Radhika Bhachu: The Founder Passionate About Making a Difference, One African at a Time

Oui Capital
Oui Capital
Published in
13 min readNov 2, 2023

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Radhika Bhachu (CEO & Co-Founder, Ndovu)

With her grandmother initiating a business venture that her father managed, Radhika’s formative years instilled in her a sense of entrepreneurship. As a result, she harbored aspirations of venturing into the world of business, though the precise nature of her future enterprises remained undefined.

Kenyan-born and raised, Radhika’s journey led her to the United Kingdom. There, she pursued higher education and eventually found her path at Deloitte. At Deloitte, she specialized in the investment sector, advising corporations and pension funds on optimizing their financial assets to ensure future growth, aligning with their obligations such as pension payments and other financial liabilities.

However, Radhika’s realization that her true strengths lie in working with people prompted her to transition into a sales role at BlackRock, one of the world’s leading providers of investment, advisory, and risk management solutions. During her tenure at BlackRock, Radhika managed a substantial portfolio worth $2 billion. Her responsibilities encompassed harnessing the wealth of resources available at BlackRock, including data, the expertise of brilliant minds, and investment strategies, all aimed at solving the intricate investment challenges faced by her clients.

Despite her global professional journey, Radhika’s Kenyan roots remained a fundamental part of her identity. Frequent trips back to Kenya reinforced her desire to eventually return and make a meaningful contribution to her home country. In 2020, she and her husband made the pivotal decision to relocate to Kenya, setting the stage for her journey as the CEO & Co-Founder of Ndovu.

Can you tell us about how you got into the tech space?

Upon moving back to Kenya in 2020, I knew I was going to start a business but I knew nothing about that. I sat with a bunch of friends and asked “how do you guys grow your money? What do you do with your money?” A lot of them said, “we just save it in a bank account”- this blew my mind because with inflation, holding your money in a bank account is the worst thing you can do. That really sparked my curiosity. I decided to join an accelerator program- Antler Global, where we got six weeks of training, learning the basics of building a business, how to explore ideas and solve problems. It also provided a really nice safe space to meet like minded individuals who wanted to start a business. With my many years of domain expertise in investments and savings, I realized it was the space I would nail.

How did you meet your co-founders?

I assessed my skillset to identify the gaps I needed to fill. At the time, I had no tech experience combined with a knowledge gap of the regulation market and how business is done in Africa. So, I found my CTO & CCO in the cohort at the accelerator program. Rogito Nyangeri serves as CCO while Gianpaolo De Biase serves as our CTO. Rogito was formerly the Head of strategy at the Nairobi Securities Exchange. He has a vast knowledge of regulations not just in Kenya but across the African continent and he understands the business language. With over 16 years of experience, Gianpaolo has successfully built, scaled, and exited technology companies. This is how Ndovu came about.

L-R: COO-Ro Nyangeri, CTO-Gianpaulo De Biase & CEO-Radhika Bhachu

How are you navigating the co-founder relationship?

The first saving grace is having co-founders who have their own domain expertise. You cannot have two people who are good at strategy, sales and start a business together because when it comes to decision making, each of you think you know the better solution. You could both be right, but it just slows down decision making. I was intentional about finding people who specifically have skill sets that fit roles and responsibilities where I had weaknesses.

A second thing I think that works really well with founders is understanding what core values each person has. What are those values that drive those individuals? How do you make it easy for them to work and feel as part of a team? Typically there are four values that people might relate to:

Significance: Being seen as important in front of co-founders, business partners and investors. It may manifest in various ways, such as dressing a certain way to project a sense of significance.

Certainty: Some people like a structured workspace with well-defined processes, fixed working hours and clear routines.

Variety: Some people don’t like to be confined in a workspace, they thrive on being on the move, even while maintaining productivity and delivering results.

Love and connection: Certain people prioritize a supportive and empathetic work environment, where colleagues are there for them, particularly during challenging times.

As a team, we’re honest with each other. We have a decision-making committee that convenes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During these sessions, crucial decisions are brought to the forefront, impacting the business direction. We vote to ensure fairness, given our small team of three. The approach is systematic — decisions are made, a specified timeframe is set, and if the expected results aren’t achieved, we pivot to an alternative strategy. This process values everyone’s input, yet decisions are made objectively based on business considerations rather than personal sentiments.

How did you come up with the name, “Ndovu”?

Ndovu means elephant in Swahili. One thing my co-founders and I didn’t want to do was create a product where people lose a lot of money while we make a lot of money. For us, wealth creation for our customers was really important. When we were thinking about a name, we wanted to focus on something that has a herd-like mentality, like a family. In the African context, if you look at the Safari or the jungle, the elephant is the strength of the jungle. Without the elephant, you can’t build the jungle. So we decided to call ourselves Ndovu which means that we are the strength to help you create financial freedom.

