What my first 20 founder interviews have taught me

One of the privileges of my job at The Baobab Network is meeting very smart people. These are not just any smart people. These people, I can say with confidence, are responsible for enabling the next generation to live a more wholesome life.

I speak to a lot of early stages start-up founders. And man is it an honour.

African founders are resilient. African founders are brave. African founders are wildly smart. African founders are passionate.

I remember once sitting in a meeting in a previous life and the person presenting said “when you read the words ‘do not be afraid’, it is safe to assume there is something to fear” otherwise there would be no need to mention it.

Fearless founders:

There is no such warning for entrepreneurs on this continent. But it is sometimes hard. Often un-nerving. And it seems to only be navigated by the brightest. To any outsider it can be discouraging.

But let me tell you, these founders will change Africa and we will see this change in our lifetimes.

Let me stop editorialising and tell you the top 3 things I’ve learned about founders in Africa.

alerzo team meeting

  1. Support: Founders need people in their corner, to encourage them, to give them feedback, to share knowledge and to put their money where their mouths are.
  2. Purpose: Founders are driven by things that irritated or impacted them. Many founders with the best ideas are driven by outrage at the inefficiencies in their domain. They often have a very personal experience that left them saying “fine, I’ll fix it”
  3. Resilience: There is a level of resilience that seems super human to me. Where my patience is thinner than a strand of hair, founders never tire. And on this continent some things only make sense on the ground. You have to be very committed to your cause. For example, getting money into a bank account from an investor may sometimes feel like an extreme sport due to the many complex regulatory hurdles across the continent. Founders don’t give up so easily.


The 2 key things a start-up needs.

We have a wealth of great ideas, we know how to solve problems. What we are sometimes missing, is first know-how, and second money. I say this because, while we speak to some very driven founders, sometimes when you first start out you know what you know, and have little idea what you don’t.

Mentorship or support provided by an accelerator with PROVEN experience to close that gap is critical. Having the tools to support your scale is more important than money. We all know people who have raised VC money and then fallen off the map. Be patient and appreciate the process of structuring your business.


The Baobab Network Accelerator Application Banner


Then money…

My advice to founders:

  1. Watch your cap table – please don’t give away 30% of your business for $3000 it sounds like plenty of money today. But when you’re trying to raise later on your journey, things can become very complex when the founding team doesn’t own a majority share.
  2. Stay focused – Yes, Uber has many business lines. Yes, Amazon offers hundreds of products and services. And Yes, Jack Ma and his team are busy building increasingly complex super-app services. But to put it kindly, you are not any of those people, yet. They have been on a journey. Experiment quickly, learn to iterate with your customer so you can find the sweet spot and then build on it. Not the other way around.
  3. Don’t over engineer – Until you are sure your customer will bite and pay, don’t build every service under the sun. At this stage your resources are limited, please don’t build a machine learning algorithm and deploy an iOS only App only to find your users wanted USSD all along.
  4. Be data driven – Knowing when to stop, knowing when to hit pause, knowing when to step on the gas. Sometimes it comes from intuition, but sometimes you just have to look at the numbers to find out.

And lastly, stay the course. Do not relent, generations are looking up to you.

By Christine Namara

Venture Partner at The Baobab Network


The Baobab Network Accelerator Applications Banner


What my first 20 founder interviews have taught me

One of the privileges of my job at The Baobab Network is meeting very smart people. These are not just any smart people. These people, I can say with confidence, are responsible for enabling the next generation to live a more wholesome life.

I speak to a lot of early stages start-up founders. And man is it an honour.

African founders are resilient. African founders are brave. African founders are wildly smart. African founders are passionate.

I remember once sitting in a meeting in a previous life and the person presenting said “when you read the words ‘do not be afraid’, it is safe to assume there is something to fear” otherwise there would be no need to mention it.

Fearless founders:

There is no such warning for entrepreneurs on this continent. But it is sometimes hard. Often un-nerving. And it seems to only be navigated by the brightest. To any outsider it can be discouraging.

But let me tell you, these founders will change Africa and we will see this change in our lifetimes.

Let me stop editorialising and tell you the top 3 things I’ve learned about founders in Africa.

alerzo team meeting

  1. Support: Founders need people in their corner, to encourage them, to give them feedback, to share knowledge and to put their money where their mouths are.
  2. Purpose: Founders are driven by things that irritated or impacted them. Many founders with the best ideas are driven by outrage at the inefficiencies in their domain. They often have a very personal experience that left them saying “fine, I’ll fix it”
  3. Resilience: There is a level of resilience that seems super human to me. Where my patience is thinner than a strand of hair, founders never tire. And on this continent some things only make sense on the ground. You have to be very committed to your cause. For example, getting money into a bank account from an investor may sometimes feel like an extreme sport due to the many complex regulatory hurdles across the continent. Founders don’t give up so easily.


The 2 key things a start-up needs.

We have a wealth of great ideas, we know how to solve problems. What we are sometimes missing, is first know-how, and second money. I say this because, while we speak to some very driven founders, sometimes when you first start out you know what you know, and have little idea what you don’t.

Mentorship or support provided by an accelerator with PROVEN experience to close that gap is critical. Having the tools to support your scale is more important than money. We all know people who have raised VC money and then fallen off the map. Be patient and appreciate the process of structuring your business.


The Baobab Network Accelerator Application Banner


Then money…

My advice to founders:

  1. Watch your cap table – please don’t give away 30% of your business for $3000 it sounds like plenty of money today. But when you’re trying to raise later on your journey, things can become very complex when the founding team doesn’t own a majority share.
  2. Stay focused – Yes, Uber has many business lines. Yes, Amazon offers hundreds of products and services. And Yes, Jack Ma and his team are busy building increasingly complex super-app services. But to put it kindly, you are not any of those people, yet. They have been on a journey. Experiment quickly, learn to iterate with your customer so you can find the sweet spot and then build on it. Not the other way around.
  3. Don’t over engineer – Until you are sure your customer will bite and pay, don’t build every service under the sun. At this stage your resources are limited, please don’t build a machine learning algorithm and deploy an iOS only App only to find your users wanted USSD all along.
  4. Be data driven – Knowing when to stop, knowing when to hit pause, knowing when to step on the gas. Sometimes it comes from intuition, but sometimes you just have to look at the numbers to find out.

And lastly, stay the course. Do not relent, generations are looking up to you.

By Christine Namara

Venture Partner at The Baobab Network


The Baobab Network Accelerator Applications Banner