Each year, the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize competition- a flagship philanthropic initiative spearheaded by the Jack Ma Foundation aims to identify, support and inspire the next generation of African entrepreneurs who are making a difference in their local communities, working to solve the most pressing problems, and building a more sustainable and inclusive economy for the future.
One of this year’s competitors is Amadou Daffe – a driven entrepreneur with a robust background in IT. Amadou who is an impact driven individual aims to place Ethiopia in the start-up map on the continent with Gebeya, Inc. – a Pan-African online talent Marketplace that identifies the Best of African Talent, and matches them with cutting-edge projects from selective customers.
With Africa’s emerging gig economy sector and the rise of remote work, opportunities are on the rise for the youth to become entrepreneurs and business owners, thus reducing unemployment and contributing to economic prosperity. Amadou to this end has assembled a leadership team of multilingual and multicultural Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, to launch a managed digital marketplace connecting businesses to the skilled talent on Gebeya’s platform. Capital reached out to Amadou for a candid interview on what led to the formation of his company as well his perspective on entrepreneurship in Africa among other things. Excerpts;
Capital: Introduce yourself, your company and what inspired you to build this innovative platform?
Amadou Daffe: My name is Amadou Daffe. I am the CEO and co-founder of Gebeya.com. I have 3 passions in life: Technology, Africa, and Talent – in that order. I consider myself a true pan-Africanist, having lived in several African countries, although I spent half of my life in the US. I moved back to Africa and settled in Ethiopia 6 years ago with the only goal of building a Pan-African Tech company that can compete on a global scale.
Gebeya, the company I co-founded, is a Pan-African online freelance platform created to bridge the labor gap between skilled freelancers and companies in Africa while strengthening the continent’s presence and competitiveness throughout the global gig economy.
The world’s youngest continent is looking for work. Every African country and most humanitarian and financial institutions deal with the painful challenge of creating jobs for Africa’s growing population. Africa’s working-age population is expected to grow by 450 million people, or close to 70 percent, by 2035.
There are several industries and innovations out there that are trying to solve this job creation problem. I fundamentally believe that the gig economy will become the new working-class norm and the most obvious way to put millions of African youth at work. Gebeya is on its way to building a super freelance marketplace aggregator of thousands of niche-specific gig marketplaces in every country in Africa where young people are looking for work.
Capital: How do you define being an entrepreneur in Africa?
Amadou Daffe: I believe entrepreneurs are the same wherever they are located on this planet. Entrepreneurs are intricately problem solvers. Africa is full of problems to solve, whatever country you are in. Furthermore, Africa stands out as a hotspot for entrepreneurship due to its potential for digital innovation and its sizeable and expanding youth population that will drive innovation across the continent. An African entrepreneur’s advantage over others is contextualizing local solutions to local problems. In some cases, some solutions can be borrowed from other places, but they need to be adaptable.
Capital: Entrepreneurship in Africa is a bit challenging compared to the rest of the world. What main challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?
Amadou Daffe: Let me reformulate this question differently by saying that being an African entrepreneur is much more exciting, impactful, and rewarding than anywhere else. Whether they are in Africa, Asia, Europe, or America, entrepreneur’s role is to solve challenges, whether big or small. It is indeed easier to start a business in one African country than in another, but being an entrepreneur means much more than just starting a business. There are different levels of entrepreneurship. As Vusi Thembekwayo said, there are 4 reasons why entrepreneurs start businesses: to live well (lifestyle), to leave something for your kids (legacy), to sell the business (exit), or to change the world (philosophy). I do believe that the philosophical reason to start a business is more challenging for entrepreneurs in Africa because of the multiple environmental, financial, familial, psychological (i.e., fear of failure), and social pressures we face daily in the countries we do business in. However, many African entrepreneurs have done very well for themselves in terms of lifestyle and legacy.
My team and I are building a business that will change the world. I honestly think the only main challenge I faced in the past was to find a team that was crazy enough to join me on this journey. Once I found the men and women who bought into the vision and mission, everything became more of learning rather than challenges.
Capital: Tell us about the recent rounds of the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) competition? How has the process been like?
Amadou Daffe: In comparison to the other 50 competitors, once I knew the rules and what the expectations were, I felt pretty confident that I was going to be part of the top 20. I have done hundreds of business pitches in my life. Moreover, Gebeya’s vision is not just a business for me, it is part of who I am and the impact I want to have for a better Africa. This critical factor allows me to express what, why, and how I do what I do. It is easy to be confident if you are an expert in what you do and have a dogmatic passion for it.
