Episode 011: Erik Hersman on the IHub's Secret Sauce

Erik Hersman profile pic 1.png

ABOUT ERIK HERSMAN  

Erik Hersman is the CEO of BRCK and founder of Kenya’s iHub.

You can connect with Erik @whiteafrican on Twitter.

Technologist. Blogger. TED fellow. Serial Entrepreneur. Passionate advocate and patron of Africa’s tech startups. Erik is a well-known elder of Kenya’s tech scene, having helped to found some of Kenya’s leading tech companies and ecosystem institutions.

In response to the outbreak of post electoral violence in Kenya in 2008, he set up with three other co-founders Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing mapping tool deployed in crisis situations. In 2010, he founded the iHub, Nairobi’s innovation hub, which is the nexus for Kenya’s entrepreneurs, hackers, designers, researchers and investors.

In 2014, he helped to set up BRCK, a manufacturer of a rugged Internet router for Africa and a provider of free Internet via its Moja service. 

He also helped to found Gearbox, a hub for hardware development, and is a principal at Savannah Fund, an African venture capital fund.

He is the founder of the influential Africa technology blogs, The White African, and Afrigadget. Erik is also a Senior Ted Fellow and Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellow.

Without further ado, here's my conversation with Erik Hersman.

WHAT WE LEARN FROM ERIK: THE POWER OF COMMUNITY

Erik shares how he built Kenya’s iHub as a community oriented tech hub. He also elaborates on why he believes that Kenya’s communal spirit acts like a comparative advantage.

ERIK’S ACTIONABLE TIPS

  1. Find a customer. Get some revenue traction, which means finding a customer. As tech people, we get intoxicated by our products. But, once you’ve found a customer, serving that customer helps you build the right thing.

  2. You can build a mass-market product if you blend the analog and digital and make it accessible on what’s in people’s pocket, a feature phone.

  3. If you’re trying to build a tech hub like the iHub, make it open to everyone so that people can come in and find each other. The real secret sauce of the iHub is the serendipity of who you just happen to run into.

ERIK’S TOP QUOTES

  • [on Ushahidi] “While we’re making a tool that’s for use in a generally bad situation, it gives the team a lot of excitement because you know that you’re doing something that matters. You’re seeing people put to use your tool in rough situations and you know that it’s making their lives better.”

  • "I’ve long said that some of the most interesting tech ideas – people who are doing new products or services –are still coming from Kenya. You have great scale in Nigeria and in West Africa. You have great ideas coming from there too.  You have great ideas from South Africa with a lot more capital. But you still see a lot of new interesting stuff [from Kenya] – it’s probably a mixture of having undersea cables earlier, having mobile money at scale earlier, and also this mixture of having community and capital, enough capital to put towards it."

  • You can’t have a 21st century economy without power and connectivity. You cannot expect your population to take part in the 21st century economy if they cannot have access to information the same way as everybody else in the world.

ERIK’S LINKS

ERIK’S MENTIONS

  • Ushahidi
  • iHub
  • Afrilabs
  • Gearbox
  • Joe Mucheru & Isis Nyong’o Madison of Google Kenya
  • Skyrove
  • BRCK
  • Mark Zuckerberg & Facebook

KEY TIMESTAMPS

  • How Erik adopted the name of The White African [0:13]
  • When Erik started identifying as a technologist [2:23]
  • The creation of Ushahidi [4:50]
  • How to create a mass market product for Africa [11:12]
  • The iHub [14:52]
  • Why Kenya is at the vanguard of tech entrepreneurship [18:24]
  • Different models of Africa’s tech hubs [21:19]
  • The iHub’s secret sauce [22:50]
  • The BRCK [25:26]
  • What Erik discovered as BRCK’s real mission [29:05]
  • The collaboration with Facebook [34:20]
  • How he’d invest a US$1 billion in Africa [37:53]
  • Book recommendations [40:27]
  • Actionable advice [39:00]