One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.”- Jeff Bezoz
In his article ‘What Africa’s entrepreneurs can teach the world’ Bright B Simmons writes ‘I have a fresher and deeper appreciation for African entrepreneurship. I believe that not only can it propel Africa forward in its quest for holistic development, but that the time is nearly here when groundbreaking management thinking from Africa will take the world by storm.’
One very good example of this is Brian Waswani. A 26 year old Kenyan, who is making headway in the entrepreneurial world. Shaping the world and making it better with little portions and scooping them to make big investments both in finances and empowerment.
Brian grew up in Nairobi and was fortunate enough to attend one of the best National Highschool, Alliance Boys and later applied for a scholarship in USA universities, including the renowned Havard and Yale ivy leagues. He got accepted in the two universities but opted for Yale.
I asked him about his experience in Yale and he had this to say. ‘Yale is a great hub for great minds from across the world. I got to meet and form relationships with people that I would never have otherwise met. This is a crucial part of being human, I think. Being able to interact with those different from us helps us overcome biases that are a real impediment to appreciating humanity and making progress in general. I had preconceived notions about how people thought, what they valued and what their intentions were but I found a lot of these were challenged and altered while at Yale.
The learning environment is excellent, as you can imagine. Resources are in abundance and really you can become anything you want if you work hard enough. Hard work is crucial, because everyone is super smart.’
At Yale Brian became more interested in third world economic development and Africa in particular. He then decided to double major in Political Science and African Studies with a focus on Political Economy and Languages respectively. After his studies he wanted to come back to Africa and be part of the generation f young entrepreneurs that were going to drive the birth and growth of new game changing business.
‘I found out that Rocket Internet, a German Venture Capital fund was funding a company in Nigeria and needed a founding team. I had been learning Yoruba and Nigeria was perfect for continuing to speak it. I also had many friends from Nigeria and it all seemed to fit. I packed my bags a week after graduation and moved to Lagos with no e-commerce experience and no idea what to expect in Nigeria.’
He then joined the team that helped to build Jumia (Nigeria’s number 1 online retailer shop).
He says, ‘ A lot of work and iteration has gone into it now but it was a great learning experience and a lot of fun to be among the first 5 people on the ground working to set up what is now becoming the Amazon for Africa. By the time I left 7 months later, we had about 500 employees.’
After 7 months of intense work and learning in Nigeria, Brian decided to move to Zambia. Together with his two friends one from Duke University and another from Yale University, they raised $550,000 in seed investment and were on track to raising about $2million. It was not all rosy because in their quest to setting up their business, they made over $50,000 losses in inventory.
‘The first business model we tried in Zambia failed and we had to change several times. But after all that we founded Zamsolar, a last mile solar distribution social enterprise in rural Zambia. The problem we wanted to solve was twofold:
1. There is massive energy poverty in rural Africa and Zambia is no exception.
2. There is massive unemployment in rural areas.
People wake up, farm and then go to a tavern to drink. We developed a solution for this basically when we went to the villages and hired young men and women to become product distributors for our solar products,’ he says.
He later came back to Kenya and joined the senior management at LivelyHoods, a company that creates jobs for youth in slums in Kenya. Brian ran the company operations and grew the business from 1 to 4 slums in Nairobi. LivelyHoods creates jobs for youth and women who are basically unemployed and engaged in illegal activities.
He also has a start up in Kenya dubbed ‘Dial a Mechanic.’ Dial A Mechanic is an early stage business that connects motorists to reliable mechanics in their neighbourhoods while also offering affordable and genuine spare parts to vehicle owners. On the flip-side, mechanics, who generally earn less than minimum wage and have inconsistent clientele, have an opportunity to earn at least 30% more than their current income and are connected to a wider range of clients in their neighbourhood.
Other than that, he also helped found Nafasi – a non-profit in Tanzania which offers financial literacy, business and language training to low-income entrepreneurs in urban centers. The organization also connects these local entrepreneurs to institutional financing.
For a 26 year old Brian is making statements in a society marred with poverty stories and politically grieving ‘hierarchies’ that make headlines on all media platforms. He tells the rich African story of success in the entrepreneurial world and creating opportunities where he sees fit. Currently he lives in Nairobi and is part of the investment team at Novastar, a Venture Capital company looking to invest in early stage businesses that will change the lives of low income consumers in Eastern Africa.
What drives him in his entrepreneurship journey?
‘Lack of an appetite for risk,’ he says. ‘I was a victim of this early in life. I wanted to do the safe thing of becoming a doctor and getting job security and the picket fence. This is a boring way to live, in my opinion.’ The most exciting and successful people take risks. The cliché Gates and Zuckerberg for instance, dropped out of prestigious schools and pursued their dreams. Many other similar stories exist of people who gave up what was your proverbial beaten path and decided to explore new untested grounds. I believe that this is how you build legacies, by changing the game in a new and big way. You only do this by taking a chance.’
He has two tall dreams of entrepreneurial activities in Kenya that makes her stand put in the whole world. First, ‘I want to see a nation that becomes the entrepreneurial hub for Africa. A place where you can come and find stellar businesses, great investors and infrastructure that supports this ecosystem.’ Second, ‘I want to see a generation of young people with a greater appetite for (calculated) risk. People willing to put all their eggs in one basket,’ he concludes.
FACTS ABOUT BRIAN:
- YALE Alumni
- Got accepted to Havard but opted for YALE
- Was among the founding team of the leading Nigeria’s online retailer shop – JUMIA
- At 23 was a co-founder of a solar company in Zambia
- Djing clubs in Connecticut, Yale campus events and in other Ivies and colleges across the northeast (Harvard, Cornell etc.)< /li>
- greatest inspiration is his sister
- A partner at Cloud X Entertainment, an events and clothing company here in Kenya.
- Interned for the Ministry of Internal Security in Uganda(2009) and wrote speeches for Uganda Legislation
- In 2010 worked for a start-up micro-finance company called Investours in Dar es Salaam
3 words to describe him: Ambitious, Optimistic, Empathetic