Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
1. What was your first job?
While I was in university I made some money helping students who needed a bit of assistance. It was mostly much younger people but when I was 20 I actually tutored a guy who was 30 and just needed to finish one grade and then he could start working. After university I went straight into private equity.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
It must have been my second boss at the venture capital fund I worked for. He really taught me all the ropes of investing. He taught it in a very untypical way. He was an aggressive, risky investor but at the same time he was very good at charming entrepreneurs. He was good at buying their vision and spending days strategising with them, but if the next day these people would do something which was according to him not what was agreed he could be extremely tough. He was a very positive and optimistic guy. He would always encourage people, but he had this other side. That has been my biggest inspiration of how I think one should be as a venture capitalist.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Many. When our companies grow fast there are always challenges. I think our companies are growing too fast and they need money quicker than we thought. Once you accumulate more companies there is always one of your children who need a bit more attention than others. But over time you learn not to let these things keep you awake at night.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
What I look for in other people and what I hopefully have as well is this attribute of being an optimist. I think it is very important to be able to see a growth story in companies. I also really like to work with people and I think I am good at identifying good entrepreneurs and also helping them think through how to build their teams. I think hard work is always important and so is working efficiently. What we do requires a lot of hard work.
5. What are the best things about your country, the Netherlands?
I think why people would go to the Netherlands is because everything works; it’s why I left. When I go back it does feel nice to be in a place where everything works. I also like the fact that it has a very big group of creative people and there is an abundance of culture which I miss a bit here [in Kenya].
6. And the worst?
It is flat. The Netherlands doesn’t have any hills. You really can’t see huge opportunities there. It isn’t as vibrant as Kenya is. In Kenya there are hurdles, but it is also interesting. In the Netherlands I feel flat [because] there are no ups and downs in my mood, but here it is continuous vibrancy.
7. Your future career plans?
I would like to grow TBL Mirror Fund. We have been doing this on a small scale to prove that you can successfully invest relatively small amounts and make a good return. So I would like to scale up so that we can have more impact and put more money and people to work. I would like to do that on a pan-African scale.
8. How do you relax?
I relax as soon as I get home and I am with my husband and children.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
I would advise them to choose a study which would challenge them the most [and] not something that comes easy. That way they can build a habit of challenging themselves. Right from that university age they should also try to be involved in areas they think they would like to work in by getting internships and building networks among their own peers. When I was studying I was a member of AIESEC which you have here as well and I was interacting with companies. I think that brings a bit of seriousness at an early age so that once you finish your studies you are not completely naïve.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
I think the ingredients of very hard working and motivated people are there. If the framework of good governance and better infrastructure were in place, then Africa would have been miles ahead. I think for Africa to truly realise its potential governments should adopt systems that do not increase but instead decrease the cost of doing business and continue to invest more in improving the infrastructure.
Eline Blaauboer is a managing partner of TBL Mirror Fund. The private equity fund invests between US$1m and $1.5m in small and medium enterprises in East Africa and Nigeria with a focus on high growth sectors such as ICT, healthcare and consumer goods. Its portfolio includes high-end Nairobi salon chain Neo Amadiva, Highlands Mineral Water Company, Meridian Medical Centre, International Medical Group and technology companies Cellulant, Software Technologies and KenCall. Blaauboer has over 15 years of experience in private equity.