No. 150: 3AMReads: African Entrepreneurs and Failure | African Economies Operating at Two Speeds | Cameroon Hosting Digital Economy Conference

Author Calls For African Entrepreneurs to Talk About Failure

Idril Abshir penned this interesting piece arguing that African entrepreneurs should talk about failure more, indicating that they will find resilience in discussing failure. She cites the culture among Western entrepreneurs of acknowledging failure. While the stories in the piece were compelling, I don’t know that the West’s approach to failure is the bar African entrepreneurs should try and attain. Silicon Valley has championed failure as a means for learning, though I believe it has enabled bad behavior as well. I hear too many stories of founders leaving investors high and dry due to not communicating the struggles they were having. Anyone remember Clinkle? Fab? Rothenburg Ventures? I also think African entrepreneurs have proven their resilience in the face of conditions of which American entrepreneurs have no concept.

IMF Projects 2.5% Growth Across Africa (Free Subscription)

The IMF highlighted concern about African economies operating at two speeds, with some countries driving high growth levels and others serving as a drag on growth. The debt situation of countries like Mozambique is also concerning. These countries which raised a bunch of money on bond issuances several years ago are now struggling to handle them. It would be frustrating to see a bunch of defaults like Mozambique in the coming years.

Cameroon is Hosting a Digital Economy Conference…

After shutting off the internet in the English speaking portion of Cameroon for 94 days, the government is hosting a conference on the digital economy promoting it’s efforts to be a global leader in that space. Seriously? Let’s work on not shutting of people’s internet connections, first.

No. 109: 3 Tuesday AM Reads – US-China Relations and Africa | Africa’s Beer Market | Baltimore on the Rise

  1. Aly-Khan Satchu, one of the most respected equity investors in Kenya, discusses briefly how US-China cooperation would be a benefit to African countries. This aligns with comments Bobby Pittman, managing director of Kupanda Capital made at a session discussing the Electrify Africa Act. More on that sometime later this week.

  2. There are rumors of Anheuser-Busch InBev making a bid to acquire SABMiller. Here’s a good piece on how important the African beer market is to that deal.

  3. Steve Case was in Baltimore yesterday as part of his Rise of the Rest tour to highlight the entrepreneurial spirit in other cities around the country. Here’s a piece on his excitement about the city’s potential. I felt so much energy during the Baltimore Bike Party last Friday night and was amazed by the energy and excitement of participants and onlookers. We rode through parts of Baltimore that have seen hard times for a long time, including the areas where rioting took place following Freddy Gray’s death. Yet, I felt a belief and pride in the city.  Rooting for Baltimore.

No. 94: New VC Firm To Fund Women-Led Startups

I was glad to see the news about the launch of Valor Ventures, a VC firm led by women and focused on finding women founders. 

Another firm that excites me is the Impact America Fund. Here’s a good interview it’s founder, Kesha Cash, did with the Andreesen Horowitz team. 

Some time ago, I posted First Round Capital’s findings from its 10 years investing in startups. One of its findings was that women-led startups outperformed those led by men. You wouldn’t guess that by the looks of all the startups getting funding for their ideas. 

The VC landscape is dominated by white men, leading to white men getting the lion’s share of funding. As the debate on diversity in the technology industry continues to heat up, firms like Valor and Impact America getting traction is huge.

I was disappointed to see that Valor’s team was all white women. That’s another ongoing debate as the tech industry tries to figure out its diversity problem. 

Nonetheless, this is exciting news and I look forward to seeing what companies Valor funds.   

No. 87: Build Something From Nothing

Paul Judge has a mantra – build something from nothing. It’s amazing to watch folks I have met along the way live this out.

