My advise to African entrepreneurs yearning to transform Africa in this era of digital transformation is a combination of three things that they must remember at all time;
Start a mission, not a business
Fundamentally, your business is always about why you do what you do. The mission for your business matters both on the short-term and the long-term. It doesn’t make sense to take risks, make sacrifices and work hard only to make “good money”. If you calculate the cost of the life you have to live as an entrepreneur it might actually never makes sense from a money perspective. It can only make sense if you are super passionate about what you do and excited about the problem you are solving.
If you work for money, it takes away the joy out of business. I believe that, if the foundation of your work is on a strong mission, the money will come. My co-founder Bolaji Akinboro and I are a living proof of that.
Personally, I do what I do because I am passionate about our dignity as Africans. I have a deep-seated motivation for what I do and why we must succeed in building a world-class, fortune 500, values driven business in Africa. The level of transformation we will have created in the continent will be substantial across 3 or 4 sectors. It is something that every team member at Cellulant understands from day-1.
Business is a team sport, it’s not a one-man show
When Bolaji and I co-founded the business, we went on to bring onboard Faizal Mirza, our Chief Product Officer, and our chairman Dr. Sam Kiruthu – all strong founders playing different roles.
From the beginning, we started to think about governance, technology and how do deliver for the market the best solutions that are delivered by world class entrepreneurs. By doing this our chances of succeeding increased tenfold. As a result, the other business we were competing in the same space fell by the wayside despite having the same technical capabilities and building the same mobile banking solutions.
Anyone can build mobile payment solutions but what made us special was our team. We had a team that was looking at the business from different perspectives right from the beginning. The earlier you partner and share out what you have whether its shares or profits and have that as a philosophy, the better.
Our business which started with just 2 guys, has since grown to a team of over 400 values-driven, entrepreneurial minded people across 18 countries in Africa.
As an entrepreneur, your business will only grow to the extent of your growth.
If you are not growing, have no development networks, have no mentors, your business will hit a ceiling.
Africa is generally not that well understood; be it our language, level of education, our storytelling, geographical and problem contexts. An African entrepreneur must learn to jump all these hoops in order to succeed. This always start by having high levels of self-awareness and being conscious of what you need to do to grow. You must become better and better at solving the problems and challenges you face as an entrepreneur- at every turn.
There is an ongoing controversy surrounding the dynamics of raising capital funding especially for tech entrepreneurs in the continent. My take, after we raised the largest round of funding for a Fintech in Africa? That’s just the way the world works. Even in the US, if your startup is not based in San Francisco, you will struggle to raise funding. Local entrepreneurs need to understand that raising money is in itself a craft – it doesn’t just happen. It’s a skill set that you must develop and grow. The simple truth is that as an African entrepreneur, it just means that you must be exceptional at it because your environment is much more difficult.
Yet, despite what the statistics show, I believe that only Africans can and will transform our continent. If not us, then who?
Ken Njoroge is Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Cellulant Corporation