Adam Grunewald is co-founder and CEO of Lynk, a Kenyan marketplace transforming the informal economy.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
When we were closing our seed fundraising, a Nairobi-based investor who was thinking about participating in the round decided to source a plumber on Lynk. He needed to install a water pump to improve water pressure in his apartment. Although the task was straightforward, there was a huge communication breakdown. The plumber had a very literal understanding of instructions. When the client said “install a water pump on my main water line”, the plumber did exactly that. After he set up the pump on the main water line, it pressurised the cold water and caused a crack in the boiler. It quickly flooded the bottom floor of my investor’s apartment!
Most Nairobi shops have a strict no-return policy, so the plumber couldn’t return the water pump which cost $400. As company co-founder, I had to ensure that the client was satisfied, especially since he was a potential investor. Even though I was in the middle of fundraising and should have been preparing financial models, I was busy fixing my client’s water boiler. Lynk had few employees in those early days, so I was very hands-on and had to become a plumbing expert in three days. Luckily, the situation worked out well.
2. What business achievement are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of winning the Global Center For Youth Employment Ideathon, a competition looking for the next big world changing solution for youth employment. We were asked to participate and at the time we weren’t yet clear about Lynk’s scale of impact. The competition had great submissions from heavy hitters like the World Bank, Save the Children, and the UN but we still decisively won. It felt really good. The win validated our solution and made me realise that this is exactly what I should be doing.
3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
Early on, I overcommitted to projects that we were not the best positioned to take since we lacked the specialised skills or they were simply too bespoke. (We now have much more specific service categories.)
For example, a client asked us to make a floating restaurant that would seat 45 people. We didn’t have that kind of talent on our platform – no civil engineers, architects, etc. We didn’t know how to make ballast calculations. But, I said yes to the project. We ended up scrambling to research building this floating restaurant. What I learned from the experience is that it was an opportunity cost for the business; we wasted time figuring out a way to execute the project while we could have used our existing skillsets to do two to four projects.
Now it’s completely different; we have mechanical and civil engineers who are specialised in areas of construction and can do that kind of work. We did build the restaurant though. If you’re ever in Tigoni, not far from Nairobi, you should visit. It’s beautiful.
4. What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
I think that a lot of entrepreneurial literature and thought-leadership that originates in Silicon Valley or other far-away markets does not apply as well to local businesses. For example, Silicon Valley tells you to hyperfocus on your product but a lot of startups in sub-Saharan Africa succeed because they branch out and own more parts of their value chain.
For instance, Bridge International Academies, a for-profit school chain for lower income families, had to have their own in-house construction team because they couldn’t find people to reliably build their schools. You wouldn’t do that if you were an edtech company in the US.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?
I wish I’d known that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Also, the importance of finding a balance between moving fast and breaking things and taking the time to validate a product. We started at a sprint, keen to validate the product by getting it into the market and in front of as many eyeballs as possible. We had a lot of all-nighters, fixing urgent bugs and operational issues. It took a while to reset and find balance and pace for the marathon that is entrepreneurship.