising and Valuation for start-ups in Africa. I got to learn a lot about the process of valuing a start-up.

Saturday the 21st would witness the Westgate Siege. It would also be the day we would have a session with a Zillow staff. It would be a very engaging session on how to grow and scale a start-up.

The Westgate Siege would mar the end of what was a very beautiful week.

Week 5 The Siege Continues

The Westgate siege would end on Tuesday the 24th of September. After that would follow a 3 day period of national mourning.

There were no sessions this week but what did happen was the AfricaHackTrip where a bunch of European designers and developers would visit the iHub. It was a two day event.

The first day was a barcamp where we got talking about what we did and the tools we used. The next day was the hackathon. At the end of the program, I had learnt about the Firefox OS and the Twitter API.

Week 6 A New Month Begins

Monday September 30th would witness a miss of my first accelerator session. Mbwana had previously sent Kojo and I a calendar of events but the truth was that we didn’t check it. Mbwana read us the riot act.

October was warmly welcomed. It was a month that I felt a country that had witnessed such horrible terrorist attacks needed to heal. I saw a nation that had been hit dust itself off and move on.

The rest of the week would pass without incident apart from me trying to learn how to integrate all the tools needed for the new shopping cart.

Week 7 Intel Gaming Challenge

October 9th would feature a session on Intellectual Property from a patent lawyer. This session would in my opinion be the most informative of all the sessions we have had at the iHub.

October 12th would have me attending the Intel Gaming Challenge. I registered as a developer because we could not make up a team for SFAMBILI. I am grateful we didn’t. WE WOULD HAVE BEEN SLAUGHTERED. The quality of gamers who attended was extremely high. I had so much fun being a spectator. Intel outdid themselves with this tournament.

This week is memorable because it was the first week when I gradually got a hang on how to use the shopping cart software. The previous weeks had me feeling like I wanted to go home. It was in this week that I knew I would succeed.

Week 8 BizSpark

This week we had a team review session with Mbwana. He stresses the need for us to get our metrics right and create our marketing plans.

This week is particularly awesome because I finally grasp the concepts behind our shopping cart and can now start planning how it will be hosted. It has been a frustrating journey getting to this point.

We plan to use Windows Azure for the hosting because BizSpark allows us use Microsoft products for free for 3 years. Also I am more biased towards Microsoft products.

Week 9 Demo Africa

This week saw people troop in from all over the world for Demo Africa. Demo Africa is a premier event for start-ups in the continent. It was great to meet people from Nigeria who I had not seen in a very long time.

Demo Africa took place on October 24th and 25th. I was unable to attend because there was a Windows 8 training at the iHub where an instructor would be flown in to teach Windows Azure. The most important part of the training course was that I got to learn the nuances of Windows Azure.

Week 10 Marketing Plans

On Monday October 28th, we had an accelerator session with a staff of Airtel. It was also a chance for all the start-ups in the accelerator to present their marketing plans. No team was particularly impressive with their marketing plans and Mbwana made us understand that he would continue to insist that we get it right.

This week saw us transition into a new month. I would leave the month of October struggling to make the PrestaShop instance get assigned to a custom domain. I had succeeded in making the custom domain work but the site kept rerouting to its virtual IP address.

Friday November 1 would see all the teams submit their marketing plans to Malaika and Vivian. It would be a long weekend for me as I would be battling with my test store.

Week 11 Bitnami

Tuesday November 5th would be one of the best days in my life as a programmer. I would finally have a perfect online shop running. It would take contacting the guys at Bitnami via the online forum. In the course of discussions, it would be discovered that the online documentation was wrong.

November 6th would witness me attending the launch of Version 3.0 of Ushahidi. Ushahidi is the best open-source product out of Africa. Being there at the start of a new version was electrifying. The new system was designed from the ground up.

