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  • Val Njoroge

From random threads to gorgeous quilt


I've always worked within the finance industry, but I've moved from 'sector' to 'sector' within it - I was not a 'quant/numbers girl' or a PE person or a deal maker. At some point in my career, I was crippled by this thought my CV looked confused. Like I lacked direction. Like I am a generalist (and apparently that's a bad thing - spoiler, it's not!) Now, that's laughable, but let's get into my 25 year old brain for a bit.


Before I joined college, I had an internship in micro-finance. While I was in college, had dabbled in a remittance startup and investment banking before landing in wealth management. When I moved back home, I did some wealth management then jumped into entrepreneurship in....drumroll venture capital/crowdfunding. By the time I joined Centum, I would pretty much go where the wind carried me across the organization. I was in venture, I was dabbling in some private equity and I also took on some operational projects. Depending on how this story is told, it can either look unfocussed or diverse.


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Thankfully, I had the time to reflect and people around me who helped me see the threads connecting this professional journey. Now, I see that all these experiences were just different coloured threads, making a beautiful quilt. All of these things have come together to give me all the skills and insights I needed to identify and tackle the challenge in building wealth that so many Africans face.

The quilt of my life 😍 - courtesy of Raul Cacho


How it's come together

My start up experiences build my 'get sh*t done' attitude. The summer I worked at the remittance startup, my job was BORING. I spent majority of time finding and applying for grants. Here, I learned how to connect boring tasks to a bigger picture. When I started a crowdfunding platform, I knew nothing about tech or pitching, but between mentors and the school of Google, I raised $60K and built a platform. In between, I looked high & low for startups, pitched more than I thought I could and figured out how to negotiate with people I couldn't pay. Today, you'll frequently find me doing all sorts of tasks that are seemingly 'beneath me' because I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty. This attitude has carried me through out my life and helped me stand out in both professional and personal settings.


My professional experiences helped me understand scale. I remember the first time I walked into the Morgan Stanley offices, I didn't even understand what $10M was and within a short time, this was a number I said without skipping a beat. Here, I understood how money moves and was amazed that some people had TEAMS of people thinking about how to get them the best return. Meanwhile, I couldn't figure out which stock to buy with my little monies.


At Centum, I saw what it takes for a team mostly in their 20s to build the largest mall in SSA. I understood what a big vision can look like and how to rally other people to join the cause. These opportunities opened my mind - this is where I first asked, so if a bunch of 20-somethings can build this, why don't we have global companies from Africa? Why can't Centum be Morgan Stanley or JP Morgan or BlackRock? We have all the minds, resources and opportunities, right?



Two Rivers Mall - courtesy of Johfbaks Production

I worked with startups who had brilliant ideas and that's where another seed was planted. The seed that the reason why we don't have global African companies is because we don't have the capital to finance them at home, and also, that talent is difficult to find and keep because all the best minds work for other global companies, not African ones. So the average African entrepreneur is forced to stay small, because they don't appeal to the foreign funders who control capital and because they don't have resources, they can't attract the talent to unlock growth.


Why I build Africa's Pocket

Cue Africa's Pocket, or at least the idea of it. I knew I wanted to go into entrepreneurship and I knew that I wanted to tackle a problem that's big enough to go global AND attract the smartest people from the continent to work on it.


Like most good things, it took a bit of time to get to this answer. After some detours (check this), I eventually concluded that one way to improve the flow of capital at home is to make investing more accessible to the average person. So, like a good "finance person" / entrepreneur, I (with the help of anyone who would give me 5 minutes) did some research, mapped the system and understood that the top 3 reasons why people don't invest is that the information and opportunities are disjointed, so most of us don't know how or where to invest. Then, when you finally do, between submitting utility bills and having to sign physical papers in blue ink, it's extremely difficult to actually make investments consistently.


What's the future I'm trying to create

Success in this journey means a few things. First, I want to see more Africans armed with financial knowledge, able to and choosing to invest in African companies over foreign ones. The result would be African companies choosing to IPO on African exchanges because platforms like ours are creating enough liquidity to support meaningful exits. Meaningful exits mean building wealth both for founders and for the investors who buy their shares, and so we'd be less reliant on foreign funds. Second, I want to do this with a world-class African team. I want to redefine 'world-class' from working at Microsoft or Amazon to also include working at Andela, Cellulant or Africa's Pocket 😉

The result would more of our incredible talent building world-class solutions by Africans (and friends of Africa), for Africans. For Africans meaning tied to our actual context and realities, and something we can be proud and excited to use whether in Africa or outside of Africa.


Idealistic? Maybe. But I bet you, someone thought Rihanna would never become a billionaire, and we all know how that's going 😏


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If any of this resonates with you and you are ready to add a new thread to your quilt, whether it's a completely different colour or just a different shade, check out the open roles at AP (http://bit.ly/APOpenRoles) and join us for this epic ride!


Still taking over the world,

Val