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Women on Top in Tech – Ernestina Appiah, Founder/CEO at Ghana Code Club.

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is my interview with Ernestina Appiah. She is a Founder and CEO of Ghana Code Club. Ghana Code Club is a STEM non-profit committed to exposing elementary school kids in Ghana, especially girls, to computer science activities. Children between the ages of 8-16 gain basic computing skills while learning to make their own games, animations and build their own websites. Ernestina is helping young children learn to build their ideas with code and providing consultancy services for early child learning centers to develop their ICT curriculum.


What makes you do what you do?

Pure passion for digital creativity was what got me started in the first place. I know for a fact what Technology has done to me. It changed my life positively and I want other girls especially from similar backgrounds as me to experience, to become independent and compete globally. Besides that, what gets me going is the hunger in these children that I teach. Children are all joyful whenever they know it’s time for coding sessions. They empower me to keep returning to my work.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

Well, my journey started as a secretary in an Information and Technology company where I got inspired by the lead consultant who happened to be a woman to study Technology. I didn’t have the funds then to pay for tuition fees so I ceased all opportunities to learn from colleague designers and developers. With determination from my side, I was able to learn the basics of web design. Several months later, I dared to look for clients online and I got 4 clients in a row, one being an IP telecom company in the USA who gave me the opportunity to serve him permanently as a virtual assistant. I immediately registered a company and recruited professionals including web developers and a team of customer service persons to assist me in providing virtual support for this company and a few others Our job descriptions included troubleshooting, technical support, web apps development, web designing, recruiting agents all over the world, email marketing etc. For 11 years, I have been working as a virtual assistant for companies until I decided to start teaching digital skills to women and kids.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

I started this initiative, teaching kids to code even though I knew about the challenges because, in my part of the world, Ghana, there are no digital making activities in most schools Meanwhile we live in a technology age. Most of the world’s digital shapers were all exposed to computer science at a young age. They never know their love for technology could possibly change the world. We’re talking about industry players like Steve Job, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg etc. When kids learn to code early, they learn to become problem solvers at an early age. They may not end up as programmers or coders but the skills sets help them in all their future successes.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

There’s a game developer here in Ghana by name Eyram Tawiah of Leti Arts. He inspires me in the industry. He lives the reality of what I teach kids.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?

We were actually matched by the former second lady of the Republic of Ghana Mrs. Matilda Amissah Arthur.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

I read, research, learn every day, attend seminars and organize training sessions for volunteers who help me in scaling out.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, I consciously support diversity because I hate discrimination and looking down on anyone in regards to who you are, where you’re coming from, your social status and whatever. I believe everyone is special in their own way.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

If you’re a great leader in technology, I want you to identify one common problem in your community and attempt solving it using your skills because I believe we can use Technology to achieve all goals outlined in the SDGs thereby eradicating poverty completely in all parts of the world.

Advice for others?

I’m an independent advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), officially known as Transforming our world by 2030. I believe together we can achieve all set of 17 “Global Goals” set by the United Nations. Aside from that, technology has a language and it’s called code. You’re reading this interview because of technology; support Ghana Code Club in scaling out to reach more kids who’ll acquire skill sets to add to the SDG goals in the world.


To learn more about Ghana Code Club, please see http://www.ghanacodeclub.org/.

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.

Entrepreneurship

What Kills A Startup

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1 – Being inflexible and not actively seeking or using customer feedback

Ignoring your users is a tried and true way to fail. Yes that sounds obvious but this was the #1 reason given for failure amongst the 32 startup failure post-mortems we analyzed. Tunnel vision and not gathering user feedback are fatal flaws for most startups. For instance, ecrowds, a web content management system company, said that “ We spent way too much time building it for ourselves and not getting feedback from prospects — it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I’d recommend not going more than two or three months from the initial start to getting in the hands of prospects that are truly objective.”

2 – Building a solution looking for a problem, i.e., not targeting a “market need”

Choosing to tackle problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was often cited as a reason for failure. Sure, you can build an app and see if it will stick, but knowing there is a market need upfront is a good thing. “Companies should tackle market problems not technical problems” according to the BricaBox founder. One of the main reasons BricaBox failed was because it was solving a technical problem. The founder states that, “While it’s good to scratch itches, it’s best to scratch those you share with the greater market. If you want to solve a technical problem, get a group together and do it as open source.”