November 7th was the busiest day so far for all the members of the accelerator. We had the team from TLCom in an accelerator session and we all had to pitch to them. The pitches by all the teams this time were better. The most impressive for me was by CardPlanet. In this new pitch, they totally redefined their company. This accelerator session with TLCom was the first time I felt that we would all succeed as a team. Last weeks pitches left a bitter taste in my mouth. I feared the most for CardPlanet and I was happy that Rogers could rise to the occasion. After the pitch sessions, we all got some presentation tips from Vivian and Malaika.

Kojo and I had to later sit with Vivian and Malaika for a feedback session on our pitch. It was long and exhaustive but it was good to get to see beyond the tree we had to the forest it could become. Later that night we would head to Brew Bistro for the TLCom Africa Nairobi office launch night. It would be a time to unwind a little. What is particularly interesting is the discovery that Nairobi is now an emerging tech hub. One question I asked the guys from TLCom is why Nairobi and the answer is because doing business here is easier.

November 8th would be amazing! We would finally get to meet MamaMikes. They are the oldest e-commerce company in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was great finally meeting them. We had a serious question and answer section with them cause that is where Zished is actually headed. After the session with MamaMikes we had to head back to the iHub and prepare for a pitch with EchoVC.

EchoVC is led by Eghosa Omoigui. He was the bluntest person we had ever pitched to. When the pitches were over, I felt like we had all just passed through the eye of a storm.

November 9th would see Kojo and I head to the city center to repair Kojo’s laptop. In a funny twist of fate, his laptop screen got broken at a time when it was most needed. Kojo would have to use my laptop over the weekend to get ready for our pitch session on Monday.

Week 12 Malaria

Monday November 11th would witness a barrage of emails from Vivian and Malaika. All the accelerator teams would have a pitch review session with them. Kojo did an excellent job working on the feedback we got from last week so we didn’t have too many complaints this time. I was surprised that they were able to notice simple mistakes in aesthetics.

On Tuesday November 12th, I would have to take malaria medication. The mosquitoes in Kenya had been biting and I could no longer sleep. That is when I finally agreed that I needed medication or I was in trouble. Later that day, we would have another pitch session but I could not attend because I was too weak. Kojo would go alone. This would be the second accelerator session I would miss.

On Thursday November 14th I would confirm that I would be leaving Kenya on the 23rd of November. I must admit that I knew that my visa would expire on the 26th of this month but seeing the return ticket had the element of finality attached to it.

Friday would see us have a group pitch session where we would give feedback to each other. Before we pitched, Vivian and Malaika did a demo pitch. Beyond that I will say nothing more. Let’s just say that there was some dancing?:-)

Week 13 AfriKoin

Typically in schools, after students write their final examinations, all that is left is the end of year party. This was the pattern that the accelerator events followed. The week would start with emails from Vivian and Malaika. Basically they contained our schedules and expectations towards AfriKoin and a round-up of events at the accelerator.

Monday November 18th would see us give another presentation to Vivian and Malaika. Correction would then be made to the slides and feedback given.

The next day we would have a dry run in the evening. AfriKoin would be the earliest we would have to be at the iHub. We would come in at 7 am and do a demo pitch for the White African. He would give us feedback and we would all have to make quick corrections. AfriKoin came and ended at around 4 pm. Then we were on. CardPlanet pitched first followed by Zatiti then Zished and finally Inforex. At the end there was only the feeling of accomplishment.

The next day would be a blur. Kojo and I would have a review session at 11 am. I was around but my mind wasn’t. I was really tired from all that had happened at Demo Day. Later that night, we would all head out for our accelerator party.

Saturday the 23rd of November would be my last day in Kenya. It was sad leaving. I had spent 3 months in one of the few countries where Nigerians are made to feel awesome.

I wrote this post from Ghana. When you run a web shop, it doesn’t make sense to miss the Christmas window so I have to be here to help out with our marketing campaigns.

