We started our live fireside chat series, Invest In The Future, to learn from prolific inventors and founders who have invested in and built some of Africa’s and the world’s most impactful technology companies. As we end the first season, we are grateful for the fantastic guests who have joined us on this journey and shared their knowledge with our community.
To celebrate this win, we pulled together the best lessons shared by all the guests we have hosted since the first episode with Sahil Lavingia.
Here are the top lessons from Invest In The Future
Venture Capitalists play a part in increasing the % of funded women in the tech ecosystem.
The world reminds us that women are underrepresented in this ecosystem every day in giving out funds and receiving funding. While we are building this gap, it is also crucial that women working in tech share their stories to empower other women.
As a Partner at Microtraction, Chidinma I. Iwueke believes that the opportunity to increase and support women-led startups is at the early stages of funding startups. In this conversation, she talks about how Microtaction increases this funnel.
“It’s on us as investors to make sure that we put in processes and we put goals that align with increasing the number of female funded startups within our portfolio,” Iwueke says.
“If we don’t start early enough, we are not going to be able to see them get to the Series A, Series B, become that unicorn all these other male founded companies get a better chance of doing,” she adds.
Listen to Chidinma I. Iwueke’s and other women in VC in the women’s month special episode here.
Be open to investing beyond capital.
In starting to angel invest with shl.vc, Sahil Lavingia, founder and CEO of Gumroad, believes that being a founder gives you a better understanding of handling being an angel investor. Founders also underestimate how willing people are to meet with them. With this in mind, he learns how to get the attention of the right people through writing cold emails.
“All they see is that I send people emails, and they get back to me, and so figuring out how to actually get in front of the right people in writing cold emails and doing sales,” Lavingia says.
In addition, despite all of these, he stands firmly on how being an investor means that you can help founders grow their early-stage companies with funding and sometimes your expertise. Capital is no longer a scarce commodity and what founders need in the ecosystem is coaching.
“A lot of people ask me, I don’t have money, but I one day maybe want to be a VC or have a rolling fund or what not. You need equity, you need proof that you are adding value to companies and the best way to have proof is that you have a % of these companies,” Lavingia shares.
“The way you do that is talk to them and say hey, I don’t have money, but I will love to help, and this is the way I want to help you, and I will love a little bit of advisory stock for that,” he adds.
Listen to Sahil Lavingia’s episode here.
Don’t underestimate networking with people to find the right co-founder.
Piggyvest’s co-founder and COO Odun Eweniyi, brings a lot of knowledge from building the largest savings and investments app in Nigeria. Recently, she founded FirstCheck Africa – an early-stage venture fund investing up to $25,000 for women founders in Africa.
During our conversation with her, we understood Sahil Lavingia’s thought process around founders’ being in the best position to become angel investors because they better understand how to handle the whirlwind of building a company from the ground up.
“First Check as it is right now is a proof of concept program. Eloho and I sat down in October, and we were just chatting about this particular point that everyone is quick to make: there are no female founders, and it is like we want to invest, but we can’t find them. I disagree, but I like to be data-backed, so here we are” says Eweniyi.
Here’s her advice to founders looking for the right co-founders:
“The first big truth is to understand that being a startup founder doesn’t need you to have a computer science or computer engineering degree. It requires you to want to solve a problem that you have identified and have a prospective solution for it. The flip side to it is that you do need a technical founder. ”
“This is where relationships with others kind of come in. You need to be able to find a technical founder who you guys speak the same language and have mutual respect. Those two things are very foundational. Some you actually like.” she says.
Listen to Odun Eweniyi’s episode here.
Use social to scale cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrencies have massive popularity in countries ‘where the official fiat currency is less reliable’. With increasing inflation and an unstable currency, Nigeria is one of the top countries on this list, and startups like Bundle Africa are making it easier to trade and use cryptocurrencies.
Africa doesn’t have many blockchain and cryptocurrency projects, but the continent is building infrastructure, which is a good start. However, with this, founder and former CEO of Bundle Africa, Yele Bademosi, also believes that there should be more programmes to teach people how to be blockchain developers.
“For me, this idea that we could build a completely separate economic and financial system that wasn’t dependent on legacy infrastructure was something I just couldn’t not focus on,” Bademosi says.
Listen to Yele Bademosi’s episode here.
Find your passion and follow through.
