By @SimonCocking.  African startup insights with Perseus Mlambo Founder and CEO @Zazu_Africa.

What’s your background?

I read Law and Psychology at Nottingham before undertaking a Masters in Social Work at Leeds. I was lucky enough to work in El Salvador on a DfID project working alongside farmers addressing environmental issues affecting their livelihoods. So I would have to say I am from a social sciences background, seeing the world for its imperfections and realizing the untapped potential in all of us to change a small aspect of that.

How did you get to where you are now?

I did some work with the UN, the Refugee Agency some time back. What fascinated me, even though I was working alongside smart people, there were so many inefficiencies which are in some part, synonymous with criticisms of the UN. And these inefficiencies were later personified when I was again working with smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. As a company, we got to where we are by asking ‘why’ to why these inefficiencies exist and what we could do to at least reduce them. Attempting to answer us, drove us to build a product people would not only use, but find value in. We are also grateful and privileged to have mentors and advisors who hold us accountable to our vision.

In all honesty, we got to where we are by sheer determination from the team. The amount of man hours spent researching, building and talking to customers is unlike anything we have all done before.

zazu

Zazu – the 1 minute pitch?

A digital marketplace connecting farmers to profitable markets. By connecting farmers and supporting them with logistics, they are able to increase an average of 20% in revenue and buyers save 35% per transaction.

What’s a typical day like for you?

We have a very distributed team, our CTO is in England and we are in South Africa, with a presence in Zimbabwe. So we have all become experts at using WhatsApp for work purposes (not Slack) and in the morning, I will spend 30mins understanding what’s happened in Zim. I will then get out of bed at 7am to check for the latest beefs on Twitter and post some annoying gifs. The morning commute from my house to work takes me past some scenic views of Table Mountain in Cape Town and of course, the sea side. So everyday Mother Nature serves me a piece of humble pie which leaves me feeling very lucky to be here and to be witnessing such awesome forces of nature. And that honestly fuels me for the day.

I will then have a sit down with our Ops Team to talk about the day forward. And then that is followed with a chat with our tech team. I will then jump on the calls to hunt for clients and schedule meetings.

Evenings I always spend looking at the important emails that need to be actioned, and the one to one calls I ought to, but I’m bit perturbed by.

And then on the way home after questioning whether I am really the guy to take Zazu global, I can see Robben Island and suddenly those feelings of inadequacy turn into feelings of guilt for being a crybaby. And before you know it, self motivation. The next day its Live. Experience. Repeat. But of course you know that as a start-up, no 2 days are the same.

London, Zim, SA, that’s a diverse collection (similar time zone) how do you balance it all? How do you manage the diverse interests / or are they interconnected?

Well as I said earlier, in addition to being a tech enabled business, we have a very distributed team. Even if I had not been a team leader on various projects beforehand, I think I would have been OK in this role. Simply because so little of my time is spent motivating or leading. I’m often playing catchup with my team because they all know their s***! But inevitably, being a distributed team brings its own challenges which are very often, about people. Luckily, I am very curious about people, chalk it down to being the eldest in a very big family, or having read Psychology.

I am by nature a morning person and will try to get as much work as possible before the mid-afternoon hump. In Wuthering Heights, Nelly Dean says something along the lines of ‘a person who does not complete their work by 10am runs the risk of never completing their tasks’. I have tried to take this as gospel and would prefer to have my day lined up and a plan devised for the hard tasks.

And I am very grateful that everybody in my team is hands on, with little need for my involvement to get them to a state of mind where they need to perform to the best of their abilities.

Why is Africa exciting for tech innovation?

Factor this, we are a continent of young people! Mostly unemployed. We are therefore entrepreneurs by design. Its an exciting time for tech innovation because we are at an interesting time in which preconceptions of Africa are being shattered away, daily, by innovation. And the old guard is slowly learning not to put us in a box. And that’s very exciting because everybody working on something groundbreaking, isn’t doing it because its going to be cool, but out of necessity.

The Africa Rising narrative in the media has fuelled up grand expectations for companies solving the biggest issues people experience and I think its an exciting time to witness the solutions. Especially given Mark Zuckerberg’s recent trips to Kenya and Nigeria, suddenly Silicon Valley, the East and indeed London, are all in some part looking at what companies are going to emerge from the continent. And the companies emerging, are led by founders and executive teams who have experienced the struggle and that’s exciting because those companies are not lifestyle companies, they are the companies paving the future.

What trends are you excited about?

Personally I am excited about the intersection between fintech and agritech. And I will tell you why. For a while now, the Chinese have been investing crazily on infrastructure like roads and dams. The telecoms across the continent have made it possible for mobile payments to become a thing. When Mpesa was launched, it was out of necessity, they paved the way for contactless debit cards now in the UK.

All of these factors mean in the next 4 years if not less, there is going to be an influx of very sophisticated farmers increasing, even marginally, their yields. And the infrastructure laid in place is going to make it possible for food to move easily and quickly across towns, cities and borders. As well as agricultural inputs. And if you look back to the impact of PayPal on the internet and its contribution to the proliferation of e-commerce, that’s going to be Africa very soon. The optimism on the ground is palpable!

What tips would you give to someone starting out in business today?

I would say get a mentor. There is obviously a key issue happening in tech that people of color and women are not proportionally represented. But what the rhetoric about diversity/inclusion fails to capture, is that people of color and or women do not want to be the first in anything. Having a mentor makes a whole difference to everything because suddenly you get confidence in knowing that some battles have already been won and it just gives you that momentum. There is a song I like that captures this essence ‘“Rosa sat so that Martin could walk; Martin walked so that Obama could run; Obama ran so that Our children could fly.”

With hindsight what / if anything would you have done differently?

I would start writing down things happening around me. Having a journal of sorts about your evolution, means you can look back at what’s working and what is not. And its also nice being able to track your own evolution, so I would start writing things down. In a frank way.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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