Lessons Learned

  1. The whole of Africa is one big hunting ground. This continent lacks reliable infrastructure which presents a big opportunity. Eagles (Foreigners) and Lions (Citizens) have an opportunity to make a killing? (Please translate in every sense of the word).
  2. E-commerce is the biggest business opportunity in Africa this decade. Mobile won the last decade but in order to consolidate on that, Africans have to become comfortable with virtual transactions.
  3. Kenya is an emerging tech hub in Africa. The partnership between PayPal and Equity Bank allowing withdrawals from within Kenya will change the dynamics of monetization in this region.
  4. Early stage investors bet on people not on business ideas. This is because at this stage the idea is untested. Here the only currency available is the pedigree of the founding team.
  5. The best way to learn is by doing. When I first arrived in Nairobi, I had never used PrestaShop, Bitnami or Windows Azure before. At the end of my stay here, I have a solid understanding of how they can be used together to deploy an e-commerce solution.

This is?Truston Ailende. I am a member of the?Zished?Team and this is my report on my stay in Kenya. I spent 90 days living in Kenya. I am the first Nigerian to get accepted into the accelerator. Special thanks to?Savannah Fund?for the opportunity.

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What It Takes to Build a Hit Game: Lessons from Matatu http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/04/10/what-it-takes-to-build-a-hit-game-lessons-from-matatu/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/04/10/what-it-takes-to-build-a-hit-game-lessons-from-matatu/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:20:28 +0000 http://www.www.pccmworld.com/?p=7916 In June 2011, we submitted Matatu to Google’s subsaharan developer challenge. It was one of two apps my team had submitted, the other being a check-in app. It had taken us about 2 months to learn how to write Android apps, and to use that knowledge to create an almost market-ready product. Back then, there weren’t many Androids in Uganda, and I had never seen one at that point. However, we had been hearing that Huawei Ideos was going on sale in Kenya for 300,000/- UGX ($120). We all wanted to have one, and therefore, we guessed that everyone would want to have one. We thought it would be worthwhile to develop an android app that translates a popular local card game on the mobile device. We made it to the finals of the competition and almost one year later, it became our full time commitment. Here are some lessons we have learned along the way:

Build something people want
When we set out to build Matatu, we knew the card game was incredibly popular in the physical form, as people were always playing it. In fact it’s so popular I’m yet to find a Ugandan who doesn’t know how to play it. When we hooked our first players, they were addicted! We hadn’t even published it yet and we were just distributing the APK via email, because we were receiving so many requests. Basically, we built something people were already craving.

Keep it very simple
Our first version of Matatu was very simple. It didn’t even have a menu, so you’d launch the game and it would go straight to game play. Still, that didn’t stop it from getting 1,000 downloads in a very nascent market. In fact, it took us 3 months after in order to hit the play store to add a menu and 2 player modes, and another 3 months to add the Joker mode (which includes more power plays). Even today, we still refuse to add almost 90% of the features we want to add. We want to keep it as simple and focused on the game as possible.

Rely on almost free advertising
When we published Matatu, we made sure to talk about it and encourage people to download at every event we attended. These were usually tech events, and therefore the percentage of Androids was much higher than that for the general population. We posted links to download the game on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and we talked to a few of our blogger friends to get the word out. It didn’t take long before we had more reporters and journalists asking for interviews.

Focus
I can’t overstate the value of this. If you’re starting a company, chances are you’ve had several million ideas. And everyone you talk to about your startup will have millions of ideas on how to improve your product/service. Some will want you to help them build their own product. What we do at Kola is we track every possible action, and then remove the least used features. We then add the top ideas we had until we reach some equilibrium where every feature is used quite often. If we added every feature that was requested, our game would be unusable by anyone.

Team
It helps to have some work experience, because that way you’ll know some people to hire when you start out. When picking co-founders, you should pick friends you’ve worked with on a different project. The easiest way to know how well someone works, or how well you’ll work with them is if you’ve worked with them before. It helps to have complimentary skills, but those skill should be either skills you can’t afford to pay for (yet), or extremely rare skills. Don’t cofound with someone whose complimentary skill is something that can be done by almost anyone. Also, working from home (by any team member) is a horrible idea. It creates communication overhead, and when you’re a team of 5, everyone is handling many things, and they’ll be interlinked. You need everyone to be able to access a fellow teammate within seconds. Working separately will also drive team members apart. Some decisions are made on the spot, with no email communication or anything, and if team members are not present they will feel left out. If any member insists they work from home, it might be a sign of a much bigger problem. It might work for huge companies, but I don’t think it does for startups.

