Thursday, November 12, 2015

Remembering Why We Do What We Do As Founders – And How to Never Forget


I was reading an article the other week about how people sometimes need to incorporate traditions into their lives as daily reminders of the things they hold most important.

That article really resonated with me because it made me reflect back on my everyday – what traditions do I keep and what are the things I need to remind myself of on a daily basis?

The biggest thing that I realized I needed to be reminded about was belief in myself and what we are trying to achieve as a company.

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  Friday, September 18, 2015

How to Win Big from Startup Acceleration Programs

Article written by Arielle Sandor


Launchpad with Unreasonable East Africa begins as the 2015 startup fellows prepare to tell their stories.


After the article about incubators I wrote the other week, I wanted to follow-up on the last leg (so far) of our formal coaching programs at DUMA.

In July of this year, we participated in the Unreasonable East Africa fellowship program. This means I took 5 weeks off from the company (based in Nairobi) to go to Kampala, Uganda, to get “accelerated.”

At the time, I was pretty nervous, because I wasn’t quite sure what the purpose of being “accelerated” would be.

With DUMA, we are so blessed to have such a wide range of mentors that we can call or email whenever we need to. We met a lot of people at the very early onset of DUMA and didn’t even realize half of the amazing things they brought to the table at the time.

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  Friday, August 21, 2015

Are Incubators Worth It? Here’s What We Learned

I just came back from an intensive 5 week accelerator in Kampala with the Unreasonable Institute East Africa. The whole experience got me thinking about the role accelerators and incubators have served in the life of our startup and I thought I would share these musings.

Since incubators and accelerators happen at different stages and present different values, I am going to do a 2 part series on this – One reflecting on incubators, one reflecting on accelerator programs.

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  Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why Africa? Top 5 Reasons I Launched My Startup In Kenya

Linus, CTO of Duma Works and the Duma Works software team go over daily milestones at our team standup

In 2012, my cofounder and I moved to Kenya to launch East Africa’s first online recruiting platform, Duma Works.

People ask me all the time why we decided to move to Kenya to launch the company. In light of all the incredible things happening today with the GES Summit, I thought I would share my thoughts on why Kenya is one of the most compelling places in the world to start a company right now.

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  Friday, July 17, 2015

8 Reasons I Love Having a Cofounder

Christine and Arielle cofound Duma Works. Having a cofounder in your startup is crucial to success.

Running a company is stressful and doing it alone is even worse. When Duma Works got started, like most startups, all we had was our idea and our brain power – sometimes on coffee, sometimes on beer, and sometimes on Redbull.

I’m actually at the Unreasonable Institute in Kampala at the moment, and there has been good workshops that lead to reflection and introspection. During one of those workshops, I was thinking back to the beginning of Duma Works, how crazy it was, and how lucky I was to have someone myself riding the ship out into the sunset with me.

Here are some of the times that came to my mind that I was super grateful to have a co-founder.

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  Friday, June 5, 2015

How We Got (or didn’t get) Our First Customers

Defining your customer base is tricky before you have completely defined your product/service. For this reason, it’s important your early conversations are full of questions and observations, rather than pitches for your idea.

There are a few things I think we did wrong in the beginning, so hopefully I can save you the trouble by sharing our learnings. 

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  Friday, May 15, 2015

Fundraising in Kenya

I remember standing outside of our host family house in Nakuru, next to a cow and a few chickens, talking on the phone with a mentor of ours who would soon tell us that he wanted to invest in DUMA. At that point, Christine and I were huddled around the phone figuring out what having an investor would mean, and feeling both excited and terrified. 

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  Friday, May 1, 2015

Pivoting and What We Learned

I have gotten a lot of feedback from readers saying that they are interested in hearing about the various iterations of DUMA and how we got to where we are right now. It’s been quite the ride, but we did learn a LOT along the way! 

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  Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Startup is Born

Open Minded Beginnings

There comes a time in your life, usually while you’re in the middle of pursuing a Bachelor’s in Chinese Language and History (with a theater minor, of course), that you decide that it is of the utmost importance to launch a job marketplace startup in Africa.

Myself and my co-founder Christine (though granted she was pursuing a medical career and a major in Anthropology) fell prey to this plot line somewhere in 2011 and haven’t looked back since.

