Risking it All for Rwazi: A Tech Founder Feature - ALX

This post was adapted from “Being Young And Ambitious In Africa — A Data-driven Tech Founder Feature”, originally published by Njagi Ndungo.

Ambition is the fuel that drives entrepreneurs, professionals and students all over the world. In Africa — a continent that’s home to the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity — there are a good number of bold and audacious young founders who have chosen to challenge the status quo and are working towards their goals every single day. One such entrepreneur is Joseph Rutakangwa, the co-founder and CEO of Mauritius-based market intelligence platform, Rwazi. ALX Software Engineering Graduate and Fellow in The ROOM, Njagi Ndungo, spoke to Joseph about his experience as a data-driven tech founder.

In a few words, how would you describe yourself?

I would say I’m 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 can just to carve out the life I’ve 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 had done ABC..?”

What motivated you to start Rwazi?

My co-founder, Eric Sewankambo, and I had worked on projects with international and multinational companies well before starting 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 the available data and storing it somewhere for others’ use — a problem we sought to solve with a data portal. But then we realised that no one was collecting this data at all! The reason for this was attributed to the complications with the necessary digital systems. They had either not been rolled out or those that had been rolled out were not being utilised. Our focus then shifted to trying to sort the problem of data collection.

We started Rwazi to make data from developing markets accessible so that companies can expand into the continent and drive up their sales by recovering what they previously lost while running blind in the region. When building the data collection methodology, we sought to build a solution that would help the people from whom we would get the data. With Africa being the world’s youngest continent, we saw the need to create gig opportunities to support its workforce. Today, Rwazi creates gig opportunities for over 15,000 tech-savvy data mappers in 40 countries across Africa and India.

Credit: UW-Madison

What are some of the challenges you experienced while setting up Rwazi and what kept you going when all seemed impossible?

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 the different regions. Before you start a company like Rwazi, you’d think international payment platforms like Stripe and PayPal would be useful across these countries. However, we found out that they are only effective in Europe and North America, and despite claiming to embrace financial inclusion, even consider some African countries high-risk areas and inhibit sending money to people living there. To workaround this barrier, we had to map out a very complicated payment system using different payment platforms based on what was available to mappers in different countries.

Another barrier for us was getting seed capital, especially since the venture capital (VC) scene in Africa is still growing. With VCs only investing in African companies that are generating huge amounts of revenue, we quickly needed to learn how to raise capital while generating sales. 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 made it.

Travel the entrepreneurial journey ’til it converts; it eventually does if you’re stubborn enough.

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 travel this journey ’til it converted; it eventually does if you’re that stubborn.

If you were to talk to a young African entrepreneur 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, the long and arduous process can take a mental toll on you. With corporate or freelance experience and with some money saved up, your chances of raising more are higher. For instance, after you leave your corporate job, you can raise money from your friends and former bosses or even get them to be your first clients. Or if you were a freelancer, you could convert your personal clients into your business’ customers. Basically, you need the network.

Say you graduate from university at 22, you can start your business in hibernation as you continue working and eventually make the move to working for yourself full time when your business 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 could fail if you’re not in it for the long haul.

ALX is proud to be creating the next generation of entrepreneurial digital leaders in Africa. Find out more about our cutting-edge tech training programmes at www.alxafrica.com.

Amos Njagi Ndungo - ALX Software Engineering graduate

Amos Njagi Ndungo is an ALX Software Engineering graduate and Fellow with The ROOM’s talent community. Apart from his passion for application documentation and Quantum Computing, Amos’ interests also lie in creative storytelling. Find his content here.

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