How these six African founders scaled their startups

In the Zero to Scale series this year, six founders shared how they were able to build and scale their startups; we compiled six lessons out of their experiences.

How these six African founders scaled their startups

Find out what it takes to build and scale a startup in Africa from the founders of Piggyvest, Moniepoint, Printivo, Flow, Field Intelligence and Terragon Group.

A few months ago, I was on this webinar that was focused on building and scaling products and I learnt that having the right mindset, talent, and business model are some of the essential qualities to founders need to run their businesses.

In August, we launched the Zero to Scale series to tell the story of the journey of African founders and their startups from day zero until the day they achieved scale.

Burdened by challenges like low internet penetration, financial exclusion, poverty, harsh economic climates and unpredictable governmental policies, African founders often have to be at their innovative best to build scalable companies.

I’m sure you’ve read some of the interviews we had with these founders [if you’ve not, make sure you do], in the next paragraphs I will be highlighting some of the things I found interesting in these interviews:

Before thinking of how to scale your product, Tolu Adetuyi, the Head of Growth at Moniepoint said, “ensure you have the right product before scaling it. It’s the first principle to make sure that people want your product before you start to spend money scaling it. Customers have to attest that your product is needed in the market—that’s how you achieve product-market-fit”.

After you’ve figured out if your product is fit for the market, an understanding of distribution is important. In hacking distribution you need to, “this informed our strategy because we began to see that if we are going to get to these agents, we have to get people within their communities who are close to them. So, we created an aggregator model”.

Founded to solve problems in the healthcare supply chain, Field Intelligence has been able to complete a total of over 135 million pharmaceutical interventions in Kenya and Nigeria. Peter Bunor, co-founder and Global Growth Lead at Field Intelligence stated that one of the things that enabled them to achieve scale was the people they hired:

"The quality of the people you hire is important. We’ve made mistakes with the people we hired, but we’ve also hired some very amazing people".

Even when you hire really good talents to build with another thing Bunor emphasized was sincerity, as a founder "being truthful to yourself about when something is not working [is important]. A lot of founders get attached to their ideas and the sunk cost that has gone into them, so they’re not willing to admit when things are not working".

Every founder must realise that they are building for people, hence it’s important to ensure that you provide a great customer experience for the users. It takes 12 positive customer experiences to make up for one negative experience.

A research in South Africa estimated that the cost of people switching from a company because of poor customer service is worth US$47 billion, that’s huge. For Prinvito, its biggest break was when an International Journalist tweeted about the great customer experience she had with the company, the referral Printivo got via that tweet were interesting.

Temitope Ekundayo, the co-CEO at Printivo said, "customer service is important to us. For us, it’s about improving the delight of our customers and improving their experience when they order. We always ensure that we keep to the agreement and will move mountains to get it done. The customer experience starts before the order comes in, and continues well after they’ve made their purchase. Whenever we go wrong, we ensure that we make up for it. The goal is to get customers to have such a good experience that makes them come back".

We focus 300% of our resources on an amazing customer experience. So, they enjoy it and come back to patronize us.
  • Flow: Learn and reinvent from challenges

In 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world’s economy, it was sudden and only a few companies had strategies to carry on. Flow, [a proptech startup that enables real estate agents and developers to seamlessly advertise properties on social media] launched an arm of its business in March 2020, a week before Covid-19 came and closed down the world. From being a behavioural app that rewarded people for good behaviours like paying their rent on time, Flow pivoted to a marketing platform for landlords and agents.

For Daniel Levy, co-founder and co-CEO at Flow, "Covid has been a sort of blessing to us. We probably would have been in for hiding because we were still running our old business model. This is not to say that we would have failed or not pivoted, but even if we did, it would have taken longer".

"Covid caused a down-tools for the whole world and our industry in particular. Immediately it happened, we knew we needed to pivot and only had a short time to do it. We started to engage the stakeholders in the estate agency sector of the industry and that was where we found the golden nuggets".

In his conversation, I can see the need to strategically take advantage of the challenge, Flow did not just pivot, they consulted critical stakeholders in their proposed business model.

  • Piggyvest: The importance of partnership and social media strategy

Collaboration will always be an important strategy in growing a project. When Piggyvest came on board, several persons were not acquainted with fintech as it is now, gaining trust was one of the important things that were going to enable. What did they do? Joshua Chibueze, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Co-founder at Piggyvest said:

"We struck a partnership with a commercial bank. That partnership helped us scale our user numbers by a lot. There were people who didn’t use the system for a number of reasons, mainly because it was new and they didn’t trust it. That partnership helped us scale fast. At the end of that year (2017), we were able to help our users save about N700 million. At that point, things became clearer".

An effective social media strategy also played a significant role in Piggyvest’s zero to scale story.

You can have a brilliant idea but the execution is all that matters. In this market, I think the speed of execution matters. Then, there’s consistency - customers love the feeling of stability.

Since the product or services, your idea is offering revolves around your customer, you need to educate them on how your product or service solves their problem. When Terragon Group pivoted from a service-led to a product-led company, Ayodeji Balogun, CTO, and Co-founder of Terragon said:

"We had to engage a lot of deep thought and manufactured optimism. Many of the companies we were pitching to had a lot of options, so it was a lot of work to convince them. The B2B landscape often has a lot of options, even if you’re the first in there, it won’t be long before the competition comes around.

We had to educate stakeholders in the businesses we were trying to get because sometimes you go in there and you get blank stares like “What are you even talking about?”. It has taken a lot of education, listening, working with the clients to achieve their goals, and sometimes, just being a sounding board for them".

Closing thoughts

Each of the points these founders mentioned is important, when you read the interviews you will see some of the practical approaches that applied to ensure their success, you will also catch a glimpse of the challenges that come with trying to apply these strategies. It’s not going to be easy but it’s achievable.

In our subsequent episodes, we are looking forward to talking to more founders [especially female] about their experiences, you can reach us via email or Twitter.

Special thanks to Hachi for asking these important questions and all the founders for their insights.

We go again next year!

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