FIP 123: How this young founder is bootstrapping his EdTech Startup, with Cyril Michino of Chaptr Global

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we find out how a young founder bootstrapped his startup and the lessons he learnt in wannapreneurship. We talk with Cyril Michino, co-founder of Chaptr Global and hear about his entrepreneurial journey having founded 2 startups by the age of 21 and learn that capital is not a barrier for starting up. Cyril shares his experiences around the challenges faced by young founders and how he’s innovating around such challenges by adopting innovative revenue-sharing business models.

On this podcast you will learn:

  • How Cyril started his first business – Deliverus, an e-commerce platform in Nairobi, quite accidentally when he was just 17, based on an idea that he and his friends came up with for a high school business plan competition. (03:38)
  • Cyril shares how he overcame the challenge of lack of experience, being a young founder, and used tools such as YouTube videos for creating pitch decks, learning marketing techniques, etc. He also shares how he kept his curiosity levels high by reading blogs and articles to learn how things work out in a business and trying to find answers though online resources as much as possible. (09:47)
  • About what went wrong with Cyril’s first startup as they set out to focus on things such as getting the infrastructure ready, building the best mobile application, planning a big launch, etc., – things that Cyril calls “entrepreneurial naivety”, irrelevant from an entrepreneurship point of view and leads to wannapreneurship. Cyril also shares these, and many more insights based on this experience on what’s stopping entrepreneurs from actually starting up and also what’s holding back entrepreneurship in Africa in his TEDx talk (check resources below for the link to the talk). (13:26)
  • One of the critical things about being a young founder is to invest time in building a team with skills who solve the gaps that the founder personally has, like for example in Cyril’s case, he learnt that they needed people with real experience in managing deliveries, logistics, order fulfilment, things that cannot be learnt online but comes only with experience. (16:13)
  • Cyril then shares his journey of starting up his new blended learning edtech platform – Chaptr Global, that helps teach emerging technologies, such as AI, data science, blockchain to people in emerging markets, using an income sharing model, where students can sign-up for courses without upfront payment and pay later when they start earning upon graduation from the program. (19:34)
  • Finally, Cyril shares a powerful quote, based on his experience that says –“if you’re an entrepreneur and you cannot start off your idea in two weeks, then you’re probably not the best person for that thing”. As a young founder, it is important to be able to start work on something that the founder can personally start and build an MVP in less than two weeks. Once the MVP is built, the founder can then focus on learning aspects to improve the MVP, finding product-market fit and growing it into a venture. (21:50)

Resources from this episode:

Connect with Cyril:

 

FIP 122: How to build processes and systems for scale, with Boston Nyer of BURN Manufacturing 

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are talking to Boston Nyer, co-founder of BURN. Boston’s played a wide variety of roles during his 8 years at BURN, including COO, where he was tasked with setting up processes in their factory in Nairobi that makes more than one stove per minute. It’s the largest of its kind on the continent.

On this episode you will learn:

  • An intro to his background, to BURN, and how BURN is structured. 1:48. 
  • How BURN is split up by departments. 6:00.
    • Four pillars: 1) Innovation (ie. new product development, piloting sales models, distribution schemes, etc.), 2) Operations (ie.manufacturing and supply chain), 3) Commercial (sales marketing), 4) Finance and Business support (Admin, IT, and HR). 
    • Which of these four areas Boston realized he needed to formalize by establishing systems and procedures. 7:00. 
  • How Boston would start making a procedure. 10:32.
    • Start with and have the right vision on how you’re going to succeed on the market as well as operational side. 
    • Find expertise externally if you do not have it internally. Find two or three experts who disagree with each other, and where they disagree is the spotlight of the area that you can play in. 
    • Avoid the trap of making systems to make systems. 
    • Start early and often. 21:50.
  • How Boston introduces new processes to staff without too much pushback. 18:02.
    • Skipfab? – Why, How, What
  • How often he revisits procedures. 23:10.
    • It’s continuous, although some things have more of a natural cycle, like launching a new product. 
  • Create a forum for conversation of sharing of ideas which might or might not be winners. 25:10.
  • How Boston gets people to follow processes. 27:37.
    • Make them and refine them so that they are inherently obvious. 
    • Bonus system to pay people for quality. 
  • Resources that Boston would recommend: The Finding Impact podcast, conduct research via google, be self driven, go find external experts, d-rev. 32:10.

