“Small businesses are the backbone of the African and global economy”- Meghan McCormick
One of the major goals at Ingressive Capital is to fund and support African innovators solving vital problems, one of such innovator in Africa is Meghan McCormick, Founder and C.E.O. of OZE, a business app in Ghana. Over the week, I had a chat with Meghan on life as an entrepreneur, experiences, challenges and more. Highlights of our conversation below;
Hello, it’s great to have you on Ingressive Capital, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Meghan McCormick and I am passionate about helping small business owners be successful. Both my parents are small business owners and their work allowed them to put three kids through decades of top-level schools, own a home, and be financially secure. I want to make sure that entrepreneurs, no matter where they are working, have the opportunity to do the same.
What was growing up like and how did your childhood experiences impact the person you are today?
Growing up I was always creating and building things. I was known for running highly profitable lemonade stands. I launched my first NGO at age 10, coordinating the work of dozens of my classmates to earn tens-of-thousands of dollars for HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns. I launched my first social enterprise in university, a theatre production and education company. My childhood gave me practice aligning my peers behind a mission and taught me that if something you believe the world (or your community) needs doesn’t exist, you can make it.
Let’s talk about your business, did you ever foresee it being birthed and growing up to this scale?
No! My background is not in tech. I founded a non-profit business accelerator supporting unemployed youth in Francophone Africa to identify problems they wanted to solve in their communities and launch market-based solutions. That was really in my sweet spot. It was when we started to face problems scaling our support of entrepreneurs in that organization that I identified the need for a product like OZÉ. My first thought was to buy something off the shelf, but when we couldn’t find anything, we started to build it. In the early days, we thought that OZÉ would be a product within our non-profit. We hadn’t yet realized that what we really wanted to do was to build the continent’s leading small business technology company.
How did your entrepreneurship journey begin and have been the most rewarding aspects for you?
A few things brought me to spin-out OZÉ and to start running it as a high-growth for-profit tech company. First, I was falling out of love with the non-profit model. In non-profits, your customers tend to be donors. End-users are treated as passive beneficiaries. By disintermediating your true users, you will never build a solution that has a product-market fit. The second was that when I was doing research to buy a tool that could do what OZÉ does today, everyone I talked to said, “No, I don’t know any products that do that, but if you build it, I would buy it.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of running OZÉ is that because our product is tech, we get feedback from our customers in near real-time. Does a new feature increase virality or engagement? We can actually test that and know. We can iterate and see the results.
Are there moments you want to run back to the safety of paid employment and what keeps you going on such days?
Not really. I sometimes joke about “when I was rich” but even though I was making great money as a management consultant, my innovations were not hitting the market. I always throw myself into my work. I would create something for my clients (Fortune 100 companies) that I passionately believed their customers needed. Then it would run up against their corporate bureaucracy. No amount of financial security was worth putting my mind and soul into creating things that would never go out into the world.
Name 2 things you appreciate about your industry?
Small business owners act like businesses and consumers at the same time so you get to pull on both B2B and B2C tactics to build a product that is engaging and useful. Small businesses are the backbone of the African (and global) economy. We create a measurable impact on our customers’ businesses and know that at scale our customers can move markets, create jobs, and build inclusive wealth.
What are the most important lessons you have learned in your line of business?
I love data and the clarity that comes from it, but our customers have taught me to think about not only what data helps us to know but how data can make us feel. Of course, many of our customers change their operations for the better because with OZÉ they can see where they are earning money and where they are spending it. But many of them also start to make changes that they intuitively knew they had to make but needed the confidence that data gives them to act.
How has Ingressive Capital impacted your business?
Ingressive Capital was the first Africa-based fund to invest in OZÉ. It has been great to have the Ingressive team who know our market and the main players in it to give us advice and make connections.
What excites you most about the work you do?
Is there a case study you can share with us that can demonstrate the kind of impact you’re excited to be making?
OZÉ works! 97% of customers who used the app for at least 3 quarters last year had a growing and/or profitable year. MacDennis, who runs a screen-printing business TreasureMaks, was able to use his OZÉ data to project how much cash he would need to meet his goal of moving his shop from his house to a storefront. He had a friend in the US who was willing to invest, but only if he could actively share his business data. He added his friend onto his OZÉ account, the investment was made, and now there is a TreasureMaks store in Osu, Accra. Emmanuel, The Sashmeister, weaves custom Kente sashes. It started as a side hustle.
