Being Young And Ambitious In Africa — A Data-driven Tech Founder Feature
Ambition is the fuel that drives so many entrepreneurs, professionals, and students all over the world. Being ambitious in Africa means you might risk looking crazy amongst your peers or family members, particularly if your ambition is business-oriented. However, there is a good number of Africans(both Young and old) working towards their goals every single day.
In today’s article, I feature Joseph Rutakangwa who is the Founder and CEO of Rwazi, a data services company that provides organizations with fresh, on-ground data on products, services, and activities, among others, from Africa.
He co-founded Rwazi alongside Eric Sewankambo in Mauritius seeking to address a problem that he graciously mentioned in the segment below, read on to find out more.
Hi Joseph, in a few words how would you describe, Who Joseph Rutakangwa is?
I would say Joseph Rutakangwa is an optimistic engine and a highly persistent person. I have an idea of how I want to live my life, and since we only have one shot, I risk and have risked as much as I could just to carve out the life I always wanted.
There’s a high price to pay for this stubbornness, but I think it’s worth it. There’s nothing I fear more than being 75 years old and stuck with the question ‘what would’ve been if I did ABC..?’
In his talks, Simon Sinek put a keen emphasis on the “Why”. So I’d like to ask you, Why Rwazi, and Why Sub-Saharan Africa?
Eric and I had worked on projects with international and multinational companies well before going for our undergrad studies. While working with these companies we saw a challenge in obtaining accurate, actionable, on-ground, and offline data from Africa.
At the time we thought no one was consolidating this data and storing it in somewhat of a data portal, a problem we sought to solve by trying to create a data portal, but then we realized that there was no one collecting this data.
The reason no one was collecting this data was attributed to the complications with the digital systems, where they were either not rolled out or those that were rolled out were not utilized. Our focus then shifted to trying to sort the problem of data collection.
Going back to high school I hated the fact that most encyclopedias and other available data sources contained information limited to Europe and North America and other countries. Africa seemed like a ‘black box’ where no one was actively getting data from, not even Africans and the governments in these African countries. They didn’t seem to care. Which became a problem even for companies that seek to invest and expand into the continent.
We started Rwazi to make data from these developing markets accessible so that companies can expand into the region and drive sales by recovering revenue they previously lost by running blind in these regions. We did this by answering the questions of “Who is buying what? Why are they buying it? From where and when are they buying this? And how much are they paying for it?”
When building the data collection methodology, we sought to build a solution that helps people from whom we are getting this data. African countries, in general, have the fastest growing population and at the same time are expected to have the youngest workforce in the world, hence the need to create gig opportunities to help feed these individuals and families.
Rwazi creates gig opportunities for 15,000 plus data mappers in 40 countries across Africa and India. These are educated individuals with smartphones and access to the internet.
The companies that need this data have millions of dollars, so why not use this money to find the data that will drive their sales in return they can create gig opportunities for thousands of people across Africa, as opposed to offering aid and handouts.
While working across 40 countries I’m sure you know that there is a substantial number of challenges in working across Sub-Saharan Africa, what are some of the challenges you’ve experienced while setting up the Rwazi network of data collectors in these regions?
40 countries is a lot, and Africa is very different in each of these countries. Our main challenge starting out was payments. In particular, how we’d pay mappers across these different regions.
Before you start a company like Rwazi you’d think payment platforms like Stripe and PayPal are useful across these countries. However, you find out that they are only effective in Europe, and North America. Companies like Stripe have labeled regions like the Congo, for instance, as high risk and therefore not allowing you to send money to people living there.
I find this offensive because these companies claim to embrace financial inclusion, while at the same time they are actively excluding entire populations of people that need to be included in these financial systems. We had to map out a very complicated payment system using different payment platforms based on what is available to mappers in different countries.
Another barrier to entry in our business is the difficulty in building a network of mappers across the 40 countries in both rural and urban areas. Over the years we practiced and have employed different models, and now we know how you’d go about building such a network across these countries.
What kept you going when overcoming some of these challenges seemed like an impossible task?
Our biggest challenge from the business end was getting seed capital in the beginning, especially since the venture capital scene in Africa is still growing. Building a business in Africa, you’ll need to find a way of growing your capital by generating sales since at the moment VCs are only investing in African companies that are generating huge amounts of revenue.
In Mauritius, we were lucky to get grants from the Mauritius Research and innovation council. Before this, we had invested our own money, which we had sourced from working on personal consulting projects. Without this, we wouldn’t have done it.
Through this long and dragged-out process, Eric and I were on the same page regarding our priorities. We had the mindset that since we have only one life, we’d rather make $100 a month working on our business than $10,000 per month working for already established companies. The idea meant we were going to ride through this journey till it converts, which it eventually does if you’re that stubborn.
And finally, if you were to talk to your younger self, and a group of young Africans with a dream as ambitious as Rwazi, what advice would you give them?
I would definitely tell them to first work either in freelance or corporate, or both before starting the business unless they have some financial backing beforehand. If you’re not financially prepared, it takes a mental toll on you as the process drags out.
If you have corporate or freelance experience and have saved up, you can raise money. For instance, if you were working in a corporate setting you can raise money from your friends and former bosses, or even get them as your first clients. Secondly, if you were a freelancer, you could convert your personal clients into your business’ customers. Basically, you need the networks.
Say you graduate at 22 and work for 3–4 years, you can start the business in hibernation as you continue working, and eventually make the move to working it full time when it converts. If you don’t have a job just go ahead and start.
However, do not start the business with the mindset that someone will see you and give you a job because you will fail because you’re not in it forever.
I am a Flutter, Unity3D, and Python Engineer. Apart from my passion for application documentation and Quantum Computing, my interests also lie in creative storytelling and content creation.
Here you’ll find a few links regarding my creative and content creation journey.