Resources from this episode:

Connect with Boston:

FIP 121: Maintaining culture with growth through scale, with Paul Breloff of Shortlist

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are talking about the challenges of maintaining culture as your social business scales, and tactics for how to adapt and scale your culture, with Paul Breloff of Shortlist. Paul’s company, Shortlist, helps companies build and develop their teams through a new approach to hiring. Particularly, we’ll be talking about Paul’s experience as he grew Shortlist’s team across two continents and to nearly 100 people and lessons he’s learned from the entrepreneurs at companies Shortlist works with.

On this podcast you will learn:

  • The definition to the word Shwashbuckle. 0:58.
  • Why he got into “talent;” his background is mostly in non-talent social enterprise and impact investing after advertising and corporate law. For about 14-15 years now, very focused on financial inclusion and initially was part of a team who set up a community development bank in the US which led to Accion Venture Lab.  The theme underlying all of this has always been looking at for-profit business models which can expand access to opportunities in different ways. 2:30.
    • Saw a talent gap in companies and how culture could enable or disable teams in doing things.
  • Realized that investors comfort zone was talking about fundraising and strategy. The messy reality of building teams and getting the right people on those teams are something that doesn’t get talked about as much, but they often make or break whether these companies work. So Shortlist emerged from those experiences. 6:12.
  • Shortlist created a platform (now close to 1 million people) that connects skilled professionals to great careers in India and Kenya, using tech tools that automates the collection of data points beyond their CV. 8:08.
  • How Paul came to define Shortlist’s culture. 10:10.
    • Culture should come from the co-founders. A key part of defining the culture was setting strong core values, which are: own it, act with intention, find the adventure, be a whole person, and one team.
  • Core values can adapt! Shortlist added “one team” after realizing the importance of this after a merger with another company and now they make it a major priority. 18:56.
  • Challenges he faced maintaining culture across multiple continents and what process or activities he put in place to help develop it. Tried to create consistency, and enough opportunities for exchange so people could get to know each other. But distributed teams is probably the future. 21:15.
    • Things that have worked: 1) Creating global informal places to spark chatter and sharing of personality. E.g. Their global WhatsApp group is quite active, silly, not very professional, but lets people throw emoji’s back and forth. 2) Creating face-to-face opportunities for real time connection, ie. making sure the team travels between India and Kenya. 3) Investing in technology that allows you to stay connected remotely. 4) Monthly remote town halls which get the whole office together to say hello to new employees, goodbye to employees moving on, promotions, etc. 24:30.
    • Any pushback from Board members or investors about having too much fun? No. “A startup’s most important product is the team, and making sure it works well. I think our stakeholders believe that and want us to invest in that.” 30:45.
  • Resources (books) that Paul would recommend to others: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, Setting the Table by Danny Meyer, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh (Zappos CEO), Primed to Perform by Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor. 32:10.

Resources from this episode:

Connect with Paul:

FIP 120: Adapting management and leadership styles for scale, with Glynis Rankin

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are talking about how founders of social enterprises can transition from being a product builder to company builder, with Glynis Rankin from Creative Metier. Glynis is the CEO of Creative Metier, a niche consultancy that works with social impact investors and their investees to support social enterprises and small and growing businesses in emerging markets through executive coaching, human capital resources, and organizational strengthening.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • How founders shift their leadership and management styles as their social enterprise scales, by looking at issues such as delegation, role of culture and values, coaching styles, etc.
  • The key difference between leadership and management roles in early stage social enterprises, where the core objectives of the leadership role are to set the strategic vision for the business, manage the interface between the business and the external environment, and inspire others to engage in it. Whereas, the management role is about the day-to-day activities to achieve the strategic business plan and deliver results.
  • The importance of delegation and coaching as a necessary leadership style so that the founder can pass on responsibility of key business functions and driving the business to others within the organization, while the founder can focus on other key aspects of aligning the culture and values with the business vision and future growth.
  • About examples of Creative Metier’s programs to support small businesses and social enterprise founders in making the transition to a delegation and coaching style of leadership in line with their business objectives and values.
  • And finally, Glynis shares excellent resources that are useful to social entrepreneurs and small business founders as they think about shifting their leadership styles and prepare to transition their business for growth and scale. The links for the resources are provided below.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Glynis:

FIP 119: Tips for young founders with Lamia Makkar who launched her first startup at age 13

