🎙️ Leaf Global CEO Nat Robinson on Financial Access for Refugees
In previous episodes, we’ve talked about FinTech products that help the disadvantaged transfer financial access cross borders with Misha Esipov at Nova Credit enabling credit access to US Immigrants. In this episode we explore how Leaf Global is different by targeting the unbanked refugees, or those without access to banks (or smartphones) at all, and provide them a blockchain-powered wallet and accessible on non-smartphones. Nat shares his experience building businesses in Africa, the Leaf Global journey including their initial services in Rwanda and the border of the Congo, and what Doing Well by Doing Good means for them.
Click below to listen to the episode or check out the transcripts below the fold and click on the time to go directly to your favorite part!
What is Leaf Global?
Anand 0:03 Welcome to the Doing Well by Doing Good podcast where we highlight the startups that are aiming to be profitable with a purpose. I’m your host Anand and today we’re talking to Nat Robinson, founder and CEO of Colorado based FinTech, startup Leaf Global. Leaf Global is a for profit social enterprise focused on providing financial services to the unbanked. In this episode, we’ll talk about his experiences starting companies in Africa, and how Doing Well by Doing Good can take multiple forms. Welcome, Nat, to the show!
Nat 0:34 Thank you. Thanks so much for including me really looking forward to participating.
Anand 0:39 Well, why don’t we jump right in? How would you describe Leaf Global in one line?
Nat 0:44 So in one line, Leaf is a blockchain based digital wallet that provides financial services to the stateless and excluded on a mobile device. There’s no smartphone required. Is that close to a sentence?
Anand 1:01 I think that was that was perfect.
Nat 1:03 Long sentence. Okay.
How Did Leaf Global Get Started?
Anand 1:05 Actually not that long. Pretty, pretty good. Okay, there’s a lot of stuff packed in there. And we’ll get to, I’m sure, each one of those. I was thinking maybe what we could start with is a quick background. How did you get to where you are today? How did you get to starting Leaf Global, and particularly looking at the Africa market?
Nat 1:28 Sure. Absolutely. And we’ve structured Leaf to be a global company, but have focused on East Africa to start, I think, primarily, because I saw this challenge that refugees and migrants were facing worldwide when fleeing conflict, and having to carry cash across borders, which is dangerous and inconvenient. And then can be expensive to exchange currencies, and in many cases, refugees, migrants struggle to create accounts. So there is a big an unmet need. And then there’s this growing development of technical solutions and FinTech that are all providing more access to people all over the world. So if you have a mobile phone, you can access bank accounts. And that was something I became very familiar with in Kenya. I started and ran a microfinance company called Juhudi Kilimo, in Kenya that was providing loans to rural smallholder farmers. And we integrated a lot of technology we used Mpesa, may be familiar with kind of like Venmo for a dumb phone. But it’s been happening in very ubiquitous across East Africa for the last 10 years, and particularly in Kenya and really found a way to leverage technology to deliver a financial service to a customer base that doesn’t have access to that and do it in a way that’s not only profitable, but also helpful to our end customers. So this is the next generation of that is looking across borders and globally at refugees and migrants to support them.
Anand 2:53 So you basically started with farmers in Kenya, and then you’re now expanding this from a more technically scalable perspective, to then make it available to migrants and refugees across the world.
Nat 3:07 Yeah, and I wish it was that simple and logical step. Yeah, I actually left Juhudi after seven years and was ready for a transition. The company is still going; this is the agriculture microfinance company in Kenya, I came to the US to get a law degree and thought that would be good way to transition back to America was kind of anticipating going into law or working with a fund but while I was at law school got involved in a business plan competition called the Hult Prize, which at the time was sponsored by the Clinton Foundation. And every year, this group puts together a challenge that addresses some global social issues. So if it’s environmental challenge, if it’s global hunger, and the year that I was there, it was looking at the global refugee crisis, which I didn’t know much about and coming up with business ideas to address the global refugee crisis. And so while a student at Vanderbilt got paired up with a team of other grad students, and we came up with a number of different ideas and ended up pitching a very different one. But did well we made it to the finals in Dubai, and we were just about to win a million dollars. And from that experience, that while this is maybe there’s something here, there’s a big opportunity, I can leverage my experience in financial services in Africa and see if there’s more that I can do to address the challenge. And I think also got some of that experience pitching and explaining a complex business idea to a group of judges and investors and then sort of slowly snowballed the concepts from there continue to do more pitch competitions and raised money and recruited more students at Vanderbilt and was able to test an initial product and some technology on the border of Congo and Rwanda before graduating and then went full time in 2018 with Leaf.