Through an OZÉ Seminar, he learned about online marketing and because he could see his cash balance, he had the confidence to spend on marketing. When he saw the impact on sales, he was convinced to keep spending. Running The Sashmeister is now his full-time job. I could keep going on and on. I’m so proud of my team and our entrepreneurs for building and using a product that really works. And this is all before we started injecting capital into their businesses. We started giving affordable loans at the end of December.
Tell us about your journey and what key moments in your life/career have led you here?
Joining the Peace Corps completely changed the trajectory of my life and career. I had literally never been to Africa and had not even really spent time in an emerging market when I boarded a plane to move to Guinea for more than two years. I had actually never even heard of Guinea before the Peace Corps sent me there. But as I spent time in the country, I became emotionally attached to my adopted family and my new community and intellectually attached to solving the market failures that plague the economies of so many African countries. I knew about 1 year in that the rest of my career would be focused on economic development in the region.
What do you wish more people knew about your business?
Some people, usually those who wear suit and ties to work, do not trust small business owners. They tell us that nobody will use our app because entrepreneurs do not want to pay taxes. This generation is different. The majority of our entrepreneurs are youth who will create digital records, even if it means that they might have to pay more in taxes because they know that the returns from data-driven management in the long-run are much higher than a potential increase in tax burden. I really wish more people knew our customers and realized that they are the true heroes of the Ghanaian economy.
What excites you about being a part of Ingressive Capital?
Everyone in the firm and in the portfolio is realistic optimists. We know there are challenges to launching businesses in West Africa, but also that real change is possible.
Challenges within your industry?
Regulations are shifting. Fintech is an emerging industry. We need to make sure we are advancing hand-in-hand with the government.
Describe a time that you failed while building your business/career, and what did you do to bounce back?
Last year we were part of an accelerator for social entrepreneurs where the grand prize was $1M investment. We were doing everything right and consistently placing 1st from week to week. Then in week 5, the finalists were announced, and we didn’t make it. It made no sense. I was angry, embarrassed, and frankly a bit depressed. I realized that I was playing by the stated rules and not the unstated ones. The injustice made it hard for me to open my laptop and get to work for the first time in my career. I took a long weekend to just mope and pamper myself. Then I vowed to be more attuned to the unspoken rules that govern every group and market and to use my anger to fuel a drive to become the company they cite as their biggest missed opportunity.
I don’t think about entrepreneurship as a boxing match where you are dodging punches and sometimes get knocked out. It’s more like swimming against an ocean current where sometimes big waves knock you back, but don’t knock you out.
What excites you about being an entrepreneur?
I have the privilege to allocate my most precious resource to building what I most want to create. 3 books you recommend for entrepreneurs? I just finished a 3-year dual-degree master’s program and so I’m taking a break from non-fiction and mostly reading for fun. I do listen to entrepreneurship, design and tech podcasts though. I would recommend 99% Invisible, How I Built This and Reply-all.
3 words that describe you?
Curious, Tenacious, Fun-loving
What would you say to your younger self? In school, put as much time into building relationships with your professors as you do with your peers.
Finish this sentence; the career I choose allows me to? Put great products into the hands of great people.
What is the best career advice you have received?
“Life isn’t fair, but 99% of the time it’s fair in your favour.” My mom always gave it to me as life advice, but I think it’s career advice too. It helps put the setbacks into perspective and focus more on your assets than your challenges.
If you had to host 3 iconic people for dinner, who has a sit at your table?
My Grandmother, Eugene Caputi Tirico. She’s not an icon in the grand sense but was a trailblazer with a career in the fashion business in an era when most women worked in the home. I never got to have a conversation with her, and I would love to. And now two clichés… Steve Jobs to understand where his deep sense of conviction came from and George Washington to hear about the courage it took to stand up to the British Empire as a total underdog, what it was like founding an organization that is right up there with the church in having the greatest impact on the world, and learn what inspired him to step down from the presidency after two-terms which set the precedent for a peaceful transition of power that the US has had for most of our history.
Where can we find you on social media?
Personal Twitter: @muhzle, Instagram: @mm248, LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/meghan-mccormick-1301936/ OZÉ Twitter: @oze, Facebook/Instagram: @ozeapp, LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/11140037/admin/
Any advice to entrepreneurs just starting out? Just go for it. There is never going to be a perfect time to start something. If you can’t imagine the world without your product or service in it, you owe it to yourself and your future customers to give it a shot.
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