Episode 001: Ethiopia Humbles You. Says Feleg Tsegaye. It Makes You Resilient.

Feleg Tsegaye profile pic.png

EPISODE 001 OF YOUNG AFRICAN ENTREPRENEUR FEATURES FELEG TSEGAYE, FOUNDER AND CEO OF DELIVER ADDIS.

You can connect with him @fegul on Twitter.

Feleg is a first-mover in Ethiopia’s tech and logistics sector. In 2012, he moved to Addis Ababa from the US to launch his first startup a SIM card rental agency, Arifmobile. It failed. But he used those lessons to springboard to his next business, Deliver Addis, which is now Addis Abba’s leading restaurant delivery service.

Feleg is a World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Shaper, and has attended the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos. He was a member of the inaugural class of the eFounders Initiative – a partnership between UNCTAD (the UN trade agency) and Chinese e-commerce giant Ali Baba to train 1,000 African entrepreneurs over the next 5 years.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Feleg. We chatted about growing up as the son of Ethiopian immigrants in suburban Colorado in the US, battling assumptions about your market and customers, how he got to proof of concept for Deliver Addis with minimal downside, what he did when the Ethiopian government shut down mobile internet, and the best advice he ever received for starting a business in Ethiopia. (Hint: Those wishing to make a quick buck will be disappointed.)  

Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Feleg Tsegaye.

SHOW NOTES

  • Feleg first realized his interest in technology and desire to have a social impact during an early visit to Ethiopia in 1999-2000. [00:16] 
  • How Feleg approaches entrepreneurship and what drives him as an entrepreneur. [02:16]
  • Growing up in a suburban town in Colorado lacking diversity, Feleg was isolated from his parents’ Ethiopian culture. His parents along with his grandmother immigrated to the US in the 1980s. [03:15]
  • After studying computer information systems and business at Ithaca College,  Feleg worked at the Federal Reserve IT division. [08:14]
  • A methodical planner, he planned two years in advance to leave for Ethiopia. The hardest part? Persuading his parents. [13:47] 
  • Why his first business plan was ripped to shreds. [16:45] 
  • How he mentally prepared for possible failure in Ethiopia. [18:05]   
  • The model of his first business, ArifMobile, and why he chose to focus on solving problems familiar to him. [19:15]
  • The challenges of scaling ArifMobile: “If people don’t understand what the challenges are before they arrive in Ethiopia, they won’t see the value of the service.” [20:40]
  • How ArifMobile acted as a springboard for Deliver Addis. [23:20]   
  • The important take-away of the 1-month pilot program. [24:40] 
  • How his first 1-2 years in Ethiopia was a complete reeducation in managing his expectations. [26:05]
  • What Feleg learned about running his business from his Addis Ababa apartment. [27:10] 
  • The value proposition of Deliver Addis for clients and restaurants -- which face exorbitantly high rents in Addis. [30:48] 
  • How Deliver Addis drivers use GPS coordinates to find customers because there are no physical addresses. [33:08] 
  • Deliver Addis’ two types of customers [33:35] 
  • The integration of What Three Words, a tech service that figures out locations based on voice, into Deliver Addis’s website as another way to communicate precise locations if there’s no Internet [34:50].
  • From disbelief to pragmatism, how he handled the first shutdown of mobile data in Ethiopia and later applied applied those lessons to his business. [37:30]
  • The amusing and honest advice that he got from one of his mentors on entrepreneurship in Ethiopia. [43:22] 
  • Kenya and Ethiopia are extremely different in business. A lot of tech-enabled logistics service exist in Kenya at larger scale than Deliver Addis. What ingredients did it take to get there? [45:00] 
  • Feleg speaks on his experiences attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and being a WEF Global Shaper. [50:35] 
  • His approach to battling imposter syndrome when meeting influential business leaders. [52:17] 
  • Feleg’s one piece of actionable advice for aspiring young African entrepreneurs. [54:43]

RESOURCES MENTIONED