Welcome to Limitless, the new podcast series that asks the questions that matter to Africa. In this episode, we’re talking youth entrepreneurship.
Claude: From TRUE Africa, I’m Claude Grunitzky, and this is Limitless. In this episode, we’re talking entrepreneurship
Zaid Osman: “Ideally, if I had it my way would be like, you know, let’s figure out how to build these factories locally.”
Iyinowula Aboyeji: “You know, I did get into entrepreneurship early, but I would argue for the wrong reasons.”
DJ Elly Chuva: “It’s not like I woke up and did it. There are rules.”
Claude: Welcome to Limitless, the podcast that asks the questions that matter for Africa. We’re looking for African solutions to African problems.
In each episode, we’re asking three guests one question that matters to Africans. And – no surprise – they don’t always agree.
The Limitless Podcast is supported by the U.S. Department of State and the Seenfire Foundation. [main intro end]
Africans are known for their hustle. And on a continent where youth unemployment is high, they have to hustle. For this episode I spoke to three young entrepreneurs – a business woman in the music industry, a fashion entrepreneur, and a founder of a tech startup now worth over $3billion. We spoke about their motivations, their challenges and of course their successes.
First up is Zaid Osman, who founded the fashion brand Grade Africa. Born in South Africa, he spent his childhood in the US. When he came back,he started trading American sneakers. He then launched Grade Africa, which now has shops on the Waterfront in Cape Town and Mall of Africa, in Joburgh. We started off talking about how living in the US shaped his business acumen. Here’s our conversation.
Zaid: Even just like living in the States. I feel like that also gave me very much an advantage. Over kids locally, mainly just because of kind of seeing how everything is done that’s tied firsthand. So at a young age, like stuff I would always do was plough snow cut grass. And again, like really just hustle to constantly buy shoes, shoes. was always the one thing that I would always spend my money, save money, work hard and really try and buy shoes. And again, like when I came back to South Africa, I was 15 years old. At that age in the states you’re about to get a part time job. You’re about to get your driver’s licence. So also just like that level of maturity at that age is very different to South Africa.
Claude: Tell us about some of the challenges you faced, and perhaps also, some of the early signs of success that you’ve already seen with your brand Grade Africa.
Zaid: So I mean, there’s a lot of challenges, you know, constantly looking at quality control is one thing. So what I did was bring back samples from the states bring back samples from my travels and constantly take it to factories and be like, You know what, this is kind of where I wanted to be.
Still a lot of challenges today is definitely in cash flow, running to retail stores in very prominent malls in South Africa being on the waterfront and Mall of Africa.
And still doing this 100% independently so it’s managing staff it’s being able to manage your production. It’s your marketing channels, your online digital marketing channels.
It’s really a lot of kind of things that we’re doing and again, it’s literally all independent, all in house.
I think one of the things that is a blessing, is the network. The network of people that we’ve been able to build up over time. And when I look at, I guess, successes, I always look at the brand that I’m wrong ike, I really cannot stop because it means so much to people locally. They feel represented, they feel like wow, he is a brand that is speaking directly to us. So the support that we get in those regions is really amazing
Claude: So, in this grassroots mindset that you’re kind of really staying truly attached to in promoting some sort of organic growth for your brand, knowing that you’re independent and self funded. What do you see as the future for great Africa? What are some of your aims?
Zaid: I mean, again, it’s like doing it the way that we’re doing it is very frustrating.I wish there was, again, support or, you know, also a larger team that we could employ, you know, so ultimately you kind of look at this thing two ways. You look at it in a sense of, you know, putting your head down, keep going and keep going and eventually creating that breakthrough because then you look at kind of some of the achievements to open a store at the Waterfront and Mall of Africa – it’s very few local brands that have been able to achieve that. But then you look at as you grow, you know, expenses and all of these things are constantly going to add up and you know, as you grow, it’s going to be a lot more risk that you need to take. So I’m in that kind of the two worlds where I’m at like, ideally, if I had it my way would be like, you know, let’s figure out how to build these factories locally, you know, find government support that’s really going to allow us to build ecosystems to sustain families to sustain growth within the continent and kind of do it literally everything here in house as we currently kind of are.
Or then the other kind of space. I mean, it’s really just those two ways of, you know, getting an investor on board and trying to see how to really take this globally as well.
Claude: My next guest is DJ Elly, one of Angola’s biggest DJs. She also has a side hustle. She realised that there was a gap in the market for DJ and sound equipment at affordable prices. She does this as well as spinning turntables. Our journalist Nelson Mangueira spoke to DJ Elly. Here’s their conversation.
Nelson: Tell us a little about your entrepreneurial side.
DJ Elly: A lot of people don’t know but they are receiving and buying products from my company which is totally online. Well, in Angola we almost don’t have any international brands when it comes to sound equipment…so those who resell, do it at super high prices, well above the market rate. But every day there’s demand from more DJs, most of whom are low-income DJs. So, I, along with a few other people, had an idea and set up an online store selling products, accessories for DJs and equipment, from headphones, microphones, CDJs, any type of equipment for DJs.
So we created this program in order to facilitate and also boost and bring greater quality to the market for those who joined the profession.
Nelson: Okay, and how do you consider the entrepreneurship scenario in Angola? Do you think there are many obstacles?
