When a young person makes or discovers something new and makes it acceptable or popular by the public, that person becomes a trail blazer and charts a path for others to follow. Anne Amuzu is the CEO, co- founder and lead product developer of Nandimobile Ltd, an award winning technology start up in Ghana. She is affable, smart and an extremely creative technology entrepreneur. Her business has won three awards: Best business at the LAUNCH conference in USA (2011), Top up award for the best SMS App in Ghana (2012) and WORLD summit awards in e-commerce and creativity (2013). We caught up with Anne to sample her views on start - ups in Ghana and generally to hear her story as a struggling young entrepreneur. This is what she had to say:
BizzAfrica (BA): Tell us a little about yourself
Anne Amuzu (AA): My name is Anne Amuzu. I am the first of my siblings. I grew up in a home where my mother tried to create an equal playing field. Though we had only one brother, my mother did not make us feel we needed to worship him and so everybody had something else to do. We grew up thinking we could be anything we wanted to be. I grew attracted to computers after Junior High School (St. Georges JSS) so when I got to the Senior High School (St. Louis Senior High) I was really looking forward to working with the computer. We had a computer lab and the internet was new at that time so everyone had a yahoo email although you have nothing to do on it you still check your emails all the time (she chuckles). I was quite strong in Mathematics so I decided to do Computer Engineering in University.
BA: What happened after your tertiary education?
AA: After tertiary, I heard of this opportunity to be able to start your own company by MEST (Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology). I thought it was a very good initiative because I wanted to start my own company and also thought I was good enough! (she laughs).
BA: Good in terms of computing?
AA: Yes, in terms of computing. So I joined and afterwards, I started Nandi Mobile with two other group members.
BA: So when did it start?
AA: It started in 2010.
BA: So what exactly does Nandi Mobile Ltd. do?
AA: The main idea behind Nandi Mobile is to make customer service better in Ghana and Africa, hence the tagline ‘Empowering connections’. The whole meaning of that tagline is to help companies to connect better with their customers and so all our products are in that line. We came up with Gripeline which is a customer support tool to enable companies to receive customer complaints and feedback using SMS because we realized a lot of people were put on hold when they contact call centers and not everybody had the internet at that time. So from there, we moved on to have a marketing tool by SMS, Infoline, which was automated. So you can send a question and you get an automated response. That was made for small companies who didn’t have the personnel to put behind the Gripeline. Then from there, we launched a mobile application that helps you find businesses with essential services. So, for instance, if i’m here and I want to find an ATM the mobile App will help me find that ATM machine.
BA: So, so far are these the three products you have?
AA: Yes, these are the three products we have.
BA: How successful have these products been?
AA: our most successful product has been Infoline. We have over 400 companies in Ghana using it. They are mostly small and medium scale companies. Gripeline on the contrary did not have much success because the companies did not have the personnel to put behind it. But the new mobile App we launched in November (Keni) and still marketing, we believe will be a very useful tool.
BA: How do you fund your business?
AA: We received seed funding from MEST when we started our business in 2010.
BA: How much?
AA: Eeerm. We are not to disclose that amount. (she chuckles)
BA: Oh okay
AA: Yh. So that has been the only source of funding we have been working with. Since then we’ve been trying to do our businesses ourselves and right now we are looking for funding for the new App because we really need the funds. We have started the App but we just need the funds to make it bigger than what we’ve done so far.
BA: So how does MEST funding work? Do they own your company by virtue of the funding?
AA: They take a percentage of your company when they invest in your company.
BA: How much percentage?
AA: It usually depends on how much money they are investing but they are usually a minority shareholder.
BA: So what do you think about entrepreneurship in Ghana and Africa. How easy or difficult is it?
AA: Well when I talk to some people, they say Ghana is one of the best countries to start a business but some of us don’t see it like that because we are in it and we know how difficult it is. That notwithstanding, I think Ghana is growing. At first it used to be more difficult and most entrepreneurs were seen as people who don’t have jobs or have anything to do so they start their own company. But now, people are beginning to understand that it is a way to grow our economy. I think the part that needs to be developed is the financing. There are a few including GAIN (Ghana Angel Investor Network) who try to fund businesses. But most funds in Ghana want to fund the bigger companies because the idea is that if they invest in such companies, their money would not go to waste. So we really need to work on that. Also as Ghanaians, one of our biggest problems is the know – how in terms of management. Let me take myself for example, I’m a software developer. I know how to develop software but do I really know how to run a business? An entrepreneur would need accounting and managerial skills to run a business. For instance, a lot of people don’t know how to register a company. They don’t get that basis so when they start a business they are not able to grow.
BA: So when you started your business, did you have Accountants and people with HR Management skills?
AA: Actually, we learnt it on the job! (she laughs)
BA: Hahahhaha. So all three of you were software developers?
AA: No, although were all involved in the MEST programme, one person was in charge of business. Even that person had little knowledge in business so we all had to learn it on the job. As time went on we appointed an accountant to help us. So from my experience, I think most entrepreneurs need a little knowledge on how to manage their business.
BA: So how easy or difficult is it getting the right people to work with you grow your business?
BA: I think what we look out for is someone who is committed to a start - up. The company may not have a lot of money at the moment so when we interview people we find out if they are committed to the vision of the company and are ready to work to gown the company as if it were theirs. That has helped us a lot.
BA: So the two others you started the business with are they still around?
AA: No they’ve moved on to start their own companies.
BA: What do you think about software developing? Does it thrive in our part of the world?
AA: We still have a young IT market. I think one of the most difficult things is getting people to understand that they need IT in the first place. You have to give people trial periods and train them over and over again before they get what you are selling to them. So it’s still a young market. The people who understand software don’t trust Ghanaian software because they think it’s not of good quality. That perception needs to change.
BA: How do you see your business in the next 5 years?
AA: In 5 years we want to expand our business to other African markets and see how we can take over.
BA: Apart from Nandi mobile, are they any other businesses or activities you are involved with?
AA: Yes, I involve myself with ‘women in tech’ events to help young ladies also see programming as an option. So I try to avail myself during any training that involves getting young ladies exposed to technology.
BA: If you had the chance to send a message to the president. What would it be?
AA: There’s been a lot of talk about made – in Ghana goods but I think it about time the President made sure that government actually consumes made - in - Ghana goods. For instance, IT contracts should be given to the local IT companies. This is because government is the biggest spender and their money could help develop a company in Ghana and the country at large. So government should be consumers of what we produce here. Also there are a few initiatives to help start - ups in Ghana but government needs to do more in terms of structuring the training. Another thing is that programming in school should start early. In some parts of the world students are taught programming at the Junior High school level. I think we should adopt that here.
BA: Any message to fellow entrepreneurs?
AA: The path of an entrepreneur has never been smooth. There are days you ask yourself why you even started in the first place. But I always say that when you have a big vision, you will need endurance to achieve that vision. So when you go through rough times just keep your mind on that vision and don’t be afraid of any failures that may come your way. With Nandi Mobile, for instance, we would say that gripeline was our biggest failure. But it won us an award. So when you encounter a failure, you don’t give up. Restrategise and keep going.
BA: Thank you for your time