Yes, I have been on a road trip by bus before, 8 to 12 hours straight locked up with strangers and the only thing that keeps us all seated in the bus is because we have a common destination. Mostly all these hours are spent either gazing at the flora and fauna or sleeping. A few passengers here and there read or engage with their gadgets.
But this Bus trip was different! This was the AMPION venture bus! The journey took 7 days; traversing 4 East African countries, the route: Dar es Salaam, Moshi, Nairobi, Kisumu, Kampala, Mpigi (SINA) and Kigali. Eventually all passengers get to know each other, brainstorm ideas to change the world and in the process become friends and business partners. 7 tech-startups were created and had opportunity to pitch along the way. Some key stop overs for presentations were: Buni Hub - Dar Es Salaam, The iHub - Nairobi, LakeHub - Kisumu, RanLab - Kampala and KLab - Kigali. The top 3 startups had the opportunity to pitch at the Transform Africa 2015 Conference in Kigali.
AMPION’s goal is to empower highly talented entrepreneurs to develop innovative tech solutions and make a tangible impact in their African communities together with other entrepreneurs from all over the world who want to tap into the fastest growing tech & mobile markets world-wide and make a difference. Along the journey, the Ampioneers conceive and launch startups and contribute to creating round breaking innovation and a community of entrepreneurial talent in Africa.
Identify Team Members
As opposed to a normal bus, choose participants whose goals are more than just a common destination. These should be people able and willing to challenge your ideas. The best mix is when the team members have different personalities, backgrounds, experience and exposures. The synergy created by all these factors combined is a key ingredient for the success of any start up. In a business these would be your management team members. (In tech-speak, your team formation would include at least a hacker, a hassler and a hipster though some can share the roles).
A mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser. A person who can help and advice over a period of time,on a project or a business. In a business these would be your board or directors. They are a good sounding board and offer strategic advice on the business or project.
Get on a bus
I guess the whole idea is to seclude oneself from all the noise of the world and focus. Set your goals for the period of seclusion to help you focus. I believe people with goals succeed because somehow consciously or unconsciously they focus their energies towards those goals - goals become some sort of a magnetic epicenter that pulls into it all necessary resources. In business the management teams together with their board members take retreats to go and review the performance of the company in line with their set vision and mission. This review then informs whether they stay on course, take a detour or even change direct altogether
Define your playing field
The world is full of problems and a lot of solutions have been tried to solve these problems. So will you come up with a different problems or a different solution to the already existing problems? Why are the current solutions not adequately addressing the existing problems? In design thinking you realize that accurately defining the problem will lead to a more appropriate and user/customer centered solutions.
The solutions will need to be desirable to the user, viable for the business and technologically feasible to implement. This means you have to empathise with your users. This can best be done by observing them, engaging with them, interviewing them and getting insights as to what their real needs are. This will help you define the real problem and therefore be able to come up with the winning solution.
However brilliant the solutions are, they have to make business sense. Questions to answer: What is unique about your offering aka value proposition? Who will your customers be? How will you reach your target customers? How will you acquire these customers? How will you keep them and grow them? What products will they be willing to pay for? How much? Will these revenues be able to meet your costs of offering your goods and or services to your customers? How will the business be run on a daily basis? What will you need to run the business? Will you need to some people to support you in executing your offer? How will you approach them? Is your business scalable?
Get out of your comfort zone
Fine tuning the business model is not easy! Research, build a prototype, test with the users and get feedback. If not satisfactory get back to the drawing board again and you have an acceptable product. There are times when you will be lucky if you can have as much as 2 hours of sleep in a 24 hour day. If you do not have committed team members they may leave the bus. Learn to use the meager resources you have and constantly think outside the box (if you are in one). Learn to survive on a shoestring budget….no luxury when starting up.
Be an excellent story teller
Be able to pitch your idea. Having come thus far you have to be able to tell your story and carry the audience along with you. Stories help you process and share the info we’ve collected. Stories give a human face to your proposed solutions. Stories show case the change you propose to make in the world. You have to carefully choose the story you want to tell or you may risk losing a whole customer segment or potential partners.
The end justifies the means
The trip was long and not for the faint-hearted but the final outcome was rewarding. Youth unemployment in Uganda is said to be highest in Africa. African Development Bank says it could be as high as 83%. It is estimated that more than 40,000 young people graduate from Ugandan Universities each year. Yet the market can provide only 8,000 jobs annually.
I strongly believe that if we always look for opportunities to bring solutions, we will have more job creators than job seekers. The AMPION model is one of the keys to addressing Africa’s unemployment challenge especially among the youth.
Thank you AMPION for the opportunity to be a mentor on the East African Bus. Thanks you Ampioneers, you are world changers!
Wishing you success!