On revolutionizing the East African food system and raising a Series A while pregnant during a pandemic. An interview with Lauren Nkuranga.Featured
I spoke with @laurennkuranga, founder and chairman of GET IT, a food procurement and distribution platform in East Africa. GET IT connects frontier market farmers, producers, and manufacturers to formal markets. Through off grid cold storage technology, GET IT is revolutionizing East Africa’s food supply chain. GET IT is the first produce and food distributor in East, West, and Central Africa to receive ISO 22000 certification. GET IT now has over 130 employees and employs 99% African staff. Lauren closed her Series A round during the COVID-19 crisis while pregnant. She shares more on her story and her advice for other founders. Lauren grew up, attended university, and started her career in the United States but moved to Rwanda with Nike, as the only employee in the company working in a location without a local Nike office. In Rwanda, she saw first hand the positive social impact business could have. She realized that ethical business was the key to creating sustainable, long lasting solutions to pressing global challenges. For most of her life, she had wanted to start a company but none of the challenges in the United States inspired her. In Africa, however, she was incredibly inspired by how the lack of infrastructure forced innovation like no where else in the world, towork in one of the fastest growing economies, and bring people out of poverty. Lauren founded GET IT with $5K of initial capital. Initially, it was a text-to-order home delivery service. She did the first 500 deliveries by herself in her car. One day, a restaurant made a retail order, and that sparked the insight that there was no existing food service company to supply hotels, restaurants, and commercial kitchens. Since their founding 6 years ago, GET IT has grown to become the largest deliverer of fresh produce in Rwanda, owns a proprietary export farm, and has built an integrated food distribution market through partnerships with hotels and restaurants. With the current challenges facing the hospitality industry, GET IT is focusing on diversifying their operations through expanding their export work. Lauren shared the following advice on fundraising and leadership. Choose investor partners who are aligned with your values. If your investors share your same vision for the future and passion for impact, they will stick by you despite macroeconomic fluctuations, such as COVID-19. Many investors are investing in Africa mostly because they want a double bottom line. Many international investors want to do business in Africa but do not know how and do not have the relationships or cultural understanding to be able to succeed or partner with others in the unique ecosystem. Through their Series A fundraise and even prior, Lauren focused on developing strong relationships with investors who demonstrated a deep understanding of the African market and willingness to take a long term approach in investing in the continent. Agree on meaningful non-bottom line KPIs with your investors. Of course investors and founders care about growth and revenue, but it is crucial to align with your investors on other equally, if not more meaningful KPIs focused on the impact you are aiming to create for your employees, partners, and customers. Evaluate investors through the term sheet negotiation process. While ideally red flags would be spotted prior to the term sheet phase, you do frequently learn more about your investors in how they handle the process, specifically whether they are collaborative or whether they focus on extracting every penny of value. If the term sheet negociation process was brutal, you’re not going to magically have a great relationship after. Conversly, if you have a reasonable process, it’s likely going to indicate the kind of relationship you’ll build with your investors in the future. Negotiating term sheets a great litmus test to see if your values and your investors values truly align.Understand the post diligence process and specifically the transaction document process. Getting the actual term sheet finalized, even after the decision to invest was made, can take much longer than expected. Ask the venture capital firm upfront what the transaction process looks like and what the expected timeline is. Find supportive teams to help you add the best value to your family and company. When Lauren had her 1st child, she was scared to tell her board that she was pregnant. She had no examples of women who had gone through similar situations so she was not sure how to handle the circumstances. But with lessons learned from her 1st pregnancy, Lauren focused on having a strong executive team to ensure stability through her maternity leave and assured her board of her robust plan. Too often, women feel like they need to do everything themselves both at home and at work. In the United States, there is a stigma around hiring people to help with groceries or cleaning. Lauren realized that the value of her time is the same whether she is at home or work, so if she would not, for example, clean toilets at work, why would it be time efficient to do so at home? In Rwanda, there is much less stigma around hiring help, which has led to more female leadership representation in the country. In removing the guilt around asking for help, women are more freed to focus on adding the most value to their families and businesses.