1. What was your first job?
When I was 14 I did data entry. I used to work for a car rental company where I had to transfer data written on paper into the computer. It was not smart work, but I earned the equivalent of about $10 an hour.
2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
I sleep just fine. Of course in business there is always a new problem to tackle. In the past two weeks what I was invested in was the new technology on our e-commerce site Rupu in Kenya. The team had been preparing this for a long time, and as with every product launch, we needed to make sure it worked correctly. And at the moment there are some exciting things happening for us in Tanzania and I am focused on that.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
There have been some interesting people in my work life and I learnt a lot from my bosses. But I would say my father, who is an entrepreneur, has had the biggest impact. He runs a diverse publishing house in Munich, Germany. Growing up in an entrepreneurial household I initially would get bored by the talk of investments and market strategies – but as I grew up I learnt to appreciate it. My brothers also went into entrepreneurship, and were the best role models for me to take the same path.
4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
“Change it, take it or leave it.” It’s so simple, but can be applied to many things in life. If you are unhappy with something in your life, these are the three options you have – so make your call and stick with it.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I think I am not afraid of failure. In entrepreneurship you need to be ready to do trial and error. You should not be discouraged by what other people tell you, without actually ignoring their advice. I believe if you don’t know how to do something try it, and try it today. Try it 10 times and maybe you will fail nine times, but in the end you just might figure out what works.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
On the job without a doubt. Business school is good for networking. But if you had a choice to go to university for two years or start your own business and even fail with it, I would say run your own business.
7. How do you relax?
I love leisure travel. Fortunately Kenya is beautiful so I mostly travel out of Nairobi on the weekends. I also do yoga.
8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
I wake up at 6:30 am, and then it depends where the desk is.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
I have two: “What’s 99×99?” and “In 60 seconds, tell me everything that comes to your mind that you can do with a brick”. The first question has a fairly easy but creative solution if you want to do it fast. Even if you don’t come up with the quickest way to answer, and take your time to go by the book, the way that you handle a simple math question in a stressful environment can be quite revealing about ones character. The second question says a lot about your creativity and lateral thinking. If all you can come up with is “build a house” your chances are probably not as good as the person who suggests “use it to increase my speed when jumping out of an airplane” as one of his answers – which might be crazy, but is creative and looking for solutions.
10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Make sure to verify your idea with enough people. If you have an idea that has not been tried anywhere in the world it probably won’t work. But as an entrepreneur you are always working against the odds. Your chances of succeeding are slim so don’t make the odds which you play against bigger than they already are. It is always good to have an idea that’s model somewhat already exists and is proven. It is easier to localise something that is already working somewhere in the world than to totally reinvent the wheel.
Julian Artopé is director of Ringier Africa, a division of Swiss media corporation Ringier AG. The company has interests in digital marketing, content sites, classifieds and ecommerce. In Africa it runs 13 businesses in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Prior to his current role, Artopé was involved in a number of other businesses, including studiVZ, a German version of Facebook, and online payments company Skrill, to name a few.