Leaf Global and Juhudi Kilimo — Difference in Approach
Anand 4:55 Wow, that’s action packed. So I have a question because you talk in your book about your work at Juhudi Kilimo. And there you talked a lot about working with investors, it seems like you had a lot of experience already in that regard, of course, you know, perhaps slightly different than the investors, you’re attracting for Leaf Global. So I’m curious, did you see any differences there?
Nat 5:20 Yeah. I wrote that book to help anyone who’s wanted to get into social enterprise to avoid all the mistakes that I made the first time, because I made a lot of them and want to be open with that. And so you’d think that coming into starting another company, that I’d be better at this, but it’s still really hard and particularly hard starting from scratch, I think that’s what I thought was pretty gonna be exciting with Leaf is starting from the idea, whereas with Juhudi Kilimo, there’s already a concept, there’s a bank that was piloting this loan idea for rural smallholder farmers and I helped spin that off and create a company with it. So really wanted that full lifecycle of the startup. But quickly found out that raising capital zero to a million dollars is really hard, especially when you’re in that idea phase or prototype phase. And then layer on top of that, using a new technology using blockchain that is less understood and not as well tested, and then working with a customer base that no one’s really served before, the refugees and migrants. So it’s been an uphill battle convincing investors that this is not only a profitable, sustainable business, but it’s something that can also help people globally. So we’re in this weird space of talking to traditional VCs in Silicon Valley investors, who love the technology, love our use of the technology, but are really terrified of Africa in many cases, or just see it as a big risk. Whereas a lot of the impact investors who I worked with at Juhudi Kilimo, and within that community, very comfortable with Africa and the market, but shy away from the new technology and really don’t want anything to do with blockchain technology. So it’s been a lot harder than I thought to get this going.
Challenges Building Leaf
Anand 7:04 Yeah, you don’t shy away from the challenge. There’s always a new challenge. Well, so that kind of takes me to my next question about challenges. You mentioned a few challenges with investors. So I’m curious with Leaf Global, what other challenges have you faced along the way, perhaps on the customer side or on growing the market?
Nat 7:24 Yeah. And I think anyone who’s coming at entrepreneurship, or social entrepreneurship, as a lawyer, which I was fresh out of law school, I looked at the world very differently, much more conservative, I feel like we spent a ton of time on regulation and on compliance. Because we’re moving money across borders, we’re working with a less documented population. So you can imagine there’s all kinds of sticky legal issues that we have to worry about. So that took a lot of our time, trying to find a strategy through all that and find good partners who are comfortable working with us to to do the work that we’re now doing. We’re finally over that hurdle as we launched a live product in September last year, of course, during COVID is also a wonderful time to start a business. No money is out there. And no one knows what’s happening. So that, of course, everybody’s had challenges with COVID. But trying to launch a cross border financial services company, when suddenly all of the borders all over the world are closed, and raise money to do that was really hard. We figured out the compliance regulatory work and now we’re working on customer acquisition and trying to convince the customer base that we’re working with to use our service and doing in a way, now where it’s all digital, because we can’t go door to door, we can’t have a sales staff out talking to people because of COVID because of this restriction. So we’re trying to really adapt to the new world that we’re in, but have been able to convince about 2000 customers already to join the platform and make transactions every day. So we’re growing fairly quickly. But still, I think figuring a lot of that out.
Anand 9:03 That makes a lot of sense. I think that’s helpful to understand it. And it sounds like there are a lot of challenges along the way. But you know, it’s just the beginning, just like any startup, there’s going to be challenges.
Nat 9:14 I think getting something out there really helps. We spent so much time talking to investors, pitching at pitch competitions. They’re great, at some of we’ve raised a fair amount of money, winning some of those pitch competitions. But until you have a product out there and a customer base, it’s all kind of hypothetical. This is who we think is gonna use it. This is how we think they’re going to use it. And so now we’ve got that great data to back a lot of our assumptions up and it’s much easier to go out to investors and pitch and talk about it. So that would be another thing is the quicker you can get into market and get a product or service out there in front of your customers and have real stories about what’s happening, that helps. I wish we would have done that a little sooner but got tied up in the regulation stuff.
