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Marek Zmyslowski – Entrepreneur, Author and Builder of Businesses in Africa and Beyond
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[00:00:05.860] – Speaker 1
Authentic business adventures. The business program that brings you the struggles, stories and triumphant successes of business owners across the land. Coming to you remotely, well everyone’s remote now in the COVID world. What are you going to do? My name is James Kademan, entrepreneur, author, speaker, and helpful coach to small business owners across the country. And today I am super excited to get Marek. I’m going to try not to kill your name. Zmyslowski.
[00:00:33.340] – Speaker 2
[00:00:34.080] – Speaker 1
Awesome. He’s the author of this super cool book. I don’t know if you guys can see it here. This is Chasing Black Unicorns how building the Amazon of Africa put me on Interpols most Wanted list, which that title doesn’t grab you as an entrepreneur. Nothing will. Nothing shy of free money or something like that. So, Marek, how are you doing today?
[00:00:53.660] – Speaker 2
I am great. Thank you so much for the invitation. And I guess you’re right, that title is an attention grabber.
[00:01:01.310] – Speaker 1
That’s the whole point, right. Awesome. I got to say, I read this book and there’s not too many business type books that I can read cover to COVID very quickly because a lot of them are dry, like so depressingly dry, which for something like business seems weird because it’s exciting and yours almost reads like a James Bond novel kind of thing.
[00:01:29.660] – Speaker 2
Thanks. I mean, that was my intention, really? I am a huge fan of stand up comedy. I think that’s one of the hardest form of art, because you have to be good at so many things at once, and you’re getting feedback immediately, and then you realize that comedians are one of the smartest people in the world, and they actually have a very serious message. But they give you that message by making you laugh, because when they make you laugh, they get your attention, and then you really open up to them. And I really wanted to somehow transform that into a book. And then I realized, let me just have this book tell you a story because I’ve been living in Africa for eight years and I already knew that I have some stories that I went through that people really want to listen because my friends would be like, tell me about this, tell me about that. So I know there are some interesting stories that I knew that if I put it in the writing, hopefully they will either make you laugh or they will make you scared or they will make you be nostalgic or whatever.
[00:02:28.560] – Speaker 2
And the moment I have that attention, that is the moment to give you some business insights in that couple of minutes when I just opened you up by telling you something funny or sad. And I wanted to have this favorite kind of a book, not to business, but also not just not just biography, because who am I to write a biography? I just used the stories of my life to make the business part not so dry and I’m so happy that you said that. From what you said, it kind of worked.
[00:02:59.140] – Speaker 1
Yes. Interesting. I’m trying to think I went to some in laws place of some kind, I don’t remember which one, but I took the book with me and all these locations that we were trailing to just within us, and I realized I was packing the book. And like, that’s weird because normally I’m just like, let’s just grab a book so there’s something to read here and there. And I was finding myself escaping escaping the whole in law stuff so that I could actually read a few more pages.
[00:03:29.140] – Speaker 2
Sorry for your in laws, but thank you.
[00:03:31.630] – Speaker 1
Yeah, but it was cool. It was very interesting, the whole Nigerian prison thing, the whole dealing with funeral business, which is super compelling. And just the whole build up and dealing with the other coworkers employees and all that, I guess we can chat about as we go on. Yeah.
[00:03:51.790] – Speaker 2
So those ten years in Africa, if you live in Africa long enough, adventures kind of come to you and if you’re lucky, you will live long enough to tell the story. And that was also in my case. Africa has given me extreme adventures, both positive and negative. On the positive side, we were able to build this company and put it and do an IPO on the stock exchange. On the negative side, I got into trouble with some powerful people in Nigeria that wanted to put me to jail unless I pay them. So that also extremely on the negative side and also as a businessman, I also kind of like the very early stage of any economy. That’s how I opened my first business in the very early stage of economy in Poland. And then I was looking for that chaos, that economical last Wild West, and I found it in Nigeria and then in Kenya and so on. But this type of business and those type of opportunities also come with a price of corruption and a lot of risky things and so on. And the side effect of that is that sometimes you have some crazy stories that you can share with other people.
[00:04:58.620] – Speaker 2
That was my case. Like I said, we don’t want to say too much, but I do. Running a funeral business and also dealing with mafia in Poland.
[00:05:07.760] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that was an intriguing story because I was thinking, I guess I’ve heard of stuff semi related to that, I guess, in that business, just because it seems like a business that’s not going away, people die. And I heard of it more with coffin sales and stuff like that. Just a surreal. Like who has a dream that they want to be a coffin salesman, but there’s crazy money in there and there are endless supply of customers or at least people that are buying on behalf of someone else.
