Key Takeaways on Student Entrepreneurship from SFAN's Future Executives Business Breakfast Meeting
by Nashilu Mouen · Career advice
Sat, 24 Sep 2016 · 3 minute read
On March 26th, 2016,
under the direction of young visionary Tom-Chris Emewulu, SFAN brought
their third Future Executives Business Breakfast Meeting to Accra with a
focus on student entrepreneurship.
One of three main initiatives undertaken by SFAN, Stars From All Nations,
the Future Executives Business Breakfast Meeting provides a space for
talented your entrepreneurs to spark conversations with established
investors, business owners, professionals, and other stakeholders
With a keynote panel led by Elizabeth Patterson of Girl Child Education Ghana and featuring Ehi Binitie, Co-Founder and CTO of Rancard Solutions,
Raindolf Owusu, Founder and CEO of Oasis Websoft, Dziffa Akua, Founder
and CEO of Dziffa.com and Akua Baning, Community Manager at iSpace Ghana,
these are DORODRUM’s 5 key takeaway’s from SFAN’s 3rd Future Executives
Business Breakfast Meeting: Understanding the Student Entrepreneur.
1. ON YOUTH & FAILURE
Capitalize on your Student Status
Entrepreneurship at any age or career stage is risky business. As expressed most succinctly by Eric Ries
, “a startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product
or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” By extension, an
entrepreneur is an individual working within an environment of extreme
Starting a company while in school can help mitigate part of this risk and uncertainty.
You can be bold, audacious, and totally foolish.
For Ehi Binitie, enterprising while still a student at Kwame Nkrumah
University of Science and Technology was critical in the creation of
Randcard Solutions. “As a student entrepreneur, you have no fear. You
don’t have to fret about the consequences of starting your business. You
have no inhibitions, you’re never worried about a paycheck the way you
will be later — it’s a fantastic place to be.
In fact, by the age of 22 Ehi and his co-founder, Kofi Dadzie had
built Rancard Solutions into a $250,000 USD company, “I thought that it
was easy, that I’d be a millionaire by 23. And then reality happened,
and it became really hard. Looking back, we never realized just hard it
would be, and that’s what’s so great about the entrepreneurship
In similar situations, Dziffa Akua began her journey during her final
year of undergraduate at the City University of New York and Raindolf
Owusu in his second year at Methodist University College. Today, with a
couple of bumps under both of their belts, one leads her own e-commerce
platform, partnering with 40 suppliers in Ghana and offering 300
products to customers across countries and continents, while the other
has been recognized by international publications as one of Africa’s
most influential young entrepreneurs leading one of Africa’s most
formative software solutions companies.
2. ON LEADERSHIP
Accept and Understand Yourself
“You have to learn to accept yourself and to accept that you are not
perfect and that you will fall short in certain areas. As a result, you
can then find people who share your dream and who can compliment your
Bringing her insights as a community manager at iSpace Ghana — one of
Accra’s leading co-working spaces — Akua Baning has met, supported and
collaborated with her fair share of founders. “From my own venture when I
was a student, and now seeing founders around me on their own journeys
I’ve learned that you have to be prepared to review your own
Launching a loan product for her classmates while in university, Akua
found flaws in her fundamental assumptions about her target customer
base that forced her to revisit her business model and product
proposition. “I felt pain when I there were defaults on repayments, with
people I knew!
But I felt pain mostly because of my passion and my vision. I see it
all the time at iSpace; the people who are the most tied to their
product are those who have felt the problems they are trying to solve
most acutely. They feel the pain personally and build passion about it —
which can be hard to revisit.”
On her side, Dziffa Akua’s personal challenge came in trusting her
own vision and resisting pressures from outsiders in the infant stages
of Dziffa.com. “At times, everyone thinks they’re an expert in your
field when they actually don’t know what they’re talking about. You need
to know why you started.” Quoting Malcolm X she notes, “a person who
doesn’t stand for anything will fall for everything.”
Her biggest failure to date? Falling into a venture which was neither her own nor aligned with her vision.
“I was straight out of college and I didn’t know anything. As a
result, I made a lot of mistakes. At one point, I spent $2,000 USD on a
bag manufacture company that wasn’t even my idea. But this experience
was so important to me. I realized that I had to get back to the drawing
board, and couldn’t afford to be distracted.”
Out of college, without institutional support or family funding, it
is from this failure that Dziffa returned to the basics with fortified
vision for herself, “I didn’t have much funding to play with so I had to
get back to why I wanted to do this, what I wanted to do, and focus on
my platform and making my sales. Even if you’re not an expert, always
remember that you, more than anyone else, know your product and your
3. ON TEAM BUILDING
Cherry Pick your People
In Ehi Binitie’s words, “Love your people.”
Illusive but indispensable, a good team can take you to the next level. Without it, you’re almost guaranteed to remain stagnant.
“There is a huge difference between leverage and leadership,” Ehi
Binitie explains. “It’s the difference between getting someone to do
something for you and having them love doing it. At Rancard Solutions,
we love our people more than anything else — genuinely. I’ve found this
to be the most powerful leadership quality you can have. Cherry pick
each team member as though your life depended on them — because it does —
and let them have a share of your success, of your stakes and of your
And yet, team building is often tainted and delayed by founders from fear of that fine line between assistance and hindrance.
With all the accolades on his resume, when asked about the one thing
he wishes he could have learned sooner, Raindolf Owusu doesn’t hesitate
in acknowledging the importance of his team. “I couldn’t do everything
“In the beginning, I wanted to do it on my own,” he explains. “I
didn’t want people around me questioning whether it was going to work. I
wanted to be the developer, to be the financier, to do the marketing.
