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How Isis Nyong’o Madison Is Changing The Game Through Technology


Kenyan-American techpreneur Isis Nyong’o Madison has worked at global, hugely influential employers like MTV and Google. But now she’s using her drive and purpose for her own entrepreneurial journey

Madison’s a natural game-changer, which is one of the reasons she’s so attracted to the tech and media spaces in Africa and particularly the capabilities of technology in allowing people to engage with content in an interactive way.

Isis Nyong’o Madison

She saw this unfold in her work at MTV Base Africa. “That was my chance to be part of reflecting Africa’s youth as they truly were,” she recalls.

“I was drawn to work at the organisation when it launched in 2005 because the over-arching story about Africa was negative: African youth were depicted in a generally dehumanised way. It just didn’t reflect the Kenya I knew. It was wonderful working with people like my former boss, Alex Okosi, who also wanted to celebrate urban vibrancy in a way that resonated among young Africans.”

A 2012 Young Global Leader who’s also a cousin of celebrated actress Lupita Nyong’o, she says global mobile advertising platform InMobi was the catalyst for her entrepreneurial drive.

“The InMobi experience enabled me to get closer to what it takes to scale an Africa business with a lesser-known brand. After that, I was hooked, as there’s nothing more professionally fulfilling than founding and growing my own companies.

“However, I’d have been far less likely to build my two companies, Asphalt & Ink and MumsVillage, had I not had such a collectively challenging and enriching work history. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t apply something I learnt in the past to my present work.”

Asphalt & Ink provides strategic advisory services to everything from corporations, start-ups and governments to non-profit organisations operating in Africa. Its client base is a diverse mix of local, regional and global companies – and business is booming.

“We’ve seen a recent uptick in advisory needs for tech companies and organisations focused on the advancement of women and entrepreneurship in Africa. In terms of large multi-country projects, we recently served a global company evaluating an opportunity to invest in a tech start-up that would enable expansion to 14 countries across the continent,” says Nyong’o.

Her other business, MumsVillage, provides information that enables mothers to make more informed choices.

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“There are plenty of global online resources for pregnant women and new mothers, but there was a noticeable gap of information catering to the specific needs of women in Kenya and other parts of Africa. MumsVillage focuses on giving them that information online and it’s been incredibly rewarding witnessing how powerful knowledge truly is,” she says.

However, she initially experienced a number of difficulties. “When I opted to become an entrepreneur after being linked to so many powerful brands – Stanford, Harvard, MTV and Google – many people (including those close to me) dismissed my ventures as ‘hobbies’, because I was preoccupied with young children.

But as an entrepreneur, you have to develop Teflon skin to manage the impact of discouragement. You also have to understand that others’ reactions to your choices are based on their perceptions of you and your capabilities – and those may be different from your own views.

“I also had to figure out what to focus on. When there’s so much perceived opportunity, it can be hard to select a specific path. I toyed with many ideas before deciding to put a stake in the ground with Asphalt & Ink and MumsVillage.

“I ultimately realised that a successful venture is 10% vision and 90% hard work, with a little luck sprinkled on top.”

MADISON’S ENTREPRENEURIAL MANTRAS

  • “You need a long-term view of what you’re doing, solid financial plans and support structures for emotional endurance.”
  • “You’ll hear ‘no’ in many different ways, but sometimes that really means ‘not now’, so keep relationships alive, as it can turn into ‘yes’ when you least expect it.”
  • “Even if you’re not planning to start a company yourself, actively engage in conversations on social media, as more women’s voices need to be heard. Take a moment to comment and share content that resonates.”
  • “There really isn’t a perfect time for anything. Even if you feel you only have 70% of what it takes (time, funding, etc) just start. You’ll learn enough along the way to know whether it’s an idea worth pursuing.”

*This article was originally published in the May 2017 issue of DESTINY

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