This week’s Misfit Entrepreneur is Marek Zymslowski (mis lof ski). So, how do I describe Marek? Well, I start of by reading the title of his best-selling book, Chasing Black Unicorns: How Building the Amazon of Africa Put Me on Interpol’s Most Wanted List. Now, if that is not enough to interest you in hearing his story, here’s a little more…
Marek is basically Indiana Jones meets Silicon Valley. Marek is one of Poland’s most respected internet entrepreneurs having started numerous internet business in Europe and since that wasn’t enough, he went to Africa and built Africa’s biggest hotel booking portal, Jumia, which is now listed on the NYSE. He is ranked as one of top 10 most important people in Tech in Africa and a lead mentor at Google’s Launchpad and the World Bank’s XL Africa program.
And of course, he somehow became one of Interpol’s most wanted. His journey is filled with incredible lessons that we all can use in our lives and businesses.
Marek’s life has a few different parts. First is the Polish part. His mother was teacher and father was a soldier. He started his career in the early 2000’s and became a millionaire – and then lost everything in 2008. He was in the finance space and described it almost like Wolf of Wall Street.
He then went into another startup and was able to build things back up and pay off his debt. He was in early stage online businesses in Poland. As Poland got more mature and the online space began to get more saturated, he decided to look for the next frontier that needed developed out – and that is where Africa came in. He moved to Nigeria and began to build new online businesses including the African version of Amazon and Booking.com type businesses.
He’s been in Africa 8 years and was able to IPO one of the companies. It has been for the most part positive, except for an extortion attempt to take over his company which got him on the Interpol list.
At this point, with everything you’ve been through, what is your most important lesson learned?
- Do not make decisions too quickly.
- Building a business that moves fast doesn’t mean you have to make bad, emotional decisions to do so.
- All of the problems, Marek has gotten into in his life, it was always Marek making bad decisions without taking the time to think them through.
At the 12 min mark, Marek talks about the journey to go to Africa and start a business…
- Marek thrives on chaos.
- He likes to create markets or bring mature type markets to immature economies.
- He got in with an e-commerce company that was expanding and he landed in Nigeria – he was the right man at the right time.
- Marek saw it as a great learning experience.
- Africa is full of extremes – areas of huge poverty and then huge areas of wealth and opportunity.
- 85% or people in Africa live day by day, but the middle class is doubling in size every 10 years.
- Places like Lagos are not beginning to look like Dubai.
- Africa is extremely diverse in countries, tribes, languages and size.
- It is an amazing market for business opportunities – but it is high risk, high reward.
What should we know about doing business in Africa?
- It reminds him of Poland in the 90’s.
- When you come from the western world, you don’t realize how lucky you are and things you take for granted every day, don’t exist. That also brings opportunity.
- The challenges you have to overcome are different.
- Thinks like infrastructure and banking are almost non-existent on a large scale.
- There is lack of electricity and water infrastructure. Marek had to get used to having power for his business about 5 hours a day and had to get his own generators, satellite links for internet and backup things to run the business.
- The legal system is based on the British system, so it is easier to understand, but the challenge is the rules being followed. There is a lot of corruption.
- Competition will try to bring you down, not by doing things in the free market, but instead using bribery and corrupt tactics with police and government to stop you.
- Corruption is part of running a business in an emerging country.
- You have to understand the tribal culture and local traditions and how they influence the customer.
At the 28 min mark, Marek shares the story of how he got on the Interpol most wanted list…
- Choose partners wisely
- Fight for what you believe in
- Don’t give up or give in.
What is your process for starting and building a business?
- You must be excited about something
- You will be excited about a lot of things, so write them down.
- Then narrow them down from there to get to the best one.
- In the conceptual stage, work with many ideas and understand the problems as there will be even more when you go to the execution stage.
- If you are good at something, you will end up making money at it.
Are there any trends people should be watching in business?
Online business in sub-Saharan Africa.
Renewables, specifically, solar energy. There is a lot of mega trends and solar is one of them.
Look outside your own borders.
Thoughts on opportunities as the world re-opens from the virus?
- The virus has not changed the trends as much as it accelerated them.
- Stay within your sector as there are most likely a ton of opportunities.
- Your speed in which you adapt is key to succeeding at higher levels.
What has surprised you most about entrepreneurship?
- Marek never expected that he would have to deal with rejection so frequently.
- And more importantly, learning to overcome that rejection and not let it affect you daily.
Best Quote: Building a business that moves fast doesn’t mean you have to make bad, emotional decisions to do so...
Marek's Misfit 3:
- Treat your body as the most important organization you are responsible for. Just like you constantly watch your business and take care of it – you should do the same for your body.
- Mistakes come from being too emotional and allowing ego to destroy you. Ego is a double-edged sword and you must learn to yield it wisely.
- At some point, you have to stop listening to people and reading books and start acting on your own.
5 Minute Journal: www.MisfitEntrepreneur.com/Journal