Going into the second round, I saw the judges as investors and board directors. I had the privilege of pitching to dozens of investors in the past and even convincing some of them to invest in Gebeya. That kind of past experience gave me an advantage when submitting my application and eventually talking to the judges as part of the top 50 finalists.
I am looking forward to being part of the top 10. They will be picked based on who scored the highest during the due diligence process. Gebeya has been through intense due diligence during its last investment round. I believe we have what it takes to pass the ABH due diligence requirements. Then I will look forward to pitching in front of seasoned judges and hundreds of guests in Kigali. I believe that will be where the real challenge is since you have to be able to deliver the message under pressure. I am eagerly looking forward to that.
Capital: What have you so far learned from the ABH competition? What new thing did it add to your career?
Amadou Daffe: I have learned that it is really Africa’s time. With ABH, I have encountered so many people in every corner of this continent, entrepreneurs, ABH team members, advisors, and judges who are genuinely interested in creating an Africa 3.0 with prosperity, alleviating poverty, financial inclusion, food self-sufficiency, digital economy, creating jobs, and boosting education. I have read many data reports, press releases, and assumptions about African entrepreneurs, but meeting so many of them in such a short time validated that the continent is in good hands. I learned something new from every entrepreneur, ABH team member, and judge I encountered all throughout this journey. I added a new set of rich connections from different sectors and countries to my network.
Capital: What do you expect in the coming rounds?
Amadou Daffe: I am expecting to be part of the top 10. I had never personally applied for an award before. I always put Gebeya up front. This is a new journey for me. Being part of the top 10 will maybe set a new trend for me to go for more awards. Moreover, being part of the 3 finalists will be exciting. You see, in the African Startup Ecosystem, Ethiopia is really underrepresented. This is no longer acceptable as Ethiopia is the second largest African country in terms of population, second to Nigeria, and has been consistently part of the top 5 fastest growing economies in the continent. Yet, when it comes to startups, we are barely on the map. It will be truly my honor to be part of the top 3 finalists and represent Ethiopia at this very prominent ABH stage.
Capital: What is your plan for the future?
Amadou Daffe: My plan in the future is to turn Gebeya into a group with several different, but connected business verticals. I want to take the Gebeya group to every corner of the continent and then eventually make this Ethiopian-born startup, global in the next 5 years. My objective is to emulate what Ethiopian Airlines has done over the past 70 years, being the top Airline company in Africa that is competing globally.
Capital: Do you believe there is a winning formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
Amadou Daffe: Well, I am not sure about a winning formula since entrepreneurs are different depending on the environment they come from, status in life, and their upbringing. But there is a common pattern that I see with each successful entrepreneur: they dream big but start small, they are problem solvers who don’t let their current situations define who they are, and finally, they are extremely resilient and will continue to grind no matter what they are going through. I kind of fit into those 3 cases, I left my comfort zone in the US to come to Ethiopia to start up a new kind of business that was never heard of before. I was told 6 years ago that it is extremely difficult to run a tech company in Ethiopia, FOREX is an issue, regulations are high barriers to entry, there are states of emergencies on the regular, and the internet is unstable and is cut off sporadically. I have heard it all. But because of my resilient mindset, the fact that I don’t get deterred by current environments, and that my dream was too big to let someone else do it, I stuck to it. Six years later, I am being interviewed by one of the most prominent newspapers in Ethiopia: Capital Newspaper, for being part of the African Business Heroes competition. What a journey! I believe in Ethiopia because it is a modern nation in the building. You are in for the long haul, or you are not in it at all.
Capital: What piece of key advice would you like to share with new entrepreneurs?
Amadou Daffe: Have a purpose that is much bigger than you. Then be extremely resilient about your purpose and make it part of your destiny. You need all the faith you can get to be a successful entrepreneur. Start your purpose small and grow as your confidence level grows from all the learning along the way. Finally, learn how to communicate with emotional intelligence and lead a team. The ultimate successful entrepreneur must have the best team that fits her or his venture’s vision and mission.
Capital: Is there anything else you want to add?
Amadou Daffe: I will ensure more Ethiopian entrepreneurs hear about ABH and apply for the upcoming competitions.