He is a brilliant young man. He has energy and he understands the technology space in Africa. He is one of those guys that would do everything to help. He has invested tons of money in African startups. He continues to mentor many. He is Rodrigue Fouafou. He was born in Cameroon but today he shuttles around the world, out of Toronto. My first encounter with his kindness was the day he asked me to meet him in California that he would introduce me to somebody. He came with his business partner, and we met in San Francisco. Just like that, Rod (as we call him) introduced me to a money man – a onetime highest ranked Chinese in Morgan Stanley and UBS. Without him, we would not have our public sector investment business in Africa.
Today, I want to introduce this hardworking African immigrant to the world. He may be in the plane as you read. But one thing is clear: he made some of the first investments in the (then) nascent Cameroonian startup sector. He is the ultimate African: someone who found favor before men and women in North America and continues to remember his root.
I do not like the phrase serial entrepreneur because it creates a connotation that nothing has worked. But Rod is the real one who has actually built things that have worked. A former IBMer; you can call him a nerd and a geek.
Good people, read this interview with Rodrigue Fouafou in a new series here on Tekedia called the Building Africa Series. I do hope to interview people who are making things happen. Yes, people from the do tanks and not the think tank.
Let us know about you and your background:
My name is Rodrigue Fouafou; people call me Rod. Betty Liu, Founder of Radiate, and Famous Bloomberg TV Anchor prefers “Africa Potential Unlocker”. I am originally from Cameroon. Currently, I live in Downtown Toronto. I have lived in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, and Palo Alto, California.
I grew up in a poor but large family. I was lucky enough to have gone to school. I graduated with honours from the University of Ottawa with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering. I’d had a few successful years working at IBM, Nortel and Mobile Knowledge Inc. Afterwards, I took my first leap as an entrepreneur.
Then I met my first business partner. What came from the commingling of our minds, with extremely long hours of hard work, were Gourmandia. For more than 5+ years we programmed, wrote, built, ate, and breathed Gourmandia. To give an idea of our success, in less than 4 years we became, according to The New Yorker, #4 worldwide in the food vertical after FoodNetwork.com, and AllRecipes.com.
I moved to Palo Alto (Silicon Valley, California) after I exited my first venture back in 2012, and wanted to start a start-up venture over there. During that period, I learned a lot on why Silicon Valley culture remains the most innovative one in the world.
Introduce us to your business:
I co-founded HartNamtemah. The name is partly derived from the name of my co-founder, Marc-Andre Hart. Namtemah means lion in the Bafoussam language, which is spoken in Cameroon, my country. The company is an investment and consulting firm. We specialize in Investing/Funding/Mentoring/Advising/Connecting in African startups. We also work with investors interested in funding business ventures in other emerging markets around the world.
Besides Marc-Andre Hart, my business partner, I had a privilege back in 2012 to meet one of the most active African innovators, Ndubuisi Ekekwe. I had met Nd after reading a piece he wrote in the Harvard business Review on innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa. We later connected for a business trip to California.
Over the last few years, this is what we have accomplished in HartNamtemah. Today, we have more than 70% of our ventures generating revenue.
How do you find the startups?
We have been using Vc4Africa platform which is co-founded and lead by a good friend of mine, Ben White, to select our startups. We rely on our network also. And of course, people connect with us directly online.
Where do you see technology and innovation moving in Africa?
Nigeria for West Africa, South Africa for southern Africa, Kenya for East Africa and Cameroon for CEMAC region in central Africa.
The opportunities are enormous and there is enough room for innovation for everyone. However, the opportunities come with challenges. New entrepreneurs must understand that Africa is a new market and you have to do better than in any other continent to succeed.
Our main goal is to show Africa differently to the world. Develop new talent and connect Africa to the rest of the world. The continent has so much potentials. We wanted to re-position Africa on the global opportunities map. Personally, I am excited by the future.
How would you pass your passion to upcoming African entrepreneurs?
When I look back, I have been blessed with well-rounded success; consequently, it is an honor to help others attain their goals in business. I tutor those who are less fortunate, offer seminars, and mentor all whom I am able to. I am a mentor at Enablis (East Africa Region) – a stellar training and development tool for African entrepreneurs aiming at transforming their excellent business ideas into successful business ventures and therefore reducing poverty. Also, I am a mentor at a new World Bank initiative called XL Africa which helps in bridging the gap between African entrepreneurs and global investors by providing services including training, advice and access to capital. I had an opportunity to meet the first batch of 20 startups founders during my trip to Cape Town last November.
Occasionally, I am asked to speak about African tech startup. In 2017, I was a Guest Speaker to World Angel Investor Summit in Montreal and Africa Angel Investor Summit in Cape Town, South Africa. The next event I will attend is the African diaspora investment symposium in San Jose, California.
Mentoring African Youth Summit in Ottawa
As a mentor to African entrepreneurs, how do you assess the development of our entrepreneurs?
Nowadays, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur and to be the next Steve Jobs. I’ve seen young passionate men and women starting their own projects. I think it’s exciting to see them go with all the tools and skills they have. Decades ago, the system wouldn’t allow anyone to be an entrepreneur. You had to get a sort of a diploma and a lot of money. Now, the world has changed. The new technology is booming. Everyone is connected more than ever. Everyone travels, meets and shares vision.
However, the only thing that can last is your vision about your business. A clear vision of where you want to go. One time, I’ve read “Don’t work harder, just smarter”. With your vision, you will able to guide and lead your team. In business, we say 15 years from now is short term. That’s how the investors can take you seriously on the long run. In Africa, we are developing our entrepreneurial base.
Any specific sectors of immediate focus at the moment in your investment business?:
We have invested in Kiro’o Games in Cameroon, in the video game industry. They see video games as a creative way to further the development of the African continent. We have invested in Fitech ventures. We have tons of project in big data (Njorku.com), cultural, financial and more.
Our next targets are fashion, agribusiness, cryptocurrencies, 3D printing and the sharing economy. At the moment, we are currently closing our first investment deal in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for a rideshare app.
What do you on your free time?
Outside of work and businesses, I have hobbies. I do run for Nike Toronto, I ran Scotia Race back in October here in Toronto ( see my Blog) and also I ran 10K during my trip in Cape Town in November 2017. I discover my passion of Running. And I’m lunching Africa Running Club Initiative. A way of Combining Healthy Bodies with Creative Minds.
Your message to African founders and entrepreneurs:
Think Small, Do Big.
How can people reach you?
Just GOOGLE “AfricaConnects”.