On scaling and building teams – what we learned from #iHubJumpstart 2016 in Nairobi

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There was no shortage of insight and knowledge sharing as the 2016 edition of the Jumpstart series held at the iHub, in Nairobi. Started in 2013, the Jumpstart series are training sessions designed to equip startups with essential business skills and soft skills that will help them take their companies to the next level.

This year’s event focused a lot on scaling. The sessions included presentations about the multicultural aspects of scaling, intellectual property with a view to scaling, how to talk to people about what you are doing, funding, and building a community around your product.

For those who weren’t able to attend, here’s a summary of the presentations given by tech experts and industry leaders. If you’re interested in taking your business beyond your borders, pay attention to what comes next:

DAY 1 – January 27, 2016

1. Multicultural aspects of scaling your business

Delivered by Daudi Were, Interim Executive Director at Ushahidi  

Ushahidi is based in Nairobi but has been used in 150+ countries globally. Ushahidi has a diverse team & 50% of their board is comprised of women. There’s strength in diversity.

“Your team represents what you find valuable. If you truly want to grow, always hire people that are smarter than you. Their presence should encourage you, not threaten you. We tend to hire people like us & feel intimidated by those smarter. Overcome this instinct & success is yours.”

A major challenge in scaling is Communication: Scaling involves breaking through borders into new markets and cultures. Differences in culture means communication will also differ from region to region. In some places, people subconsciously avoid direct eye contact. If you’re coming from a place where people look themselves square in the eye, it can initially seem strange. In other places, colleagues praise each other profusely for good work. And this may be different from what you’re used to.

The faster you can adjust to the culture shock, the easier it is to build solid teams.

On Negotiation:

I’ll just leave this here

2. Talking to people about your startup

Delivered by Charlotte De Ridder, Cofounder of Yusudi Africa

Telling your story is what creates the human connection for your product/service. There are many startups probably doing what you’re doing. How do you differ? A good heuristic to determine how clear you should be: imagine you’re explaining the story to a 5 year old. Now, choose your words accordingly.

Another consideration: What want are you fulfilling? People will only align themselves to you if they exactly how your business benefits them.

Finally, when you’re speaking about what you do, know which emotional strings you want to pull on in your audience’s minds. Whether it’s fear or happiness or passion, either side of the spectrum can be used to capture your listeners.

3. Building a community around your product

Delivered by Ben Mann, Program Director & Offering Management at IBM Africa

APIs are the way to go.

Mobile apps are a fading trend. Say hello to APIs. What you need is information on how to monetize them.  Many businesses are transforming themselves into APIs. A lot of them have their APIs generating 10x more traffic than their website.

Ben was gracious enough to upload his presentation to slideshare. Take a look.  

Day 2 – January 28, 2016


Photo Credit: Centonomy

1. User Experience Research

Abigail Wangui, UX Design Researcher at iHub UX Lab

The key to all user experience research is empathy. Being able to feel what your users feel, and observing their behaviour will provide great insights. User research is also about knowing your market and your product.

Depleting the WHY questions will help you come up with the best UX design.

So many people build things, release them to the market and have little or no uptake. If they did UX studies, they’d avoid this. You must put yourself in the other person’s shoes; empathise (there’s that word again). Development of solutions shouldn’t be subject to your opinions and assessment of others’ problems.

When scaling, keep your users in mind at every point. Do not let them shift to the back of the conversation. BRCK is succeeding at this.

Finally, something to remember: In this day & age a lot of solutions may seem tech-based, but not everything can be solved with tech. Consider non-tech alternatives.

2. On automation and processes

Kate Kiguru, CEO of Ukall

Always use the industry to validate your product.

Focus on billing for the product and your time. Let the client take care of logistics. It makes things easier.

Determine and utilise efficient communication modes. There are various tools out there, most of them free that will help your team stay in touch. Pick the most convenient and efficient one. Not everyone is an email person.

Customer satisfaction is key. Part of Ukall’s success was that I made my clients feel they were the only ones. Don’t let money be your main focus. Executing projects involves sacrifice. I had to work through some nights with users to make them happy.

Take advantage of partnerships. Instead of building from scratch, piggyback on existing platforms.

3. On separating yourself from your business

Muriithi Wanjau, ‎Senior Pastor, Mavuno Church

A lot of entrepreneurs tend to work by themselves. But the truth is, you can’t do it by yourself

Take a look at Kenya’s great success stories. Ushahidi and BRCK are, at their core, stories of great teams.

You’ll know the strength of your team once you begin scaling. Your team is not there just to hit milestones. They are also the for moral support. They are usually your fanclub.

If you want to maintain your momentum, build the people in your team. They will stick with you in tough times. And the tough times are coming.

Communicate your vision. A lot of entrepreneurs fail to do this effectively. Show your people why they need to buy into the vision.

Celebrate wins, no matter how small. It builds team spirit and makes the workplace brighter.  Celebrate individuals’ lives. You don’t need money to do any of these.

When I hire, I lookout for the 3Cs – Character, Competence and Chemistry

Here’s an interesting way to think about success – having the ability to do with your time the things that are important to you. When you can take time off and you know your team can do the job, then you can say you’ve built a successful company.

To be fulfilled and have that sometimes elusive feeling of completeness, you must have balance. Family, work, investments, friends and self are pivotal. Make a cocktail of them.

Other really good advice at iHubJumpStart 2016, (I wasn’t sure where to group them)


I'm 3 parts geek, 1 part funny man, and the last part is between me and my shrink. Technology Editor at Enterprise54. I write about (obsess over) gadgets, tech and startups. Send me stuff.

1 Comment

  1. Ben

    January 29, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Great piece!!!

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