Here on Whoot Africa, we not only showcase brands, but we also talk to the people behind those brands and have them share with us their back stories as well as give tips on how to successfully start and run a business.
Welcome to Whoot Africa’s – 15 Questions with the CEO.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and Wasamundi.com as a brand you represent?
My name is Nara Lawrence and I’m the CEO and Co-founder of Wasamundi.com. ‘Wasamundi’ in Douala -a local dialect in Cameroon – means: ‘Search Earth’ or ‘Find the world’. Wasamundi, as a company, was formed to solve the problem of information accessibility in local communities in Africa. Information such as: where to stay, where to eat, what to eat, where and what to shop. Wasamundi.com seeks to help Cameroonians and Africans connect with local businesses in their communities on the web, mobile web and by SMS. Wasamundi is on a mission to achieve this by providing 4 key products:
Wasamundi.com A city guide and peer review system,
Wasahostel.com For student housing search by SMS and on the web
Wasatexto.com A bulk SMS communication and a service made to reach every individual with an SMS enabled device, and Wasa.me to brand and give local businesses a unique ID on the web.
2. How did you get started in Business and what did it take for you to get to where you are today?
After leaving Afrovision Group, we decided to start our own Company. This is what we had always wanted. But I can recall it took us more than 6 months to get our first real customer. We survived solely on family allowances throughout this period. We had just our laptops and no internet of our own, I remember we used to program during the day at home and spend the night in a nearby Cybercafé to work online on our server.
To arrive where we are today, it has taken stubbornness; it has taken hard work, really long work hours. It has taken dedication and perseverance. It has taken luck, prayers and hope. It has taken a great partner and co-founder, a great team (I wish to use this media to applaud their efforts). It has taken struggle, periods of courage and failure in courage, doubts and periods of encouragement from loved ones.
3. What were you doing before Wasamundi.com kicked off and why did you decide to start Wasamundi.com?
Before Wasamundi.com kicked off, I worked as a software developer at the Afrovision Group. Wasamundi.com is the product of frustration. During our admission into the University, Quincy Kwende and I noticed it was really difficult to find a place to stay. There was neither a catalogue nor a website to help us access the over 1000 student hostels in our locality. We ended up living in a Hostel we did not like, back then, we believed something could be done but we just didn’t know what. After graduating and meeting Churchill, a little harnessing of my programming skills led me to go back to the drawing board. Quincy and I then thought: “Well this is time to fix what is broken”.
4. Did you know you were going to be an Entrepreneur all along or did it happen by chance?
No, I did not know. In fact I wanted to be any of these professions: A doctor, a contract Engineer, a Lawyer, an Adventurer, a Pilot, a Scientist or an Astronaut-these where all the things I wanted to be. Being an entrepreneur happened by chance. It happened after my degree in Physics/Computer Science and my meeting with Mambe Churchill (co-founder of Njorku.com). I believe that particular happening is chance. There is no other explanation. His entrepreneurial dreams inspired a new possibility… an exciting one. Then, I had to reconnect with my University pal. We then co-founded Wasamundi. We decided to commence solving the problems we had from school and somehow I am now an Entrepreneur. I know being an Entrepreneur gives me the possibility to be any of the things I ever wanted to be.
5. What do you love most about your business and your life as an Entrepreneur?
I love the people I work with. All of them are very committed and have really gone the extra mile to see us succeed. I love the fact that, I can get up in the morning, pick up a problem around my community and start solving it. I also love the challenges I face every day and sometimes I don’t believe I get through them.
When a problem you think would kill you, gets through- it’s a thrill. I love that I can do what I want. That I can take an idea and attempt to breathe life to it, it’s exciting.
6. What keeps you and the Wasamundi.com team motivated?
It is the hope that we can solve the problems faced by the people around us. It’s the belief that we can leave the world a better place than we met it.
It’s the joy that we can satisfy our customer’s everyday on our website, www.wasamundi.com and they can pay us money for making them happy, in turn we are happy. It’s the inspiration from other successful African companies (like the MTN Group). The inspiration from innovative companies like Google and Amazon and the conviction that one day, with hard and smart work pointing in the right direction, we can also inspire others. This conviction keeps us moving forward.
7. What do you think are the most important personal skills someone must have to be successful in business?
I noticed over the last 2 years of our existence the most important personal skills required for business are: the ability and willingness to learn every day. These too: perseverance, discipline, hard work, the desire to build a successful company. I believe a majority of these are instinctive rather than acquired skills.
8. How do you envision Wasamundi.com in 5-10years from now?
I envision growth and expansion in most (if not all) localities and communities in Africa. We shall be able to connect people to a wide array of information about local businesses, products and services in all localities in Africa.
9. What are the obstacles you encountered in your business journey and how did you overcome them?
I encounter obstacles every day. I love solving problems so any obstacle which emerges immediately sets on my problem solving sense. Some major obstacles are:
Limited access to capital: This is a key difficulty in every kind of business not just in our line of business. We have used family members and friends who have played a great role to overcome this early barrier. Having customers who can pay us is also very crucial as these customers sustain the business, while we keep searching for larger capital to keep our business growing.
Under-developed payment methods in our line of business: VISA and MASTER Cards are used by few. PayPal doesn’t work in our country. This is important especially when you need someone to pay for your service 200 kilometers away from you. We resort to local means of payments such as money transfer, airtime transfer, use of local scouts to pick up cash, Mobile Money (whose adoption by the community is slow) etc. Sometimes, family pressure to get a job knocks on the door. It knocks so hard you can’t ignore. Stubbornness together with being persuasive sometimes works.
10. How would you describe your leadership style?
Considering that our business is still a start-up, each day presents a new challenge, different leadership styles must be used when need be. I encourage lots of creativity. I encourage the people I work with to make mistakes and experiment as much as they can. I do my best to instil belief in them about our vision and be as passionate as the founders, because it’s only then that they can attain their best to help us attain our true heights. It is more of a transformational leadership style to meet our daily challenges.
11. Why did you choose this line of business/service or product and when did you know it was it for you?
I chose this line of business because I believe it has a huge potential. Potential in the amount of lives it can touch and make a difference, potential in the amount of profit it can bring forth. I also chose it because I believe it is more challenging and gives room for creative work and freedom.
I knew this was for me when I worked for Mambe Churchill. I thought this is what I’ll also like to do: to build cool things and build products and services people can use around me and pay for if possible.
12. Who was the most influential person or mentor in your life?
My Uncle – Dr. Ernest Molua.
13. What was the BIGGEST risk you’ve taken?
Starting a business with zero cash capital, it still scares me today when I think of it.
14. What do you think about college education? Should kids go to college now or get into business if they feel it’s a better choice? Considering some of the world’s greatest never had college education, your thoughts?
I think knowledge is good. Our world can only advance because some people with the right knowledge did push for advancement. College, formal education is not a bad thing. It is an institution to form and direct humans on how to acquire knowledge. I’m just dissatisfied at how the knowledge is passed down from lecturers or teachers to students. I can’t recall how many times I wanted to drop out of the University. The only thing which kept me was the Library. I believe a basic level in education is good, and then the kids can choose what they want to do with proper guidance from people who understand them and believe in them. If they want to do business, why not?! Bill Gates dropping out .But of course there is more to the story …you may already know. At 13 he had access to lab Facilities University professors did not. By 19 he knew probably more than most of them. With this kind of knowledge or power, he was knowledgeable enough to make a right choice. So, before our kids choose or before we let them choose, we must make sure they have the right knowledge.
15. What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to young entrepreneurs and why?
Believe in yourself. Believe in your ideas. Pursue them with passion because you alone have the ability to make it work or make it fail.