Jehiel Oliver’s startup Hello Tractor was profiled in Fast Company today. It wasn’t too long ago when we sat down at Chinatown Coffee and he told me about this idea he was working on. At the time, the concept of using technology to lower the cost of mechanization for small-scale farmers made a lot of sense. He’s raised a couple million dollars to prove out this idea. If Jehiel is right, Hello Tractor is going to catalyze the productivity of a whole lot of farmers across Africa. McKinsey will owe him thanks for making their projection that the continent’s agricultural productivity could reach $880 billion by 2040 look right. As an aside, I hope the continent can generate a lot more productivity than that. I really don’t want to be eating Soylent.

Several years ago, my friend Odini Nwakuche told me that he was going to make ties. As an aspiring dandy, I was super excited about the idea, but could not have imagined where Odini and his partner Josh Moore have taken Res Ipsa.  Some time after Odini told me that they were going to try and make shoes. Res Ipsa now has its shoes in several stores in the southeast and they are just beginning. This weekend, I got to hang out with Josh and Odini (pictured above) as they manned their booth for the MRket New York Show, one of the premier menswear trade shows. Everyone from the convention center set-up staff to fellow exhibitors to buyers were checking out their booth. I found myself grinning ear-to-ear with pride at what Odini and Josh have built and look forward to watching them make their mark in menswear.

Several months ago, Angelina Darrisaw mentioned that she was considering stepping out on her own after distinguishing herself in stints at ESPN and Viacom. I was thrilled to get a LinkedIn notification not long ago indicating that she was Founder of C-Suite Coach. Over the years, I watched Angelina go outside of her comfort zone – joining the track team at Davidson, reach the finals twice in the Miss New York USA. Now, she is stretching herself again as she helps underprivileged millennials achieve professional success.

My brother, Kwadwo, is a builder. As kids, this man lived at Michael’s, convincing my parents to buy items for him to try out different ideas. To this day, he continues to build things – a carbonated juice company. A production company. SapidMedia Productions, has been a labor of love for several years now and he is scratching the surface. He landed his first corporate client and released a short film in the first six months of this year. Look out for more cool stuff from him this year, and the next, and the next.

That goes for all the people listed here. This list could be much longer – Cherae Robinson, Eric Osiakwan, Maame Boakye, Nana Ama Afari-Dwamena, Nina Oduro, Eric Guichard, KJ Blackwell, Billy Fennebresque, Robert Long, Whitney White, Bobby Pittman, my dad.

Who else? Who are some people you know building something from nothing?

No. 60: 10 Reasons to Listen to Hugh & Crye’s The Protagonist Podcast

I binged on Pranav Vora’s podcast, The Protagonist, this weekPranav is founder of Hugh & Crye, a really cool startup men’s clothier that targets lean and athletic men. The podcast contains interviews with the founders of nine DC-based startups. I finished the last episode yesterday and here are some thoughts on why you should give the podcast a listen too:

1. You will get at least one new idea for your business. I got some ideas around business development, software-as-a-service, and team structure.

2. The entrepreneurs do a great job telling their stories – failures, successes, and visions for the future. There was little to no hype in the conversations, just a lot of authenticity. It’s always nice to hear the journeys other entrepreneurs have gone through.

3. Your belief in the power of entrepreneurship to strengthen this country will increase 10-fold. Donna Harris, founder of 1776, does a great job explaining this belief as being core to the creation of 1776, and her past work in this space. The other entrepreneurs serve as great examples of what is possible with hustle.

4. Feelings of nostalgia for the startup community in the city you previously lived in will die down. When I was in Atlanta, Atlanta Tech Village was still under construction, I had no idea who Paul Judge was, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was advocating for a bill to create a state-run venture capital fund which morphed into a fund of funds. Fast forward two years, and Atlanta Tech Village is hosting all sorts of cool startups, I consider Paul Judge a virtual mentor, and the Invest Georgia fund should be getting $10 million this quarter to begin investing in VC funds. This has had me thinking about making it back to Atlanta at some point – daydreaming. The podcast snapped me back to attention. There is a lot of great work to do here in DC.

