Isis Nyong’o Madison: The journey has to be worth it

African founders have to actively create the environment needed for success - Isis Nyong'o Madison Click To Tweet

Isis Nyong’o Madison is a well-known media and technology leader in Africa who has held leadership roles at Asphalt & Ink, InMobi, Google and MTV. Over the past decade, she has made her mark scaling media and digital businesses across the continent. Isis holds degrees from Stanford University and Harvard Business School and is the CEO and Co-founder of Mums Village – an online start-up dedicated to enriching the lives of current mothers and mums-to-be in urban Kenya. Accolades awarded to her include being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and one of Africa’s most Powerful Women by Forbes. She serves on the boards of two technology companies and can’t hurt to add that her family boasts of greatness with Academy award-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o as her cousin.

We’ve shared her lessons on landing a job in the media industry already, this article focuses on Isis’s start-up experiences and her lessons learned from challenges.

Overcoming challenges faced in the startup field

There are three types of challenges I have observed while working in this industry:

Access to capital

Access to capital is very different in Africa as compared to the US – there are a lot more types and forms of capital that are accessible, especially for technology-driven startups.

Ecosystem Development

Despite having a critical mass of people online now in Africa, unlike more mature markets such as the US, there’s more consumer education and ecosystem building. African founders have to actively create the environment needed for success.

For example, a couple years ago if you had an app, you would have to tell people what an app was, where to go to get it and how to download it. In the US no one has had to do that for the last seven years at least. So that shows us that there’s still a lot more work to do here to just get going, particularly with the consumer.

There’s similar challenges on B2B type businesses where you’re really trying to sell something useful for that particular business and that process is probably a lot longer than at other markets abroad.

Team Building

With regards to finding talent, the dynamics are just a little bit different. To get the talent that you want in a place in the west where every person has many options, you need to sell a more compelling vision or have deeper pockets. Here we just don’t have that depth of talent pool so you have to invest more time in identifying people who are problem solvers and then develop the other skills on the job.

I look for talent in unconventional places and try make the work environment an inviting and enjoyable space to be in. In regards to ecosystem development, I focus on leveraging partnerships as much as possible. From an access to capital standpoint, I think that’s something that is still definitely a work in progress in terms of trying to be more open-minded to the organic ‘zebra’ growth versus the ‘unicorn’ approach.

Isis Nyong'o Madison: I focus on leveraging partnerships as much as possible Click To Tweet

Take the Imposter Syndrome as a sign of growth

“This is something I have dealt with many times. I feel that it is probably just an indication of real challenge and growth where you feel almost not ready for something this is your chance to step up to the plate.

I certainly believe it’s an inner belief that builds up over time, and I usually just internally calibrate and tell myself ‘you know what there are probably people who feel the same way here and if they haven’t felt it here then they’ve probably felt it somewhere else.’”

On balancing life as a working mother…

Isis is a mother to Juno (3) and Sky (18 months) and has been a successful entrepreneur in Nairobi, running both MumsVillage and Asphalt & Ink for close to four years combined.

“You just have to be extremely organized and ensure that you build as much flexibility to your work and life as you can. It’s also about checking in to see if the way you are living your life has the values that you have. People make different choices, there are those who decide to take time off, others who don’t have a choice.

It’s a careful calibration where one might adjust on a week by week or month by month basis. As an entrepreneur, it’s not such a super static thought process as my schedule is more fluid. The reality is though that most mothers don’t really have a choice and they just have to try and do their best to balance it out as there’s no magic formula.”

The MumsVillage Team
The MumsVillage Team

Parting shot…

My mantra in life right now is – ‘the journey has to be worth it’. Ask yourself, how much am I enjoying the journey? Versus looking to the end goal.

This is a shift for me because I’ve been very goal oriented and so I think the journey in itself has to be rewarding as well. Another thing I’d add is, always have a long term view –that’s very much where I’m at right now.

Looking back at 2016’s lessons

barbara mckenzie kendi sapepa lessons
It’s crazy to think what a difference a year can make, @Kendibone_S shares her lessons Click To Tweet

As we stroll into 2017, I wanted to take a look back at it, and see what has stood out as really important lessons learned in 2016. First up, we have;

Listen to your inner voice

As cliché as it may sound, sometimes when working on certain projects or people, there is often a small voice telling you to say ‘no’. Yet whether it doesn’t make sense financially, does not suit your brand or just a personal reason, we often agree and suffer the consequences of it.

