Global innovation leaders

Global Entrepreneurship Week: Learning to dance in the hurricane

“The reason I exist online is to break down the prosperity gospel of entrepreneurship: not everyone is going to make it. That’s the harsh reality that you will either have to find out for yourself, through repeated failure, or come to grips with and start tackling now.”

Mashudu Modau tells it like it is. And he encourages others to do the same.

As an advocate for youth entrepreneurship in Africa, Mashudu is on a mission to enable and empower start-ups to build the things they believe in, but never misleading them into thinking the journey will be easy.

Frustrated by the difficult-to-navigate and deeply fragmented start-up incubation space, Mashudu founded Mashstartup, a free online platform for entrepreneurs who are willing to engage with the truth.

Here, he creates the platforms, mines the resources, and shares the insights that make the path to entrepreneurship easier. And through his podcast, he explores the journeys behind some of Africa’s emerging start-ups and successful business builders.

“The big thing for me is having genuine conversations with genuine people who are sincerely invested in teaching people and telling the real story, not the fairy tale.”

Building empowering ecosystems

‘Ecosystems’ is a core pillar of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW2020). Taking place from 16 to 22 November, GEW2020 celebrates organisations and initiatives that facilitate collaboration and partnership, that share knowledge and networks, and that help to build healthy, thriving entrepreneurial communities.

Mashudu first realised the power of ecosystems and mentorship in high school when he came up with the idea for ‘Big Brother, Big Sister’, an initiative to pair Grade 8 learners who were navigating the intimidating high school experience, with Matrics who had seen it all.

“The hope was to create a better experience for new learners while imparting responsibility on experienced learners to guide their peers.”

His idea evolved over the years as his purpose became clear: to empower, educate, encourage, and enable people to learn, build, and grow.

Collaboration is the new innovation

Today, Mashudu is building three powerful ecosystems:

  • Mashstartup;
  • Lutcha, a podcast network that aims to reshape the African millennial narrative and that teaches people how to launch and sustain their own podcasts; and
  • Founders Sauce, a comprehensive platform for entrepreneur resources, tools, and insights in Africa, offering expert advice on marketing, branding, business admin, and community building.

He’s become an influential voice in the small business community, although he admits to being “shy and awkward”.

“I don’t do this for the PR. I’m focused on, and invested in, driving impact for others and focus all my efforts on fulfilling this purpose. And in doing this, the right people and opportunities come to me.”

His podcast has become a space for open, honest conversations with people who have been through it all and are generous with their knowledge.

“My guests come with an open heart and an honest mind to share their journeys and experiences, to help someone else do things better in their own life. I believe I can make the biggest impact by giving entrepreneurs and start-ups greater access to these people.”

He says it’s impossible to pick his favourite conversations, but the ones that stand out are the ones he had during the lockdown. “The pandemic and the resulting implications have been hard to navigate for many entrepreneurs. I’ve had to grow a huge amount of resilience and fortitude in order to adapt and look for opportunities in this difficult environment.”

“South Africans need and deserve higher value content that engages people at a higher level. There’s a limit to the resources that start-ups have, especially in Africa. Collaborating and building partnerships enables you to make significant progress with fewer resources, while leveraging other people’s skills and contributing to their growth.”

Podcasts, says Mashudu, are the medium of the future. “Conversations and stories help people learn deeply about the things they care about and how to navigate the environments they are in. I found an opportunity to be a first mover and innovator in this space and hope to create maximum impact while integrating other media.”

Africa’s entrepreneurial future

“Entrepreneurs are the future of Africa. But without a start-up culture, Africa will be just an adopter of technology and innovation. We need creators and originators. We need more entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses to dedicate themselves to the work of moving the continent forward,” says Mashudu.

He offers this advice to inspiring entrepreneurs:

  • Dance in the hurricane. “You need to be able to navigate the chaos to find the opportunities. You can’t control the environment you operate in. Finding ways to navigate the challenges will be a huge contributor to your growth and success.”
  • Build a good runway. “Invest only in the things that feed your growth. This includes money and information. The rest is noise.”
  • Stand on the shoulders of giants. “Listen to podcasts, read books, subscribe to Sage Advice. Nurture a passion for learning and sharing knowledge with others. Read The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, and Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.”
  • Embrace technology. “Think about how you can use technology to change our continent’s future. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. Being a digital entrepreneur is a modern invention that has propelled a generation forward; we need to lean into the revolutions that this allows.”
  • Have conviction in your success.Commit to solving a problem for a significant number of people and success will be inevitable.”
  • Adopt the Facebook philosophy of ‘Move fast and break things’. “Create more, build more, drive impact at scale.”
  • Rest but don’t quit. “Have a set schedule that includes downtime and meditation. For me, that means napping often, limiting meetings, and playing FIFA – my guilty pleasure and hidden talent.”

“Africans are resilient and operate in some of the most difficult environments in the world. But innovation can come from here, great technology can be built here, and phenomenal entrepreneurs are creating the future here. Watch the next 50 years.”