6 Key Takeaways from ‘Starting and Growing Businesses in Africa’ with Richard Tanksley

Nosa Omusi | Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Last week, the MEST Incubator Lagos held the third edition of its MEST Soapbox Sessions (previously called MEST Lagos Talks), a series which brings in relevant players from the tech ecosystem to share know-how, insight, experience, and perspectives about technology, entrepreneurship, and business.

The speaker for this session was Richard Tanksley. Tanksley has been in the tech startup space in West Africa for 6 years, having started, advised, or been involved in more than two dozen startups. He began as senior faculty at  MEST in Ghana and was director for Seedstars Africa in Nigeria. He is also a brand ambassador and the former CEO of Pulse.ng. Currently, Tanksley is VP at NeuBridges, an American/Nigerian consulting firm.

The talk was titled “Lessons Learned From Starting and Growing Businesses in Africa “. Here are some of the takeaways from the event.


Actively seek out opportunities and seize them

“A major lesson I learned is when you see an opportunity, take it!” Tanksley said. He explained that Africa has a number of problems in which the discerning entrepreneur can find opportunities. He mentioned that areas like business automation, manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics all have room for people who have a vision to create viable solutions.

However, he emphasised that “It is important when taking these risks to put a good system in place to manage them.” He gave an example of how a simple system of letting customers pre-order before importing expensive equipment can save a business from suffering losses.

Tanksley speaking with attendees at MEST Soapbox session.

Always find opportunities to travel

Traveling, Tanksley explained, gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to see how people solve problems elsewhere. This allows them to learn new and diverse approaches to problem-solving; this is often critical for an entrepreneur.

He stated that people must learn to be curious. “Always ask why a particular thing works in one country and not in another.” The answer to that question is usually a business opportunity.

Disconnect to create

One of the things impeding the development of unique business ideas is the fact that many people do not set aside time for creative thinking. He mentioned that most entrepreneurs are so busy commuting, having meetings and being on their phone that they have no bandwidth left to generate fresh ideas.

He advised, “Taking time off to do something relaxing like cooking, exercising, or sitting with your thoughts creates an enabling environment for creative thinking and finding solutions in places where others see problems.”

Show great passion in whatever you have chosen to do

Tanksley stressed that, “you have to be passionate enough to infect the people you work with. If your passion cannot infect them, then you probably cannot win over investors or potential partners.”

He went further to say that passion is often taken as evidence that an entrepreneur has the drive and will to make a company successful. The absence of sufficient passion sends a bad signal to the people who you want to be a part of your business.

Scalability should always be a priority

Entrepreneurs must always simulate what will happen when systems are pushed to the limit. Scalability allows a business to grow and meet rising demands without a proportional increase in its operating costs. “Businesses which can cope with scale are more attractive to investors because investors usually have bigger ambitions than entrepreneurs,” he said.

When a business is scalable, investors are happier to make large investments.

Learn to explain your business clearly, quickly and simply

Investors and potential partners do not usually have a lot of patience. This is because they have many things they are trying to achieve. Tanksley advised that entrepreneurs must be able to paint a quick and vivid picture of what it is they do and how they do it.

He said, “When people think you’re being vague about your business, it appears as though you don’t know enough about what you’re doing or have something to hide.” This breeds mistrust, and people don’t want to invest money in people they do not trust.

Group photo from Soapbox session with Richard Tanksley


Richard Tanksley described the MEST Soapbox session as, “An amazing meet-up with inspiring young thinkers who are trying to better themselves and their country.”

MEST Incubator Lagos organizes regular conversations around relevant topics that are aimed at enlightening and educating entrepreneurs navigating the startup landscape. On the 30th of January, we’ll hold our fourth Masterclass titled Beyond Product-Market Fit: Abundance Thinking for the African Entrepreneur. Please click here to sign up!