Anand 9:58 Well, you I guess you got to figure that out when you’re moving money around.
Nat 10:01 Yeah didn’t want to go to jail or anything.
Anand 10:04 Yeah, that’s never fun.
Nat 10:06 Or lose people’s money.
Anand 10:07 Yep, exactly. Okay. No, that makes sense. And, you know, one, I thought I thought it was intriguing that you mentioned the difference between impact investors and traditional VCs. So one is, one is afraid of technology, the other one is afraid of the African market. But it does sound like if you can prove to people that, hey, the African market has legs and you can really make a business there, you can continue to convince VCs, to then put more money in.
Nat 10:37 Yeah, and that’s the hope, I think, we’ve fortunately seen growing interest with VCs in the US and Europe, in startups within Africa. And one great one that’s in our space is a company called Chipper Cash, which Joe Montana in the US invested in their Seed round. And then most recently, Jeff Bezos, his fund, invested in their Series A, I think they raised about $30 million. And they’re in East Africa and starting to expand to West Africa. In similar concept of this digital wallet to help people move funds like a PayPal or Venmo. We’re much more focused on the lower income, that cross border, the refugee use case. And so our wallet is both smartphone and non smartphone enabled, so you don’t have to have a smartphone to do it. And so targeting the 2.4 billion people around the world who don’t have smartphones to access our service. We’re hoping that that investment and gets a little bit more interest and excitement from the rest of the VC community in the US and in Europe, across Africa. So we haven’t seen that quite yet, but I think that’s the plan and you know, approaching this as a for profit business, because the thought is we can attract more capital, we can invest in our technology, we can invest in our team and ultimately deliver a lower cost service to our customer base.
Anand 12:01 Yep that’s pretty cool. It sounds like you guys are on your way.
Nat 12:07 Hopefully we’ll figure it out.
Mission, Culture & Team
Anand 12:10 Well, that gets me to the next one. You talked a little bit about team as well. So what is Leaf Global’s mission? And how do you create a culture within your team that embodies it?
Nat 12:22 Yeah, and that was really, it’s important for every company, but that was very important with me with my last company, in Kenya with Juhudi, as we’re a very mission driven company. And we were able to attract talent, brilliant people from Google from McKinsey, to come and work for us for either free or very little. And being able to create those opportunities and hire and build a team around that mission can be very powerful. And so I’ve been trying to do that also at Leaf to create our mission and some of that culture. And so our broader mission is to provide economic security to the stateless and excluded, keeping that pretty open starting with refugees and migrants, but there’s cross border traders, there are many other others that could use our services. And so as a starting point, and then building the team. I was able to attract a lot of students at Vanderbilt, grad students and undergrads who aligned well with that mission of using technology, and particularly exploring this new blockchain technology that’s exciting, but also applying it to a very big social challenge of helping refugees and migrants who are fleeing across borders. And looking at our customer base. another piece that we’ve been working on this is before COVID, as you know, us as a company, as an institution, not really being grounded or starting in a location. So being mobile, being flexible, being virtual and remote. Now, that’s becoming common.
Anand 13:55 Pretty much for everybody.
Nat 14:00 Yeah. So, but that’s created a lot of challenges for me to create that culture in a much more intentional, as everyone’s discovering now, it’s hard to stay connected to your team and keep the work going when you’re on Zoom all the time and remote. So I don’t think that’s something we’ve totally figured out quite yet. I was much better at it when we had an office and everyone could just socialize and connect and really align to that mission. So I’m trying to do that now in a more virtual setting all over the world. We have team members in the US and Rwanda and Kenya and also now in Chile as another one of our markets is we’re looking at.
Anand 14:34 Cool. And are there any particular techniques that you’ve been using to try to keep the team this is, you know, one to understand how you’re doing it, at Leaf Global but also, you know, frankly, personally, I’d love to learn what are the techniques that are working for you guys?
