Alastair is Co-Founder of SafeBoda, a start-up offering an innovative solution to motorcycle taxi transportation in Africa. The on-demand service focuses on safety, security and building community between SafeBoda drivers and passengers.
Over the past five years, Alastair has been working on a number of initiatives in East Africa. After gaining a MSc. in Economics for Development from Oxford University (St. Antony’s College) in 2010, he was an economic advisor to the Government of Rwanda for nearly three years. Alastair also helped setup One Acre Fund operations in Ethiopia and consulted for Dalberg Global Development Advisors, based in their San Francisco office.
What is your background? Why are you doing this?
My background is economics and I have always been interested in developing countries – they are more dynamic and alive than Europe or the U.S. Having worked in East Africa for nearly four years, focusing primarily on public sector, I was always interested in building something new and a company that could have impact and create jobs. I connected with my friend Maxime Dieudonne who was coming up with the concept of SafeBoda and I came on board as Co-Founder and moved to Kampala, Uganda.
Building something and then owning it.
I don’t see it as a distinct moment in time but a gradual realisation that I would only be truly satisfied if I was engaged in building something and creating a company.
So what would you say are the top skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
First and foremost, hustle and getting things done is the most important skill, you can sit around and write things on paper but if you don’t go out and do it then the start-up won’t go anywhere. Second, the skill of talking to as many smart people as possible is very important. This will push you to be better and personally I learn more from people than reading. Third, I won’t say creativity is a skill but it’s definitely necessary – particularly if you are bootstrapping and then it’s probably more forced upon you rather than acquired. You aren’t going to have all the resources or skills so you need to make it up as you go along.
Knowing that all the work you do is directed towards building something you believe in. Hard work in your start-up even if it’s in the wrong direction isn’t necessarily wasted – you will learn something and be better for it. That makes it really easy to enjoy the work.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most?
When Maxime, another Co-Founder at SafeBoda, and I get a little bogged down with all the tasks of running SafeBoda and start feeling sorry for ourselves, we think of Elon Musk. Aside from being a Co-Founder at PayPal, he has simultaneously built two of the most interesting companies around, SpaceX and Tesla. And he doesn’t just give speeches and chat at cosy forums, he is the CEO and Chief Technology Officer for SpaceX and CEO and Product Architect at Tesla at the same time. Aside from needing a massive brain to even comprehend those very different technology areas, his time management and energy levels must be insane. He looked at two markets that weren’t functioning properly and created two companies to serve the market better. He is inspirational and probably will be considered one of the greatest entrepreneurs in the 21st century.
How does he manage his time…when does he sleep?
Realizing that our product is needed and people like it. When a Ugandan posts a selfie on their Facebook wall of them proudly taking a SafeBoda and wearing our orange helmet there isn’t a better feeling – it’s awesome. Less than 1% of passengers on motorcycle taxis wear a helmet – there are estimated to be a least 800,000 to 1 million unsafe trips taken in Kampala every day.
Trying to do the start-up while at the same time working on other consulting projects. This was due to financial constraints but it’s definitely mistake to do this – better to focus on one thing and do it 100%.
In relations to careers and the post-Oxford world, there is no perfect career path. There will be no final judgment on whether you were successful or not – it’s a cliché, but it’s about the journey and whether you enjoy that journey. You can have all the shiny credentials on paper you want (like an Oxford degree or some suave job) but if they are simply means to an end then it might not be the best decision to do them.