I have slowly started getting used to saying ‘no’ to making clothes that do not complement my brand or my brand’s style. After reading how saying no, can be one of the best self-care, I’ve been slowly getting into saying it more.



Don’t be a lone-ranger

Although I work best when working alone, I have come to appreciate how much collaborations can help and grow your business. Learning to mingle with industry leaders, influential people and chatting to some —even if it’s just to ask a question— has really made a difference in my business’s growth and reach.

Working with both like-minded people and “unlike-minded” people, helps you see things differently or in some cases, build on what you already have. Simple things like collaborating with a start-up courier company can help you lower your costs and help them grow their client bases and develop their track-record.

Make your customer service your best marketing tool - @Kendibone_S Click To Tweet

Value your clients

They are the lifeblood of your business. Make your customer service your best marketing tool, simply because it is far more organic and real. A referral from a trusted friend is far more effective than a paid for Facebook advert.

Not to say that one should not participate in paid advertising, but when you cannot afford it, your customers will do it for you, free of charge. And when they can’t, you simply engage in some referral-based marketing and offer discounts and free gifts for every new clients they bring. This is totally worth it and far more effective.fierce gif


We as entrepreneurs often spend each and every waking hour slaving away at building our businesses and often forget to take care of ourselves. Like in emergency airplane situations, you are instructed to put on an oxygen mask on yourself before you can help anyone, even children. One must take care of oneself before they can take care if their business.

I started practising self-love recently, when I painted my nails after months of not making time to do it. Self-love need not be extravagant, it just has to be something that makes you happy. Something as simple as buying yourself an ice-cream cone and taking a walk or giving yourself a half-day from work, can go a mighty long way.

Get uncomfortable

It’s crazy to think what a difference a year can make. I started off the year with just my clothing brand and its online store, but the tail-end of 2016 I had an actual walk-in boutique that opened early December.

Before this I had fears about the cost and implications of opening a store, possibility of zero sales, being unable to cover overheads, and for a long time was paralysed by it. But as the famous meme says, the magic happens outside the comfort zone.

if-you-believe-lavwemThere are those who are happy to not try anything and that’s all right, but for those who dream and wonder if they would be successful at something, just do it! It’s okay to fail, it says you tried! Most of us are very quick to drown ourselves in the negatives and consequences of taking a chance, that we barely come up for air and say; “but what if it does work?”

As the next famous meme goes; “What if you fly?” We need to train our minds to be selective in the kind of thoughts that we allow into our heads, we need to be as selective of those thoughts as we are with our selfies, clothes and so on. The mind is a powerful thing.

We need to train our minds to be as selective of thoughts as we are with our selfies Click To Tweet

And with that said, I look forward to starting off the year on a high note.

Lessons we can learn about building a social brand from Seatbelts&Openspaces

thuto sekate seatbelts&openspaces being lizzie
It is important to incorporate a social issue that can be part and parcel of the story behind your brand Click To Tweet

Social branding is important in trying to build enterprises that are btoh sustainable and socially responsible. We can learn a few lessons from Seatbelts&Openspaces CEO, Thuto Sekate.

Seatbelts&Openspaces is an ethically social brand which produces sustainable merchandise including up-cycled arts and crafts, clothing, and décor made from organic material, old clothes, trash and scrap material.

1. What influences your brand?

For Thuto, a #MotherlandMogul making vintage clothing with environmentally friendly products, her influence is from her past.

“Seatbelts&Openspaces is a result of an ethical father and mother. My dad once worked for an NGO that dealt with social issues, then moved on to work for a can recycling company. Later, my mother started a glass and paper recycling company while I was still a minor. So caring for the environment was naturally drummed into me.”

In university, she had the experience to cover a topic of sustainable fashion. This exposed Thuto to her calling to address her social issue of choice through eco fashion.

When building a social brand, it is important to incorporate a social issue that can be part and parcel of the story behind your brand.

