Episode 004: How to Network and Pick Mentors with Henok Assefa

Henok Assefa profile pic.jpg

EPISODE 004 OF YOUNG AFRICAN ENTREPRENEUR FEATURES HENOK ASSEFA, FOUNDER AND CEO OF PRECISE CONSULTING

You can connect with Henok @PreciseConsult on Twitter.

If I were investing into Ethiopia, the first person that I’d want to sit down with is Henok who is a consultant, early-stage investor and networker extraordinaire. No one is a better guide to Ethiopia’s private sector or more passionate about it.

As a Diaspora returnee, Henok has witnessed the extraordinary changes in Ethiopia’s private sector over the last +10 years. Henok left Ethiopia when he was 14 for New York City. At 30, he returned to Addis Ababa. His first major job was a World Bank project to design South Sudan’s private sector development. Donor funds topped $25mn. How did he handle the stress? Innocence, he replied, chuckling. A good mentor was key too.

But, this experience made him realize that he had a knack for consulting. Shortly thereafter, he set up Precise Consulting, which has become Ethiopia’s leading consulting and advisory firm. Henok is also known for the Ethiopia CEOs Forum, the country’s seminal business event.

I had a great conversation with Henok. We chatted about why he thinks he’s the strange product of his parents, his wide-ranging advice on networking, what surprised him about finding mentors, and the one principle to master about the Ethiopian economy.

Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Henok Assefa.

SHOW NOTES

  • When Henok was 14, he left Addis Ababa for New York City. After graduating from Fordham University, he worked for the Chamber of Commerce in Brooklyn. [00:08]
  • Fifteen years later, Henok returned to Ethiopia and set up Precise Consulting, focusing on economic development. [2:03]
  • What’s at the heart of Ethiopian economic policy that you need to understand investing in the country [2:59]
  • Henok also invests in early stage businesses by building them up from scratch. It’s an in-house version of private equity. [3:45]
  • Why Henok considers himself to be a strange product of his parents. [4:46]
  • How he got his start in consulting and advisory work – which he describes as an accident. [9:21]
  • Jobs, jobs, jobs. It’s all about creating jobs in Africa. Almost 70% of Ethiopians are under 30 years old. 27-28 million are in schools. Job creation is Henok’s crusade. [13:00]
  • How Henok handled the sheer responsibility of designing a $30mn World Bank project – his first consultancy gig.  [14:12] 
  • His approach to networking and what is the key to building long lasting business relationships. [15:52]
  • Networking in Ethiopia is largely informal over meals or coffee. [19:49]
  • Henok’s networking advice: start with yourself. It’s important to look for mentors. Prove that you are serious and have your act together. [23:19]
  • How Henok brought a different approach to consulting in Ethiopia. [30:29]
  • Ethiopia CEOs Forum aims to create a business revolution. [32:42]
  • Henok describes the missed opportunities that he regrets the most. [35:20]
  • The most important thing to remember about the Ethiopian economy: demand is always much stronger than supply. [36:55]
  • Resilience is key to success in African entrepreneurship. [39:30]
  • Precise is investing in supermarkets, food retail, import/export, a honey processing plant and Ethiopia’s first olive farm. [41:33]
  • Henok’s advice to aspiring young African entrepreneurs. [45:14]

RESOURCES MENTIONED