John Wainaina Karanja is the founder and consulting lead of BitHub Africa, a Nairobi-based commercially driven blockchain accelerator that seeks to drive the adoption of various blockchain technologies and solutions across Africa.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
Ordinarily, the main challenge I face as a business owner in Kenya is maintaining cash flow to ensure we continue to meet our obligations, like payroll, as well as service delivery. On the whole, there is a significant cost to doing business in Kenya, especially for startups and small and medium enterprises due to underdeveloped infrastructure and negative external forces such as corruption.
This has presented opportunities for new disruptive digital technologies to bring in new efficiencies, such as transparency and accountability, that can be leveraged to mitigate some of the challenges we faced in the past. At BitHub Africa, we focus on building technical capacity in blockchain technology, with a view of providing robust solutions in the financial and energy sector. Leveraging blockchain has allowed us to accelerate research and development of projects, build faster and cheaper remittance services, as well as distribute energy solutions.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
Our impactful efforts at BitHub Africa over the past three years to educate more than 4,000 people about the potential of blockchain technology on the continent through our meetups and conferences.
We are working with partners to scale blockchain engineering education through an open platform called Whive.Academy that will operate across the continent and train 1,000 blockchain engineers over the next two years. The idea is to have a pool of skilled engineers that will develop impactful solutions to key challenges facing African people.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
Probably trying to develop too many concepts at the same time. I think this is a challenge, especially among creatives in tech. Thankfully, using the agile methodology and incubation process and blockchain technology, I have been able to settle on the most disruptive ideas, or what you would call low-hanging-fruit, that we can feasibly implement in the shortest time.
Additionally, tokenisation a key aspect of blockchain, allows one to collaborate with other innovators on other ideas of interest through stakeholding or the distributed economy. An entrepreneur using blockchain could, for example, issue crypto-graphic tokens and distribute them to stakeholders, such as team members, investors and, even, customers, for them to support his idea. These tokens could then be used to access the product, thus creating an ecosystem of value for all interested parties.
If the product is useful, the value of the tokens would grow and, therefore, reward stakeholders for participating in the development of the product. I believe this model is the future of startups in the digital economy, especially in Africa.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
Over time, I have come to disagree with the notion that one needs huge capital to start a successful business anywhere in the world. I think in the digital age of social media, blockchain and crypto-currencies, one can build interesting new enterprises that leverage these new technologies to scale ideas quickly beyond one’s border.
In Kenya, you are seeing many young women building successful businesses using Instagram. This is the future economy. This is why at BitHub Africa we are focusing on building up capacity for young entrepreneurs to start developing their ideas early using permission-less models that further reduce the cost for starting a business. This will create a lot of freelance and skills-based employment by efficiently allocating talent to the most useful businesses.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
In hindsight, I think it is always better for an entrepreneur to gain as much experience as possible through internships and/or short-term employment in industries and areas of interest. This will arm them with enough knowledge and a bit of capital to test their ideas before they fully dive in.
Entrepreneurship is still tough, despite technology making some things easier. You need to be a well-rounded individual to survive the hardships that arise from time to time, especially in an economy where resources are typically allocated inefficiently. In the end, patience is key, as it will take time to be successful and reap rewards for your efforts.
But, thankfully, probably for the first time in history, technology has tilted opportunities in favour of those who are willing to put in the work!
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.