Marek Zmysłowski is an amazing entrepreneur who has written a real-life thriller based on his career in Poland and, most intriguingly, Africa.
I have met Marek Zmysłowski twice in Africa and, more recently, in London. The nights we had in Johannesburg and Lagos were legendary, but a gentleman never tells.
He is a Polish firebrand and whirlwind, driven by entrepreneurial zeal and loves life almost as much as I loved his book, Chasing Black Unicorns.
They say that there is a book inside every journalist… and that’s where it should stay. I would also say that there’s a book inside every entrepreneur and that’s where it should be buried, but not in this case.
This story is more like a Robert Ludlum African-based thriller and it rolls and rolls like an exciting rollercoaster.
It begins slowly with a young Zmysłowsk dreaming of big things in a small Polish town. His ambition knows no bounds as he chases the zloty and dollar by working in finance and, memorably, in the funeral business. He spends what he earns and he loves spending as his internet pioneering makes him a Polish player.
Then an opportunity arises with Rocket Internet to set up the ‘African equivalent of Expedia’ in Nigeria. Zmysłowsk takes up the challenge and heads to Lagos and in the next couple of years does the almost-impossible in doing exactly that.
Then the problems begin. Agent provocateurs, dissembling investors, strategies-from-above and all of the above magnified by the chaos of Nigeria mean trouble for Zmysłowsk. Not only is he ousted from the business he built up, but his new venture is seen as a threat.
Before he knows it, he is on Interpol’s most wanted list and endures prison after being arrested at Warsaw airport expecting to be extradited to Nigeria.
I won’t spoil the ending because there is much to read and admire here. His writing is crisp and he never loses faith even when the Gods seem out to screw him over. His book is a hell of a ride, I recommend you join him. A really excellent story.
VConnect Founder Deepankar Rustagi explains why Africa is the place to be and why African SMEs are the future of the continent’s prosperity.
Welcome to Mob76 Outlook, Deepankar. Tell us about VConnect.
We are based in Lagos, Nigeria and we want to be the leading player in Anglophone countries with high internet penetration in Africa. The market is there. According to NBS, the market for online demand-in service-businesses will be $3.6 billion by 2020.
We are playing a critical role in the growth of African SMEs and transforming the way service sector businesses engage with their customers.
To many people, Africa is the so-called Dark Continent, but what’s really happening there right now?
The economic challenges faced by Africa (its dependence on oil, and the non-existence of the middle class) are not hidden from anyone. Providing growth to SMEs in the service sector will append a more dependable stream of revenue.
What is your company doing to help?
We want to transform local SMEs into emerging brands in Africa. More than 75% of SMEs in Africa do not survive the second year of operations. Access to market is one of the major challenges faced by these SMEs.
VConnect is a platform for finding local service professionals and allows users to search for and connect with service businesses to access reliable and affordable services.
We enable businesses to acquire and, more importantly, retain customers by making them more accessible online. Businesses need to take just three easy steps: register on VConnect, respond to enquiries from potential customers and engage to transact.
Our platform is unique as it is easy enough for the SMEs in Africa to promote themselves online using their mobile phones. We help them create their business profile and generate and manage leads for their products and services.
Why did you set up the company?
I grew up in Lagos and have spent more than 18 years here. After engineering work brought me back to Lagos, I noticed the difficulty people faced in finding businesses and how difficult it was for businesses to market themselves and reach their customers. That’s when we decided to start VConnect.
How much traction does VConnect have?
* 1.5 Million monthly users
* 2,000 SMEs actively engage with customers every day
* 15,000 connections made every day(no. of times users get in touch with businesses)
* 75% are mobile users (both businesses and users)
Who are your major competitors?
They are Connect Nigeria, Finelib, Businesslist.ng, Jiji.ng and Olx
Why are you better and different from these other players?
We are an SME tech company, changing the way businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa acquire and engage with customers. We enable businesses to not just generate leads and acquire new customers but also, to retain them, whereas our competitors only enable the business to be listed on their platforms.
As for users, unlike our competitors, we don’t just provide contact information of service professionals but understand users’ requirement and connect them with multiple reliable service professionals for them to get maximum value for their money.
How much funding have you received to this point?
Tell us about your founders and team
We are a single founder company and our team consists of 57 people. I founded the company in March, 2011 and have since worked with my team as the CEO, overseeing product development, management, and engagement. During this course, I’ve also completed a Venture Capital program from Haas School of Business, Berkeley and an entrepreneurship course from Stanford SEED, West Africa.
Our core team encompasses of product management, business development, sales, operations, finance, digital marketing and brand/category management all run from our base office in Lagos.
Our CTO is a seasoned programmer with 14 years of experience and has been a part of VConnect since its inception. Our product and marketing heads both have more than eight years of experience in defining the growth path for startups in Asian countries.
Very interesting, Deepaankar, thanks for sharing your story with our audience.
The big yellow bus in front revved its engine. The blue smoke shot through the open window and sawed into my sinuses. The air conditioning in the car wasn’t working and it was too warm to wind up the glass so I sat there, coughing, almost retching and semi-blind from the poorly burnt diesel.
The bus didn’t move but then neither did any of the other cars, buses, mini buses or vans packed into the junction. Even some of the mopeds had got themselves wedged, stranded amongst the four-wheeled transport around which they usually flocked and mocked. Four roads slowly deposited traffic onto the roundabout where we were marooned. Continue reading →