Source: Seatbelts&Openspaces Facebook
Source: Seatbelts&Openspaces Facebook

2. Clearly define your brand

Through her platform, Thuto directly addresses environmental issues, making clothing from waste or recyclable material. She also upcycles, with ethical practices such as using natural dyes like coffee and tea in her production.

Thuto’s focus is incorporated in every fabric and material she makes which is clearly visible in whatever she sells. Through her style of fashion, Thuto reduces the carbon footprint by handcrafting her work.

There is a conscious effort in her work to ensure that her brand clearly associates itself as environmentally conscious and friendly.

Thuto Sekate directly addresses environmental issues through Seatbelts&Openspaces Click To Tweet

3. Learning from others

“I am definitely following other social brands, both fashion for their trends and just eco brands for the information of staying eco conscious.”

Thuto learns a lot from more developed socially responsible brands that help her find better ways to structure her business. This way, she can improve her process and technique as well as raising her integrity associated with being a “woke” brand.

Source: Seatbelts&Openspaces Facebook
Source: Seatbelts&Openspaces Facebook

4. There will be challenges still, SLAy

In countries like Botswana, building a eco friendly brand is not common or well known as part of the business process. So not everyone will understand immediately your work.

“Awareness of the cause is still building up in Botswana, so very few people understand the deeper meaning of the brand. The educational part of the need for such a brand needs to be built before we can successfully make a significant social impact.

I guess that’s why Seatbelts&Openspaces is a need. Our attempts are to close that gap of understanding and rocking the brand while creating employment opportunities for the youth. Mostly the balancing of profit and good will.”

Beyond looking to make a profit, your brand has to look at long-term sustainable solutions to ensure it meets its targets and impacts its community positively.

Building a social brand requires realizing that you improving your space in one way or another Click To Tweet

5. Be a game changer

Building a social brand requires realizing that you are different and improving your space in one way or another. Your platform can influence others on how they perceive social challenges around them, especially now in Africa.

“The possibilities are endless for us, we are the actual future. With the amount of “woke” young people in my circle alone, my faith in humanity is restored daily. Photographers, weavers, bloggers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, online store owners are each tackling different social issues.

From documenting poverty in photos, offering artisanal skills to the less fortunate, selling art made by locals all over the world at fair prices, giving locals an opportunity to grow beyond borders or awarding free medical services, with the help of crowdfunding. We do need to make profit, but it should not be at the expense of others.”

Seatbealts&Openspaces does not shy always from realizing the task of changing the narrative on consciousness in business in the Motherland. Neither should you.

5 life lessons we can learn from Becca

One failed option does not mean all is lost! Lesson learned from @beccafrica and her career Click To Tweet

Becca’s first appearance into the spotlight was on the second season of the TV3 annual singing competition, Mentor, where she was selected to represent the Ashanti Region, Ghana. The music mogul who barely had fame then, however had to pull out of the contest.

This was after discovering that participants had been secretly tested and cleared of HIV/AIDS without their knowledge and consent. Also, because the terms of contract were not up for discussion and rather was a ‘take it or leave it’ affair.

Upon quitting the show, Kiki Banson, under EKB records signed her and released her first debut studio album “Sugar” which got five nominations at the 2008 Vodafone Ghana Music Awards.


Today Becca is a multiple award winner (Kora Award, one National Youth Achievers Award, four Ghana Music Awards, and three 4Syte TV Music Video Awards) and one of the most influential women in the country; a status she may not have acquired if she had not been bold and daring enough to stand her grounds.

Here are five life lessons we can learn from Becca;

1. Know your rights and fight the system to do the right thing

Many people are being taken advantage of and have had their rights infringed upon because they themselves are not aware of their civil and human rights. Becca knew her rights and knew they were being trampled upon when her consent was not sought before the HIV test was conducted.

If you do not speak up against infringements and injustices, the world will assume you are okay with whatever treatment given to you.

Know what you are about and never accept just anything Click To Tweet

2. Know what you are about and never accept just anything

People who usually say “anything goes” are seen as indecisive, unfocused and complete pushovers. They are also often taken for granted.

Knowing and expressing explicitly what you want and deserve will convey the message that you are not a pushover or easy prey to sleazy commitments.


