Vahid Monadjem – Co-Founder and CEO of Nomanini

A productive day starts with a well planned week. I try and end each week reviewing what I achieved and what I need to do based on what’s already in the calendar, my email inbox and our six month plan.Then on a daily basis I track how I am doing against that. I have to be pretty flexible because of travel and unplanned work that comes along.

Vahid Monadjem is the co-founder and CEO of Nomanini, a South African-based mobile Point of Sale service for facilitating cash transactions in emerging markets.

He is passionate about working at the intersection of technology and design in informal markets, where Nomanini’s solutions can directly impact people’s lives. Vahid’s vision for Nomanini is to provide platforms for transactions in emerging markets by empowering local partners to create the tools that best suit their particular environment.

Vahid is a trained engineer with extensive innovation and product design experience. Before founding Nomanini, he was McKinsey & Company’s global fellow for Emerging Market Product Development. He has worked in Africa, South East Asia, North America and Europe within a wide range of industries, including technical services, design, consumer goods, state-owned utilities, petrochemicals and telecommunications.

Vahid completed a BSc degree in Electromechanical Engineering at UCT, graduating with first class honours, before completing a BCom degree in Financial Analysis and Portfolio Management, again with first class honours.

Based in Cape Town, Vahid regularly travels around the world meeting partners and scoping out new opportunities to introduce Nomanini’s cloud-based, rugged point of sale terminals to informal markets.

Where did the idea for Nomanini come from?

I studied electrical and mechanical engineering, and after practising as an engineer and working in industrial (product) design, I ended up joining a business management consulting company. The idea for Nomanini started there, where I had exposure to various clients in a few countries. Across them I noticed that mobile prepaid distribution in informal markets was the lifeblood of their services, and could be greatly improved by creating appropriate tools.

Our approach to this was to focus on building tools that informal merchants wanted, not what service providers wanted and not what we thought informal merchants wanted, but something that they actually would want and would use. Our strategy and tactics have shifted, but that merchant-centric focus remains.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A productive day starts with a well planned week. I try and end each week reviewing what I achieved and what I need to do based on what’s already in the calendar, my email inbox and our six month plan.Then on a daily basis I track how I am doing against that. I have to be pretty flexible because of travel and unplanned work that comes along.

How do you bring ideas to life?

A manager I once worked with described me in a review as “always ready to break down walls, if thats what it took”. I think after the decision to pursue an idea has been made, this is the core of it: persistance.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I am most excited trends that enable people to create, produce and earn more – especially in developing markets where there is so much potential. It could be additive manufacture, the sharing economy, more transparent market pricing for farmers, or terminals that people can use to make money by facilitating micro transactions. Its great that technology can make such a big difference.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am always looking to make things better. Whether its tonight’s roast chicken, or our product or corporate governance processes. I am confident that we can make things better and actually enjoy the exercise of doing so.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I can’t say I have ever had a bad job. I have always found things to enjoy because there was always something to learn. Too often, I think its easier for people to blame a bad job than admit that they haven’t properly explored (or challenged) the full extent of the job.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I think if I had to start again now, I would do many things differently, because I have learned a bunch, but also because I have a better profile to work from. Given what I knew and the profile I had, I don’t think I could have done much differently. Next time, I would have a better appreciation for the hidden work that goes into bringing a product/service to market, pay more attention to thinking through channels to market and probably try and raise more cash upfront.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I always re-examine assumptions and approaches – my own especially. It’s something I do in my career and, to my girlfriend’s consternation, with dinner and vacation plans too.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Listening to our primary user: merchants in informal markets. Listening is an underrated skill and it’s easy to get distracted by big budgets that can force you to deviate from your core mission. For example, in our business it’s tempting to run after the big mobile operators, however their needs don’t often align with the needs of our primary user: merchants in informal retail (who want to be able to sell everything). By listening to them we were able to identify a scalable channel strategy by working with existing prepaid distributors who were non-exclusive, were also able to fulfil a bunch of other roles and who existed from South Africa to Kenya to Nigeria.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A company does not usually achieve the perfect product-market fit on the first go. We seem to be saturated by the stories of the start-up that made it on the first swing, but the reality is that it’s an iterative exercise that usually takes months and years and never really stops. When I did get impatient and despondent, I had a great group of directors, advisors and mentors who reminded me that this game is won one yard at a time, not with the first swing.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

We do a lot of international business. I would love to have a service that provides interpreters who can join Skype/Hangouts calls at the click of a button. Someone please make this happen.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I did ballet when I was a kid. Wow, it’s therapeutic to get that out there. I am not sure why I decided to try it, but my parents were encouraging and even went to the extent of threatening my brother with belly dancing classes if he teased me. I stuck at it and by the time we performed in a park in Chicago I was the last boy in the troupe.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use ActiveInbox to keep a handle on my inbox and to make scheduling meetings easy.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

There are plenty of books and blogs that help with the HOW, like The Lean Startup, Innovator’s Dilemma/Solution and The Hard Thing About Hard Things. But I think the WHY needs to come first as it will motivate someone to learn the HOW. My best friend gave the the book How Will You Measure Your Life which is one of the only books I have read that is explicitly about the WHY.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

My family, friends and experience of living on several continents has formed my thinking. I guess I would suggest travel and experiencing different places and cultures.


Vahid Monadjem on LinkedIn:
Vahid Monadjem on Twitter: @vahidjm
Nomanini on Twitter: @nomanini