Can you tell us what problem Ndovu is solving in a one-liner?

We are making it simple and easy for the everyday African to create wealth over a long period of time.

What do you love about building Ndovu?

Firstly, the incredible personal growth it has brought into my life. Every day is a fresh adventure, where I find myself troubleshooting challenges I never would have encountered during my corporate tenure, even in my senior position at BlackRock. In this entrepreneurial journey, you wear many hats — you’re the customer service person, the trading person, the salesperson and even the personal assistant from time to time, when you need to support individuals. It’s the variety of what it brings.

It’s also about the impact we are making. I can envision a future where, 10 years down the line, someone approaches me on the street and says, ‘Because I started saving with Ndovu when my child was 10, I can now afford to send them to university.’ We’re already starting to receive customer testimonials. For me, the true measure of success is knowing that I’ve made a tangible difference in people’s lives. Our team shares the same sentiment — they often receive calls from customers who express gratitude for the change Ndovu has brought to their lives. It’s an invaluable feeling that goes beyond any monetary gain.

As a founder, you’ll see that you have 12 things to do in a day, 3 things go right. Some days the rest go wrong, and you just have to focus on the 3 things that went right. That’s the culture we’re also building internally. You’re meant to fail. Otherwise you wouldn’t be innovating. Today was a bad day, tomorrow will be better. It can only go up so we’re really trying to nurture that mindset.

Who was your first hire? And what struck you about him/her?

Our first hire was a developer. To be completely transparent, I wasn’t the one who hired them; it was our CTO’s decision. The second hire was a customer service lady. What struck me about her was her can-do attitude. Sometimes the best performers on our team are those who possess a strong desire to learn. They might not come in with the most sector-specific knowledge, but their willingness to learn and adapt often outshines individuals with a decade of experience in the field. It’s just the attitude that makes a difference, to be honest.

Have you encountered any challenges with culture fit? If yes, how did you address them?

We still see a bit of culture-fit challenges as we continue to hire. With the one bad hire we had, the downside was we didn’t fire fast enough and that gave a little more leeway. At the leadership level, that was an oversight we’ve learned from.

What we’ve now embraced as a practice is engaging in open and honest conversations when we feel someone may not be the right cultural fit or suited for their role. We ask them how they’re settling in and if they genuinely believe they’re the right fit for the job. This approach often leads them to do some personal thinking and make the decision to leave on their own terms. So that’s actually been a great way to part ways with people who are not a right fit.

As a relatively small team, I’ve come to realize that when individuals hold themselves to high standards, it sets a precedent for those who don’t do the same. They realize they don’t want to be the last person in the pack.

For example, we recently added a new team member to a department. As a result, even those who had been with the company for a while began performing at their best, largely because the new addition quickly embraced our culture. It’s amazing how infectious that culture can be if cultivated correctly.

Have the recent developments in technology impacted the terrain you operate in?

I would say yes. Traditionally, in the asset management industry, the process of investing involved physically visiting a fund manager, filling out multiple forms, and waiting for two weeks for KYC to be done before your account was opened. Only after that could you make an investment decision. However, with the way technology has grown over the past 10 years, you can actually make investments through your phone. That was our unique selling point. Kenyans and Africans in general are getting busier by the minute. As a result, people are willing to pay for convenience. Now, the traditional asset managers in Kenya are moving more towards digital apps and having a full on onboarding process online. So, yes, I would say that technology has significantly impacted the landscape we operate in.

How do you see the impact of the downturn?

I see this as an opportunity and a valuable learning experience for any founder. When you consider the cyclical nature of economic downturns, looking back at traditional businesses over the last 100 years, we’ve witnessed 21 recessions, and this is the 22nd. Now is the time to focus on building a more sustainable business with strong foundations. Whereas if we were still on the growth stage we might have rushed certain processes, but the current circumstances allow us to take a more measured approach. Our investors no longer expect us to achieve 50% month-on-month growth; instead, the focus is on maintaining growth or remaining steady.

This shift in expectations presents an opportunity to reevaluate our strategy, establish a better foundation, reduce costs, and implement the right processes. By doing so, we position ourselves to thrive when the market regains strength.

One common issue all startups are facing is currency devaluation against the dollar. A lot of startups are growing in local currency terms, to present data and growth to investors, many startups need to achieve growth rates that are 30% higher just to maintain their current position. This is because currency depreciation significantly affects our businesses.