[00:05:41.060] – Speaker 2
That’s true. That was also my thought process. Really as crazy as it sounds. Because I was this young dude and I knew I wanted to do something in the digital space. And I knew that, okay, every smart guy, all my fellow guys from my university that knew how to code, knew how to build software, they all wanted to build a second Facebook or second MySpace. So all the talents go there. So I was like, what type of sector no one wants to go to? I’m not going to go to a club and impress a Garrett and I’m doing a startup in the federal business. So I was like, maybe this is how I’m going to keep my potential competition away from me. So that was my methodology of thinking. But then you realize that you’re not the first one. In the early 90s in Poland when capitalism was being born, who would open a funeral home? Someone that didn’t have a chance to open a business in any other sector. And who was that in Poland? All those guys that used to work for the government, all those shady guys that used to work in the secret police, all the spies, all the people that now everyone hated because they were working for the communist government.
[00:06:52.080] – Speaker 2
So they were like, let me just open the funeral business because no one else wants to do it anyway. And those type of people are not just the most honest, most professional managers you could think of. I didn’t know that at that time because I was a CNN group in the year 2000, something that was trying to do business with them. Those 60 year old guys with very complicated past, let’s just put it this way. And that’s how I ended up like trying to do business and selling software to those type of people. And that’s how I kind of got into the rabbit hole of dealing with those type of guys here.
[00:07:31.300] – Speaker 1
That’s interesting. So do you know or did you code or were you more entrepreneurial minded or you just outsourced the code or find some buddies to code?
[00:07:42.490] – Speaker 2
So my last line of code I wrote, I think in 2006, 1st line of code for my first funeral startup, I wrote on my own. But then I realized that this is not what I want to do, that I’m kind of being pulled into the business side. I’ve realized I like the sales part of the business, whether it’s setting the vision to your clients, to your employees or fundraising or whatever. That’s what I really find satisfaction, while at the same time I’m not the smartest programmer and I could find people that can do the same thing three times faster and three times better while they have the problem of building a business out of it. And that’s how the young and young kind of came to life. I found my first co founder who seemed like my Auntie Tesla, right? Everything I was good at, he was treated. And the other way around and we became this good duo. And that was my pattern in every other business I opened. Afterwards, I would find someone that would complement my weaknesses. And that’s how you can run a business, because it’s very risky when it’s very hard to work with a person that is different than you, just like in a relationship.
[00:09:00.490] – Speaker 2
But I think this is the way to go if you guys sort it out, because I believe it’s very risky. And I’ve been there. If you open a business with someone that is very similar to you, it’s a great way to run a business because you guys, like, you understand each other’s thoughts, you finish each other’s sentences. It’s great. But you will multiply your strengths, but you will also multiply your weaknesses, and your company can go bust, and you guys won’t even know because you don’t have that complementary skill that maybe is needed.
[00:09:34.210] – Speaker 1
You’re so busy high five, and you don’t realize where your weakness is.
[00:09:37.570] – Speaker 2
[00:09:39.710] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that makes sense. So I want to talk about the company that originally got you into Africa. How did that phone call go? Or how did that conversation go where they actually convinced you to move to Nigeria?
[00:09:54.490] – Speaker 2
Yes. So that was the time when I opened my first company in Poland. The first one went bankrupt. The second one I was able to sell for some little money. It was enough to pay the debt from the first bankrupt once. And then I realized that I was this very young entrepreneur that wanted to be like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, meaning I dropped out of university because I thought, this is the way to go. And at some point I realized I hit the ceiling. I have no meaningful connections or network that I could have built if I was studying at a good university. And I also have no proper knowledge, practical knowledge about how to build a meaningful big international business because I never worked for anyone. The first company I worked for was my own company. So how could I learn how to run a big business if I never worked for one or I never studied about one? And that’s what I realized. Okay, my company is very small. I can never, like, break through to this at three zeros, going from million revenue a year to 100 million, for example, or 1 billion revenue or whatever.