5. Your feelings of encouragement because you are not a 21-year old whiz kid with no family to keep you from drinking Mountain Dew at all hours, will increase. Several of these founders are married, have children, and are older. I found it so helpful to hear their perspectives on family life and business.

6. You will feel a sudden break from the matrix of oversized dark suits and poorly-made rubber soled dress shoes that can be DC, if you let it (At least for the men. Women dress pretty well here.) The wave of optimism in the interviews is like sitting on your bed after standing at your desk for 12 hours (I’ve really got to get that couch built.)

7. You will feel a slight tectonic shift away from the gorilla that is Silicon Valley. I have been excited about the burgeoning startup community in Atlanta. Boston has an established ecosystem and New York has been making serious waves for the past decade as well. The DC startup community is nothing to sneeze at. Donna Harris does a great job outlining DCs unfair advantage over other communities.

8. You will get a better sense of the players in DCs startup ecosystem. I had heard of most of these companies, but finished each interview with a better understanding of why DC made sense for their business, and the value they provide to the startup community and to the border DC environment.

9. Pranav does a great job asking questions. His management consulting background definitely comes through here. For example, he consistently asks the founders to define certain terms they use, something that I found really helpful in understanding their world views.

10. Well, there are ten episodes, including an introduction to the podcast from Pranav. Why not listen to them all?

There’s 10 solid reasons to give The Protagonist a listen. You can find it on the iTunes Podcast app as well. Also, be sure to check out Hugh & Crye. Great clothes. I kind of wish I were a little smaller (not really) so I could fit more of their clothes.

No. 19: Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital: Brazil v. African Countries

Entrepreneurs across the African continent are developing highly innovative technologies that are meeting real needs and improving the ease of life for people from all walks of life. At this year’s MIT Venture Capital (VC) Conference, I sat in on a panel that covered Brazil’s VC space. Two things struck me as very different from how entrepreneurship is developing on the African continent and present a case for investors to pay more attention to entrepreneurship in Africa.

I was surprised to learn that Brazil’s entrepreneurs are more active in meeting the needs of the middle class by providing some of the technologies already available in the US like Groupon copycat, Peixe Urbano. In a year and a half, the company has expanded from Brazil to Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Another Brazilian company, Vostu, is locked in lawsuits with Zynga which is arguing that the company is committing copyright infringement of its games including Farmville, a Facebook favorite.

In Africa, we are not seeing a lot of “copycat” or “geographic innovation” technologies as one of the panelists preferred to call them. We are seeing technologies like Paga in Nigeria that enables mobile bankers to use any bank they choose. We see Sproxil, a company that has developed technology which uses text messaging to confirm that the drugs you are taking are not counterfeit. These creative innovations are exciting developments and ones that increase the fundability of entrepreneurs across the continent from investors both inside and outside the Africa

The second observation that struck me was the presence of VCs encouraging entrepreneurs to try new things in bringing various technologies to Brazil – providing entrepreneurs with mentorship that can help them increase their success rates in the country. Earlier this year, Ndubuisi Ekekwe, an entrepreneur and scholar wrote a nice article on African entrepreneurs’ need for nurturing. Mentoring fell under this bucket. As entrepreneurs learn from the mistakes of their mentors to avoid those same pitfalls, stronger products enter the market. I am extremely happy for Tayo Oviosu, CEO of Paga and the access he has to a mentor like Tim Draper. I think we will see more mentorship as time elapses but the involvement of Brazil VCs in the growth of their companies bolstered my understanding of the importance of mentoring.

Two takeaways came from the panel – the African entrepreneurial market is more disruptive than the current Brazilian entrepreneurial market, while more African entrepreneurs are going it alone as Brazilian entrepreneurs more readily have access to mentorship. Both are interesting phenomena and ones whose evolution I look forward to tracking over the next few years as I believe the presence of venture capitalists and mentors will grow rapidly over the next two or three years.

The following are recent CNBC Africa conversations on entrepreneurship in South Africa and Africa as a whole:

Photo Credit: Afrinnovator