Nat 14:51 Yeah. And I don’t know. I think the one thing that we have found that works has been working well is getting our word out there participating in these presentations, the pitch competitions speaking with schools and universities. And then from that we do attract a lot of interest from students who both connect with the mission and are passionate about the mission, but also bring some of the technical expertise and trying to find a mix of those. And some of our best staff and most aligned staff have just come from that just being attracted to the work that we’re doing and really passionate about what we’re doing, but also bring some of the technical skills. So that’s the first part you sort of screening and finding those staff and then trying to cultivate that culture as much as we can. We do have our weekly team calls, we have some rituals in those team calls and trying to make sure that we do structure time around non-agenda specific meetings and talks. And I’ve also been doing a lot of one on one calls with the staff. And I think that’s helping, but it’s still not the same for being in person trying to develop the culture that way, but really trying to find that time for unstructured conversation, getting to know people, I think that’s really helpful then we can build that culture as a team.
Anand 16:08 Yeah. I think the hardest part is what people call water cooler talk, right? Just when you’re getting some food, getting some coffee. I think that’s really hard to replicate.
Nat 16:20 Yeah and those are the interactions that I really do think creates those bonds with the staff and helps drive some of that culture. So being intentional and structuring that time is real key.
Doing Well & Business Model
Anand 16:31 Totally. Well, I was thinking, we talked a lot about culture, we talked a lot about mission, we talked about team. I wanted to go into the next part, which is Doing Well. So what makes your business sustainable in the short and long term? What’s your business model?
Nat 16:48 Yeah, and that one, I feel like we got all this new stuff that we’re working on, that’s unknown, that’s untested. The business model we’re borrowing from banks and from money transfer companies. And so just doing a transaction fee, and then a foreign exchange spread. And so the transaction fee; it’s free to put money onto your Leaf wallet as a customer, but we would charge a 1% fee for withdrawing those funds onto a mobile money wallet or into a bank account or into another one of our partners that does cash payouts.
Anand 17:21 So this is a general transfer fee across any entities.
Nat 17:25 Any of our networks. Yeah, exactly. So not particularly expensive but something and the thought there is to generate revenue, but also to encourage people to keep money on the platform and a Leaf to Leaf transaction is free. So if somebody else has a Leaf account, you can send that money to their account for free. And then if you’re moving money within the wallets across our different currencies that we support, we charge a spread, so a foreign exchange spread. So what we’re getting from the banks and from our partners, we’re adding a 4% fee on top of that, and that’s the same model that MoneyGram and Worldremit and all the others use. They usually embed a bit of an exchange rate spread when you’re making that foreign exchange transaction. So those are the two main ones. We also sell, starting next week, airtime on the app. That was something that our customers really wanted is being able to buy airtime and prepaid minutes for call time. And so we’re able to buy that at wholesale rates and then deliver it through our wallet on our exchanges there.
Anand 18:28 So that’s not a direct 1% fee. That’s gonna be a little different because that you’re buying it wholesale. Okay, got it. So there’s some margin there. Okay.
Nat 18:38 There’s a big market there too. The whole world of prepaid minutes is really an interesting one. Sort of hard to think about but yeah, that’s probably going to be a smaller revenue source for us, but certainly something that’s helpful for our customers. And then as we’re developing the wallet, my background has all been in lending and microfinance in Kenya, I’ve always seen that opportunity before layering on a lending, a responsible lending products on our wallets so to really help that refugee or migrant access a loan to purchase an assets or to work on a business. That’s very transformative for a customer base. And I think, especially if you do it well, and what’s great with our wallet is we’re already gathering all this transaction data from our customers. And so we can use that to build credit scores and to do the lending very cheaply. And yeah, I think very responsibly. That’s the next step and extra revenue stream.
Anand 19:32 That’s huge, right? So in that case, the data moat is is actually this concept that if people are using it for a while then and these are unbanked generally your customers so in that case, they would not have a credit score or any sort of score otherwise. And so lending would be only really possible if somebody could then score how good they are at repaying it.
Nat 19:53 Yep, yep, exactly. And even if they do have mobile money accounts, that transaction data is spread across all those different networks, whereas we’re able to capture all of those transactions in one place. So there’s also some exciting things that we’re experimenting with around group guarantees. So still using that Grameen Bank microfinance model, where you could get a group of 10 or 20, people who are all guaranteeing a loan or putting in a small amount to guarantee your loan for an individual. We can do that very cheaply leveraging some of the native functionality of blockchain to be able to secure those guarantees. So you could essentially crowd source your loan, and guarantee a portion of that with all of your friends and they would only maybe do a few dollars of guaranteeing on that loan, depending what they’re comfortable with. And then that puts also a little more social pressure on them.
Anand 20:41 So that’s like peer to peer lending?