[00:11:09.260] – Speaker 2
And there’s this company in Europe called Rocket Internet, which is considered the third biggest ecommerce group in the world after Amazon or Alibaba. But it’s not that known, I guess, because in every country they operate, they have a separate brand, local brand. Interesting. If you want to be, like, a great manager or executive, you want to go to Harvard and then maybe work for McKinsey, and then you’re going to go the corporate leather. If you want to be a great online entrepreneur, you want to work for Amazon or for Google, for some time. Or for rocket internet if you’re from Europe. So just like for a racing driver, everyone wants to drive for Ferrari. Every online entrepreneur wants to work for these guys for some time. So for me, it was like, just hire me. I want to work for you for a year. I know you’re going to suck all my energy. You’re going to make me work 12 hours per day. But I know that I will also learn a lot. And then after a year or two, I will leave and then I will open other company, being so much better at what I’m doing thanks to that experience with you guys.
[00:12:12.970] – Speaker 2
So I just send the CV. It was a total co email, and I was just extremely lucky that at that time they were recruiting. I didn’t even know that it’s for Africa. They chose me. They invited me for interviews, and there was a series of interviews. It took me two days. I was in their HQ. I had like five or seven interviews in total and some assessment center, and I still didn’t know where I’m going to go. They told me it’s Africa and it’s Egypt. At that time, I only know, okay, pyramids. I’m going to see some cool stuff, historical stuff. And Egypt also has good skype surfing spots. I’m like, I’m going to have some stuff to do on the weekends. Great. And they offered me this job. After a couple of months, I realized that one of the main reasons is that they offered me the job wasn’t because I was so amazing. However, probably my experience from Poland was very important for them because they considered Poland as the Africa of Europe. But the main reason was that not too many managers from France or Germany wanted to go to Africa back then because they just had two good jobs in Europe.
[00:13:21.810] – Speaker 2
And there was this crazy Polish guy that’s just willing to work almost for free. Because I just wanted the experience without even caring about the geography. That was my experience. And then a couple of weeks before my trip, they said, we change our mind. Actually, we want to allow this business not in Egypt first. We want to allow it to Nigeria first. And I was like, oh, my God. Okay. What is Nigeria? Where is it? Let me Google it because I was in ignoran. I didn’t know much about Nigeria. I knew Boko Haram and all those Nigerian scams, which is just a negative PR that you have. But in my case, I just wanted to work for this huge online company that does ecommerce. It doesn’t matter where they would send me. And it happened that it was Nigeria. They were launching this big ecommerce group back then. I got an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’m going to be one of the first employees. But if I survive with them, besides just salary, I can also earn my shares. And I was supposed to just go there for a couple of months to fill it.
[00:14:21.100] – Speaker 2
That turned into three years and that turned into now almost ten.
[00:14:26.810] – Speaker 1
Wow, that’s cool.
[00:14:29.100] – Speaker 2
And many adventures on the way.
[00:14:31.760] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I guess. Why did they pick Nigeria specifically versus any other location in Africa? Or why even Africa?
[00:14:40.460] – Speaker 2
Nigeria, when you look at macroeconomics and when you have a long term strategy for business, I’m talking more than ten years. Nigeria represents the biggest potential by far. 200 million people. Almost more than 60% of population is below 30 years old. In 2012, because that’s where I was moving. Nigeria was one of the fastest growing economies in the world, mainly because of natural resources, but also because of growing middle class, which is also very important. And also Nigeria is considered as one of the hardest markets to grow anything. There are a lot of infrastructure challenges, mainly corruption and so on. There’s the saying, if something can go wrong in Africa, would definitely go wrong in Nigeria. So among investors, like, if you know how to crack Nigeria, then it’s only going to get better and easier for you, and then you can expand to other markets. I’m not going to lie, many of those assumptions I just told you from eight years ago proven to be wrong now that we know that. But back then, this is why so many investors or companies would go to Nigeria first. What didn’t work out properly is that the middle class is not growing as fast as everyone expected.
[00:16:01.760] – Speaker 2
The infrastructure challenges are so big that ecommerce is not as comfortable in Nigeria as it is in states. So the adoption from offline to online is not growing as fast as you want it. Nigeria has been hit economically after the problems with China in 2014, and then the recent problems with COVID and so on, dollar has gone up, so everything that is imported has become twice that expensive, which means people don’t have that much money to buy. So I could multiply you those problems. Long story short, ecommerce is not technological. Online businesses, I should say online travel, e commerce, software as a service marketplaces are not growing as fast as everyone expected. But it doesn’t change the fact that still Africa represents a huge potential. You just have to be more patient and have way more money to survive and to wait until the market allows you to make money, because that was always one of our biggest investment strategy. And I think this is the one that is working. It’s just the time frame that is longer that is required is that you do whatever it takes to become player number one in the market.