This challenge underscores the need for investors and the ecosystem as a whole to recognize the unique risks that tech startups face on the African continent. We’ve been working tirelessly to demonstrate growth, especially given the risk of a 20% depreciation in the currency. To achieve even a modest 20% return, we must grow by 20% in our business. To show a 12% growth, we need to aim for 30% growth. It’s undoubtedly a significant challenge for startups.

Nonetheless, I believe this situation is an opportunity to build more resilient businesses. When conditions improve, we will be positioned for even more rapid growth.

What would you say is most important when building a sustainable business?

You need to know your metrics. As a founder, you should be able to evaluate how adding a new API or automating a specific process will impact your costs and save you time and resources. I think the important thing is to focus on building a sustainable business rather than solely pursuing a high valuation, high-growth model, especially when it comes to fundraising. I know a lot of founders that raised when that wave was there, on pre- product with crazy valuations. It’s important to ask yourself if you can deliver on that valuation when it comes to mergers and acquisitions or going public.

You also need to have each department enhance any process they do by 10% annually. This improvement can be in customer service for a more loyal customer base or in our case, reducing trading times. The key is that process enhancement leads to better customer experience, which, in turn, results in positive word-of-mouth referrals and increased revenue.

Did you encounter any unexpected lessons when you set out to build that you had to learn on your own, without prior guidance?

So one thing I realized is that when you are building, the assumptions that you have about your end user are always wrong. You need to speak to your customers. We stay close to our customers and have conversations with them about our product.

Second thing I’d say is timing. We raised just before we saw this crunch in the economy and I think we actually got very lucky because we are building a build business for profitability. If we had started this business three or four months/years earlier than that, the advice we’d be getting from investors was to just grow at any cost. I’m so grateful that we were at the beginning of the crunch, because now we’re setting the right foundations, the right processes to make sure that this is a long term business that’s sustainable.

What is that one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring founders?

Great question. I would say three things:

  1. Start a business in which you have domain expertise because you’ll often find yourself to be the smartest person in the room. When you truly understand the market or sector, your chances of success are higher and it reduces the workload that you have to be brilliant in that space.
  2. Secondly, consider running a business with high margins. In our case, we are a high-volume medium to low margin business. If I were to start all over again, I would explore a high-margin business model. While we’ve effectively increased our margins through innovation and creativity, pursuing a high-margin business from the outset would have been a compelling choice.
  3. Lastly, the sooner you learn that you cannot build a company on your own, the better it is for you. So for example, I wouldn’t know how to hire a marketing manager, because I’ve never done marketing before. But you can ask a mentor or a friend within that space to host the interview for you. The quicker you realize you can leverage on your network to get things done, the quicker you’ll move.

What do you do to get over a bad day?

I meditate, go to the gym, dance to music and I play with my son and just remember that it’s just one day. We sometimes underestimate what we can do in 2 years and overestimate how much we should have done in a day.

If you weren’t building your startup, what else would you be doing?

I’d probably be doing another business or I will be teaching or lecturing around how to build a business in Africa. I won’t be going back to corporate, lol!

In the long run, what is Africa benefiting from Ndovu?

In the West, there are a lot of ways that people get financial education, different types of grants, tax benefits for people to be able to take the money they’ve earned and grow it. Our governments aren’t there yet, and I’d love for every counterparty & corporate government to think of ways to actually help the everyday African, to allow us to create more wealth and do it responsibly. What we’re providing for the long term is:

  • We’re significantly cheaper when it comes to pricing. So we put money back in the consumers wallets
  • We’re helping people grow wealth responsibly which means that they get educated & upskilled to create more jobs in the economy and overall lead to a prosperous Africa.
  • We’re educating Africans to grow and create wealth so they can achieve financial freedom.

Any final words?

Recently, a lot of VC investment has dried up, and many companies are going out of business. Not because they aren’t good businesses, but because they lack the funding to take their business to the next level. These startups drive innovation, particularly in the context of digitizing traditional businesses. The markets out there are quite challenging, and they are likely to remain so for the next 12 months. We don’t want to see good businesses going under simply because capital is scarce.

I believe that now, more than ever, it’s imperative for government regulators and large corporations with a presence in Africa to support early-stage businesses, not just tech startups, in order to help us grow to the next level. evolve into larger corporations that can hire and employ a significant number of people, contribute to tax, provide up job opportunities.

To learn more about Radhika and the team at Ndovu, connect via:

Twitter: @Radhika_Bhachu | @Ndovutech

LinkedIn: Radhika Bhachu| Ndovu

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@ndovu_tech

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Oui Capital
Oui Capital

We invest in bold entrepreneurs reimagining an African future through technology.