The story behind the book
“Sir, sir,” called the young man sitting by himself next to the road in the dusty and remote northern Nigerian city of Sokoto. He was fiddling with a car engine using battered tools scattered on a flimsy wooden table.
“I’m an engineer,” he proclaimed proudly, much to my surprise. “How can I help you?”
Because of his modest set-up and the fact that there weren't any other merchants around him, I initially didn't label him an entrepreneur. But I was wrong – this was his workshop and he was ready to do business.
I was in town for only a few days and unfortunately didn’t have any machinery for him to fix. But, a decade later, the scene still sticks with me. It is a classic example of the entrepreneurial spirit and hustling mentality for which Nigerians are well known.
In this book, we tell the stories of 25 entrepreneurs from across Africa who've built thriving businesses. While many of them now run multi-million-dollar ventures, they started out with the same can-do attitude as the budding engineer.
Over the years, How we made it in Africa, the award-winning pan-African online business magazine I founded in 2010, has profiled hundreds of the continent's most interesting entrepreneurs. For this book, we caught up with some of those we’ve written about in the past, and interviewed others for the first time. The longer book format provided space to delve much deeper into how these businesspeople built their companies than what the economics of online publishing allows for.
We deliberately didn’t profile some of Africa’s more well-known business personalities (such as Nigerian cement tycoon Aliko Dangote, Zimbabwean telecoms pioneer Strive Masiyiwa or South African mining magnate Patrice Motsepe), instead introducing some fresh names, with a particular focus on the next generation, which in the coming decades could very well be mentioned alongside these titans.
Our aim is for readers to learn from, and be inspired by, the experiences of Africa’s most dynamic entrepreneurs, while simultaneously gaining insight into the continent's business opportunities. Each entrepreneur's story is written in an honest and sober manner, not shying away from the mistakes made and the considerable hurdles they had to overcome.
As an entrepreneur myself, I know that running your own business is an intense rollercoaster ride, where the highs are high, and the lows debilitatingly low. From finding investors and making that first sale, to managing difficult employees and dealing with cash flow crises, the book offers real-life examples of coping with the challenges of the business world.
Nelly Tuikong, founder of Kenyan beauty brand Pauline Cosmetics, best captures the spirit of the book: “Business is sweet and sour. It is the most frustrating thing you will ever do. I tend to keep my emotions under control because it is how I was raised. So when my husband sees me crying, he knows things are really bad. There are times when I need to do just that – cry, binge on some TV shows, eat a whole tub of ice cream. But then I pull myself up again the next day. It is very frustrating, but it is one of the most incredible journeys you will ever take.”
This book is also not exclusively aimed at businesspeople but for anyone who wants to make the most of their limited time on Earth; for those who want to see their dreams and ambitions, whatever they are, become a reality. As Dr Hend El Sherbini, CEO of Egyptian healthcare company IDH, says: the definition of success is simply to accomplish what you really want to achieve.
We hope you find this book an interesting and enriching read.
14 October 2018