Nat 20:44 Yeah, but it’s more on the guarantee side. So we would be providing the loan, it’s just your friends in case you don’t pay back the loan, they’re pledging a bit of collateral. Not much, not where we’re gonna be putting other people in debt if you’re not able to pay the loan. But that’s something that we’ve been experimenting with and is now possible to do very cheaply and securely on some of the blockchain platforms.
Anand 21:05 That’s really cool. Okay, so the the guaranteeing is done, kind of peer to peer with a group of people, but then the money is still coming from Leaf Global for example.
Nat 21:14 Yeah.
Balancing Shareholder Value with Mission
Anand 21:16 Got it. Wow, very interesting. So one question I always like to ask is, how do you balance shareholder value — you’re a for profit company, VC backed — with your mission and culture?
Nat 21:30 Yes and that is a dilemma facing a lot of social enterprises as they’re growing, expanding and drifting from their mission. And it’s very much tied, as you suggested to that funding base. And that was my experience with Juhudi Kilimo. With Kenya, we sourced our capital from impact investors thinking that this is a great way to preserve our mission. And I do think that’s helpful, I think a longer term, more effective way of doing that is to try to structure your business and your markets, so that you’re providing that service as a social enterprise. If you start to change that mission or go up market, you run into more competition. So that was what we ran into at Juhudi Kilimo is serving those rural, low income smallholder farmers was a big market. And if we wanted to go up market and do bigger loans to more urban farmers, it might be a little more lucrative, but we would run head on into competition with other banks and other microfinance institutions. So we had that sort of defensible moat, around our market that was also very much intertwined with our social mission. I’m trying to do something similar with Leaf in that nobody’s providing, sadly, financial services to our customer base that it is seen as a high risk, mobile undocumented low-income group.
Anand 22:52 Well, I mean, there’s no data on it. I mean, just saying that you shouldn’t lend to these people purely because there’s no data currently. But if there were data, then that would change the game.
Nat 23:05 Exactly and there is some growing research that’s available out there on our market, and Tufts University has put out a really great one showing that this is a bankable market. And so that is what we’re focusing on and is a big reason why looking at refugees and migrants because nobody else is. And we believe that there is a tremendous opportunity here for financial services, then also you get these very strong communities and networks and word of mouth, which we’re also starting to see a spread Leaf and the work that we’re doing that carries a lot of trust. So kind of embedding that within the market and within the business model, I think it’s helpful. And then then you’re less concerned about where your capital is coming from. And in theory, they’re not going to push you in one direction or another. If it’s really well structured, but that’s always a risk. And that’s, especially with Silicon Valley capital and the returns that they’re looking for and you talk to Branch International or Tala, both fabulous companies, great founders, I think they were probably both pushed in more of that commercial returns side and have had a lot of backlash in the media because of that. So we’re trying to avoid some of that if we can.
Anand 24:11 Yeah, it does seem to some degree inevitable. But yeah, it is tough. I think one thing that’s intriguing to me is that there’s always this, this tension in a VC-backed business, especially VC-backed social enterprise particular, where you’re gonna have conflicting motives. Because shareholder value is one thing and that that one’s pretty clear. It’s like, okay, financial, hey, you got to get metrics — you got to do this, you got to do that. And then there’s social mission. And so the more you can quantify or tie the two together, it seems like that’s sort of the best way to try to avoid some of these conflicts.
Nat 24:50 Yep. But that’s also really hard. If you talk to any of the other social enterprises I’m sure you’ve had on your show it’s measuring that impact is really challenging and can be quite expensive as well. It’d be a drain on the company. But I do think that’s the way to do it have great metrics on on all of those. It’s, in theory easier now than it ever has been to collect some of that information to help you really drive that mission.
Anand 25:15 Yeah, it’s kind of been a little bit all over the place actually, so far with the founders we’ve talked to, I mean, some people have mentioned, yeah, they have faced the, you know, conflict immediately. Some people have said they haven’t faced much conflict, we’ve been really lucky. And, you know, they’ve been moving us quite, you know, along well. So I think that there is a, it does feel like it’s constantly evolving, no matter where you’re at, as you grow, you got to keep thinking about it, keep, coming up with new ways to to align those two.