[00:17:19.890] – Speaker 2
Because in many online businesses, the winner takes it all. Like, look at social media, look at fintech. There’s this leader that takes everything and then there are a couple of players behind. So as long as you become player number one and then you have enough money to be patient. You will grow with the market because the market is growing itself, and because you’re already player number one. Everyone will go to you first because the economy of scale makes your offer most valuable. Everyone is on Facebook because everyone is on Facebook. That used to be the case for many years. Right? Everyone is sending money to each other via, I don’t know, PayPal. Because if all your friends are there already, then why would you just go to a smaller player? And so on and so on.
[00:18:05.500] – Speaker 1
[00:18:07.540] – Speaker 2
[00:18:08.410] – Speaker 1
It becomes more cumbersome, like me trying to hang on to my BlackBerry.
[00:18:13.610] – Speaker 2
No one’s a BlackBerry. You’re going to go where everyone is like, look at what this Network Effect is. Maybe not as powerful as it is with messaging or social media, but it’s still extremely powerful in different online businesses. Look at rate saving, right? There’s always this drift into having two main players like Uber and Lyft, because as a client, you still want to have a choice. As a driver, you still want to have a choice and switch. You want to have some sort of competition between those guys. But the Network Effect makes you go to the bigger players because the more drivers there are in the city, the shorter the waiting time for the car. And the more clients an app has, the less empty rights. As a driver you will have because you will always make some money whether going out of the city or back to the city, and so on and so on. And this type of observations which prove the Network Effect working, they can be found in marketplace and online travel, in syntax, in classified, and a couple of other key, biggest online business models.
[00:19:27.260] – Speaker 1
Sure, that makes sense. You can’t do an Internet business without bandwidth. So is bandwidth or getting Internet access, has there been an issue at all in any of these places?
[00:19:40.110] – Speaker 2
So, in terms of speed, I had a faster Internet, Lagos in 2014 than in San Francisco.
[00:19:46.540] – Speaker 1
Oh, wow. Really?
[00:19:48.410] – Speaker 2
Yeah, we had LTE faster than in Europe. I would go travel couple of times to San Francisco, and I remember that the problem in regions like in cities like Lagos in Nigeria and Nairobi, Cairo in Egypt or Johannesburg in South Africa is that the connection is very unstable. So you can have LTE speed back then and alpha g for 5 hours per day. But then something breaks because the Internet is only as fast as the slowest part of the connection. Right. There were only two sea underwater cables connecting Africa with Europe and the Internet. So statistically there’s only two and five they can break very fast. My friend actually was working for one of those companies. So it happened very often that one of those ships, cargo ships, would throw the anchor. The anchor would go down and would cut the cable.
[00:20:54.860] – Speaker 1
[00:20:55.740] – Speaker 2
Yeah, it seems so.
[00:20:56.910] – Speaker 1
Primitive to be a problem, right?
[00:20:58.900] – Speaker 2
Yeah, because they just didn’t put it deep enough so the anchors could actually hit it and many things like this. So the problem wasn’t speed per se, but the stability of the network. Okay. And we had the same problem with electricity right in the office. We had to have our own generator because the power from the grid would only be for a couple of hours per day and then shutting it gets shut down. I mean, as an online company you can’t afford to have no power for 3 hours because you can’t answer phone calls. Your laptops will quickly the batteries will quickly run out of power. You still have to send emails to clients, answer phone calls and so on. So the stability of the network, whether I’m talking about Internet or even something such basic as power, is the biggest challenge in South Africa. It’s very expensive to have that and it really makes the overhead cost of any company very high.
[00:22:01.310] – Speaker 1
That’s crazy. I would think like that would be the two, I guess power, water and Internet. Those are the three things that you need to have a growing economy. Right. You got to have a foundation to build anything on.
[00:22:13.980] – Speaker 2
And these are the biggest challenges at the same time of sub Saharan Africa region and also North Africa, but not as big. The roads are not too good, there are no railways. The airline industry used to make a lot of money from Africa. Now it’s covered. So those times are over. But any airline you would talk to unofficially, they would tell you that the highest margins are from international flights to and from Africa. A lot of people want to fly inside Africa because there are no roads. And Africa is so huge you don’t even realize you fly from west to east 7 hours, right? Yeah, it depends on the quality of the plane. The fastest plane would take probably five and a half hours from west to east coast. So it’s a huge continent. There’s not enough airports, they don’t have enough capacity for as many flights as airlines want to fly with all those passengers that want to fly. So if you have demand higher than the supply, obviously prices of tickets are skyrocketed. Skyrocketing. And many times I heard stories of people flying from one African country to another one via Europe because there’s just not enough direct connections inside the continent.