DJ Elly: Yes, there are obstacles, like everything in life. Like the beginning of any type of project or idea, when you want to make an idea happen, as everything starts from an idea. One of the challenges we had was at the import level. Firstly, costs associated with custom duties in Angola are super high. The other difficulty is the market acceptance, because unfortunately in Angola we still don’t believe much in buying things online, even though it’s becoming the most common, especially now with the pandemic. So nowadays, the market is practically all moving towards the digital, so one of the things that was a challenge was to attract customers online. But nowadays with the pandemic, it has become easier, because people started to believe more that it is possible to order something through a platform and this product arrives on time. So, that was one of the biggest challenges.
Nelson: What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for young entrepreneurs trying to achieve success the same way you did?
DJ Elly: The best way to succeed in any type of endeavour is when it is something you have to master. You have to have knowledge, that you have to have the basics at least, otherwise the failure rate is very high. Around 90%. So, don’t start working in an area that you don’t know.
Research in advance, gain knowledge on it, how it works, follow the necessary steps and respect those steps, because entrepreneurship is not just a dream. It’s not like I woke up and did it. There are rules. Follow these rules of entrepreneurship that you will see results later on.
Claude: Our final guest is Iyinowula Aboyeji, a Nigerian entrepreneur. He co-founded the startup Andela, which trains software engineers, and counts Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as an investor. Iyinowula also founded Flutterwave, an online payment system, which is now worth over $3billion – we talked about the recent fraud allegations against the company. Iyinowula told me how he got started in tech entrepreneurship – and how the film The Social Network inspired him.
Iyinowula: I really got started in tech entrepreneurship by accident. I grew up, hopping around ambition. At some point I wanted to be a policeman. At one point I wanted to be a taxi driver. When I got a little older I wanted to be a professor. And I think I had this encounter with a very good friend of mine. His name is Pierre ARIS. And we were friends from the first day of orientation. And we lost touch for a while because he went off to Silicon Valley. You know, he comes back and tells me about his experience. And I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world. And I think we go off and we watch the Social Network by Aaron Sorkin. And I was sold. I was like, This is what it means! This sounds like a great career for, you know, the least popular kids in class. And, and then after that, you know, I got sucked in and then we started a company, that company didn’t do very well. But it ultimately got sold to one of our clients. After that I transitioned to another company called for Fora, this time on the continent, and that also didn’t do very well. But then both were beautiful training grounds for me. Because then after I did Andella, which is one of one of the enterprises I’m most proud of. And then also after Andella, I did Flutterwave.
Claude: What advice would you want to give young African entrepreneurs who are trying to start ventures specifically tech ventures
Iyinowula: Focus on impact. I mean, I think that’s the biggest advice I can give you. Whenever I reflect on what was the difference between the latter two companies and the former two companies I think it really boiled down to that. You know, I did get into entrepreneurship early, but I would argue for the wrong reasons. I thought it was a way to get prestige. I thought it was a way to get money. I wanted to be Mark Zuckerberg, but the moment entrepreneurship transformed from a way to boost my prestige to a way to create impact in the world, I think my outcomes completely changed. So I’d say just focus on impact.
Claude: So on the subject of impact, we do have to talk about Flutterwave – What went wrong with flutterwave?
Iyinowula: I mean, I think there are many things that were challenging for Flutterwave especially because of its growth. Flutterwave was at one point, the fastest growing payments company in the world. And I think you know, I remember when I was leaving the company in 2018, unfortunately because you know, myself and my co founder had some disagreement, and I mentioned to the board, I said, you know, I think it’s really important for us to find very senior people and very experienced people to surround the leadership team. So that you know, they have the right guidance, right, and they understand how to build and grow very fast but also in a more sustainable way.
Claude: Do you believe that a lot of the alleged mismanagement and fraud issues were overlooked because it’s an African company?
Iyinowula: I think they were overlooked because it’s an African company. I do think and also, not all the allegations were substantiated. I think there’s quite a bit of embellishment with a number of these allegations. But for the issues that are substantive, I would argue that I think it was precisely because a lot of the investors were not African and didn’t understand how to manage those particular issues that it happened. You don’t have a lot of local capital coming into the companies. And so founders are kind of forced to be a check on themselves. And the only other check is, you know, thousands of hundreds of miles away in California and it’s very hard to govern, and to have an active board when everyone is a foreigner, you know, sitting across the Atlantic.
Claude: I want to ask you about where Nigeria is in your plans right now, given that you’ve got this global approach to investing and entrepreneurship.
Iyinowula: Yeah, I mean, look, I’ve been in Nigeria for the last two years. I’ve been headquartered in Nigeria. I think the last time we saw I was based out of San Francisco and then shortly before the pandemic, I went back home, and it’s gonna remain my global headquarters for a long time. I think it’s important for me to make a point about the fact that we can build global solutions from Africa. You know, we’ve we’ve kind of transitioned from, you know, building talent to building companies. And now we have to build a society.
Claude: Too many profiles of young entrepreneurs focus only on their successes. But it’s really hard trying to build a business from scratch, I should know! We’re not looking for simple answers on this podcast. But we believe Africa’s potential is limitless, and these young entrepreneurs are key to that. We need to support their drive, their vision and their talent.
Thanks for listening. To find out more, visit www.trueafrica.co/limitless or follow True Africa on Facebook and Twitter.
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You’ve been listening to Limitless, I’m Claude Grunitzky. The Limitless Podcast is a production of TRUE Africa. This podcast is made possible with a grant from the U.S. Department of State and the Seenfire Foundation.