“When you face a brick wall, people say you have no options. I see 6 options. One option is to jump over the wall, go left, go right, dig beneath to the other side, drill through the wall, or go and come fight another day.” - Prince Appiah
“We are all supposed to be leaders. We all have certain gifts we came to the planet with. We all have the moral responsibility to manifest this gift to make the world a better place” is one belief he lives by. Guided by such wise words, Prince Appiah’s life philosophy has always been to raise leaders within his sphere in Ghana and ultimately, throughout Africa. To nurture his commitment to growth, he strives to lay a foundational brick each day. His persistence to launch 1Billion Africa stemmed from two things he is very passionate about; Africa and Leadership. This passion has lead him to cultivate an unusual sense of resilience despite two mentors advising him to not pursue his once entrepreneurial idea. He compares the creation of a business to facing a brick wall, one that anyone with determination, curiosity, and hunger will overcome.
Exploring the road less traveled
Around age 5 or 6, Prince moved to Burma Camp to live with his grandparents. From transitioning from preparatory to a government school due to his father’s job loss, his biggest consolation was watching cartoons with superhero figures such as Batman and Superman. Each night, he would hide in the corner of his room and take an “imagination trip” where he would imagine himself as a superhero flying throughout his community to solve problems. This period in his life is what catapulted his curiosity to solve. In James Altucher’s infographic – 20 Eventual Habits of Millionaires – one of the habits is to do something you always loved as a kid.
Evidently, Prince got the memo when founding his organization. Fast forward to preparing for college, a family friend who had initially agreed to serve as a guarantor for his university application disappointed him. Thus, his application was rejected. A college dream shattered. Prince preceded to work at a bookstore where he was exposed to a plethora of books which spoke to his aforementioned passions.
“It was at this bookstore that I discovered my role model, Dr. Myles Monroe.”
While working in the bookshop, he heard Dr. Monroe say on the radio “Every human being was created for a reason and this reason is what gives you the drive to want to do something in life." His life was drastically changed upon hearing that. This was also the moment he decided to look within himself, generate a keen sense of self-awareness, and truly comprehend his purpose in life. This was when he grew serious about his faith and strengthened his relationship with God. This was when he realized entrepreneurship has a lot to do with your mindset and your attitude.
Approximately a year later, he was well prepared to reinstate himself into the University of Ghana, where he studied Computer Science. Due to economic constraints, he was unable to afford a computer and had to borrow the computers of friends to complete assignments during the cracks of dawn. To sustain himself, he created a side business where he taught people how to fix malfunctioning computers and to build and develop websites. Despite a demanding schedule, his hunger to give back resulted in countless service trips with his church to rural communities where he had the opportunity to empower children in villages through education. After each trip, Prince would ponder on his experiences and wonder how he could scale his efforts.
“I will wake up in the middle of the night and have tears in my eyes thinking of the poor conditions in these communities”
There are a plethora of resources on the African continent. Knowing this to be true is why Prince found it illogical for children to suffer. It was a 2:30 am intervention in bed when he got the lightbulb moment;
“There are a billion problems in Africa and there are a billion people on the continent. Each person solves a problem. Simple math!”
Today, he leads 1Billion Africa where they turn problems on the African continent into projects. Prince has also gone on to launch two additional companies in Ghana; IT Consult Ghana and DS Dayta Solutions.
The true essence of his journey
Based on his experience building 1Billion Africa, Prince now realizes money is not the first and most important resource needed to build a thriving organization. The first thing – he strongly believes - is passion. The second is to have an understanding of what you want to do. Money then comes third. He adds;
“Once you cultivate this understanding, you begin to look at resources in a different way. You begin to look at your network as a relationship resource – after all this is what I started with.”
Most prominent investors stray away from investing on the African continent due to the highly popularized challenges. For Prince, a consistent challenge he has encountered is the environment. As he shared,“some basic things are just not basic for the African entrepreneur.” According to Prince, these basic things include high-speed internet, office space, government support, and direct coaching for blossoming African entrepreneurs. For example, when he initially launched 1Billion Africa, he scheduled a Skype call with a potential partner in the United States. The meeting was supposed to commence at 5 pm GMT and he spent countless hours making sure everything was aligned for the call. Exactly 2 minutes prior to the scheduled call, the lights went out (popularly known as DUMSOR) on his college campus. This did not happen once but twice, causing the potential partner to perceive him as an unserious entrepreneur. However, before you rule out the African continent from your next business destination as a result of these challenges, Aliko Dangote’s point in a recent interview on Bloomberg may help you develop a different perspective;
“It is actually easier for us to think about what to do here (Africa) because, whatever you do, the majority of those decisions will make a positive change. There are a lot of opportunities because of where we are starting from. In the Western world—the U.S., Europe—you have almost everything. In Africa, we don’t have much competition, in part because so many people have their money in liquid cash, not assets.”
Prince - being a child of Africa - embodies a similar spirit. For him, the potential impact to be made on the African continent is his “why.” As he shared, “no great person has achieved greatness outside the borders of the 3Ps; Passion, Purpose, and Potential. This is why we are so convinced we are on the right path with 1Billion Africa.”
The larger purpose and meaning of his journey becomes apparent
Oftentimes, those who have turned their dreams into reality attribute their success to chance. Not Prince. He believes the experiences he has been blessed with play an integral role in his entrepreneurial growth. While a student on campus, he served as Marketing Officer for an annual magazine called The Sword. The supervisor he met during this experience is now on the global advisory board for 1Billion Africa. Coincidence? He thinks not. He also believes volunteering with his church, and his side businesses on campus helped him develop certain skills that equipped him to be a better founder and CEO.
Provided he was to start his entrepreneurial journey over, he will be very mindful of structure. As he shared,“I value the process more than I did when I started. I am no longer interested in jumping from 1 to 7. I value the 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 a lot more.”
He goes on to add,
“During the second year of 1Billion Africa, we understood that we need to build internal controls, have audited accounts and a proper 5 year strategic plan for the organization. We did not get everything right from day 1, rather we learned gradually as we progressed.”
Let’s say you are looking to pivot and explore a similar journey to Prince’s however, may not have the same resources and the network he has amassed today. He advises aspiring entrepreneurs to prepare and understand their crafts. He shares, “the bible says in Ecclesiastes 11:3 that ‘If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie.’” He also believes that“if you want to create a business and start something great, spend some time preparing, going to events, and just start.”
Most people want to associate with something that looks good. After all, that’s human nature. The same thinking carries over into startups. Oftentimes, Prince sees African founders waiting for approval from people. He advises entrepreneurs to;
“Forget it. People will get along once you begin to sail not when you are on the shore. The sooner you embrace that there are a lot of skeptics at the shore, the more rewarding your journey will be.”
Entrepreneurship on the African continent can sometimes be an excruciating task. Especially when there are so many challenges and a billion and one approaches to address them. As Steve Jobs once said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Abiding by Job’s philosophy, the 1Billion Africa team have managed to focus on their vision since launch. Within a year, they select about two or three communities to run projects in, around the areas of education and skills development leveraging on technology. Their advocacy ring specializes in youth empowerment and their support services ring specializes in helping youth design a solution to problems in their respective communities. When I asked Prince to name one entrepreneur he believes is following the correct procedures to building a business, he paused to think deeply about his response then went on to name Strive Masiyiwa, CEO of Econet Group,
“He is building impact-driven businesses and investing a lot of time on platforms, such as Facebook, to pull the African youth along. He could very much be on a yacht somewhere enjoying his riches.”
What is your comparative advantage as an African entrepreneur?
- Jeph Acheampong