Joram Mwinamo: Having that good understanding of human problems and then being able to break them down into, frameworks and then create solutions around those frameworks. And then walk backwards now to create technology, to address, the problems and then based on the technology that you built, you find that now you're able to extract data, speed up certain processes, have objective information.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: If anyone believes strongly in technology and its massive prospects to solve problems, it's Joram Mwinamo. Out ever, he would prefer that founders focus on the problems first rather than building tech solutions or tools.
Welcome to The Experts. where we spotlight African tech specialists and their journey from newbie to expert
On this episode, we discuss how a seasoned Kenyan entrepreneur, who has spent most of his career interacting with tech and how they solve human problems in the simplest way, plans to build 5,000 entrepreneurship support hubs he calls SNDBXs around the world.
Joram Mwinamo: If I live long enough, we plan to have a SNDBX in every continent, in every country possible. So, the number I have in my head is about 5000 SNDBXs across the world, all the way in the different cities in China, in South America, in the US, in Europe.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: A few questions to look out for in this story are what drives Joram? What's unique about his approach? What's his background like? How far has he gone? After all, this seems like a lofty plan.
Joram Mwinamo: I'm probably one of those people, who, even when we have an extended technology discussion, I discuss more of the non-technology than the technology itself because I find that a lot of technologists look at the tools and solutions a bit too much. I come from a philosophy of looking at the real problems fir st and then seeing what kind of technology would be helpful in solving it.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: If you ask Joram about himself, 80% of the time, he's instinctively talking about how he ha s played and is still playing his part to support the Kenyan entrepreneurship ecosystem while actively participating in the evolution of tech businesses in the country.
He remembers, with fondness, the small beginnings, but is proud of how far it has gone. In a little over a decade, Kenya has become a hotspot for the big guns. The country’s capital, Nairobi, houses Microsoft’s first Africa Development Centre, Google’s proposed first product development centre on the continent, and Amazon's planned AWS Local Zone launch.
Growing up in a middle-class family in Nairobi, Joram studied computer science at Egerton University. Like I did, you're probably wondering why anyone would make such a decision in 2002 when you potential of tech and the importance of the internet were not appreciated in Africa yet.
Joram Mwinamo: I was actually introduced to technology a bit earlier, because of that experience, I did have dad, in the work that he used to do, he, was a civil servant, but somehow he linked up, with some South African consultants. As a result we ended up with, I think it was like one or two computers at home, one was like a mini computer and the other one was like one of this really early laptops; bulky, but DOS-based and the like. I remember, tinkering around with it. This was maybe about 1995, 96.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: As an undergraduate, his involvement with AIESEC paved the way. The organisation, which focuses on cultural exchange and professional and leadership development gave him the opportunity to work outside his country for two years as a graduate. First in Uganda, as a project manager. And then, in Norway.
Joram Mwinamo: And then I came back to Kenya, and when I came back, I was still not clear whether I would continue being employed or run a business.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: It wasn't long before he knew what he isn't interested in doing, which is being employed for a hardcore tech role. Together with a friend who had a similar tech background, Joram registered a management consulting company called wild international (W Y L D E) in 2007 after discovering that businesses face challenges, mostly because of their owners' mindsets. .
So instead of focusing on hardcore tech that involves coding and building products with his computer science degree, Joram and his friend chose to solve human problems differently, which is by helping businesses make sense of their solutions and unique value propositions. Here he still is chasing his passion full steam ahead. And to date, everything he has done has been in pursuit of this dream.
In case you're curious about Joram's drive
Joram Mwinamo: I kept seeing a gap, on the human side of, interaction with technology. And I think I have always seen that on until today, where people could be excellent at the technology aspects of building up the codes but terrible at understanding the problems that that code is supposed to go and solve. And I, as an individual, have been very passionate about promoting individual solutions , local solutions to the challenges that businesses face and helping them access the kind of solutions that would help them to grow.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: With more clients coming in for management consulting, Joram discovered that the problem runs deeper than that. It was only a matter of time before he decided to do something bigger. In 2020, Joram co-founded SNDBX (spelt as S N D B X), an entrepreneurship support hub, which is an upgrade from WYLDE international . Being ambitious he needed to create something that would help similarly, ambitious entrepreneurs avoid mistakes while building and scaling their businesses.
Joram Mwinamo: We have a bit of a unique setup where we have, what could traditionally be looked at as an incubator. But, what we have in addition is, an incubator accelerator, but we bring together about 33 different professional services, as well under one roof so that as people build their businesses, when they are also looking for access to things like legal services, governance, HR, marketing, brand, like literally everything, we are able to avail those services as well, and people are able to build holistic businesses that are able to grow and scale. Of course , this being Nairobi, a lot of those businesses are in the tech space, but we also do deal with quite a number of businesses outside of that as well
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Joram calls it a consortium. Think of it this way. You have a business idea that is just starting up in Kenya and you need professional advice. When you fix a meeting with Joram, or one of his team of nine to discuss, you can have access to any recommended professional services immediately because they are all under the same roof.
A quick reminder here. Even before WYLDE International and SNDBX, Joram has always been about entrepreneurship and innovation. But there's a catch. Joram might not always be excited about new technologies because he's all in for useful tech elements that have a return on investment. However, he has remained relevant by keeping up with the latest trends, especially how they key into the ecosystem.
Joram Mwinamo: Even though I couldn't code to save my life today, I would be very comfortable in a technology solution conversation, and probably being able to then make the best decision around, for example, which language or which platform or which hardware or software would be best to tackle a specific type of solution. I read local and international magazines about just what's happening out there. I'm subscribed to quite a number of forums online that talk about the trends of what's happening, almost on a daily basis. The podcasts that I listen to, of different authorities around the world or YouTube videos that I watch, keep me sufficiently updated.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Along the line, Joram picked up and developed human-centred design skill s, which he considers very important to what he does.
Joram Mwinamo: Certain human behaviours look simple, but understanding them makes you a much more valuable product manager or solution provider. And I find that a lot of people take such things for granted.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: He's excited about prospects that Africa's local challenges present. In a breath, he mentioned different ideas he's been playing around with for Africa's informal sector. One is something to make payment seamless for the hawker in traffic. Another is an inventory system for a second-hand clothing vendor and a solution to fund Africans' communal lifestyle.
Unsurprisingly, stories about how he has helped different businesses steer themselves towards success are at the top of Joram's accomplishments. He's proud to be helping the continent create more entrepreneurs building multinationals and startups that have gone beyond the continent's borders.
Joram Mwinamo: For me, one of the most fulfilling things is just being able to see an entrepreneur translate the knowledge that they're learning into actions within the business, and then beginning to see the growth, how they grow and hire, more business people.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Meanwhile, he's sometimes limited by the challenges facing businesses on the continent
Joram agrees that being a husband and father of four while being stretched at work can be quite challenging. But he seems to be managing alright. On an average day, he drops the kids at school before heading to work, where he meets with his team, with customers, responds to emails and does work-related reading. Doing most of his work on his phone definitely helps. So he's available to respond to work in real-time and get things out of the way by delegating while on the move.
Evenings are for spending time with his family, exercising, listening to podcasts, reading, and he's currently writing a book about entrepreneurship, which he plans to launch this year.
By the way there's something interesting about, he's able to maintain work-life balance. He is calendar-driven. But while calendar scheduling usually comes highly recommended for time management, Joram optimises it to prioritise his family.
Joram Mwinamo: I've always tried to have that philosophy of building in the rocks first. So if you even look at my digital calendar, I have built in all the things that I do with my family first, so the evening and night interactions, weekends, weekly dates with my wife, those are already built into my calendar and a lot of people find it very surprising that I keep it in my calendar. Because I'm very calendar driven. So if something's on my calendar, it's very easy for me to forget that I was supposed to do it. And so after I've built in all the family stuff, then I now come back and build in the important work meetings that are reccurring, like on Mondays and, for the rest of the week. And, then after that is when I plan everything else. I also try and have at least a one week holiday every quarter, because I don't have times when I can take extended periods of holiday.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: WhatsApp and notepad also come in handy to keep communication going and log ideas,
He dreams of a time when there would be 5,000 SNDBXs across major cities in the world. But if he fears not being able to implement the ideas in his head before time runs out. He agrees that this makes him quite uncomfortable with slow execution.
Joram Mwinamo: As I've grown older, I've realised that, a lot of what we are unable to achieve is maybe because of pride or ego, not being able to ask for help. And so I find myself nowadays asking for help a lot and very quickly and very early, rather than trying to struggle with something that I am not very good at doing.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Thank you for listening to The Experts. This script was adapted by Oluwanifemi Kolawole and edited by Precious Mogoli. Research and interview by Oluwanifemi Kolawole. Produced by Muyiwa Matuluko. This is a production of Techpoint Africa. I'm Oluwanifemi Kolawole. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe, share and drop a review. For more stories on startups and innovation in Africa, please visit techpoint.africa.