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we’ve got Lamia Makkar and we’re going to talk about Lamia’s experience as a young founder, with the hope of inspiring and helping other young founders succeed at what they’re doing. Lamia started her first non-profit Haiti: Hands On, at the age of 13, when at times she had to skip school to present to CEOs in Boardrooms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where she lived. Fast forward 8 years later, to today, and Lamia has kindly come on to share her experience.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • Why she started a non-profit at 13 years old
  • Challenges she had to overcome because of her age:
    • Basic infrastructure to run an organization: couldn’t open a bank account or register as a 501c3 in the US until she was 18 years old.
    • Getting people to take her seriously: validity of being recognized as a serious stakeholder while still not being able to register with proper documentation; fundraising; buy-in from Haitians
    • Opposition from parents: stigma surrounding Haiti; safety, etc.
  • Advantages, because of her age:
    • Able to answer questions about their doubt, ie. at their age, there was no social stigma around saying, “I don’t know.” Very easy for them to ask other organizations questions and interview them before building anything
    • High level contacts sharing information with them since they didn’t see them as a competitor nor us just trying to build their careers.
  • How to ask the right questions and who to reach out to:
    • Researching education nonprofits in Haiti and throughout the world
    • Sending out cold emails to ask how do you do what you do
    • Looking for potential partners in Haiti, and donors in the UAE
    • Practicing a phone script and writing a business plan and proposal
    • Getting people to understand your why, and understand that you’re serious, before they have time to ask your age
    • In the UAE and other fundraising markets, getting people to understand that this is something that is already happening; proof and a track record
  • Could not solicit donations online since they were not registered, but raised their first $100,000 over two years only from babysitting, tutoring, running events at school, bake sales, etc.
    • Used that money to start building, then recorded a lot of pictures and interviews of the construction so they could then go back to some of the same corporations and funders to show that they are actually doing something.
    • Raised $35,000 from that second round
  • How they hired older team members:
    • First team member to help with operations and logistics was in his mid 20’s and someone Lamia had met during her first trip to Haiti and was involved since the very beginning
    • Others included construction workers who reported directly to the local coordinators
  • Their balance and mix between cold calling, googling information, and having regular advisors
  • Lamia’s advice for other young people who have an idea for service to their community or other communities

Links to Resources:

Connect with Lamia:

FIP 118: Building entrepreneurial ecosystems in emerging markets with Maryanne Ochola of ANDE

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are starting off a new series to help social entrepreneurs understand and navigate the whole gamut of services and service providers in entrepreneurial ecosystems and we are talking with Maryanne Ochola, East Africa Regional Chapter Manager of ANDE (Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs), based in Nairobi. Maryanne shares her views on the different players in entrepreneurial ecosystems, roles they play and services they offer to help social entrepreneurs succeed.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • Why entrepreneurial ecosystems are important – just like Silicon Valley for technology startups or Hollywood for films, these ecosystems increase the productivity of enterprises associated with the ecosystem, drive the pace of innovation and help stimulate the formation of new enterprises.
  • Learn about ANDE, its focus on Small and Growing Businesses (SGBs), and its work in building strong local entrepreneurial ecosystems – with 8 offices in emerging economies, having 280+ members as service providers providing financial and non-financial assistance to social entrepreneurs and operating in 150 countries.
  • About ANDE’s 6×6 framework or key activity domains that underpin its entrepreneurial ecosystem services, such as: (i) finding entrepreneurs, (ii) training entrepreneurs, (iii) cultivating physical and virtual support spaces for entrepreneurs, (iv) funding support for all types of financing, (v) enabling entrepreneurs with legal, regulatory support, and finally (v) celebrating entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs.
  • How entrepreneurs can find and make use of the different services provided by the ANDE ecosystem and its member organizations – such as networking events, acceleration programs, pitch competitions, funding support, legal services, etc.
  • And finally, how it is also extremely important for investors and entrepreneurial support service providers to be embedded in the local ecosystem and possess an understanding of the local context, challenges, and opportunities in order to deliver maximum value to entrepreneurs.

 

Links to Resources:

 

Connect with Maryanne:

FIP 117: Hardware entrepreneurs II 3/3 – Deploying a network of automated fuel dispensers for clean cookstoves, with Sagun Saxena of KOKO Networks

Sagun Saxena, co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of KOKO Networks, is a company operating in Kenya and India that builds and deploys a dense network of kiosks inside local corner stores that distribute bio-ethanol for the modern cookers they sell. This is the third episode in our second 3-part series on invention-based entrepreneurs, supported by The Lemelson Foundation. The series aims to provide unique insights into some of the challenges and workarounds faced by entrepreneurs creating hardware products in emerging markets.