One element that comes with growth is change. As the Founder & MD at Ingressive Capital, Maya Horgan-Famodu’s ultimate goal is to identify the opportunities on Africa’s continent and increase the resources for these opportunities.
“In 2014, when I left corporate America and went out on my own, it was because I couldn’t do anything else. I was working in private equity research, assisting investors to come to informed decisions on opportunities with firms in the US, and we will be talking about infrastructures in the US or healthcare in the US… and I will be like, “What about the youth population in Sub-Saharan Africa?” Horgan-Famodu says.
‘’You know when you want something, and it is all you can think about, and you can’t sleep because you are dreaming about it or you are thinking about it at night and writing business plans,’’ she adds.
A statement goes, ‘’find your passion and live a more fulfilling life’’. With Horgan-Famodu’s story, we can only agree with the statement. However, finding your passion is one thing; making plans is another and following through is the most important.
Listen to Maya Horgan-Famodu’s episode here.
Engineers need both soft and professional skills to thrive.
At the very early stages of Adela, Nadayar Enegesi, Co-founder and CEO, Eden Life & Co-founder Andela, was solely responsible for training engineers. While he was there, the curriculum focused on problem-solving and then layered on programming language frameworks.
He doesn’t take credit for the success Andela had this period as “The real secret sauce was the people that we recruited,” says Enegesi. With the obsession of Andela’s goal to make sure that brilliance matches opportunities, the most significant revelation he realises during this period is that engineers need soft and professional skills to strive.
“The biggest revelation in creating all of that was that even the best engineers need soft and professional skills to strive. So we quickly realised that it wasn’t just enough to teach people how to solve problems and how to code; we had to teach them how to work on equal footing with global teams,” he says.
Listen to Nadayar Enegesi’s episode here.
Solve global problems with global products.
Before joining Y Combinator as a Group Partner and Managing Director of YC early stage, Michael Seibel was the co-founder and CEO of Justin.tv from 2007 – 2011 and the co-founder and CEO of Socialcam in 2012 (old to Autodesk Inc. for $60m in the fall of 2012).
During our conversation with Michael, we deep-dived into the details of what African founders should be building based on his knowledge of the continent. His advice? Africa startups shouldn’t be duplicating products that don’t solve problems in people’s lives.
As much as Africa has infrastructure gaps, African startups shouldn’t stop building companies that solve locally and globally problems. “If a government can operate in a software-based country, they will be far more efficient than the American government that still operates in a paper-based country, ‘’ Seibel says.
Listen to Michael Seibel’s episode here.
Be open to having a conversation about gender imbalance.
As the Principal at GreenHouse Capital, Surabhi (Ruby) Nimkar spends a handful of time reviewing startup pitch decks. This has given her a deeper understanding of how gender unbalanced it was. ‘’Everybody knows the statistics, right? No one needs to repeat that. However, we know that women are not fully represented both in the investment space and as a result in the entrepreneur space,’’ Nimkar shares.
As a VC, Nimkar also faces this in her day-to-day work as a woman. For example, working with different African economies, she realises a “deep cultural context that sits deep within these places”. With this comes the challenge of not being heard as much as her male counterparts.
Here’s her advice to other women in VC: ‘’And that is just partly part of the sort of more patriarchal culture. Not that it is necessarily justified, but I think being able to overcome that and say actually in order for us to have a productive conversation, there are some conversations that I am more than happy to take and some conversations that some of my colleges are better positioned to take, in order for us to move forward,’’ Nimkar shares.
Listen to Surabhi (Ruby) Nimkar episode here.
Angel investors should have a structured investment thesis.
As one of the earliest backers of African startups, Bello acknowledges that the ecosystem is entirely different from 10 years ago. Back then, many processes such as due diligence were not as structured as they are today. For example, due diligence took about 6 months to complete, and after completion, the company may have hit rock-bottom.
“I kept the list of all the investments we made and looked at the first couple of the years. You just wonder why did I write a cheque to this person. Some people just took 5k, and you never saw them again, ” he shares. Now, Bello has built a well-structured investment thesis and relies on the below questions to understand founders better:
- What are their exposure and network?
- What is their connection to the problem?
- What is their understanding of the problem?
- What unique experience do they have of the space they are building?
Listen to Idris Ayodeji Bello’s episode here.
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