Prepare to hustle
When we started out, a number of experienced people told us it would be hard. We thought we were special, and it’d be different. And it felt that way for the first few months until the savings run out. A few months in, we needed to pay more for hosting, we had to hustle to fix glitches quicker, expand to more platforms, deal with unproductive employees, look for actual revenue from clients, etc. But all of the hard work pays off, and it’s a high I have never felt before. If I tried to explain it to you, it would be like throwing you into a pool of chocolate to explain how chocolate tastes. I still remember the day we signed our first contract.

Spend like you’ll never make more money
The thing with needs are, they seem elastic. More money, more needs. There is always the temptation to buy things that you don’t actually need. Not yet at least. When you run out of money, you are under enormous pressure to raise more. Raising investment takes a tremendous length of time. You need to have some money to run on while you raise more, or while your revenues catch up.

Have a mission
At Kola Studios, we are trying to preserve different cultures through our games. This is really important for us. You might not even notice if the country you’re from makes 34% of the Apps on the App Stores, because perhaps all the games you know have already been ported. But imagine if Poker or Black Jack or Monopoly or any of those other games weren’t digitized. Would you not be worried that a great portion of culture and history was going to get lost soon when software “eats” the world? This is a good starting point for a mission. It needs to be something you all agree is important.

There are many other lessons we’ve learnt, some of them are personal, like the best time to get to the office (turns out to be ~9am for me), and some of them can be considered general knowledge.

Have any ideas? Additions? Reply in the comments, or reach us: theguys at kolastudios.com. Or me personally: daniel at kolastudios.com

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From Idea to Startup to Company: Experience and Tips http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/04/01/from-idea-to-startup-to-company-experience-and-tips/ http://www.pccmworld.com/2014/04/01/from-idea-to-startup-to-company-experience-and-tips/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 14:03:49 +0000 http://www.www.pccmworld.com/?p=7967 If you have an idea to start a tech company, kudos to being on the right path. I have walked it too. Many young people with a background or interest in technology, computer science or even business ?often dream of starting a business that would solve an existing need and grow into a profitable venture.

As a matter of fact the average age of tech startup founders is normally between 20-30 years. Among these young founders are ones that created global tech giants like Microsoft, Google and? Facebook, and your company can be next.

I sincerely believe that for every successful tech company there are many more that started and failed. However, the greatest percentage are the ideas that were dreamt and plans that were made but never saw the light of the day.

Are you working on a startup? You have taken a courageous step. A failed startup is many times better? than an idea that was never tried.

Do you have an idea, and a big dream? Go ahead act, start small and do it now!

When Sam and I started?Cardplanet Solutions two years ago, we were navigating a rather unbeaten path. The tech startup scene in Kenya is just taking shape so we did not have many people to talk to who had walk this path in our country and had succeeded.

Indeed, in running a startup in this part of the world, we had our fair share of pitfalls. Two years since Cardplanet Solutions was created, we are still growing and have successfully received some investment? and also are making revenue from clients. From our experience, I’ve learned a number of lessons that may help new startup founders:

Start a company not a product

Having had experience working at a tech hub, a key observation I had was that not all founders created their startups because they are dedicated to entrepreneurship. Some created their company as a way of staying busy before finding a better work opportunity. My two cents would be, once you have taken the first leap, hang in there. Stay focused, eat, drink and sleep your startup. Success is on your way.

Another common thing with some startups is focusing more on building the product and not the company. From my experience, during the growth of your startup, the products will evolve, so working on the company makes its possible to adjust the products accordingly.

