In this first episode of season two of the African Preseed podcast, Maria Pienaar, an operating partner at Unicorn Growth Capital, offers a new perspective on thinking about failure, innovation, and the societal differences that can affect founders' thinking and offers practical steps for changing one's mindset.
“Failure is not seen as a disaster but something to build upon.” - Maria Pienaar
When you cover Africa’s tech ecosystem, you quickly become familiar with everyone’s visceral fear of bad news. Every time you publish an unflattering story about a startup, you steel yourself for pushback; from the company’s managers, and other leaders in the ecosystem. The prevailing belief is that these kinds of stories shape the narrative for the tech ecosystem and can be damaging. There’s a fear of any type of failure.
At the six-minute mark, Maria says, “if you’re in a fear based culture, you’ll always stifle innovation and the innovative disruptors in the market.” She contrasts the societal fear of failure in the African ecosystem to Silicon Valley’s perspective where failure is a learning curve. “Failure is not deemed as a challenge; it is deemed as what have you learned from it and how do you improve things? In a way, it’s seen as a necessary step to get to the next successful step.”
It’s critical for a company’s leadership to get comfortable with failing fast and to create a safe environment that encourages innovation. “If leadership keeps on dominating with that culture of fear, you’ll never see anything happen. If you make a mistake that’s fine, you need to figure out how to fix it.” Maria also speaks about the importance of having diverse opinions in a company and building all of this into a structure where everyone is pulling towards the same direction.
💡 Get out of the trap of thinking small
Maria also talks about something that’s familiar: getting out of the trap of playing small. “The first thing we do is that we think too small. We don’t tie enough zeroes behind the numbers we’re talking about.” She also gives some personal anecdotes from her time early on at Vodacom.
That’s enough spoilers, enjoy the conversation!
What to look forward to in this episode:
- Critical gaps that emerging founders often fail to address [2:57]
- What is the "Silicon Valley Mindset" and how to apply within the context of the African tech ecosystem [4:11]
- Embedding a change in mindset for the African entrepreneur [7:03]
- The role of regulation in innovation [9:40]
- Conducting market research to find product-market fit [13:57]
- The best and worst pieces of advice received by Maria Pienaar [16:42]
- What African founders should know about telecom companies [20:43]
- The importance of network effects and network marketing [23:07]
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