Lesotho-born entrepreneur and CEO of Thola, Nneile Nkholise, joins us on this Agtech-themed #APSVibecheck instalment of the African Pre-seed Podcast. Thola is accelerating auditing and global export compliance certification for farmers and their products for climate sustainability and quality standards through a mass decentralised 'Certification-as-a-Service' software solution.
One of the things that shines through in this conversation with Nkholise is grit and the importance of perspective. Those themes are timely given today’s global tech ecosystem and the market uncertainties we’re living through. Nkholise is not a first time founder, and throughout the conversation, it’s easy to tell that she’s used to making bold decisions. Her time as a researcher helped her see the opportunity to solve a need in women’s health. It led to her founding iMedTech and building out that business before deciding to shut it down.
🌍 Yet, her boldest decision is something we can all learn from. For her second business, Nkholise decided to move from South Africa to Silicon Valley–smack in the middle of the pandemic–because she believes that the market for Thola is bigger in the US. “It’s not always the case that one needs to start a business in their home market; a bigger opportunity for us was in Silicon Valley,” Nkholise shares.
Remember our conversation in this month’s newsletter? One key takeaway from that newsletter is that pivots (and bold business decisions) should happen when we’ve learned something that fundamentally challenges our assumptions of the customer and the market.
But this story is not all roses. There’s a useful conversation about coping with failures, which is something Nkholise had to do following her decision to shut down iMedTech. Shutting down the business was not an easy decision, and it also points to the fact that startup failures can be unique and complex.
For iMedTech, it wasn’t typical problems like lack of funding or an inability to find product market fit. Instead, the company struggled with dealing with scale–it’s not every day you hear about how finding product-market fit (PMF) comes with its own set of existential pressures. Nkholise is right on the money when she says, “When a company gets to PMF, the only way it dies is if the founder can’t handle scale. It’s one that’s never quite spoken of because many founders never even get to PMF.”
As I said earlier, this is a timely conversation!
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this conversation is how experience and perspective can shape our position over a period of time. It’s especially important when the conversation moves to African VCs and the idea that they tend to be more stringent before signing cheques. According to Nkholise, “These experiences of doing due diligence with African VCs shape willing founders. Having a VC that forces a founder to be a strategist mitigates failure in a market downturn.”
Before I give too much away, listen to the podcast and be sure to let us know your biggest takeaway! — Olumuyiwa
Top 5 insights to unpack in the episode:
1. Please describe your startup journey from South Africa to San Francisco. Why did you go to Silicon Valley? [0:18]
2. What did I learn from founding a startup that failed? [05:15]
3. What misconceptions do African founders have about Silicon Valley? [09:38]
4. What is the perception of the African VC ecosystem among the stakeholders you
interact with within the Silicon Valley scene? [12:07]
5. How do you keep perspective amid the highs and lows of being a founder? How do you take care of your mental health? [17:10]
CONNECT VIA SOCIAL MEDIA:
- Connect with Nneile Nkholise on Linkedin.
Are you a Founder learning the ropes of the fintech industry? Please share what you're learning from some of your successes and setbacks on social via the #APSVibecheck #AfricanPreseedPodcast hashtags, or email us via email@example.com
🔌 USEFUL RESOURCES:
ARTICLE: Navigating the African tech startup ecosystem by Ventureburn.
ARTICLE: The story of iMed Tech as told by Nneile Nkholise by IT News Africa.
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