Quick Chat with the founder of Umwuga, Nasi Rwigema

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Quick Chat with the founder of Umwuga, Nasi Rwigema

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The Coronial Entrepreneurs

Today we have Nasi Rwigema, the founder of Umwuga on the show with us.  He’s a recent MBA graduate of the London Business School who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and founded Umwuga in 2020 as “the social network for hard-workers”.

How would your grandparents describe what you’re doing?

Nasi Rwigema 

I think they might describe Umwuga as a Nasi-built Facebook that helps me hire cleaners and handymen.

Bradley Pallister 

Yeah, okay. So, if I was someone in South Africa, could I use that as well use that service as well? Or is it just the UK or …?

Nasi Rwigema 

It’s global

 

So why did you think of starting Umwuga right now? Like, we have a pandemic on!

Nasi Rwigema 

So, I mean, I started working on it before the pandemic hit. And it was based on my experience, trying to hire these kinds of people. I used to work in renewable energy building power plants. And their solar power plants are in the desert, hydropower plants are in the mountains when plants are in the meadows. Always rural and remote, yet we need to hire 1000s of low and middle-skilled workers. And it was always a nightmare. We didn’t have local networks. We didn’t know how to find these people. So, we had that first challenge. And then when we got over the first challenge, we found that they didn’t know how to interview Well, how to showcase what they were good at doing. And so, we were just having bad discussions and at the end of the day having done 100 interviews, all of them sound like “Hello, sir.” You know, “please give me a chance. I do very hard work, I won’t let you down, I promise you, sir.” Trying to pick the top 30 out of those 100 was difficult because they all looked exactly the same. And so, I just thought back to what I do as a white-collar worker, I use LinkedIn. I use recruiters, I use a CV because I have interesting things to say and those artifacts on those profiles. And so, I then just set out to build a LinkedIn like experience that was relevant and helpful to semi and mid-skilled workers. So, and then in terms of timing, I was in Business School over the past two years doing an MBA, and I had time to think about what to do with my future. And I started working on this business pre-pandemic, and then sort of wrapping up my MBA at the beginning of the pandemic, the first lockdown. And I think that only made it more relevant than before, because a lot of people, especially in the lowest skill levels, were losing their jobs, or possibly being forced to do new things for money. And so, you start moving into this realm of what kind of skills do I have? How are they transferable? How do I use this short-term experience that I’m going through right now, to still build on some kind of career path towards a future?

Bradley Pallister 

Nasi, that’s really good. So, you’ve seen, you’ve seen a need out there? And you’ve taken the steps to build a solution around that.

 

So how did you get started with Umwuga? Like, how did you get the ball rolling?

Nasi Rwigema 

So, I think one good thing about being in business school, when I came up with this was, there’s a lot of sort of rigor around the best practice, idea development world. So lean startup, agile methodologies, thinking about all the risks, etc. So, I did what the books tell you, which is, first, put your ideas on paper very quickly, and then figure out which of them is rubbish and made up, try and come up with experiments to test some of that thinking to see if you’re right. And that’s really about getting clarity on the problem that you’re trying to solve. And then going out in the real world, speaking to people that you believe have that problem, and just asking them, do you have this problem? Yeah, how bad is it? How do you solve it today? You know, how much money are you currently spending to solve this problem, and just get some real evidence that people out there do, in fact, struggle to showcase themselves to build a reputation, and that that is holding them back from doing their best work and earning as much money as they should? And so, all that evidence came back positively. And I was having conversations with my target customers, where they were getting excited and saying, is it ready? is it available? Is that on the app store? Can I download it? And, you know, after enough of those, I thought to myself, okay, maybe I should start building this thing. And that’s what I was busy with over the last four or five months, leading up to the launch in December.

Bradley Pallister 

That’s good. That’s really exciting stuff. So, when you’re out on the power plants and that sort of thing, I’m guessing that a number of quite a lot of those labourers would be illiterate.

Nasi Rwigema 

Yeah, I mean, so there’s, there’s a definite spectrum, I think we found a third would be low skilled. And in that level, illiteracy, you know, no smartphones struggling to kind of, you know, create a Facebook profile. At best, you might find them on WhatsApp. Those were some of the challenges, language as well. So, we’d be in remote areas, people wouldn’t be speaking in English, there’d be a mix, for sure. But then I would say definitely the next third and a little bit more as well would be this sort of middle-skilled layer. And we wouldn’t have those challenges there. So, these would be people with a smartphone with enough money to buy data. They’d be on WhatsApp. They’d be on Facebook; they’d be on YouTube. And actually, an alarming amount of the day. So, yeah, you know, language not an issue, the ability to use a smart device to use an online platform, not an issue. And those customers I think are our starting point. While we wait for that sort of lower level to catch up, just core ability to use our product.

 

What other kinds of hurdles did you come across? What other kinds of issues did you find in setting up this platform?