Also, be aware of what you name your company. Oftentimes, the product changes in iterations, and if the company was named too early based on the product, the name may have no relation to the product later on.

Practice your elevator pitch

So what are you working on? This is a question you should? have a precise and convincing answer to. An elevator pitch is what you would give with the hopes of landing a customer or an investor in a minute. During our earlier days at the Nailab?incubation lab, we would take sessions in pitching our startups to each other every other Friday. At first it was dreadful for many of us, especially for me, who then was quite introverted. After doing this a couple of times? I discovered that if I could refine my pitch so that I could get someone interested in what I am working on as fast as possible, it could open up opportunities to both customers and investors. One Saturday morning after hours? of working, Sam and I were walking out of the building for a break? when we ran into?Mbwana Alliy, the Managing Partner of Savannah Fund.We had attended the Savannah Fund’s launch at the iHub the previous day and having known the kind of startups they were interested in, I was confident to start talking to Mbwana.

“We have what you are looking for!” was our first statement as we began to talk. Savannah Fund had opened applications for their first class and we had applied. Long story short, we were able to have a conversation with him for almost an hour and demo our product for him. We were not selected for the first accelerator class but we were in touch with Mbwana and I am sure it is this first conversation that led to our relationship with him now, and subsequently having conversations that led to being selected for the second cohort.

Build traction

Every startup will at one time want to raise funding. I will talk about raising money form venture capitalists because that’s what I am familiar with. If there is one term that I know investors love, it’s “traction”. Most investors will pay keen attention to where you were, where you are and how you are growing. While you might have limited funds for a tech startup in web, game or mobile application, you can nonetheless have early users try it. This not only gives you a chance to test your product but it’s a good indicator that your product is needed. If you can have early paying users, that is even better because this sends very positive signals to your potential investors.

Be willing to let go

Yes, you are working on that cool idea, and have the conviction it is viable. Talk about it freely to people who could be of help to you. By doing this, you could get very valuable insights from people with more experience? and even more material and intellectual resources.? Some founders may require potential investors to sign Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) before sharing their ideas. True be told,? many investors are discouraged by the over-emphasis on Intellectual Property by startups.

So be willing to let go your idea and you will grow.

Don’t be alone

sam and rodgers

Sam on left, Rodgers on right.

As the old saying goes, a cord of two strands is better than that of one. Similarly, when attempting to build a startup, don’t go alone. A startup is like a ship on the high seas, so when you have a team, the chances of survival are higher. A team consisting of at least one person with strong technical skills and another with strong business skills is a recipe for success. Investors also pay attention to the team. Working with someone you know well has many advantages apart from understanding each other’s strength and weaknesses. Sam and I have been friends for close to a decade and through thick or thin, we will still be friends. We balance each other out well: he rarely does presentations to clients and I seldom code!

Listen, Listen and Listen

If you have raised money through an accelerator like we did, chances are there will be mentors available to you. Accelerators will always get professionals who can provide mentorship through their years of experience. Some of them may provide very valuable feedback that can grow your startup, so always stay open-minded and listen to them. Although the decisions for your startup will ultimately depend on you, their advice could propel you to the next level.

Be visible

As you go about looking for funds for your startup, it is important to note that investors are also looking for startups in the right places. So create your profiles on AngelList, F6S, VC4Africa among? the other fora. Also, take part in business pitch competitions. Pivot East organized by m:Lab in East Africa is one such competition.

You are a salesman

Being the CEO sounds like you just parked an Aston Martin next door! There is a joke I like saying about my journey with a Cardplanet: I started as a co-founder, became a CEO, graduated into a coder and am currently a salesman.? Your success is as good as how you sell, especially if you are the CEO. Learn to sell.

Never Give Up

The journey to running a successful business comes with ups and downs. Disappointment and frustration may come in? many forms ranging from desertion of team members, product failing during demos, investors turning you down, running? broke and many more.? These may be discouraging but never give up too quick and stay in a little longer. A small tweak in the product may be all it takes to turn fortunes around.

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