What it takes to build companies in emerging markets and learning from the failures of successful company founders
This article recaps our last Clubhouse talk which focused on successful founders’ mistakes and how they learned from them- they tell us about their aha! moments. Those learnings can be particularly important for emerging market founders due to longer cycles in these markets – the margin for error is precariously lower.
When trying to build a company we often find ourselves with data that indicates we are not getting it right, yet not willing to rethink it. According to Christopher Schroeder, Co-Founder of Next Billion Ventures, all the books about the subject are consistent. As founders, we like to believe in our narrative, we like others to agree with us. Yet, acknowledging failure is crucial as it opens room for further learning. He, himself, confessed to making a lot of classic mistakes along his entrepreneurial journey.
Below are a few highlights from this Clubhouse talk:
CREATING STRONG BRAND POSITIONING
Serial founder Mark Heynen, Vice President of Business Development at Stellar.org and Founding Advisor at Next Billion Advisors, also admitted to having had a few aha moments along the way. Referring to PayJoy – a company enabling finance he co-founded in the US back in 2015 – while talking about their expansion in Mexico, he admitted “I simply had not done enough homework” on how to position the company at the retail distribution points, but ended up in a great spot after digging in. Any good business can grow as long as it has the right positioning, and every founder should take the time to reflect on this when looking to expand to new markets.
SEEKING RESILIENCY AND SUSTAINABILITY
Praava Healthcare Founder & CEO Sylvana Q. Sinha, from Bangladesh, said emerging markets face failure at a different level due to a lack of access to capital as well as to human resources and that “founders are forced to be very scrappy and to have much thicker skins.” She referred to Alexandre Lazarow’s book How Global Entrepreneurs- from Delhi to Detroit- Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley to point out that, sometimes, resiliency and sustainability is simply far more effective than chasing unicorn-style growth. (A recommended read!)
FUNDRAISING THE RIGHT WAY AT THE RIGHT TIME
Puerto-Rico based Gillian Morris, Hitlist Founder & CEO, recognized that she didn’t always take the right decisions while trying to raise funds for her company. The outcome forced her and the team to rebuild the company from the ground up. Today, although Hitlist is now a profitable non-VC-backed business, she admits it could have looked very different had she had her aha moment at the right time, enabling the business to raise funds.
BEING FULLY COMMITTED TO YOUR BUSINESS
Aneri Pradhan, Senior Partnerships Manager at Elemental Excelerator, Venture Partner at Republic and startup Advisor at Next Billion Advisors, said her fintech company failed because of “a perfect storm of factors.” She advocates that, as a founder, you need to be asking yourself how much time you are actually willing to put towards the business if it’s not going to be a VC-fueled rocketship. While it is important to find a balance, founders do need to be passionate about their venture and its vision “through the valley of death.”
UNDERSTANDING LOCAL CONTEXT
Ken Toyoda, an investor at Next Billion Ventures, argued that even for investors, admitting defeat can be difficult. One thing they have learned with the early generation of emerging market startups is that failure can be mitigated by understanding local context. Next Billion Ventures’ role is to build bridges between global investors and local business models. He added that for any business to grow, founders need to be transparent with their investors. In fact, if you are looking for unique, entrepreneur-friendly investors across emerging markets, you can do no better than reaching out to the team at Next Billion Ventures (nextbillionvc.com).
TAKING A STEP BACK
Chantalle Dumonceaux, Co-Founder of Shoppies, a company helping entrepreneurs grow their D2C businesses, said a distressed founder should feel comfortable taking a break to improve his/her game before getting back to business: the entrepreneurial journey “is a marathon, not a sprint!”
ADAPTING YOUR BUSINESS MODEL
Shazia Khan co-founded EcoEnergy as a way to distribute last-mile energy services in Pakistan to the 70 million living off-grid. One of their products – a “pay-as-you-go” solar model – had a very high churn rate and contributed to their failure in raising Series A funding. Shazia maintained it all came down to being able to adapt and not being tied to a particular solution, method or technology. Founders should be willing to adapt, constantly.
SEIZING A GROWTH OPPORTUNITY
Olivia Zank, Co-Founder of Benefactors, a fintech company based in Rwanda, stated that their company failed to be resilient after she failed to seize an opportunity – she had received an offer from an investor in their seed-round but didn’t accept it due to lower valuation. In hindsight, she admitted it was a mistake because the COVID crisis made it very hard to get the momentum back regardless of her company’s previous financial health. She said “COVID is one example but many external events can actually come into play. Founders should be aware of that- circumstances can change any day.”
All our Clubhouse guest speakers agreed that the greatest fear ends with whether to continue or not. Tenacity, grit, and mental health are important for any founders. One should surround themselves with veterans who have the experience and understanding of how to run successful companies as well as raise capital. Those veterans are responsible for advising on the best approaches that can enable a founder to start and continue to grow effectively, while limiting mistakes along the way.
If you have any doubts about your own business venture or you are ready to take your business to the next level, visit the Next Billion Advisors website (nxtblln.com/contact-us) to schedule a free open session* with our experienced pool of advisors.
* free session available for tech founders with proven track-record in their home market and scalability potential in multiple markets.