[00:23:41.970] – Speaker 2
And unfortunately all that poses a big challenge to the growth of the economy. Intra African trade is super hard also moving around and passport situation. Me, as a Polish man with Polish passport, it’s easier for me to travel within Africa from one African country to another one then it is for some Nigerians or Ganaians or Cameroonians. Really. Only recently, I think it’s last year or two years ago, they’ve introduced the African Union passport. But finally it’s easy for different African nationalities. Travel within the region. But these are only recent developments. And I get long story short, those infrastructure challenges were always a big problem. But I don’t want to paint too negative of a picture, because if you read my book, you realize that it’s mainly cool stuff. There are challenges, but the sun, the potential, the people. I think Africa is one of the coolest continents right now, and regions, and I remember it’s 54 countries, million of people, billion of people, hundreds of ethnic groups, hundreds of languages. It’s very hard to generalize it. I’m not giving this justice, but it is one of the most amazing regions to do business. And if you have a long term plan, if you don’t just want to make money in a year, then it’s not for you.
[00:25:15.840] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I guess that’s one of the things that were interesting about the book. Compelling, I guess, is the problems, or I should say challenges that Nigeria or Africa pose to you and the growth of the companies that you’re trying to grow. We’re also hindrances to bring in competition. Yeah, I imagine that a lot of competitors looked at it and they’re like, no way. Or they wouldn’t even know where to start. If you were there for a few years and get some contacts, you know how to close, you kind of know, okay, this is how they do it here. No big deal. You just find the system and you move on.
[00:25:51.910] – Speaker 2
It’s not easy to start, that’s for sure. The knowledge is limited, and whoever is already in the continent will try to keep the status quo. I don’t know if this is in the book, but whenever we talk about this, it reminds me of the story of a guy working for Heineken, which is one of the biggest beer producers in the world. It’s a very famous beer brand. They have probably like 80% of the beer market in Nigeria, for example. And they have amazing business, and people working there have great life. I’ll just put it this way. But they would come back to Europe and they would just sell these stories, oh man, I almost got kicked up twice just to kind of leave themselves up and also keep the competition away. In other case, Hennessy, I think Hennessy or some champagne brand, I don’t know. But the numbers of how much sales they have in the region, it’s apparently more than the rest of the world. It’s like sub Saharan Africa. And then they sell more of the bottles than the rest of the world in terms of growth in the last couple of years.
[00:27:09.660] – Speaker 2
It’s just absolutely crazy in certain sectors. At the same time, it’s very hard to build a really scaled up business just in one country because of how much what’s the the word difference between the rich and the poor is just so freaking huge. Just to give you a perspective, nigeria has close to 200 million people, but only around 2 million people make more than $10,000 per year.
[00:27:45.420] – Speaker 1
[00:27:46.450] – Speaker 2
Per year, yeah. 2 million people. So you have, like, a city like a city of 2 million people that is really your addressable market, right? Because $10,000, that’s like $900 per month, right? How much can you really buy? Nigeria is not a cheap country to live in, really, because of how many goods are really important. So if you’re selling goods or services for, like, a middle class, like, I don’t know, cinematic heads, clothes, branded clothes and so on, then your market is really tiny. And in order for you to scale, you have to go to many countries. You have to pick this guy to Ghana, to Cameron, to Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, and so on, because one country might be too small for you. Unless you are in the food business like you’re selling tomatoes or you’re growing tomatoes or you’re selling sugar or cement or you do something that is such a basic life product or basic life service like fintech, it doesn’t matter how poor you are. At some point you want to try to borrow some money or send some money to your friend or family member and so on. So unless you are in those couple of sectors that everyone needs, your addressable market is actually very tight.
[00:29:03.090] – Speaker 2
So this is the tricky part.
[00:29:05.960] – Speaker 1
Interesting. That is so cool. So at what point let me just ask you, the first month that you were over there, did you ever have any thoughts of, like, I got to get out of here, or, this is crazy, or anything like that? Or did you just kind of go, like, all right, it’s a challenge, let’s overcome it?
