Maya driving her passion to help small businesses
Maya Horgan-Famodu is the founder/Chief Executive of Ingressive, an organisation that leverages on high quality expertise to select and lead investments in top tech startups across Africa. Maya, who is Nigerian-American, has dedicated her working life to ensuring that small businesses get the know-how they need to grow in developing world. Maya shares with LUCKY ORIOHA details of what it means to be behind the scenes of helping young businesses reach their full potentials.
Tell us a little about yourself
I CAME from a maternal side of humanitarians, and a paternal side of academics and entrepreneurs. My dad came from Nigeria and met my mom at school in Minnesota, where I shared most of my youth. I attended Pomona College and completed the Cornell University Prelaw programme. My professional career includes time at JPMorgan Chase, extensive emerging market economic research in the Caribbean, Central American and the Sub-saharan Africa. Before starting Ingressive, I worked in private equity research, assisting financial institutions to reach decisions on prospective investment opportunities.
How would you describe Ingressive?
Ingressive is a data company tracking Africa. It’s a new kind of organisation that leverages on high-quality, on-the-ground expertise to select and lead investments in top tech startups across Africa. We aspire to lead 10,000 investments in the next 10 years.
At what point did you decide to start Ingressive?
Ingressive as a concept has been active for years. The catalyst initiating me leaving the job to go full-time startup was two-headed. First, I just got tired of seeing my friends, brilliant entrepreneurs with viable business ideas, technical expertise and an immediately available and addressable markets without the financing or support they needed. Even my tailor, creating majority of swag for politicians, making t-shirts, bags, cloth printed banners and so on couldn’t get a $5,000 loan to outsource his production to China.
Secondly, I worked in private equity research, supporting firms to reach decisions on opportunities. More and more, the individuals we engaged brought up Africa, but clearly with minimal or no experience, connections, or knowledge of the space. There’s just too much happening, too much talent and too much opportunity one cannot ignore.
What is the inspiration behind Ingressive?
The key to social development is rooted in the economy. And as much as some government institutions and big businesses want to argue, sustainable economic development comes from the bottom up. Ninety-nine per cent of African businesses are 10 employees or less. That’s a continent built on small business. We need to see Africa in control of her future by taking charge of scaling businesses.
What are your biggest challenges starting up Ingressive?
Dealing with the problem around international tax and investment policies, especially the laws rippling through African nations around equity and ownership. Most frustrating is Ghana’s law preventing foreign investors committing less than $500,000 from owning equity. There is this precarious line policymakers are dealing with: protect domestic business and encourage local ownership or facilitate growth through foreign direct investment. It’s a challenge that cross-border investors must face.
Also, finding mission-driven talent. It is much more challenging than uploading a job description and selecting the prettiest resume and best chatting skills. Smart people can learn nearly anything on the fly, so more imperative than long-term experience is aligned values. Your human capital is fundamentally what makes or breaks a business; it’s imperative, the most important part that ensures talent is aligned in company values. You can rapidly teach smart people skills, but you can’t do the same with values. I love what I do. I wake up and it’s what I want to do. It can be a challenge to step back and step away for a fresh perspective when there is always more to do.
Has there been any major challenge working with small African businesses?
Of course, some of the issues that I faced were on communication due to notoriously bad Wifi. Difficulty coordinating with founders due to awful traffic in most major African cities just imagine trying to meet with your team, fighting through five-hour traffic each way every day. USD escrow accounts and being paid. The challenge of how much capital to keep in local currency versus something more stable such as USD, and where to hold it. With devaluing Naira and a continent hit by plummeting oil prices, currency volatility is a serious concern. Creating audit-ready businesses. Namely, teaching how to separate small business owners’ personal from business accounts. Tech startups are ingrained enough in the network, they get it right from the beginning. But when we were incorporating SMEs into the network that was the main issue when helping the business to become investor-ready.
What is the most difficult part of forming seamless alliances between your network in the US and that of Africa?
Physical connection. We’re working primarily with angels and young startups. No matter what you say, angels invest on emotion and they invest in the entrepreneur. We can show exciting KPIs (key performance indicators) and a thoroughly qualified team on paper, but without the face-to-face, without the weekly beer or watching the team hunched over laptops in a back alley office, it’s a challenge to facilitate sustainable bonds. That’s why we have incorporated semi-annual investor tours to guide those interested in African opportunities with those on the ground building them.
Can you shed more light on #TourOfTech 2015 the event you hosted last year?
Our semi-annual tours are designed to guide global investors and technical experts to meet, mentor and invest in the entrepreneurs we track throughout the year. We brought over executive investors from 500 startups, Techstars, WingPact Silicon Valley Women Angels, Kaleidescope to name a few. We organised a series of events with ministers, dozens of investors across the globe, hundreds of tech founders and key African influencers, including Mrs. Awosika, first woman chairman of First Bank; Adeola Azeez, Head of Deutsche Bank; Mrs. Johnson, former Head of ICT and others. The purpose was to integrate our visiting investors into the local tech scene, not only to find great opportunities on the ground, but come to understand what it means to be an African tech founder, to provide them with context to become much more effective as a mentor, investor and advisor.
How do you source fund for local entrepreneurs?
We’re executing our first syndicates now. Ingressive leads the investment and recruits on interested angels with relevant technical expertise who also wish to support the business.
Have you any advice on how to start and run a business in Africa?
If you have no connections, create them through the entrepreneurial ecosystems. Founding a company is hard; don’t do it alone. If you don’t know anyone, you certainly know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can help you build, refine and pivot. Follow-up with me, or contact someone at ICT, CcHub, iDEA Nigeria, Leadpath, Startpath, Leap Africa, African Leadership Network,440.ng, the list goes on and on. There is always someone there to support or assist.
Also, if you want to rise, think global. The most frequent issue I find in translating businesses from Africa westward is that states-side angels want to see plans for a billion users and African companies are solving local problems with no clear indication of scale.
Don’t publicised the amount of your raise. Send press out that you’ve been supported by a VC, but don’t put out the amount. It’s in your benefit. People are hungry out there. Trust me, just don’t. Also, don’t get distracted with short-term prizes. The new hot thing is to host pitch events. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the pitch world and find yourself sustained on prize money, not revenue.
However, organise events to bond your team, at least once a month. Building company culture is imperative. And when you’re virtually married to your founding team members, taking time to breath together, to reflect, to bond, as people will strengthen communication, trust, and shared vision much more. I challenge you to try it for three months and test the change.
Write down your goals. You’re not going to shoot a target you can’t see. Write down your big, hairy, scary, ‘million users in five years’ goal, and then write down each step to get there. It makes it all digestible and gives you quantitative goals to ensure you’re on track.
What is your greatest achievement so far?
The global community of family and friends, I didn’t realise it until recently. In about 10 cities across the globe, I could move and have a solid community, a warm bed, and brilliant friends by my side. And my family, we’ve built something special. We’ve been through a lot together, and to this day, my dad is my best friend, my confidante and my everlasting support. My siblings couldn’t be more loving and inspiring. And my mother, she’s such a force to be reckoned with. If I’m ever anxious or sad or nervous, I just think of my family, or words from my father, and I’m fine. No matter what happens with Ingressive or me, I’ve got a community of incredible people who I’m blessed to have for good.
How do you relax?
In my spare time, I love to exercise, ride my motorcycle, and travel. I also work with animals, dance and choreograph, and write for the Huffington Post.
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