3. Never be afraid to pull out of a negative environment

When Becca found out that the contract she was given was not going to help her reach her goal, she pulled out. As humans, we sometimes adapt to a toxic place or an unhealthy environment not due to the lack of options but mostly due to fear of the unknown.

Eventually, we end up paying dire consequences for our actions and choices. You need to learn how to let go of things, people and situations that can be a breeding ground for retrogression.

4. There are other ways to succeed

There isn’t one formula for success so if going one way doesn’t help, try the other. Identify and if need be, create avenues to thrive; what matters is reaching your destination.

Becca left a reality show and ended up with a record company which guided her to success and catapulted her to 5 nominations in the 2008 VGMAs. One failed option does not mean all is lost. In fact, it could be for a greater good or just the boost you need to get to your green land.


Resolve issues amicably and in the best and most healthy way possible Click To Tweet

5. Always be the bigger person

Life will always kick your butt; that is something we cannot control. What we can put a rheostat on however, is how we react to difficulties and problems we face.

Don’t dwell too much on the past that you lose focus on the future. Resolve issues amicably and in the best and most healthy way possible so you can move on without any demons of the past.

Spinning straws to gold the Coco Chanel way

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself”

– Coco Chanel

Ever felt a scent so distinct, so exotic and yet so familiar that it makes your head spin? That is what Chanel number 5 perfume does to you. The best-selling perfume in the world, and yet so few of us know the story behind this liquid gold…or the mastermind behind it, Coco Chanel.

Coco Chanel is one of the most influential entrepreneurs of all time, but very few people know the story behind the brand. And when they do, they do not approve of it very much.

Nevertheless, her brand, which she started with meagre savings before World War II was an estimated $118 billion in 2015. That’s right, Motherland Moguls. That business has been tested through the worst times in the world, and it still came along with a lump sum.

The backstory

Coco Chanel, born Gabrielle Chanel to a poor French peddler and a shop girl. Her mother died, her father ran off, and she was raised in a convent.

When she turned 17, nuns got her a job as a seamstress. But since she secretly wanted to be a singer, she went and tried that out but failed miserably at it.

She later rejoined the fashion world after Etienne Balsan helped her out with a dress shop in Paris. She expanded the shops, and chose to dress women in her form of rebellious dresses, rather than the puffed up dresses ladies dressed in back then. It’s the classic Cinderella story.

My mother always told me that there is nothing new under the sun. There are so many lessons we can learn from Coco Chanel’s marketing and branding skills, and how to tough it out in times of war (literally in her case).

Here are some lessons I’ve learnt from Chanel’s legacy.

Brand yourself early in your business

Coco Chanel knew that she wanted luxury, but practical. And everything that she made carried her name along with it, with its simplicity and elegance.

She started out with hats and putting her two relatives to strut on the street as a marketing strategy.

Make it stand out

If and when you do choose to have a distinct look or brand, make it scream so loud that it represents you despite your absence.

Chanel made her looks using cloth that was originally used for men’s underpants. She made her perfumes unconventional from the flowery scent that was used by ladies then.

She invented the little black dress. And with each one of her products, she made a statement without screaming to the world in words.

It does not matter where you come from

What matters is where you are headed. How many times have we heard this slogan, huh?

Coco Chanel made it true. And to escape poverty, she worked herself off using everything that was thrown at her.

What excuse could you give not to make a difference?

It is never ever too late to make a comeback..

…and slay while doing it. Coco shut down her business for a while after her brand plummeted under allegations that she was harboring a German spy during the war.

After a long time out of business, she decided she wanted to rejoin the fashion business…at 70 years old! Even though she failed that first year, she did not give up.

She put her big girl pants on like the woman she was and conquered it…again, at 71. I think all women need to have this kind of rebellious attitude to succeed in business.

There are no words that can put this woman’s actions and life into justice. We need to applaud women of the past that have shaped the world and learn from them. Women that knew themselves so well, that they span themselves into a legacy.

Coco Chanel should be at the top of that list. Jusqu’à la prochaine fois, Motherland Moguls!