Over time, however, we weren’t doing too well and after two years we
weren’t making any money. I realized that I had to reach out — to the
right people. Immediately, I opened up to a marketing consultant, who
helped us sell our services to people. Getting the right people who
believe in your mission and your vision is everything, and they are
willing to go to the umpteenth level with you.”
In Dziffa Akua’s case, her business partner has been her most
important hire; brining impartiality to a project that was otherwise
very personal to her. “I brought on a business partner to balance my own
objectivity to the product. They taught me to think as a business
leader instead of as the customer.
When I launched the platform in June 2015, I had 5 suppliers and 20
products, but no one was buying. I was too focused on the platform, on
the template, on the design. I liked the products that we were offering,
and it was only during a trip to New York, sitting down with our
customers, that I got real feedback, expanded my products as a direct
result, and brought on a marketer.”
4. ON CUSTOMERS
Find your Tribe
People don’t buy what you do it, they buy why you do it, making it critical to learn how to articulate your why.
In referring to the 5 stages of product adoption, Simon Sinek’s 2009 Ted Talk
was used to open the forum outlining the importance of building a tribe
of customers who believe in why you do what you do, and are willing to
follow you through it: your early adopters.
“You can’t reach your early majority and begin to build out your
market share until you’ve found your early adopters. These are those who
are comfortable taking that risk, believing in your product, based on
what they believe in the world. They are those who stand in line to buy
an iPhone, and they are the same ones who spent $40,000 to buy the first
digital TVs. They don’t do it because the technology is so great, they
do it for themselves. They don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it
— they buy your product because it proves what they believe and because
of how it makes them appear.”
So, how do you find those eager early adopters?
On our increasingly digital continent, social media is often the
first attempt at targeted marketing for mainly early stage ventures.
Spend time understanding the value of different channels to reach your
audience, without overlooking the impact of person-to-person
Sitting on one side of the social media advocacy line, Raindolf Owusu
notes the potential of paid ads, “You need to pay for ads, and pay to
target your audience — you can ask your friends to join but they are not
your target. A small budget will get you in front of your audience — it
is a good tool to use but it’s important to understand it.”
For Ehi, context is still King. “Consider your options and channels
based on the product that you are selling — consider what you want to
sell, and who you are selling to before you spend all your money. Social
media is great to get feedback from your customers and to drum up
referrals, which are some of the strongest ways to acquire new
5. ON THE ART OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Otherwise Known as the Struggle
One of the most important topics of the conference — and one that
isn’t raised nearly often enough — is the simple but difficult question
of whether entrepreneurship is for everyone.
There is an attraction to the concept of entrepreneurship: the image
of perseverance, persistence, and eventual success. But not everyone is
built to become an entrepreneur.
Over at iSpace Ghana, finding herself amidst countless posts and
testimonies about the hardships it takes to be an entrepreneur Akua
notes that the trajectory is not one to be taken lightly and that it is
not for everyone. “If you do not have stamina — it is not a bad thing —
you can do something in another capacity, but it is not for you.”
It appears in almost every book on entrepreneurship, and most notably in Ben Horowitz’s chapter, aptly named The Struggle
: working within a constant state of uncertainty, there are moments
when everything that you are working for, and everything around you
feels like a failure.
In Raindolf Owusu’s case, few members of his team knew of the efforts
he had to make to keep Oasis WebSoft’s doors open in its infant stages,
“Initially when we started the company we weren’t making money, and the
only skill we had was software development. There were times that I’d
travel to Uganda to work as a software developer for another firm. I
would literally leave university to make a few thousand dollars to come
back to my company.
Everybody knew me as the CEO of our company, but they didn’t know
that I was also working away to make money as a software developer at
someone else’s company. Entrepreneurship is very hard, and most of the
time, you are the only person who is going to believe in your own idea.
So you have to build that skill of self-belief. That’s what people don’t
tell you about entrepreneurship: it’s really hard and you have to
sacrifice a lot to make it work.”
With 14 years of startup experience, Ehi Binitie goes further, in
distinguishing entrepreneurship from hobbyism, underlining the fault in
“build it and they will come mentality”.
“At the root of it, there is a misinterpretation about what this is.
Many of us are actually hobbyists, who want to do something and keep
doing it, and hope somebody pays us for it. I have hobbies but I am not
under any illusion — that does not work. An entrepreneur is being a
problem solver, someone who identifies a problem, thinks about a
resourceful way of solving the problem, looks for resources to allocate
to solutions to that problem, create value, and then gets rewarded for
solving the problem.”
And yet there is room for the intrapreneur within entrepreneurship.
To be innovative does not necessarily mean being a stand-alone
entrepreneur, and we should not overlook the importance of disruptors
within larger, more stable organizations. “These skills that we have
discussed are valuable, whether you are starting on your own or working
If I was looking for someone today, I would hope to find someone with
this ability to smell out opportunity, to follow it, to find it and
design a solution to it. Everyone should have that entrepreneurial
skill. Whether you chose to follow it, or work on it with someone else.
We follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to.
In closing this article with the opening of the panel, we’re reminded
of Todd Holcombe’s opening remarks, “We follow those who lead not
because we have to, but because we want to.”
At any stage of any company, we follow a brand, a product, or a
service because of the vision and the values behind them. We follow
those who lead not for them, but ultimately for ourselves. Reclaiming
the why behind each one of our ventures is critical in defining the
value that we are creating but also in understanding own roles as
leaders, the people we want as our team members, and the audience that
we are seeking out as our customers.
As Ehi Binitie succinctly states, “Build something useful and simple.
The people who are the richest in the world solved very, very simple
problems. The entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to solve problems and
to be practical about it is for everyone, whether working for yourself
or someone else.”
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