[00:29:25.160] – Speaker 2
For me, it was never like, I’m done with it. For me, I guess this is part of my personality. The more the louder is my inner fighter with me, harder it gets, the more I want to fight. I actually have a problem of being demotivated when everything goes to smoke. That’s where I’m losing my motivation. I stopped being efficient. That’s always my problem. I work in cycles. If I make too much money, I’m becoming probably lazy. And I think it has something to do with my word inside motivation, like a benchmark. And if I reach that inside motivation benchmark, I decompress. So I’m always trying to increase my inside benchmark. But that’s another story. For me, it was always a challenge. I mean, there’s so many things you can hate. I lived in Lagos for four years. This is a city with 20 million people with no public transport. So you can imagine how crazy it is. Yeah. So it’s a love and hype relationship, but as long as your mindset is set properly, as long as you focus on the cool stuff and you don’t allow yourself to go crazy because of the things that you can’t change.
[00:30:51.410] – Speaker 1
[00:30:51.750] – Speaker 2
Can really enjoy it. Although it is a hard. City to live in. Then I moved to Cape Town, which is way more comfortable. Captain is more like almost like Monaco, almost like a European city in the middle of Africa. Not in the middle of Africa, the south of Africa, with access to the ocean, with beautiful restaurants and hotels and great value for money and so on. But Legos was really hardcore. Everyone that goes to Legos goes there to work hard and make some money. To work hard and play hard. No one goes moves to Lagos, Nigeria yet just for the lifestyle balance. So it can be really stressful and damaging in the long term. One year in Lego is like four years in the rest of the world. I was always laughing, but it’s cool for many people at certain stages of life, I was this typical 20 year old hungry business guy that wanted to explore, or however you’re going to call it. And that’s a perfect place to go if you’re looking for a business adventure. So that was, for me, ideal. It’s not for everyone, though. The people I’ve met and Nigerians against all the negative people, are one of the coolest people I’ve met.
[00:32:17.290] – Speaker 2
I had this big problem of running into some corrupt officers in Nigeria. But without telling too much of the story from the book, the irony of the fact is that the bad guys from the book was actually an American and an Indian guy, right? It happened in Nigeria. Obviously there were some Nigerian crooked guys involved. But the main bad people in my story was an Indian and American guy. But the people that helped me were Nigerians and Ghanians. In the end, I won a case in Nigerian court against them. So if it wasn’t for the justice system that works in adria, maybe it’s not the fastest and so on system, but it does work. It wasn’t for the fact I wouldn’t be here to tell the story. So my story is also a cautionary tale about not believing stereotypes. That’s another layer of the book, because everyone is like, oh, what’s out for Africa? This corruption and everything. I mean, it’s true partially, but actually the reality might be much different than the stereotype, right?
[00:33:23.760] – Speaker 1
That’s an awfully big place to put paint abroad picture like that. Without having any direct experience or anything like that, how could you have enough experience to make a broad statement like that? That’s crazy.
[00:33:37.910] – Speaker 2
Yeah, but people stay with stereotypes. Yeah, that’s how our mind works. You can’t be analyzing every case separately. You have to have those shortcuts in your mind. And also Hollywood does its job, right? You see a woman speaking with Russian accent or a guy with Russian accent because of Hollywood movies, you’re probably going to think she’s a hooker or a Mafia guy, right? Someone is speaking with Arabic middle Eastern Accent It’s probably going to be terrorists. And there are many stereotypes in our head, whether we like it or not. And this is very tricky. I’m going to give you an example just to finish.
[00:34:18.090] – Speaker 1
[00:34:19.310] – Speaker 2
Imagine we’re sitting in a public restaurant in a coffee shop, right? There’s a lot of people around us. Forget it’s not COVID times, right? So we’re probably going to try to speak quiet, not to bug our people around. Everyone wants to have a calm conversation. And imagine seeing those two guys probably speaking with some Nigerian or Kenyan accent next to us, speaking very loud to each other. And if you don’t know much about their culture or whatever ethnic group they’re from, you’d think, okay, these guys don’t know how to be hired, right? And you would just go down the line. But then you can learn about some ethnic groups where actually in those ethnic groups, speaking quietly to each other in a public space is considered as being shady, as having something to hide, as being a fraud. And speaking loud is a sign of honesty and the fact that you have nothing to hide. And you would have probably much different overview of those people if you didn’t know the peculiarities of that particular culture. So that’s just one example. That is an image of you just have to have an open mindset if you’re going to a different culture because you would meet things that you consider stupid, that would annoy you.
[00:35:40.630] – Speaker 2
Just because you’re not used to them, that doesn’t mean they’re worse or better. They’re just different. But our minds likes to get used to stuff, likes to stick to stereotypes because then you just don’t have to think and we don’t like to think that much. That’s how our mind works.
