The journey so far: Harry Hare, executive director, DEMO Africa

Harry Hare

Harry Hare is the founder and the executive director of Kenya-founded DEMO Africa, a launchpad for emerging technologies and trends on the continent. Hare is also the co-founder and director of the African eDevelopment Resource Centre; a founder and publisher of CIO East Africa; co-founder of OMS Africa; and co-founder and director of Events Management Solutions.

1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

This would be when I had to shut down one of my first businesses after it became unsuitable to continue with operations. We had built an amazing team of young goal-getters to publish what was the second IT publication in East Africa. The title was first branded Microcomputer Guide and later PC World East Africa. It was a niche publication, with a small, focused readership at the time. Due to the political situation in Kenya (this was in the ’90s) the economy took a massive beating and, when that happens, marketing budgets, ironically, are the first to be slashed.

We tried to sustain the publication through all means, but after 10 hard months, we had to throw in the towel. The hardest thing to do was to face the team that believed me and the vision that I had shared with them, telling them: “Guys and girls, this is the end of the road.” We allowed the team to use the offices for their own activities since our lease still had a few months to go.

2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?

I must say I am lucky because most of the things I have done in the past 10 years have given me a lot of satisfaction as an entrepreneur. This year, for instance, we celebrate 10 years of publishing the CIO East Africa magazine. It’s not been an easy journey, but when you look at the impact that the work you do has on people, some of whom you will never meet, it gives the energy to do more.

Also, the work I do with DEMO Africa – it always makes me tear up when I listen to some of the stories technology entrepreneurs tell about the impact of participating in DEMO Africa. One entrepreneur from South Africa sent me a voice recording of how DEMO Africa impacted his business. And that has become my reminder of the importance of the work, every time I get a knock and things don’t seem to go the way I want them to, which is often.

So, I am proud of CIO East Africa, I am proud of what DEMO Africa has become and, of course, our training business – the African eDevelopment Resource Centre, which, by the way, is the parent company of all the above.

3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.

I am largely a creative and see opportunities where many people would see problems or challenges. And when I see these opportunities, I am not afraid to take them, and I guess that’s what most entrepreneurs do, take a risk and jump into an opportunity.

But sometimes these opportunities could turn out to be risky ventures. So, risk taking is my greatest weakness. I have tried to mitigate this through tampering my appetite for risk, but I think my partner, Andrew Karanja, who happens to have a complete opposite personality, has been instrumental in pushing back and also getting me to think deeper and wider on some of the ventures we have undertaken.

4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?

Working smart! There is no shortcut in building a business or a brand, it’s all about blood, sweat and tears. It’s about working hard and staying the course.

5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?

Yes. That once it bites you, you are finished, gone! You cannot get yourself out of it even if you wanted.

Entrepreneurship is a way of life and perhaps if I knew this before I jumped in, I would have been more prepared and communicated the same to the people around me, so that they could be more prepared as well. You can imagine how doing all-nighters for days, with a young family, can affect the family unit, let alone your health.

6. Name a business opportunity you would still like to pursue.

As I always say to the startups in DEMO Africa, Africa has a lot of problems and all these problems are opportunities waiting for entrepreneurs to solve and do business. Through DEMO Africa and CIO East Africa, I get to be part of a lot of events planning and hosting.

I see a massive opportunity in events technologies both globally and specifically in Africa. Creating tools for event organisers to do their work easier and faster. I know everyone is creating a ticketing system because of the payment component and hopes to get a commission on each ticket sold, but this is not where the business is.

The business is in automating the event organiser, think of an ERP (enterprise resource plan) for events – starting from a call for abstracts to marketing, sourcing, budgeting, management to reporting. I see international companies coming into this space, but they all do only a of piece of the story.

The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip, and content production by Justin Probyn and Nelly Murungi.