Success in business can turn on moments of serendipity. In the life of Founders Factory Africa (FFA), it was co-founders Roo Rogers and Alina Truhina standing in the same room as Bongani Sithole at Standard Bank’s offices in Johannesburg in November 2018.
“It was an ordinary day for me. We were building a product for Standard Bank at the time,” Sithole recalls. “Roo was with Alina. It was the early days of building the relationship between Founders Factory Africa and Standard Bank as our first investor. They had come to see Darren [Segal], who I was meeting at the time. Darren happened to say to Roo and Alina, ‘Oh, you’re looking for this type of role? Talk to Bongani.’”
Apart from their first conversation, Bongani distinctly remembers being “intrigued” by Roo’s dress sense: a bright blue shirt, white pants, and green belt combined with colourful shoes.
“To see this amidst the suit and ties in the bank was very rare,” Bongani laughs.
What stands out for Roo from that first meeting was that even though it was by sheer chance, that first five-minute conversation proved to be all the vetting that Roo and Alina needed.
“We had our first meeting, and it was done. I don’t remember the interview. I don’t remember case studies. We actually had coffee the following day at the hotel. It was Wednesday, and Alina and I were flying back [to London] on Saturday,” Roo says.
“After that coffee, that was it. We just said, ‘Yes.’ Bongani was doing well with his own company, and he had so much to lose. Yet, like us, he took a big risk to see what FFA could become. We had so little knowledge of each other but just knew it was right.”
Over four years later, Founders Factory Africa (FFA) has become a leading startup investor on the continent.
“As an investor, FFA is focused on creating a vibrant pipeline of tech ventures operated by local founders solving local problems. We help them go further, faster. Since 2018, we’ve secured three major investment partners and invested in over 50 startups in fintech, healthtech, and agritech,” says Bongani.
“The challenges faced by people living in Kigali, for example, are different from those who call Mombasa home. Our physical presence in key centres — Lagos, Nairobi, Accra, Johannesburg — allows us to fully understand what problems people need solving on the ground.”
FFA’s senior leadership team comprises Sithole (CEO), Sam Sturm (Chief Portfolio Officer), Thabiso Foto (CFO) and Rogers (Chairman). The company’s Chief Strategy Officer, Truhina, has recently transitioned into an executive advisory role to focus on launching and leading the Radical Fund, a new climate tech VC fund in Southeast Asia.
A common thread in FFA’s leadership team is that while there are robust conversations with opposing views, those conversations are dealt with directly, with the team’s instincts and views applied to each matter in context. Each member of the leadership team understands what FFA seeks to do and leads in ways specific to them that complement the leadership team as a whole. This thread lives strongly in Bongani and Roo’s relationship.
“I think that part of being a good leader is instinct. At FFA, beyond hiring for skill, we want to hire leaders,” Roo says.
“Bongani has no pretense or artifice. He is fearless in his honesty. We share a passion for empathic honesty, and this allows us to constantly learn and build from each other…”
For Bongani, what drew him to Roo and FFA more broadly in those first two days remains four years later.
“Even though we are so different, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our relationship and partnership grew stronger. I was in Johannesburg and Roo in London, deepening our trust in each other. It strengthened our common vision and mission that we are here to support entrepreneurs in the African market.”
When asked what they want FFA to look like in 2024, Bongani and Roo answer in lock-step: an investor that is an enabler that provides entrepreneurs with every tool they need, a place where impactful ventures can scale from promise to reality.
While they could not delve into the detail, Bongani and Roo indicated that FFA would soon be working with significant investment partners that will transform and enhance what FFA has been doing since 2018. The incoming funds are expected to exceed $110 million (R1.9 billion), allowing FFA to expand its efforts in building a thriving African, locally-driven startup economy.
This article was originally published by JSE Magazine. Original source here.