[00:35:58.990] – Speaker 1
Survival instinct. To a point. I’m looking at different software and there are thousands of options and I’m just trying to find a way to get rid of some that I’m looking at to whittle it down. And it’s interesting how I’m just paying attention to my mind, like what it’s choosing as the criteria to get rid of these because there’s so many that I have to witness it down. So you’re just like their logo or something like that. You have to find some way to whittle it down.
[00:36:31.910] – Speaker 2
Yeah. You’re probably going to end up asking your friend. Your friend is not an expert or someone. The recommendation of a friend is so powerful. That’s another interesting topic.
[00:36:43.310] – Speaker 1
Yeah. Especially with software. Oh my gosh, that’s tough. It’s amazing. Yeah. I know we don’t have a ton of time left. I just want to ask you essentially what is some advice that you would give to someone considering starting a business, whether international or just local, that you’ve learned from being in your twenty s and going on this crazy adventure in Africa that you would have heard as advice before you went on this journey?
[00:37:13.630] – Speaker 2
So I know I’ve done one major mistake. There’s one thing that I would change. I wouldn’t change many things because I believe that the mistakes I’ve done were lessons and make me better now. But I went to business too fast. If you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, you’re going to make it doesn’t matter if you’re going to start now or in ten years from now, but if you’re looking at the probability of you becoming successful and by probability I mean making less mistakes, the later you start, the better for you. If you’re going to study in a good university, there’s a high chance you will be in good relationships with ten guys. Statistically, two of those ten guys can become millionaires or CEOs of some great companies. You might want to have those guys in your network. Even if you’re not going to become successful, they might help you. Then you’re going to work for a bigger company for a year or two as a rookie guy. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. They will pay for your mistakes. You’re not going to pay for your mistakes. Someone may open the business you wanted to open because they had the same idea.
[00:38:20.170] – Speaker 2
But like I said, if you have what it takes to become an entrepreneur, you’re going to have ideas ten times in a day. I believe that later, if you start later, you will finish faster or with higher probability of success. And I guess my suggestion is for whoever wants to start is like, is it really the right time to start? Maybe you should delay it and study a little bit more. Maybe work for someone a little bit more before you really go the entrepreneur route. Because you might make mistakes which will be so painful you might never be able to get up because this is not a game. Sometimes you made a mistake and you will just be bankrupt and you will never be able to recover. So you got to watch out.
[00:39:12.940] – Speaker 1
[00:39:13.920] – Speaker 2
I went bankrupt twice, right? This is also in the book. I made my first million when I was $21.
[00:39:21.560] – Speaker 1
Okay. I knew there was bankrupt.
[00:39:27.190] – Speaker 2
And then I lost everything because I was working in the finance industry, right? And then 2008 came and we lost everything, and I even have a huge debt. And then if it wasn’t for the startups and my very lucky sale of one of the companies, I would never pay those debts. So I could have been a bankrupt guy probably, I don’t know, a cleaner now or a bartender still paying my debts. If you’re looking for the startup, I was extremely lucky. So this is why I’m saying watch out. Don’t go to business too fast because you might make a mistake that will cost you for that.
[00:39:57.460] – Speaker 1
Yes. Interesting that you say that, because I can think. Think of the jobs that I had that were crap jobs before I started my first business. But I learned so much. Not with the intention of learning. There’s just certain managers or certain people that I would come across and just learn things that you should and should not do.
[00:40:19.780] – Speaker 2
[00:40:20.640] – Speaker 1
Yeah. One of my favorite managers, he was drunk all the time, but man, he was insightful. So in college, so yeah, I’m lucky I remember. Cool, that’s cool, that’s cool. So I appreciate you being on the podcast. This has been super awesome. Where can people find your book?
[00:40:41.440] – Speaker 2
You can just Google Chasingblackunicorns.com, that’s the site. And also Amazon, Audible, all the other main book stories if anyone is interested. I think it’s also worth mentioning that the whole revenue from the book sale, us actually goes to a charity which we’ve launched. Yeah, it’s also a small charity helping an orphanage in Nigeria. Actually all the details about the foundation are actually also on the site. So most of my activity, both business and private, everything is on chasing. Black Unicorns chasingblackunicars.com. So if anyone is interested, please do check it out. Thanks so much for allowing me to share that.
[00:41:22.950] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s super cool. What are you doing now? I guess business wise.
