Known as the “BusMan” by travellers across East Africa, Ronald Hakiza is a visionary entrepreneur steering local solutions in emerging markets. He is the Co-Founder of Treepz UG (previously Ugabus), Uganda’s pioneering online travel aggregator for buses and leading travel tech company serving hundreds of bus travellers. Ronald has been recognised as one of the 2020 Top 50 Africa Business Heroes by the Jack Ma Foundation and is a recipient of the prestigious African Entrepreneurship Award.
With his impressive entrepreneurial background, he delivered an informative Masterclass for Fellows of The ROOM, reflecting on his journey and sharing his best hacks for building a startup in Africa. These are 10 of our biggest takeaways from the Masterclass.
It is not enough to simply identify a problem when building a startup. Take time to understand it deeply and place yourself in the shoes of those most affected. Break the pain points down, ask critical questions and engage with various stakeholders. This process will enable you to identify the root causes of the problem and guide you in crafting effective and relevant solutions.
“I mastered the industry, I built relationships and networks, I engaged with the problem firsthand, and in 6 months, I understood the market.”
There is no one-size-fits-all generic guide to a successful solution. After immersing yourself in the environment you are designing for, ensure that your product/service aptly caters to the highlighted needs. What works in Europe could fail in Africa. What Kenya needs is not necessarily the same for Ghana. Be sure to account for these differences.
“There isn’t a universal one-way path to success for startups. Don’t copy and paste; carve your own path.”
Many aspiring entrepreneurs get caught in theorising their venture without making any actionable headway. Once you have a viable idea to solve a real, well-understood problem, just start! It is easy to get caught up in striving for perfection. Begin with a minimum viable product — the most basic iteration of your solution. It is designed to collect feedback from your target audience. If you have the right solution to a problem, the rest will begin to fall into place as you grow your startup. The best progress comes when you move along with action steps rather than staying stagnant in your business plan.
“Prioritise selling over product building. Even if you have the best of ideas, if you cannot sell them, they just remain ideas.”
Despite the internet and social media being great tools to amplify your startup, do not restrict yourself to virtual platforms only. Customers and investors still appreciate the value of direct, in-person contact, and you need to leverage that to build traction and loyalty.
“Do get offline. In Africa, the real hustle is offline. Ugabus’ first 600 tickets were sold offline, with no app, no internet and no company Facebook page. We were not even legally registered! Build an offline community even with zero resources. That is how you will grow your market.”
Not everyone will accept your idea or be willing to support your startup. Do not give up! Eventually, you will find support for your work and grow.
“As an entrepreneur in Africa, you will reach what is called a ‘crying point’. Processes from the beginning are often harder to navigate and you should brace yourself.”
You may start with little to no investments in your startup but account for everything you use. Keep records of the money and time you are putting into your startup.
“Document and account for every coin, right from day one. Even if you have zero money, documenting also means attaching value to the hours you put into building your startup.”
To win, it is simply not enough to do the bare minimum. You have to go above and beyond what is expected of you to maximise your chances of success. Remember that business is a numbers game! The more you put yourself out there, the higher your chances of receiving a favourable outcome.
“Go the extra mile; you want to pitch to 100 investors, why not try 1,000? You want to make 20 sales calls; try 200 sales calls weekly.”
The entrepreneurship journey will challenge you, and at times, push you to compromise. Having personal and institutional values will keep you level headed and help you make difficult decisions.
“Every one of us should have non-negotiable values and principles. This allows you to stand your ground, so your idea is not easily changed when pitching it to partners and investors.”
As clichéd as it may sound, the saying “success does not happen overnight” holds a lot of truth. Starting up a venture will question your patience and test your endurance. That said, most ‘failures’ come from people who stop trying. Be realistic with your growth and know that good things come to those who are patient.
“Forget the Silicon Valley stories. There are no overnight success stories; it takes time to build and grow. Things are 5x slower than you believe.”
It is easy to get caught up in the thick of your venture and forget to take time for yourself. You will not produce your best work when you are depleted. It is vital to rest and nurture your wellbeing. Never lose sight of one of the most critical factors in the success of your business: you.
“There is a 90% chance of failure. Take care of yourself and your business and show up as your best self. Victory is written by people who are still alive.”
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