Marketing automation

This is about Africa

Sep 13, 2018

At first glance, it’s such a cliché.

MIT Ph.D. in computer science founds a tech startup. Of course. What else do you do? It’s almost a betrayal of your resume to not become a tech entrepreneur. I can just picture the scene in Kendal Square: I’m starting a tech company – of course – mobile-first technology – of course – in Africa. Wait. What was that?

I first met Kenfield Griffith in California. His new company was working with one of my customers, and pretty interesting work at that. I confessed to knowing little about the exact nature of the collaboration but knew that the client liked his business. So I sat through the presentation.

It’s about Africa.

I don’t know anything about Africa. I’ve never been to sub-Saharan Africa. I’m sure it’s got something going on, but tech? After all, most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs pilot their ideas in San Francisco because that’s like the rest of the world (yeah, right). This is about Africa.

The fact is, this was one of the most compelling presentations I’d seen in a long time. You had a perfect storm: developing economies with high growth potential, emerging technology centers, and a massively disruptive platform technology in the form of M-Pesa. Mobile money was having a profound impact on Africa in ways it was hard to appreciate from the US. We just don’t understand societies without credit cards, credit scores, easy access to loans. We see mobile as a progression from PCs, but don’t always imagine a scenario where mobile comes first – the PC internet revolution didn’t happen.

And mSurvey was right in the middle of it, capitalizing on this new way of conducting business to build incredible insights into the customer experience.

As chance would have it, sometime later, we reconnected. My business had been sold and a new one created. We were re-imagining the entire concept of customer experience and were close to launching one of our flagship products, the Net Promoter Masterclass. The Masterclass was more than an educational tool, it was an entirely new methodology. A new flavor of the methodology we had already pioneered over the last decade, quite successfully I might add. Over 6,000 companies bought into our prior approach. This would be better. Ken didn’t want me to bring this to Africa. He wanted me to launch it in Africa.

Which of course made no sense. You don’t launch a global product in Nairobi. Besides, it’s a long way from California.

In December 2017 we launched in Nairobi. Kenfield doesn’t take no for an answer. And we had an epiphany.

I came back from Africa with a very successful launch, yes. With a great appreciation of the opportunity for technology in general, mSurvey in particular, no doubt. But also an immense enthusiasm for the people I met. This is going to be fantastic. Six months later I was an investor, a board member, and had visited Kenya twice more and Nigeria. As I say, Kenfield doesn’t take no for an answer.

A startup is about people, circumstances, luck. It’s messy. It can be about capital also, but capital is a supporting actor not the star of the show. mSurvey has the circumstances and the talent to be extraordinary. I suspect Kenfield will make his own luck.