[00:41:28.690] – Speaker 2
Yeah. So a lot of things have changed for me personally. I got more stable in my relationship. My husband is Dominican, we are based in Spain. So I can’t travel to Africa as much as I used to. So I have slowly reshaped my focus. I only have now one business in Africa, which is a performance marketing agency based in Cape Town in South Africa. And my second business I recently invested in, and I think that’s my second big bet because like I told you, last nine years was all about Africa and I still want to bet on Africa. But my second leg of business happens to be now solar energy. So we invested in this, in this Swedish company. They’ve been on the market already for six years and they are actually doing solar roofs. They are the competition for Tesla roof and they just raised some serious money from investors and they are trying to make Elon Musk life in Europe a little bit harder. Solar energy is actually my second bet and also very exciting. Maybe not Interpol exciting, not Nigerian corrupt police exciting, but also exciting on a different, you know, for different reasons.
[00:42:50.770] – Speaker 2
Different reasons for grandma making world a.
[00:42:52.800] – Speaker 1
Better place kind of scale, right?
[00:42:54.730] – Speaker 2
I like the concept of one being able to make a lot of money because it’s growing like crazy. But also you can tie this to some KPIs that also just maybe not make the world a better place. I don’t think I can continually say that word, but not make it worse. And selling alcohol, running a casino, cutting down trees or growing hundreds of thousands of cows and so on, it’s definitely making the world worse place, which is totally opposite. When you look at growth of renewable energy.
[00:43:39.340] – Speaker 1
That is cool. As well as the channels. Now that oil is cheap, but it won’t be cheap forever.
[00:43:46.160] – Speaker 2
No, the fact that oil is cheap now, it’s kind of enforced because the open countries are just throwing a lot of oil to the market to slow down the growth of renewable energies. You still have to destroy a little bit of the planet to build the technology, to build the batteries, to build the solar cells. But then you have to look at the net effect of not only building the solar cells, but what happens to them throughout the 30 years of using them. Right? Yeah. And above everything, at some point oil will end. So you have to find that resources anywhere. But that’s like a separate discussion but very exciting sector as well because everything is just at the beginning. When you look at the last 20 years, renewables was just the tip of the iceberg. The technology was just not there. It was too expensive, it was actually damaging the environment. You could never make that money back from the investment into either solar or wind or a couple of other sources. But now there’s been a couple of important breakthroughs in the way the solar power performs and the efficiency on the solar cells. So a lot of exciting stuff happening in that sector.
[00:45:02.760] – Speaker 2
And I’m also learning a lot because I’ve been doing online stuff and software for the last ten years. So now I’m entering the physical space. I can actually touch my product.
[00:45:14.440] – Speaker 1
Who did I interview? This guy that has a radio where you connect your smartphone to your car. And he was having a challenge finding investors and he’s like these people with software. It doesn’t matter if it’s unicorn software or I guess unicorn is probably a bad term, let’s call it hippopotamus software. Just any software. They’re getting investors left and right. When you have a tangible product, they’re like there’s a finance manufacturer and blah, blah, blah. So it becomes a challenge. I have a window.
[00:45:47.890] – Speaker 2
You got to get out of a comfort zone because if you do one type of business for too long, you enter this routine thing, you think you know everything you have grown every month, you got to change it.
[00:45:58.290] – Speaker 1
Right, that’s fair. Well Marek, appreciate your time. This has been super cool. I know that people can also just google your name, you got some other speeches and presentations and all that kind of stuff on the internet.
[00:46:10.810] – Speaker 2
Yeah, there are some Ted Talks, there’s been one which went viral. I think has close to me too many interviews. Also about Africa, but also on the website. So Chasingbackunicorns.com it’s going to be there. Thank you.
[00:46:22.420] – Speaker 1
Cool, Chasingbackunicorns.com, that’s awesome. That makes it easy. It’ll be cool to see where you’re at in a couple of years with the solar thing.
[00:46:30.940] – Speaker 2
And I hope to see you in Wisconsin once I can travel.
[00:46:34.230] – Speaker 1
Finally man, I’d love to come see you in Poland or Spain or wherever. I love to travel.
[00:46:39.030] – Speaker 2
But this is if you’re ever in South Africa, Dominican Republic, Poland and Spain. You’re my guest. We have to make sure. I’m sorry about it. Cool.
[00:46:49.840] – Speaker 1
Well, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. And we’ll talk again, man.
[00:46:55.260] – Speaker 2
Thanks so much, jason.