Nasi Rwigema 

You know, I think I think one is the hardest thing for me was being able to communicate clearly. So how do you get it in one sentence or two sentences? Exactly what your product is, and how you’re different, too. Because every conversation I would have, someone would interject and say, Oh, so it’s like, and you’d hear Facebook, you’d hear Checkatrade, Airtasker, you’d hear Indeed, or LinkedIn. And you’d always have to then do this work to say, Okay, well, let’s use that as a starting point. Now, let me move you towards whatever gap we’re trying to fill. So, I think that’s always important is just being able to communicate very clearly, in the other person’s terms. So, in terms of, why should I care as a potential consumer, rather than, you know, tell me about this pretty little piece of tech that you bought? So, the second part to that is, when we were on lockdown, we’re then confined to, say, having Zoom calls. And it’s not as effective because what I really needed to be doing, and what I was doing in the beginning, was, you know, finding guys in the pub after hours next to a construction site and buying them a beer and having a chat. You know, so having to sort of, and these are busy people because they work, they work hours. So, I would have a guy come in and fix my plumbing, and then have to try and say, Hey, you know, would you mind? If I catch up with you for a chat afterward? That just became a little bit difficult during the lockdown.

Bradley Pallister 

That’s really, really interesting.

 

So, if you had an extra £100K worth of budget to throw at the project, what would you plow it into?

Nasi Rwigema 

I think I would definitely spend it on people, I would hire the best people I could find. I think that’s the biggest challenge. That’s the internal challenge as a founder. You just don’t have the skills. Internally, you don’t know how to do everything. You don’t even really know what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s brand new, all the time. And it’s chaotic, and it’s a lot. And you just need to really be on a lot of things. And I think you always just wish you had a marketing specialist or a technical specialist, PR person, an operations person HR. And, you know, I know that as we build the team will build. So, I think it’s never too soon to hire the best possible people that you can find. And if I had an extra 100 grand, that’s, I would spend the majority of it on hiring the people that I know I need right now. And that would be very useful in the future.

 

What was the biggest surprise you’ve had in setting up Umwuga so far? What came about that you didn’t really expect?

Nasi Rwigema 

I think there are maybe two things.  One good. One bad. A good surprise. And it’s a weird thing, but just sort of how doable things are today. You know, when getting started, you know, we were on lockdown. So, this business has been me at my laptop, at my desk, and you can get everything done. You can speak to people. You can get people to work with you. You can get stuff built. You can raise money. You can, I mean it’s just incredible work. What a laptop and the internet can do for a founder these days, there’s, you know, there’s an entire ecosystem of things that makes startups really easy compared to, say, 10-15 years ago, where a business like mine, you know, the idea of putting together a team of software developers in the same room, cranking away buying the servers, trying to get the phone company to bring a strong line through having the backups, the cooling systems, and then, you know, the ads on TV and, you know, posters on the highway, etc. All of that is just really streamlined nowadays. That sort of the negative surprise, I would say is how unreliable people are, especially people that are close to you, your friends, and you think, you know, this is my time, I’m really taking a leap. And if I could sort of rely on you for a favor, this would be the time, and everyone says that they’re there for you, like, oh, let me know how I can help if there’s anything I can ever do. But very, very few of them actually ever lift a finger to really help. That’s a key learning point.

Bradley Pallister 

Yeah, what would you do to overcome that, in the future, if you were to do it again?

Nasi Rwigema 

Sort myself out, I would say. What it really is, is an emotional journey that you go on, because you’re expecting things from people. And I think everyone’s always just looking out for themselves. I’m sure I’ve been sort of guilty of this to a friend of mine before without knowing it. So, I needed to just strengthen myself, not expect too much, maybe not be heard, or just sort of have a second plan and really be able to move forward, without getting caught up so much on the surprise of people letting me down.

Bradley Pallister 

That’s really interesting.

 

Having done this or started the journey so far, what do you think is the most common reason for founders for giving up or failing?  Why do they down their tools and walk away?

Nasi Rwigema 

I think there’s, there’s something about believability. that’s crucial. And I’m still in the early stages. So, I could very much be wrong in 12 months’ time. But there are many things during the day, that are signals that you’re wasting your time, you should stop, this isn’t going to work, you don’t have what it takes. And that’s kind of evidence. And if you’re looking at everything analytically, you’ll probably conclude that, that you shut down tools and walk away. So there must be something on top of that this sort of shining star in the distance, where you just you believe and it’s you believe in the mission, you believe in the problem, you’re trying to solve the solution you’re coming up with, you believe in yourself, your ability to carry it out. And I think sometimes these things can seem a bit big, you might even question the scale. And you know, am I trying to do something too big. And that believability is also then saying, well, what’s the difference between me and someone else that is not successful back when they were where I am? Why are they any better at the task ahead than I am? So, it’s very possible that I could be up for the job. And that if I grind it out for a little bit longer, I might make it through.

umwuga,nasi,interview, Quick Chat with the founder of Umwuga, Nasi Rwigema, Innovolo Ltd

Series Navigation<< Quick Chat with Hannah Brady, the founder of The Brady CreativeQuick Chat with the founder of BrainBar, Maxi Hristov >>

umwuga,nasi,interview, Quick Chat with the founder of Umwuga, Nasi Rwigema, Innovolo Ltd

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