Hiruy Amanuel is an innovative investor who strives to bring both economic and technological greatness to Ethiopia and Africa as a whole. He has spent the better part of his life in pursuit of enabling those in Africa with development progress in the IT world. Mr. Amanuel has gone on to co-found Gebeya Inc—an online marketplace that trains and subsequently matches Africa’s IT professionals with the global business market.
How do you make money?
Our institution makes money through training tuition and our job placement model. Gebeya takes a 10-15% service fee on projects while our developers walk away with 80-90% of the project. We also make money through the training itself. Although there are scholarship options, when students enroll they will be expected to pay tuition fees.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We were generating revenue within our first year, but to be profitable, it took us about three years. One of our first targets was to offset our burning costs as we scale to train.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time that you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle it?
No, never. I never doubted it — not one time. The market is too vast. It’s just a matter of timing; you have to have the patience and/or money to wait it out.
How did you get your first customer?
Recruiting. We went out in Addis Ababa and did workshops at some of the tech hubs, Universities, Government exhibitions, and workshops. We would advertise on Eventbrite and Facebook when we were having a seminar or an intake. We’d even rent out a hotel ballroom for demos, and that’s how we initially started recruiting.
What is one marketing strategy that you’re using that works well to generate new business?
One marketing strategy we have to attract people to come in for our training is to provide scholarship opportunities. We engage socially by hosting mixers around technology, and we have hackathons that are open to any developers that want to come up with creative solutions to social problems in Africa.
We go to a lot of universities in Addis Ababa and do workshops. We partner with the universities to encourage them to promote our programs to students who are graduating, so they understand we’re not necessarily competition but more that we’re trying to piggyback on the foundation they’re already laying.
What is the toughest decision that you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The toughest decision I had to make in the last few months was to decide with my co-founder whether Gebeya should take an investment or continue to bootstrap and build out our model.
If you raise money prematurely, you give away a lot of your company before you get a chance to validate it. Ideally a startup like Gebeya would wait out financial pressures and navigate other pitfalls to build the company’s valuation. By demonstrating steady financials and accumulating cash reserves, you’ll have revenue coming through different channels so you can prove that your company is profitable, furthermore arguing a better valuation. But usually, it takes a few years. Most VC’s in Africa approach younger companies when they see the potential at the tipping point as it is very hard to find proper early stage funding.
That’s one of the hardest decisions we had to make. To take the investment and grow to the next stage, I would’ve personally liked to have waited another year or so because we had some things we still wanted to prove that I feel would have given us a higher valuation. In light of that, we chose to take the investment so that we could scale more rapidly into other African countries.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
My drive. I have a strong drive and work ethic. I think that is the edge that keeps people like me successful because I can fail a thousand times at something and I don’t register it as a failure. I register it like I need to figure out a better way to do this, whereas other people might register a failure after two tries of not getting the results they want. It’s just persistence. Everything, if you keep at it, eventually it will play out how you see it happening in your mind. You have to be persistent and constantly visualize your goals. You start to make progress, and then you can build on that and keep the momentum going. It’s all about progress.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I’d have to say by giving/providing annual scholarships to students in Africa.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
The future for Gebeya holds expansion into other African countries, which we’re definitely excited for. We hope to train and contribute to the new tech workforce on the continent so that local companies, governments, and foreign entities alike can utilize the young talent properly and more efficiently.
Leave us with one point that few individuals know about your company.
Gebeya is an all African staffed company; we have 100% African executive staff as well as employees. We are Africans training Africans, which I think helps us connect better with the culture, people and the landscape here on the continent. While diversification is important as companies grow, our founding staff is of African origin; which I feel helps keep the moral integrity of what we are doing intact through the early stages of growth.