It’s always great to meet and talk with people who have a great passion for Africa just as we do here at Afrinnovator. Toffene Kama is a highly driven and passionate individual whose not just talking about Africa’s great future with passion and enthusiasm but is also actively running an amazing tech startup called Willstream Labs.
Willstream tackles the problem of migrants remitting money back home to their families in their countries of origin in Africa for specific uses. Simply, the issue is that migrants need to send money back home frequently for all sorts of things – paying for a family members medical fees, or school fees or some construction that they are carrying on back home. Well, many times all sorts of issues can arise in the process, for example, quite frequently the money sent may end up being used for a very different purpose than it was originally intended. Willstream allows the ‘remitter’ to create a ‘stream’ and allocate funds for specific services at partner businesses that then the family member can go to and use (kind of like redeeming a voucher for a service). Toffene says that Willstream is not a money transfer service, but a payment service.
I recorded a chat with Toffene in which we discuss Willstream and what they’re doing particularly in Senegal, Africa, tech, running a tech startup, product development and delivery and many other things. Here’s a short summary of our chat with some of the lessons learnt
Toffene started Willstream to solve a problem which he faced himself as a migrant living in France but having to frequently send money back home. He quickly realized that many other people in his situation faced the same problem. Sensing an opportunity to provide a solution to the shared problem in a profitable way, he set about building what had been simply an idea in his mind. Interestingly, he did not set about starting Willstream immediately he had the idea, instead he kept talking with people and getting feedback for sometime before starting – why? One reason is that he says, having been in the telecoms industry and particularly in mobile payments, he knew the market was not yet ready for what he wanted to offer.
- Creating a product that provides a real solution to a real world problem beats creating a product to solve an imaginary one – do your groundwork/homework e.g. market research to ensure you have something real
- Observation is a key quality for entrepreneurs. Toffene was keen to observe and realize that his problem was a shared problem, not only that but observing the intended market is crucial
Toffene set about building Willstream largely leveraging his past experience in the mobile and mobile payments world (Toffene has experience working for companies such as Redknee and Alcatel-Lucent), even getting people he had worked with before to build his company. One key area is product development. Toffene emphasized the importance of getting great people on board and a huge focus on product development.
At the same time, keep a close ear to what customers are saying, and keep an eye on how they’re actually using your product. For example, Willstream launched a product called Willstream Clubs for which they had an idea of which market and what use cases they intended it for, but upon launch they found people from other markets finding it out and using it for interesting purposes, and they had to adjust their thinking to take advantage of the opportunity.
As for the actual product development process, Toffene says he follows the Lean Startup methodology, they did not set out to build everything at once. Instead, they identified what the most important aspect of their offering was that they could produce (minimum viable product) and present to their market and built that as fast as they could and launched it
- Leverage past experience (Read: Why it might be a good idea to be employed (first))
- Get the best people in the business
- Focus on product development – create a great product, then refine it till it’s best of class
- Listen to your customers
- Keep an eye on how the product is actually being used
Toffene and his colleagues set about building their company on their own resources and skill base. He says that it may be a burden for a startup to get external funding too early in its history. In addition, it is worth having something to show first. Create something, build something whose value can be quantified in some way and then you can leverage that to bring on board valuable funding partners.
- Invest yourself first, before you can get others to invest in you
Africa, tech, entrepreneurship
It’s time for Africa!
Africa’s future lies in exploiting it’s human resource, not just the natural resources. It’s a unique moment in time for young Africans to leverage entrepreneurship to achieve their dreams.