On this episode you will learn:

  • A description of the physical product, and how KOKO customers use this on a day-to-day basis. 0:58.
    • KOKO deploys dense networks of KOKOpoints inside neighborhood stores across the city, which communicate real-time with the KOKO Cloud.
    • Customers can buy KOKO Cookers, refill their KOKO Canisters with KOKO Fuel, and access other useful products and services.
  • The India team supports the engineering and manufacturing of KOKO Fuel, and the first commercial market they are targeting is East Africa, specifically Nairobi, which already has 700 KOKOpoint dispensers throughout the city. 3:10.
    • Target is to get around 200-250 households around each dispenser location.
  • Long term goal is to be in at least 40 to 50 major metropolitan areas across Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • How they move highly flammable liquid around the city and partner with large oil companies which already have the infrastructure in place at scale. 6:45
  • Why they decided to manufacture in India versus locally in Kenya. 10:45.
    • Cost considerations, and many other factors including logistics.
    • Pros: engineering skills in product iteration, moving product in and out of India easier for global markets, density of suppliers, stable/cheap energy (electricity), and contract workers. 15:00.
    • Cons: Long logistics chain (India is far away), Kenya import uncertainty especially with import taxes of new products not yet categorized. 18:45.
  • Top level tips on achieving compliance with regulations. 21:15.
    • Chose this market because clean cooking is a priority for the government, Kenya has a reputation of innovation, and other countries in the region respect how the Kenyan Bureau of Standards (KEBs) looks at new technology – a regulatory body that has a rigorous process for supporting innovation and making new products available.
    • Partnerships with established players adds to credibility. Organizations like gearbox (tied to universities), plus commercial partners like Vivo Energies (the Shell brand) which has world class facilities 25:17.
  • How they mobilized capital for hardware with just a prototype. First, articulated a vision, then tried to demonstrate demand (ie. consumer appetite at their price points). 27:20.
  • Co-founders had quit their other activities and their basic consumer demand pilot was self-funded 31:18.

Resources from this episode:

Connect with Sagun:

Simon Oshera Finding Impact Podcast

FIP 116: Hardware entrepreneurs II 2/3 – The inventor who’s creating Africa’s first CNC machines, with Simon Wachira of Proteq Automation

Simon Wachira is from Proteq Automation in Nairobi. We talk about Simon’s invention that is set to propel manufacturing in Kenya to compete with the likes of China and other industrialised nations. Proteq Automation builds CNC machines, which are computer numerical control machines. CNCs control machining tools (drills, boring tools, lathes) and 3D printers by means of a computer to alter a blank piece of material (metal, plastic, wood, ceramic, or composite) to meet precise specifications by following programmed instructions and without a manual operator. This is the second episode in our second 3-part series on invention-based entrepreneurs, supported by The Lemelson Foundation. The series aims to provide unique insights into some of the challenges and workarounds faced by entrepreneurs creating hardware products in emerging markets.
On this episode you’ll learn:
  • Simon was motivated to solve the problem of not being able to manufacture high–precision products in Kenya. 3.50.
  • He realised he needed to approach bigger contract manufacturers who had existing contracts, and could help them achieve better per unit costs with his machine. 6.04
  • Helping companies with their problem of long turnaround times of sending parts outside Kenya to be manufactured 8.59
  • Simon started with an engineering degree, moved into programming, and making his own electrical circuits.  11.11
  • He wanted to make enclosures for his circuit boards, so got into vacuum forming, which needed wooden moulds, and he needed a machine to make the high precision wooden moulds. He built one at home over the course of a year, whilst working a full time job 14.37
  • His first client was a university who used it for educational purposes. He did a lot of research online to figure out what parts he needed to make his machine, and which suppliers to order from. He chose US suppliers because they contained alot of content and how-to guides on their website 20.48
  • His first commercial client was a manufacturer with a contract from General Motors who had to improve their turn around time for custom parts  29.47
  • Simon’s proposal to the manufacturer included a design to improve turnaround time, which the manufacturer won the tender on. He received a 50% down payment to build his CNC machine for that client 33.04
  • Training staff is key to the business, as it’s a unique skill set, and he has a bespoke training scheme for new staff that takes a year. 35.12
  • Simon doesn’t have competition and he doesn’t see it coming, because of the processes and training required for a successful service business 38.48
Resources from this episode:
Connect with Simon:

 

FIP 115: Hardware entrepreneurs II 1/3 – Creating a smart gas meter for the BoP, with Mike Hahn from PayGo Energy

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are continuing our second series on hardware entrepreneurs, this one with Mike Hahn of PayGo Energy about his hardware development journey. This is the first episode in our second 3-part series on invention-based entrepreneurs, supported by The Lemelson Foundation. The series aims to provide unique insights into some of the challenges and workarounds faced by entrepreneurs creating hardware products in emerging markets. As many will know, from episode 44 with Mike’s Co-Founder Fausto, PayGo Energy has created a smart meter that sits on an LPG gas cylinder, that lets customers pay on a PAYG basis.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • How the idea of PayGo came about: started in 2015 with an observation that, on a daily basis, lots of people were lining up at petrol stations to buy kerosene or diesel fuel for cooking and they were bringing small vessels to carry this fuel home, despite there being a liquified petroleum gas (LPG) option 10 meters away. This spurred our question about why aren’t people cooking with LPG? It’s clean, fast, and convenient.
    • This idea came about while all of the co-founders were working for different organizations within the informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya.
  • What their first basic prototype looked like: technical discovery “can we turn gas on and off with a text message?”
  • How their diverse group of co-founders with diverse skill sets helped: technology development, understanding the market/operations, etc. and this blend of personalities and experiences gave them an advantage early on.
  • For their first prototype they used BRCK components (see episode 111 with Erik Hersman, Co-founder of BRCK) in order to test how to get some level of accuracy of measuring gas vapor (actual flow) to the stove, and then send that data remotely to a server while including the ability to shut that gas flow off.
  • Why he uses SolidWorks for designs and recommends GrabCad for downloading files that other people have made based off of the real object. It makes it easy to plug into My Assembly so you can build something around it, and spatially you are in the right ballpark.
  • Why he decided to buy a 3D printer instead of using 3D printing services: it’s incredibly fast and convenient to do it by yourself, especially if you aren’t sure how many iterations will be needed, and you’re learning about the design as you’re making it.
  • How they raised their seed round: having a physical prototype and a real functioning unit in someone’s home along with comprehensive market research and a business modeling effort prepared them for that seed round. Also having a couple backers from very early before the seed round helped instill confidence.
  • When working with manufacturers it’s a good indicator when you get to meet directly with the CEO.
  • Advice for those in the hardware development process: get yourself into it, fake it until you make it. (But his design background at Rhode Island School of Design also helped.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to people, work with in the past who are willing to pick up the phone. i.e. how to do contract with a contract manufacturer.

Links to resources:

Connect with Mike:

FIP 114: Why you need a clear fundraising strategy before going to market with Solonia Teodros of The Change School

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are talking to Solonia Teodros, Co-founder of The Change School, who describes why social entrepreneurs need a clear fundraising strategy and goal before starting their fundraising activities. Solonia shares her journey of fundraising for The Change School, with lessons from her experience of almost closing a fundraising deal, changing course and walking away from the deal and coming back to it later with a clear strategy.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • How Change School helps transform organizations and individuals by helping them re-connect with their values, re-design their work and re-define success as authentic leaders. Change School thus equips and empowers people to navigate uncertainty and embrace change during the transition or transformation that they are going through.
  • About Change School’s journey of testing various offline business models such as: creating immersive retreats for people to re-connect with themselves while enabling a peer-to-peer and community learning experience; to creating Change School mind gyms for bite-sized learning to develop mental resilience; and creating bespoke experiential transformation programs for organizations.
  • How the founders encountered the growth and scale challenges of Change School by evolving and developing an online delivery model of working with its vast pool of trainers and experts while drawing from the expertise of its offline immersive retreats and retaining the Change School brand personality.
  • Why social entrepreneurs should have a strategy of pro-actively approaching investors for funding and alignment with business growth plans rather than just nosediving into fundraising re-actively in trying to impress investors, while not losing focus on the business vision and operating matters such as managing cash flows properly.
  • Finally, you will learn about Change School’s online courses and tutorials for anyone needing resources and additional support to managing change and transitions. Check out the free online course at https://findingimpact.com/changeschool, which is a 5-day visioning challenge for teams or individuals to help find clarity of vision in careers or lives.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Solonia: