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March 19, 2021

User acquisition and African startup ecosystem - why are US investors interested in it? By Henry Pray.

User acquisition and African startup ecosystem - why are US investors interested in it? By Henry Pray.

Henry Pray, Director of Product Management at UpKeep talks about user acquisition for early startups and about the African startup ecosystem and why he personally likes it and sees so much potential in it. We've also talked about the major takeaways that Henry has from his experience in the startup world and what mistakes he made in the past while running his own company.

Henry's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/henrypray/

UpKeep: https://www.onupkeep.com/

Join Clubhouse: https://www.joinclubhouse.com/ and find Henry Pray and Konstantin Dubovitskiy (your host) there.


And today's a guest speaker who have Henry Pre director of product management at upkeep and today will mostly talk about startups in general. Because Henry spent most of his life working on a start.

And today we'll talk about his experience. What are the major takeaways that he got from the experience? What does he do now? And also we'll talk about the African startup ecosystem and how it's going there. What are Americans looking into.

So, Henry, let's kick it off by you giving us some background on yourself and on up.

Yeah, absolutely Thank you. Konstantin happy to be here so, yes, as you mentioned, I've really spent pretty much my entire career within various various startups. I'm currently a director of product management. Upkeep.

Upkeep is a series B. Y, Combinator backed startup focused on what we like to call the workforce. So these are all the people who aren't necessarily seen by behind a computer all day.

Our focus is in the maintenance manufacturing industry. So facility maintenance, manufacturing plant maintenance. We build technology to help them. Get their work done.

Got it. That's interesting. And.

Yeah, let's start off with the major topic for today's episode is your experience with the with a start world you've been working there, I think, in our Pre through I mean, you mentioned that you've been working there since, like, 15 years old, right?

Yeah, so I've been an update for the past year and a half, but I started my very 1st startup experience was with this data machine, learning company, straight out of college called bottle nose.

And what they did is big focus on live streaming data, and how to kind of manipulate that data using awesome technology, like natural language processing regression, formulas, all that fun stuff.

So, that was really my 1st foray into into startup world and that get really got me the bug. Right that's where I began. Really falling in love with this idea of startups and actually decided to start my own company.

Right after that, you know, I had a CO founder, we started this this fintech company that was focused on really algorithmic trading those right around.

When Robinhood was 1st, you know, getting some traction and.
And this idea of free trading really started started becoming mainstream,

and we wanted to capitalize on that movement and we created these algorithmic trading apps that would basically alert users when to buy and sell stocks based on various machine learning algorithms.

So, that was a really, really great experience like, almost all start ups.

We ended up not working out and failing, but it was an awesome experience just to go through that process with fundraising meeting with investors and building something from scratch.

So, as most of my ulcers, no, I absolutely love talking about failure civil. Let's talk about this 1 a little bit more. So, what do you think went wrong there? Where exactly was the moment when you were like, okay, that's actually that's just not working out.

Yeah, so we were trying to tackle too much. Not only were we running this this trading app we've got it

was in beta is really just a proof of concept out that we've had some early adopter users. We're also actually running a fund to lab basically a hedge fund.

So we were using the algorithms that were inside the app to actually trade trade various stocks and currencies for our.

Investors and so it was just too much going on between myself and my Co founder and, you know, we were, we were at the time, I think.

Let's see, we were in the last rounds of interviews with a tech stars, and at the same time, we're having these investor meetings and it was, you know, it just basically ended up being too much. We were trading stocks and South Korea.

So, we were up almost 24 hours a day, and we just kind of kind of.

Um, how does it just just burnt out and so we ended up dissolving the company because my Co founder was just was not able to continue and really he was the brains behind the algorithms.

So, I had to without him, we were kind of dead in the water.

All right burnouts they are horrible. Everyone is talking about, but very few. I mean, not very few, but few people actually saw them and know how bad it is. That's exactly why I always recommend people not to overwork themselves.

You know, it's people are like, oh, there are 1816 hours in a day. I'm going to work 14 of them. Now you will not. So, other than that, what do you think? What could prevent this.

Not happy ending shitty you have hired, you know, some assistance and just delegate some of the work. You're doing yourself to others.

Should you have I know dropped some of these side projects that you were running with that company, or what could you have done differently to prevent that? Yeah, great great question. So 1 thing I actually take now for everything, especially in the product.

Well, that's what I call ruthless prioritization and it's basically you should only have 1 top priority that you're working on. Obviously there's other things that need a filter in.

But we employs it upkeep all the time with our roadmap of what we're working on, even our schedule if it's not 1 of your top top priorities. And you should only have 1 at the very top then you shouldn't be working on it.

And that allows you, especially when you're starting a company having laser focused on a problem and solving that problem. Really really well, and being the best at solving that problem, then you can build on top of that get complimentary products and do the whole 9 yards.

But 1st, you need to actually prove out that you have a true solution that users want.

In your case, how do you use, how do you approach the problem solution? Because I know that's automated trading is not super easy to say the least running the fund is even harder to.

How do you manage to prove out that it was your solution was actually usable that it was necessary to people. Well, and that's the thing. It really wasn't right it was technology at a problem. That didn't really exist yet.

In the last 2 years. I've seen, like, 3 of very similar startups, go through Y, Combinator and do some other stuff. We just we were building. We weren't solving the problem.

We were throwing a solution at it and so I think that sometimes works, especially with really good technology and what you're doing but I'd say, 99% of the time.

The tech doesn't matter the like, the, the fancy algorithms all. That doesn't matter what you need to do is solve a very specific problem for very specific people. If you find 10 people have a problem. You'll find a 100 to find 100 to find a 1000. right.

And then you have your early user base, and you can start iterating and building on top of that. And so we just didn't really have a problem. People were looking to solve at the moment.

Got it, and he is testing out the idea just making sure people actually use it measuring those. That's super important and just ignore everything else. It's not important. So, let's talk about your next experience in this 3rd world.

You were actually on the investor side, so you've been it fell off Westwood. Can you tell us a little bit more about the experience and 1st of all? What is Westwood Ventures isn't? Or how does it work?

Yeah, great great question. So, there's this, there's this, there's this, a group called the alumni Ventures group, and it's basically, like, you know, about 20 different colleges.

They're not affiliated directly with the colleges, but they each spun off a separate venture firm if you will for them. So, yeah, I think Gail, Dartmouth, Harvard.

Berkeley, Stanford, and a few others, and what they do is they invest in startups that are done by or closely affiliated with the University.

So, alumni from the university alumni from the business schools if there's board members who were alumni, et cetera. And so I, this was my 1st, real experience into true venture capital. I've always like stocks have always like, trading love startups.

So I was a fellow for them for about a year, which was a really, really cool experience. Just learning more about how the other side works.

If you will, what's your major? Not takeaway, but major shock from the experience of your being a founder. 1st, and then you shifted to this you took a look at the other side of the table. What was the thing you were?

Not expecting to see that yeah. So, when you think about venture, you think about oh, it's so cool. You meet all these startups you get to see all this cool technology, which you absolutely do.

But I was surprised about was literally 80% of it's actually selling, you need to find the money for the we were raising the fund. And when I was trying to find the money for the fund, you need to do all these things. And I thought that was really, really interesting.

It was investor relations side is.

Just as if not more important to a lot of these people than finding the companies, because you need the cash to to succeed and you need the cash actually invest into those companies.

That is so true and that's exactly why I'm the head of investor relations at our funds and yes, this is super fun. You cannot imagine how much we are pitching our own funds. A lot of founders really don't understand, and they're like, oh, they have money.

They're they're, it's easy for them to invest. It's not good. Point there. Good point there. So, can you tell us a little more about Westwood Ventures now? What's what's the major takeaway from that experience? What's what's the thing that you learned?

You think could help you build the better company we are on.

Yeah, I mean, it's, it's something that I've been learning throughout throughout everything, right? It's it's who the founder is timing of the market. What what you're doing the experience they have there's just like 3 or 4. I'd say maybe 5.

Um, things that almost all investment firms, it seems to look at and they'll pick, like, 3 of the 5 and say, okay, this is our investment philosophy. This is our investment thesis. And it really timing always comes up who the founder always always comes market size always comes up.

I think those are probably the biggest 3 that no matter what you're doing that. That's something most.

And from what I've seen, right, this is this is a subjective opinion, but what a lot of investors are looking at.

So, now that you've joined upkeep, are you still doing some early stage star for angel investment or mentoring? Yes, yes, absolutely. So 1 of my good Segway into the Africa topics.

1 of my biggest passions has been emerging markets and technology and emerging markets. So, I was, I've been involved with this incubator out of southern Africa.

I didn't even start up circles and they just do really early incubation for startups throughout actually the entire continent, which is a really big place with a lot of people.

And so what I do is really just helping them with their pitches, helping them what their business plans, and they're kind of go to market strategies for all kinds of different businesses in the African ecosystem.

Yes, we've got a smooth transition to the next topic here, which has he has Africans therapy ecosystem. So 1st question why Africa why why are you? So passionate about the emerging market specifically?

Yeah, so back in my days, it I did a big focus on what 3 things boost economies and it came down a credit healthcare and education and building into that. Right?

That's what a lot of that. If you can handle those 3 things, you can start seeing a big boost in the Congress and that's very black and white. Right there's so many other factors. But those big 3 things really interested in me at the beginning more dove into various emerging markets more.

I just saw all this potential and a lot of the countries throughout Africa and there's so many problems to solve right now.

There's not a better time to be starting a startup where venture capital slowly starting to enter into the economy of Africa and South, Southern South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria.

These are some of the places where you're starting to see a lot of money go in. And so it's not a better time to start a startup.

1st question, actually, how does how does healthcare boost the economy? That's just something I'm not really familiar with. Yeah so access that. So, if you think about just health in general, if you don't have access to good health care, how are you going to be able to work?

I was like, and, you know, if that's 1 of the biggest problems you're dealing with as a family as a business owners, anybody, if you don't have access to it, it's just gonna stop you in your tracks right there.

Right, yes, the overall health of population I kind of forgot that part of it. Good. Good point. Good point. So, let's go back to African ecosystem of startups. So, what's what's the best part there?

What's the most attractive part of it that you think? Investors, especially from the United States can unlock.

So, I mean, there's a lot of different areas 1 of the 1 of the cool things 1 of the areas of arbitrage, if you will, or places I'm actually really interested in is interest rates throughout Africa are really, really terrible.

It's really hard for people to get credit loans for people to get loans. Even venture money is rare, but it's starting to become bigger. Whereas the United States, right? All this money just flowing into the stock market. Because people are just looking for any type of returns. Because.

Our interest rates are super low, are you know what we get back from the banks if I'm any sort of the banks is super low. So, I think there's a really interesting area right now, because there's so many problems to solve and so many people to solve them for getting money. Really?

From the United States into the Africa economy will it's just a 2 way win for everybody.

Right, true, true, true, true. So I'm trying to come up with the next question here about Africans. There is.

Oh, right. Yeah, that's the topic. I like to discuss with the people who are from the United States who try to cooperate with the African based RPS or tried to invest in them. What's the major problem?

You see there in terms of, you know, maybe taxation, what is something that other investors who are based in the United States should be aware of.

So the hardest part right now is there's no exits huh?

There's not a lot of action in Africa and it's starting. You just saw this company coming out of I want to say, I'm forgetting what country, but Stripe, they're basically Stripe for Africa, and they just got bought by Stripe for 300M. That was a huge, huge.

Just a stepping stone, if you will, but I think the, the hardest part right now is it's really hard for to see if you make an investment when you're going to get your money back if ever right just because there is no exits that are happening. There's no big go to Africa. Not.

A lot of big packet is acquiring companies, but hopefully That'll start changing soon. So, I think that's the biggest hurdle right now is we just need to see some exits a little more M, a, to start and then the money should.

Well, well, in my opinion, start really flowing through. True. That's that. I mean, that's the major question of the investors. When will I get back my money and that's always an exit, some kind of exit and that's very true. In African.

I have not seen that many of those anyhow now that we've covered that.

What's your major value proposition for those founders? So you mentioned that you work with 1 of the incubators space in Africa? What do you do for them? Yeah, so most of it's actually just listening to pitches.

You can get a lot from a 3 minute pitch about a company about the founder and what they're focused on. So it's not only helping them refine that pitch. So they are ready to go to when they are pitching to investors they know what to talk about.

They know how to go through their slides, but it's also just diving into the business plan.

Why why is this your, your strategy? Why is this what you're charging who is actually your target market? Why these people it's, you know, the value I'm bringing I feel like, is just asking them questions and trying to get them to think in different ways.

So, they're just ready for for the future.

And by saying that you're getting them ready for the future, are you saying that you're getting them ready for the future in the states are like, preparing them to expand the United States, or are trying to help them grow in the African ecosystem.

So, going in the African ecosystem, still, there's, there's just so many so many things to do just there alone. There's no real reason to try and expanse the States for 90% of the startups.

What about 10% of the startup? So I would say.

1720% of my losers are not based in the United States and to which ones of those companies to which ones are those start founders? Would you recommend even looking into expand into the United States?

Yeah, so, I mean, natural resources, agriculture, even E, commerce right? There's some really cool stuff that's being done. That goes to Europe right now. So everything in about, like, own West.

I guess we could consider Europe like that, and that could always flow into the United States as well. But there's so many natural resources to that entire continent a lot of farming, and a lot of future agro growth that could happen. I think.

So, speaking of expansion served, founder decides that they are 1 of those people who should try to move to the United States. Where would you recommend them to move to.

Oh, this is the golden question, right? The question of 2021 it's most most, some investors. I think that the amount who are saying this is definitely going lower, but would say you need to move to Silicon Valley. You need to be close to venture capital.

This is where the best people you're going to meet someone born and raised in Los Angeles. I have my own.

I think,

you know,

where are we going to meet the most people but now that all this online stuff's really,

you know,


these meet ups online and what codes done for the remote workforce has spread this up a lot where you can meet people anytime any place from your computer,


No, I don't have an answer. I think it's, I don't think there's like a 1 size fits all, but I do not think that Silicon Valley absolutely necessary to move to. I'll give you that.

True, true very true. And yes, I'm extremely biased as well because I'm based in Los Angeles as well,

and I absolutely love to see so.

Even, I will not recommend everyone to move to Italy, because she says, so it's so expensive. Yeah, so we're definitely on the same page here but, you know, looking at the future of Ellie as a tag hub, what do you see there coming?

Is it can be Silicon Valley number 2 or do you think it's going to be shifting more to the.

East Coast, or is it going to be more shifting to the Midwest? What do you think is going to happen to Los Angeles as a tech hub for startups? Yeah, I mean, it's been pretty cool in the last.

I'd say, maybe 5 years, we've seen a lot more B to B startup popping out or raising significant cash in L. A. at the beginning, right? It was very entertainment focused. There's a lot of BDC ad tech type of companies that were coming out of Los Angeles.

Obviously, we have the gaming side of it as well, but I'm expecting to see the future B2. B so it pop up. What's the next Silicon Valley to in my opinion? It's more what's silicone value too? 3rd 20, and I think it'll be the Los Angeles, Austin, Miami.

New York, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, probably be the the big tech hubs that are not even the next ones, but already booming and then obviously, you know, you do have the Midwest.

We're hiring a lot of engineers from North Carolina right now.

We're seeing, you know, wherever there's big schools, wherever there's good engineering programs, we're starting to hire engineers from there.

That is really cool. So 1st of all. Yes. Although c's that you've mentioned. I'd say, 95% of my speakers are coming from those who are based in those cities right now. So yes. Very accurate. Very accurate response there.

So, again, you are not officially technically speaking, you're not an active investor and starts and or mentor but how would startup founders how would you recommend startup founders to reach out to people like yourself?

So, people who are not actively invest in per se, but might be interested in this field. Yeah, absolutely, I mean, I love I love connecting people.
I love helping people out working with been working with a handful of smaller, early stage,

Pre revenue startups,
and just helping them with our product talking through some, some things not not a lot of time,
but I love just doing that in general.

So, I think whenever you're reaching out cold, reaching out to anybody, whether it's an investor, whether it's a mentor, whether it's just someone to reach out to, it always helps to have a very specific topic. You want to discuss, just pick your brain or hey, 5 minutes to chat.

I don't think that really goes a long way, but if you do a little research on the person brings something that you actually have a desire to learn about and ask those questions that I think people are much

more likely to respond.

100 per cent true so, on this.

Quite an optimistic note moving on to the last 2 questions after these episode. 1st question. What's your general advice? The early stage founders no matter their location no matter what their industry, but we only know that they're looking for their 1st, initial investor.

So, 1st check in their company.

What's wrong with people so, I mean, it's really focus on what you're doing and back to that ruthless prioritization if you can solve a very specific problem and solve it. Well, I'm not going to say the money's going to flow, but that's the number 1 thing.

I think for people to learn to do, and then knowing what to showcase that success. I'm not talking about vanity metrics.

I'm talking about true true indicators which if you improve those, we'll just completely capitalize or improve your entire business.

Once you get that down the rest will hopefully flow to you, but I think not spreading yourself too thin and really focusing on a single, very specific problem and solve.

True and that's very accurate. And that's again, that's coming from your exact perspective from your experience, you when your company didn't really worked out because you were tackling too much, and that's such a common problem. So yes. Very good advice. There.

Last last thing before we move on to has questions, so for those listeners for listening to this episode right now, and they're thinking all right Henry's kind of. Cool. I wanted to talk to him, but I'm not sure if I'm a good fit for him again. Would you what kind of start to do like to mentor?

What kind of starts to like to invest as an angel.

Yeah, so, for me, it's really like this idea, the decimal workforce is what powers me up every day. So not necessarily Silicon Valley tech for Silicon Valley. But, you know, they say, I think 2% of venture capital flows into the US workforce.

80% of the population is not sitting by behind a test. So anything that's helping people out on the field in any manner is stuff that really excites me but even broader than that honestly, any kind of a technology company.

B2 B, tech is what I've worked in pretty much my whole career, but been mentoring B2 C companies. So anything and everything in between.

That is really cool and yes, that's very true. Most solutions are for people and as a desk person I'm okay with that to be honest, but still a good focus.

So, now that we've covered that, let's move on to the last question, if these episode, which is a call to action. So, Henry, what do you want less my voice there? Would you want the list here to do as soon as the episode is over? Yeah.

So I think just 2 things connect with me on LinkedIn. I'll accept all those connections. It's great. Just shoot me a message.

Shoot me something you're interested in would be the 1st and let me know how I can help you as I mentioned right now,

in my career,

where I'm at,

I'm just love connecting with people connecting people to other people,

whether it's founders to founders founders users founders investors,

etc and then I've been spending a lot of time on this new app clubhouse constantly.

I feel like you would probably love it. If you're not already there. Come there. Let's connect on clubhouse as well, and maybe start a room or something. I'm just 1st name last name at Henry prey.

Perfect, I'll definitely make sure to follow you after this episode is over and yes, by the way clubhouse is coming up I'm just eyeballing this right now.

I'm listening to other groups how they're lounging their talks and so far to be completely honest. I really like it.

So, once I figure out how to make it more fun, how to make it more useful to the listeners, I'll make sure to announce it to everyone. And most likely I'll be bringing on my previous guest speakers from fundraising radio.

So, if you're interested in that stuff, follow me and my name and yes.

Do that, make sure to go to the description this episode by the way my call to action, I'm going to leave links to Henry to upkeep to Co, op house by the way.

If someone needs extra invitations, I have a few that I can spare and yes. I'll also leave a link to Henry's clubhouse.

Link yes and yes, I think that's it, but yes, my call to action check out those groups and if this episode bunch of cool links are going to be there. So go there, check it out.

And as you usually have a good day.