“Everyday is a fashion show and the world is your runway”

– Coco Chanel

5 business lessons from Angry Birds

Any Angry BirdsTM fans reading this? Game or movie, whichever tickles your fancy?

Well, I am an avid fan and with my recent addiction —or should I say penchant— to the league tournament game, Angry Birds Friends, where we complete online ‘globally’ (pauses to laugh at such an interesting hobby), I found myself ruminating over some business lessons.

These angry birds have something to teach us as they deal with their foes, the bad piggies. Let’s get angry, I mean, started!

Photo credit:

1. Put your ducks in a row or if you prefer, arrange the birds wisely behind the catapult

This is the bit you prioritize on your strategy from the business plan. What comes first? Leasing office space or testing the market?

When playing angry birds, the birds are aligned for you such that you cannot pick red before yellow. If yellow were to be fired on the catapult before red, it would change the dynamics of winning.

Create a list of priorities and shuffle it accordingly according to internal and market conditions.

2. Understand the role of each bird

When playing this game, each bird has its own unique ability. This also goes for you, I bet you’ve identified your strong point by the time you launched.

  • The yellow bird (Chuck) can zoom in at a high speed and is good with wood destruction.
  • The little blue birds can be fired into 3 and deal well with glass.
  • The black one (Bomb) is a bomb in waiting and is perfect for blowing stone.
  • The small red one (Red) can be fired to mid-range distances.
  • The big red bird (Terence) is bulky and is good for close range mammoth destruction.
  • The white one (Matilda) doesn’t fly so far but it can drop an egg and destroy whatever lies above with its head.
  • The green one is fantastic for hidden spots because it works almost like a return boomerang.

Back to business, what is the objective of each strategic action you take and what will it be good at achieving?

If you are launching an app, you could decide on a market sampling storm, then online advertising and finally traditional advertising. Or if you’re launching a clothing boutique, you could open with premium unique designs that you know consumers are looking for and consider offers later at certain peak seasons instead of the other way around.

What comes first or last and why?

Sometimes though, this is an egg-before-the-chicken, chicken-before-the-egg phenomenon! So be careful.

3. Save some birds, where possible

Now, the objective of this game is to use the least number of angry birds to destroy the bad piggies. Feels odd typing piggies as I wear a smug face and convince myself that I am writing earnestly!

With such a mission, the moves you make need to be smart. You need to visualize the end from the beginning for you to save some birds which is different from releasing them aimlessly.

As an entrepreneur, bootstrap is your friend. You need to decide on what you want versus what you need. Do you really need a fancy office space or can you operate from home and save that money for one or two sales personnel?

Do you need an accountant or can you handle that in your initial years, seeing that your degree gave you some basic skills? Such pertinent questions and more will help save your ‘birds’.

Photo credit:

4. Ignore the grunting pigs

The sound effects in this game are quite something. I mean, when you are down to one bird and have three pigs to attack, they begin to grunt and somewhat remind you that you are losing.

Then when the game is over and you’ve lost, they snort and grunt even more! In the face of business, you might have some competitor pigs nipping at your heels or get to a point where some of your family and friends are not being very supportive.

You will need to remind yourself why you started, what your deepest and genuine motive is and latch on to that. Hang around inspiring like-minded people and don’t let the noise of competition cripple you, unless it’s obviously sending an important signal. As for the naysayers, just make the lipstick redder and keep at it.

5. When you don’t manage to destroy all the pigs, try again, differently.

Perspective is the crux of the matter here. If you looked at a 6 from the south, and then from the north, you will see different figures.

At times when playing this game, I tilt my phone. I flip it to the right, left, diagonal, maybe 65 degrees, or whatever. I take a moment and rethink my attack strategy.

You will have a number of moments like these in business when all you need to do is take a step back and change the plan. It is okay that the first plan didn’t go as expected, you learnt something. You are now wiser but don’t waste any more time, rethink and reactivate.

Hope you enjoyed this one!

4 lessons we can learn from DJ Cuppy and Rona Wigs

dj cuppy sharon adeleke she leads africa

Well, everyone knows or should know Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola aka DJ Cuppy. If you also do not know Sharon Adeleke aka Rona Wigs, then you should know the Adelekes, that is Davido’s family.

So what do these two women have in common?

