Failing is very good for entrepreneurs, and it’s better to do it fast and early and as much as possible before you’re playing with a lot of money or someone else’s money.
Hiruy Amanuel is an African investor who is building and uplifting the new technological era in Ethiopia and greater Africa. With many years of experience investing in Silicon Valley, Mr. Amanuel is helping train and develop the IT sector in Africa, and he has co-founded several companies that are fulfilling this mission to date.
Using a framework that pursues expanding IT capabilities and educating young professionals, Gebeya Inc, a company co-founded by Hiruy Amanuel, teaches skills rooted in software development but incorporating soft skill building as well. In addition to being an impact hub for training in the IT world, Gebeya Inc is also a global hub for talented African IT professionals to gain access to the international workplace. As the Ed-tech space is growing in Africa, Gebeya Inc. has become one of the premier institutions; securing funding from Orange Digital Ventures, Google, Partech Ventures, and Consonance Capital. The closing of this seed round makes Gebeya Inc the first Technology company in Ethiopia to be invested in by Global VC funds to date, bringing further economic development in the region of East Africa.
Mr. Amanuel’s passion and successes for extending the availability of technology across boundaries and borders has created a brand-new wave of African engineers and investors emerging in the field of information technology. Hiruy Amanuel is creating an ocean of opportunity for African talent, and he is just getting started.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
We saw that the market is very large for training in Africa and there was a gap that needed to be filled to promote innovation and entrepreneurial ventures that are conducive to the growth of the continent and the economic growth of these countries. We wanted to provide an alternative where people can get trained at their own cost, and we offer scholarships, but they’re not obligated to work for us after they get trained. We didn’t want to take advantage of people at their lowest times; instead, we want to empower those people. We see a lot more value in that.
People in Africa a lot of the times end up graduating, and they have degrees, or they end up going back to school for multiple degrees, and they still can’t get a job, or they get a job that’s very low paying. If there are trained professionals that are good at what they do and they don’t have opportunities in their country, then, of course, they’re going to move to the U.S. or Europe. Unfortunately, this just how it works but that’s not conducive to the growth of the continent. Without the value of growth and capacity building within the sectors or subsectors, whether it be financial or consumer or tech, we can’t build a foundation. Without foundation, we can’t create an ecosystem, and we can’t drive innovation in the sector. There are a lot of people who want to start their own businesses and want to maintain their freedom and financial freedom and control over their ideas and IP. So, what happens is this infinite loop of talented individuals who get recognized, and they get exported.
That’s the difference between outsourcing and trying to build an ecosystem which is essentially what our name means- Gebeya means market in Amharic, the local Ethiopian language, and that’s what we’re trying to build. We saw the demand and the need for training, and that’s why we created Gebeya.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day starts around 7:00 a.m. I take my dogs for a walk and clear my mind, and come home and check in with my attorneys in California.
At around 9 a.m., I have team meetings, and client calls for Gebeya Inc. Then I go to our other office, Gebeya Media, which is our media arm. I take our meetings there; then from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., I spend my time mentoring entrepreneurs and working on business plans, consulting and helping them build out their vision. They don’t have any formal training to build these business plans; they just have raw talent and great ideas.
Most of my time right now is put into helping these entrepreneurs build out their dreams. And it’s conducive to the ecosystem here, so they’re visible, and it makes us more visible, and it brings money and investment to the sector and the country. That’s really where my time is and where my heart is right now. It’s not about the money; I just wanted to go out in the world and make an impact to properly develop talent.
During this time, I also focus on all my startups. I meet with the general managers and companies that were entertaining to incubate. Right now, I’m touching about 10 companies, and I’ve only invested in about four. Currently, we aim to invest in 2 a year.
Around 4 p.m., I have client meetings. From 6 to 7 p.m., I try to jump into the gym, and then for the rest of the evening, I’m on calls again with overseas counsel.
From there I go to drafting all my e-mails and prepare for the next day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s ultimately about the vision; it’s not just about having an idea. You have to have a vision of how that idea is going to be sustained, and who’s going to build that idea.
For instance, I could have come to Ethiopia and started any business and done all types of things, whether it was a hotel or a club or a bar. But when I met Amadou, my co-founder, he had such a such a tremendous vision. It was so much bigger than him or me or anything else- he said, “I want to train the entire continent of Africa.”
