The following was written by Anton Root, Head of Research.
One of the many of advantages of working for a startup like AlliedCrowds is the flexibility it affords. We make decisions quickly, aren’t intimidated by trying something new, and get to optimize our working arrangement.
So when our CTO Malcolm and I decided to spend a part of the summer working from Nairobi, the trip came together in a matter of days.
While I’m currently back in London, after spending a month in Nairobi, Malcolm has decided to stay an extra month to experience the city and build out our network. Looking back at a month filled with new experiences, exciting insights, and countless meetings, here are a few takeaways from our trip to Nairobi:
- The entrepreneurial culture is vibrant. The vast majority of people we encountered in Nairobi had very much a can do attitude, and were looking to do business. Indeed, many companies we met were looking to make it easier for others to do business. These included flexible and fast mobile lending platforms that helped vendors to purchase stock in the mornings, as well as startups that are helping small vendors simplify their value chain via mobile. But the can do attitude extended beyond startups and SMEs to everyday interactions. One example — I landed in Nairobi at 6am with no apartment lined up. Within hours, I had visited nearly a dozen apartments, and was able to sign a lease by 5:30pm. Compared with the process of moving to London (complete with tedious background and reference checks, and days or weeks of visiting flats), securing an apartment in Nairobi was a relative a breeze. Another example is an Uber driver who drove us 5 hours to the Masai Mara National Reserve in a car nowhere close to being equipped for off-road travel (which much of the trip ended up entailing).
- The alternative finance space still has plenty of room to grow. According to our database, there are nearly 250 alternative finance providers (angel investors, crowdfunding platforms, impact investors, VCs, private equity firms, and public/semi-public funders) operating in Kenya. Most of the existing players know each other well, however, and it’s a close-knit community. We were referred to the same investors by different stakeholders, and we often bumped into people we had met with outside of work. While there are constantly new investors from the region (and further afield) exploring the market, there are still plenty of opportunities for funders to enter the promising market.
- There’s a need for better resources to help entrepreneurs fundraise. While we met with several advisors in Nairobi that are doing important work for SMEs, there is a dearth of similar resources for smaller startups that may not have the intrinsic appeal of a tech firm. As Thomas Sankara writes, the vast majority of funding in East Africa goes to expatriate founders. A lot of that has to do with investors’ relative inexperience with working in the region, to be sure. But better training for African founders on how to pitch to foreign investors may help to close the funding gap. Additionally, with the ecosystem being as tight-knit as it is, figuring out who to contact in order to get a foot in the door is highly important — we think the Capital Finder can be a great help here.
As AlliedCrowds continues to grow, we’ll be taking the time to travel to new destinations. We’ll keep our followers updated on where we’re coming to next — don’t be shy and let us know if you’d like to meet!