Daddy is stinking rich, yes, but that not withstanding, they work and they are really good at what they do. Now, these ladies have a couple of things to teach us about business and life in general.

1. Daddy’s money is not necessarily mine

When asked why she was making wigs, Sharon replied;

“Yes my daddy has his money but it is not my money. My daddy has his own money, Davido has his, I want to make mine.”

Sharon’s hustle are the beautiful wigs she makes herself

It is quite accepted to see a rich kid live off trust funds and have an enormous social life. They do  not necessarily have to work, I mean who has to work when the money is there, right?

No. Here are two women, daughters of some of the richest men on the continent slugging it out. Well not really slugging it out, but the hustle is real baby.

Sharon and Cuppy do it normal way, starting something sustaining the drive, making a name and creating a global brand.

2. Passion drives

Anybody who knows Cuppy personally, knows she loves her music production. She is crazy about what she does and takes time to do it right. No half-bakes for the eclectic DJ.

Sharon gushes over her wigs like they are the new definition of bae. It is evident that she enjoys what she does and she has turned it into a business. They work their passion and make money from it like no (wo)man’s business.

Their businesses show the depth of their dreams. This is not just mere working to show that they can work, no, this is a dream. You see this in the hands-on way Sharon handles Rona wigs. She uses social media to advertise herself and is fully involved in the entire wig-making process.

And well, it’s not like Cuppy can give out the spin table to someone else to “help” her spin.

3. Know what you do


Cuppy can hold a crowd’s rapt attention with her music. She remixes almost everything and puts the “DJ Cuppy” spin on it.

You see her right there on stage making new sounds out of old songs. This is not just someone who can DJ, this is a lady who can spin.

Sharon said “I love making wigs and I am good at it”. Nuff said! These are not rich kids pretending to work , nah, these are Motherland Moguls who work! And there is no stopping them.

4. Playing the daddy card

Well, it might not be your daddy, but if someone around you has the fame and the money, make it count. We are not all children with rich dads even though we may know some.

We cannot deny the massive boost that being Otedola’s daughter has given to DJ Cuppy or how being an Adeleke has and will influence Rona wigs. Sharon openly admits to having had a privileged life.

Still, both women have something that could be watered. Yes, some people will get away with daddy’s money and position. But if Sharon and DJ Cuppy use “daddy’s” card, it’s to rake up the market, connect and build their brands.

Key steps to creating your business with Sharon Beason, Founder of Womeneur

Creating a business model can come with its challenges, it is not always easy and requires significant strategy. Womeneur is a platform for women to develop their businesses professionally. During She Hive NYC 2016, Womeneur Founder, Sharon Beason went over the initial steps needed to develop a business. In this workshop, attendees learned that paying attention to detail can make all the difference in the trajectory of a business.

Here are some of Sharon’s strategies on developing a business professionally.

It has to make sense

Think about how viable your business is. No matter what business you are in, you are always in the business of solving problems. Ask yourself, am I solving a problem?

Image result for beyonce gifs

Do your research and know who your competition is. You must see where your competition is slacking and solve the problems that they are not. For example, if they are not responding to customer phone calls make sure that you are. If they are low on merchandise, make sure that you are not.

Aim high

Within the industry that you are looking to get into, see who on a grand scale is doing what you aspire to do. For example, if you are looking to make handbags, look at who is currently the most successful at doing it. Study the strategies that the company uses.

Image result for beyonce gifs

Have a well-defined niche and target that audience. Create a customer profile for that niche. Be as meticulous as possible when defining your target audience, this allows you to make better customer-centered decisions. Ask yourself, what do they look like? How do they speak? What are their interests?

Listen to your audience

You have to actively listen to your target audience’s needs and go where they are. For example, if most of your target audience uses Instagram to communicate go there and read about the discussions that they are having on that platform.

Image result for beyonce gifs

Sharon explained that people’s commentaries give you a snapshot into their mindset. If you have a well-defined understanding of their problems, you can more readily provide solutions.

Workshop participants went home with the key takeaway that if they set up their business models effectively, they can become agents for change within their respective industries. In order to become an agent for change you must listen to the people that you want to serve and always make it your priority to fulfill their needs.