3 – Not the right team

A diverse team with different skill sets was often cited as being critical to the success of a starti[ company. Failure post-mortems often lamented that “I wish we had a CTO from the start, or wished that the startup had “a founder that loved the business aspect of things”. In some cases, the founding team wished they had more checks and balances. As Nouncers founder stated, “This brings me back to the underlying problem I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made.” Wesabe founder also stated that he was the sole and quite stubborn decision maker for much of the enterprises life, and therefore he can blame no one but himself for the failures of Wesabe. Team deficiencies were given as a reason for startup failure almost 1/3 of the time.

4 – Poor Marketing

Knowing your target audience and knowing how to get their attention and convert them to leads and ultimately customers is one of the most important skills of a successful business. Yet, in almost 30% of failures, ineffective marketing was a primary cause of failure. Oftentimes, the inability to market was a function of founders who liked to code or build product but who didn’t relish the idea of promoting the product. The folks at Devver highlighted the need to find someone who enjoys creating and finding distribution channels and developing business relationship for the company as a key need that startups should ensure they fill.

5 – Ran out of cash

Money and time are finite and need to be allocated judiciously. The question of how should you spend your money was a frequent conundrum and reason for failure cited by failed startups. The decision on whether to spend significantly upfront to get the product off the group or develop gradually over time is a tough act to balance. The team at YouCastr cited money problems as the reason for failure but went on to highlight other reasons for shutting down vs. trying to raise more money writing:

The single biggest reason we are closing down (a common one) is running out of cash. Despite putting the company in an EXTREMELY lean position, generating revenue, and holding out as long as we could, we didn’t have the cash to keep going. The next few reasons shed more light as to why we chose to shut down instead of finding more cash.

The old saw was that more companies were killed by poor cashflow than anything else, but factors 1, 2 and 4 probably are the main contributing factors to that problem. No cash, no flow. The issue No 3 – the team – is interesting, as if I take that comment ” I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made” and think about some of the founders and startup CEOs I know, I can safely say that the main way that any decision was made was by agreeing with them – it was “my way or the highway”. I don’t therefore “buy” the team argument, I more buy the willingness of the key decision makers to change when things are not working (aka “pivoting” – point 9).

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About the Author

This article was produced by Broadsight. Broadsight is an attempt to build a business not just to consult to the emerging Broadband Media / Quadruple Play / Web 2.0 world, but to be structured according to its open principles. see more.

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Callum Connects

Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor

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Jasmine saves her clients time and effort when doing kitchen fit outs with her biz Stone Amperor.

What’s your story?
I started working in the industry in 2003. I was in a marble and granite supplier company for 5 years. Even though I left the company, I still had customers calling me for my services. I referred them back to my previous company but they refused to because they loved the fast response service that I offered. I realised that customers do look at prices, however most of them prefer quality over quantity. Thus I have decided to establish a sole proprietor company also known as 78 Degrees which later rebranded as Stone Amperor in 2014.

What excites you most about your industry?
The kitchen countertop industry is a very confusing market. There are many brands, materials and prices to choose from. What excites me the most is my ability to help clients choose the best materials and brands within their budgets, whilst saving them time and effort.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have been in Asia all my life and I love Asia. No matter where you go there is no place like home.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Singapore. This is because Singapore has always been a stable country and it is great for doing business. However as it is a small country, it can be really competitive. I believe that if just do your best and give your best to your customers, you can overcome this.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Take actions. Learn and improve continuously. An idea without action is just a dream.” This was really good advice that I received from my partner.

Who inspires you?
A very down to earth billionaire from Malaysia, Robert Kuok

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Property is the foundation of every business.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Own instead of renting property for my business.

How do you unwind?
I enjoy going shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. I am quite a simple being.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love going to Taiwan as I love the culture there. Everyone is so polite and the weather is great.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Sun Tzu, Art of war

Shameless plug for your business:
Perfect top, Perfect price, Perfect life from Stone Amperor

How can people connect with you?
Email me at [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@StoneAmperor

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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