Yep, absolutely. Right. And, yeah, the metrics or the information that you can gather that also inform the business helps, too. So if you’re looking at, you know, your impact, or who your customer base is, what sort of, you know, life that your customers are experiencing, and how that’s changing what they value. And those are all good business metrics too to be able to design new products, and new services, we leverage a lot of that at Juhudi is just surveying and getting to know the customers really well, and where do they spend their money? And how can we be supportive. And that’s how we developed a lot of our solar and energy loans. It’s just understanding our customer base a little bit more about their home what they need.
Anand 26:21 Yeah, that I guess is the most important, right, keep listening to your customer. The rest will fall into place. Cool. So I was thinking we could go next into Doing Good. So in 10 years, when Leaf Global is a huge success, what global challenge will the company have helped solve?
Nat 26:40 Well, and this was all inspired from the work that we did with this Hult Prize and seeing how massive the global refugee crisis is, and how many more people are facing potential displacements. There’s about 80 million at the moment and another 100 to 150 million that could be displaced and leave their homes anytime. That’s everything from political situations, or environmental. And there’s still not a great way to carry your money across borders in most of the conflict zones that we’ve looked at. And so in 10 years, if we’re able to provide that low cost secure way for refugees and migrants to send and store money, within their families, and friends, they’re less dependent on those aid agencies, I think that’s a success. And so that would be our goal is every country in the world if you’re leaving, or if you’re thinking about leaving, because you know, everyone’s a normal person until they’re forced to flee, and then suddenly, now you’re a refugee. So there are still customers, they still have assets and hopes and dreams and want to bring those to the nnext country. And so being able to provide that service to anyone anywhere in the world. I think that’s what we’re moving towards.
Anand 27:56 Got it. Okay. So, if I understand correctly, would it be any, eventually you want to solve solve this for all “unbankable”, people who are not being served by large banks today? Is that accurate?
Nat 28:11 Yeah, I think somebody else has has a bank account, or has even a debit card, ATM card, they probably don’t need our services. But that’s where we’re starting, that we can let the others come down market to provide services to some of those other customers. But yeah, we really do believe that there’s a tremendous opportunity with this market,
Anand 28:31 You mentioned 2.4 billion, right as the as the
Nat 28:34 Number of non-smartphone users. Yep.
Anand 28:37 That’s incredible. I did not realize that stat existed, that’s pretty wild.
Nat 28:43 We get questions all the time about, oh, you know, smartphones are everywhere, they’re becoming cheaper, use it. And that’s just not what we’ve seen in a lot of our markets. In fact, sometimes it’s the reverse, there’s a higher demand for non smartphones, because data is so expensive. Or you’re in a place where you can’t charge a smartphone every every night, you don’t have the access to the power. So, you know, the designing and developing for both of those phones, I think is going to be really valuable going forward.
Anand 29:10 Yeah, I mean, that’s a third of the population! That’s wild! So, you’ve talked a little bit about Doing Good. Why choose this particular for profit social enterprise versus a nonprofit model?
Nat 29:28 Yeah. And that’s a big dilemma, too, is when I question a lot with the last company, in my previous answer would always be because you can scale quicker you can attract capital and then invest in the team, invest technology, deliver that lower cost service. That being said in the last 10 years, I think we’ve seen some very large nonprofit models do well and scale. I think the big one in East Africa within my networks was One Acre Fund. They’ve scaled tremendously to millions of farmers, and they’ve done it through that nonprofit, traditional philanthropy approach, so I think that that is still a way to, to do it. And then long term sustainability, right is another another way, if you’re a for profit business, you’re going to be around for longer. But some of the longest standing institutions in the world are nonprofits, if it is religious organizations or universities, academic institutions, governments. So I don’t know if that’s the answer anymore. I still think that being able to attract the talent, the brightest people who want to work on hard problems, maybe don’t want to give up that that big job as a consultant, or a lawyer or banker, or especially now in tech, it’s incredibly competitive, trying to find talent. So being able to pay a little bit more for your talent base or offering equity, that sometimes I think could be the thing that pushes people over the edge to then come work with us. So that’s the hope we’ll see maybe talking in 10 years, we’ll see if we’ve grown any more or expanded, maybe there’s some great nonprofit models out there that have scaled better than we have.
