John Kamara is the director and co-founder of Global Gaming Africa, a gaming and gambling consultancy. Global Gaming Africa covers a broad spectrum of services in the industry and assists clients across the continent to operate as gaming businesses. The company advises on, and assists with, licensing, product evaluation and regulatory policy.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
Living in Africa is an MBA on its own and requires patience and strategic realignment of one’s thought process, irrespective of your skills or experience in other markets.
I remember trying to build a social banking platform on Facebook and other social networks using AI for a major bank in Nigeria and Kenya. We started with the Nigerian bank first and we got hammered with questions from the CTO (chief technology officer), the CMO (chief marketing officer), then compliance guys on how it couldn’t be done and what made it impossible. Although we had submitted a detailed 50-page proposal and an outline partnership from Facebook, it still felt like we were talking to strangers.
After getting through the management team we had to deal with the executive committee – which was basically a number of people with little experience in AI and digital banking solutions.
We were asked rudimentary questions and they decided, “No, this wasn’t for the bank”. So, they started trying to attract the same target market with SMS and other things. When this failed, our champion in the organisation was able to convince them to see us again and allow us to make a pitch.
What we did, was simplify our proposition to the barest minimum and reduced the use of high-value words that confused our potential clients. At the end of the presentation, the clients awarded us the project.
Everyone asked us why we didn’t do this in the first place. The moral is you don’t just sell a product in Africa; you must also help clients understand or create strategies to market the product for it to make a real impact and to acquire customers.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
I am involved in gaming, fintech and health-tech using technologies like blockchain and AI. One of the things I am proud of was the launch of ICE Africa, the largest gaming event on this side of the world, in South Africa and developing Afrimart, the intra-Africa trade platform that uses AI to help drive SME growth and trade on the continent.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I wouldn’t really call it a weakness. But an area of less interest, to me, is around day-to-day management. I don’t like to manage. I am a visionary, an explorer and new market creator. I take a project and create the market, build relationships and open new revenue streams. But managing it day to day is a hard task for me. So, I learned how to work with other experts on my team to bridge the gap of my shortcoming.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
Start small and work your way up. The current entrepreneurial market does not wait for you to start small and work your way up. Think big and land somewhere that allows you to galvanise your land grab.
The one thing I do say to startups is: “The only thing you know is that you know nothing.” When that becomes your creed then you will always fill your pot with knowledge that will allow you to be humble when required and bullish when needed.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
The patience that is required in the journey and how to pivot quickly. That was the first lesson I learned with my first startup in Ireland in 2010.
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.