I saw the current market for ed-tech in Africa, and saw that he was having a hard time getting funded because who’s going to fund a school in Africa? I saw that vision, and the more and more I came to Africa, I started realizing the overall lack of training. Generally, you may go to a restaurant and order cheeseburger, but you may get an egg sandwich. You can go to a hotel and try to book a room, and they write down your information wrong because there’s no process, there’s no procedure, there is no, intake, and no formal training to execute these tasks whatsoever. When I started to see the root of why things don’t work on the continent, it all starts with the training or the lack of it. So, when Amadou chose to focus on technology, I knew it was a natural fit because I’m from the Valley and technology, respectively is an emerging sector in Africa. I’ve realized that if you invest where there’s a necessity in Africa, on the impact side, naturally you’ll see the societal benefits and those will bring monetary gains and rewards in their own time, and a lot more people will get behind it.
Most of the time it’s not even my ideas, but, I’ll make them better by bringing my experiences, resources, and understanding of the landscape into the equation at a very early stage. We also bring funding and show a bigger and better way to build out these ideas to make them more successful. I share the responsibility of scaling these ideas and helping the founders come up with the business and execution plans to market and help them get funded.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
What makes me more productive is being on the African continent, and being grounded here.
People are very privileged with access in the United States and other countries; people are not so privileged in Africa. What keeps me motivated is the constant abundance of new students and entrepreneurs coming through to enroll because they all have their own struggles and stories of what brought them to Gebeya.
You don’t know the struggles that these people go through. You won’t know until you get to know them for a year and you find out their father is HIV positive, their mother died when they were three, and they’ve been teaching themselves coding in an Internet lab for the last 10 years through PDFs and things like this. They take two taxis and two buses to get to the to the office from their home, so they have to wake up at 4:00 am in the morning to get to work on time.
You hear about these stories in the States also, and yeah, some things are stacked against you, but when you’re in Africa or a developing country, there’s no sort of access or very limited resources when you are in these life-hindering situations. There’s nowhere you can go or no one you can reach out to if you live outside of the city or you’re somewhere in the country, and you get sick. Some are very simple things to avoid, but if you do get sick or injured, it may take days before you get ay sort of assistance. African people are generally very strong, and the way that they deal with things, and the kind of things that they have to endure regularly are on a whole other level of difficulty. That keeps me motivated because they are working with little to nothing to build out there ideas; they just have what we’re offering, and I am grateful to be able to give them everything we can.
So that is what motivates me – meeting new people every day here. New entrepreneurs that have goals that have a vision and now that they see our company, they have hope. Our company brings hope to them, and they can get their ideas off the ground and get the training to build them out properly, whereas before there was no resource for them, and they were e-learning in internet cafes. We get to teach them the best and latest practices as well as current curriculum on the many tracks we offer at Gebeya Inc.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self not to be reactive, but it’s just one of those skills that’s taught in time through being tested. Be composed when you deal with situations and look at them for everything they are instead of isolating one thing or one trigger. Take more time to develop your thoughts and ideas before executing.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Fail. That’s one thing that’s very important, and I’m sure a lot of entrepreneurs say that – the ones that honestly have that entrepreneurial spirit because you fail a million times before you succeed. Failing is very good for entrepreneurs, and it’s better to do it fast and early and as much as possible before you’re playing with a lot of money or someone else’s money. If you’re trying to be safe as an entrepreneur and you end up having access to a lot of money, you’re going to make a 3-million-dollar mistake versus a half-million-dollar mistake. I think failing is critical for entrepreneurs, and knowing how to process those failures and realizing that it’s not the end of the world is very important. It separates the entrepreneurs from the want-to-be-entrepreneurs.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Investing in others, not necessarily monetarily, but giving them a sense of ownership. Giving them control and giving them management rights and investing in them past just monetary value. It goes so much further as long as you vest them properly.
It could be as little as mentorship or helping them draft business plans. Investing your time lets people know you care and that you believe in them. That’s one of the most important things to understand when investing in Africa and it goes hand-in-hand with seed funding.
People think in Africa that you can just “buy” talent or retain them with cash because people on the continent don’t get paid what they’re worth. Although that is somewhat true, better wages will only encourage someone for so long. If it’s all about the money, then they will leave for a $2 raise just the same.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I invested in friends early on and that failed for a number of reasons. When you start making money, your friends pitch their ideas, and if you invest it could end up contaminating the personal relationship if things don’t go as planned. It’s one thing I had to learn not to do.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
What is your favorite quote?
“Regret is the past crippling the future.”