Anand 31:07 That’s incredible, because as far as at least we’ve had on this podcast, we’ve definitely heard a lot of the same things you mentioned. Talent, capital, growth, all of those, but never really heard that, you know, there might actually be another model. Right. nonprofits, at least for the people that come on the show, they’ve mentioned that they chose for profit, because that was their assumption. So talent, capital growth. But you bring up a good point that maybe that’s not the case. Maybe there are sustainable nonprofit models. And I think it’s, it’s to be seen, perhaps there’s a maybe there’s data out there that says, you know, X percent of nonprofits last and X percent of for profits don’t but it’s probably highly skewed, there’s probably so many for profits out there. So I’m really curious to see that data, but it sounds like, at least for you, it was you did have sort of that idea that it was talent and capital and growth that was why you chose the for-profit model.
Nat 32:08 Yeah. Yep. That was it. I think I still believe that that’s the way to do it as hard as it is. I mean, both are hard. It’s tough attracting capital on both ends. Yeah, it’s a challenge. But yes, I still believe in that concept and being able to leverage that. So, we’ll see.
Advice for Listeners
Anand 32:36 First of all, this was incredible. I thought your story was super incredible. The way that you’ve thought about it, and what you guys are doing it Leaf Global is amazing. I wanted to end with some advice for the listeners. What advice would you give to founders who are trying to build a Doing Well by Doing Good social enterprise, and specifically in Africa, and then of course, even outside of that, or professionals looking to work for one?
So for the for the founders, you know, the book that I always loved was The Hard Things about Hard Things, Ben Horowitz’s book. It’s a hard struggle, it is brutal, there’s no doubt about it, you’re gonna get shut down, kicked around, failed, and really just needing to persevere and keep going. as awful as that is, sometimes. That’s so critical. And I still have a hard time with that. It’s like, gosh, can this get any worse, we were just about to close the seed round, and then COVID hit and then we get, you know, customers. At first, we had a hard time getting customers now we’ve got so many transactions, that our servers are crashing, it’s just one thing after another. That is never gonna change that struggle, right. So to kind of get through that and to persevere and to see that. And I also feel like don’t always listen to advice from investors or anyone else. If you believe it, go with it and prove them wrong or get data, talk to the customers like that’s going to be key. And then for people looking to get into the sector and get involved the advice I would always give, especially if you’re right out of college university, try to get some of that big business experience work for a big brand name, if it’s a Google or Facebook or McKinsey or the banks, as awful as that may be. I think that one helps broaden the network. But also in theory, you’re getting some of that technical capabilities and skill that goes very well with the passion. And I think some of the more successful people I’ve seen in the space have gone into consulting or banking before and then come into social enterprise versus going direct right out of undergrad. Then the other thing is just to go and volunteer to just show up. I would always give that advice especially in Kenya people are looking to get involved more with what we’re doing. You’re going to have more success being there on the ground, networking and talking to people. I don’t know how that’s changed now. Maybe there’s more opportunities for you.
Anand 35:02 Yeah, virtual volunteering.
Nat 35:05 Right, Exactly! So it’s less less costly on the organization’s. So there’s there’s more need, I guess the other thing is social enterprises don’t generally do a lot of recruiting as much as going to career fairs. And so you almost have to seek them out and really push and you are susceptible that to just finding, it’s hard to find time to really recruit, promote, correctly, or use a lot of the big job sites. And I think our best success has been people who’ve just reached out to us directly. So there’s anyone who’s interested in working with blockchain and refugees and FinTech and global issues like this, feel free to reach out.
Anand 35:44 Absolutely. And and we’ll drop some links in the in the show notes as well.
Nat 35:49 Great.
Anand 35:50 Well that was great advice. So I thought, it’s a lot to digest. Yeah. But yeah, I was very floored by this interview. So thank you very much for for doing this. Very much. appreciate the time.
Nat 36:06 Well, thanks again for hosting me. And I really love the work that you’re doing in bringing the speakers together and big believer in the opportunity. So thank you for including me. Appreciate it. Thanks for checking out my book, too. Of course, yeah, shamelessly. But I did put a lot of my, all of my failures in there.
Yeah, it’s very helpful for anybody who wants to start a business in Kenya in particular, it’s Creating a Cash Cow in Kenya. And it’s all about your adventures of building Juhudi Kilimo and all of your crazy adventures in Africa. So it was pretty cool.
Nat 36:42 Okay, well, thanks, glad you enjoyed it!
Anand 36:46 Thank you so much. And see you soon.
Nat 36:49 Yeah, thanks again.
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