There are different schools of thought about whether you should try planning out your life or not. Does a person wait for the right opportunity to come along, or does a person create their own opportunities. Eg. Does one wait for Mr. or Ms. “right” to come along, or does one scout out marriage potentials like it’s hunting season. 😉

Personally, I never had a clear idea of what I was going to be when I grew up. Sure, I had fantasies about opening a jewelry store called the Treasure Chest (with very curly script lettering), or turning into a fish (when I was younger I didn’t quite get the species barrier), but even when college rolled around, I still had no idea. So, naturally, I majored in Chinese Language and History, and waited to see what would happen. I studied Mandarin in Beijing and interned in consulting in Shanghai and was pursuing an interest in advertising, but hadn’t completely settled on anything.

This is why in my senior year in University, when I returned from Kenya, totally ablaze with ideas about how to connect my friends to jobs in their towns, moving to Kenya wasn’t completely crazy. My mind was open and my life plans flexible enough to conspire with Christine over Facebook about going back to Kenya after graduation.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 2.41.34 PM

Beatles, Friends, and Figuring it out

Let me just leave a philosophical mind dropping here – The way I see it, if I decided to attempt control over my future, it would be because I am scared to lean on others. Let’s face it – when something happens that you’re not sure how to deal with, you need to get advice. Whereas, if you control every step of the path, you know what to expect, can prepare yourself, and don’t need any faith in the goodness of others. That’s how I now deal with risk – I don’t know how to do this? Ask someone. I don’t know how to file taxes? Ask an accountant. I don’t know how to write a press release? Ask someone in PR. I don’t know how to design an investor deck? Ask another entrepreneur. (This is also why Nairobi desperately needs more experienced entrepreneurs as mentors and collaboration between startup founders – yes, we are making progress – but another story for another day)

I think that the beginning of every startup is a meeting of the minds. And you want as many minds as possible thinking about your startup idea – poking holes in it, supporting it, introducing you to more minds to poke more holes to build a higher tower. It’s like a giant game of Jenga (a game with a tower of wooden blocks where you literally remove blocs to poke holes and build a higher tower – pretty apt metaphor, patting myself on the back right now) and you kind of hope the whole time that the tower won’t fall.

For us, a team of 2 liberal arts ladies, who (obviously) launched our tech startup idea at Startup Weekend (as all liberal arts ladies do), we had 54 hours to build our tech prototype. I’m not sure our mouths were even comfortable saying “prototype” at the time…

But whatever! I get by with a little help from my friends.

Startup Weekend Success

At Startup Weekend, through sheer energy and excitement, we wound up getting a small team of computer science majors, plus mentors from what was then a very small and little-known startup, called Venmo. And we won! 3rd place.

Our room was also the best room (non-biased opinion). We had African music blasting and bags of potato chips everywhere. We even had a cheetah run across the screen on the home page and music in the background. (Listen to that song, which is apparently about prostitutes, here.)

old website

Everyone was having a huge amount of fun and was genuinely excited about building a platform that could help workers connect to jobs in Kenya.

Our Startup Weekend Team!

Our Startup Weekend Team!

Looking back, I think that collaborative attitude is what has propelled us along so far. We didn’t have technical backgrounds at the time, but we knew what we wanted to build and were confident we would have an awesome team to build it with. We were also pretty convinced that anything is possible with a bit of brain juice and team power.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 2.40.16 PM We not only left with $750 from Startup Weekend, but also the small seeds of a network of DUMA supporters who would follow the company to this day (and a Kindle Fire! Thanks, Twilio!). We then went on to apply to every entrepreneurship competition school offered, plus things like the Kairos Society and Echoing Green. We even got into the Princeton eLab incubator program that summer and worked with geniuses (Holla, Eric & Luke!!) to build our minimum viable product. These networks in turn lent us credibility and paved a way for our network to grow exponentially. And we honestly couldn’t have done it without them.

Again, I get by with a little help from my friends.

One of our first website designs!

One of our first website designs!

Moving to Kenya

We flew to Kenya in September 2012, once we had raised enough money to buy round-trip plane tickets – (remember, we were college grads with close to $0 in personal savings prior to any competitions), and landed in Nakuru for 10 months – a smaller city in the Rift Valley and about 3 hours outside of Nairobi. Yes that is the same Rift Valley where the first human is said to originate.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the beginning of DUMA!

Lessons learnt? At the end of the day, if Christine and I hadn’t been open to a pretty significant change in our expected life course, DUMA might have remained a dream and we would be stuck behind desks at consulting firms wondering what could have been.

In Summary

DUMA now has an office in Nairobi, has worked with over 250 very happy clients, has matched over 2,000 people to jobs, and has received awards from Google and Rockefeller Foundation for Social Equity and Poverty Reduction! We are also now a team of 11 people, working single-mindedly to create a smarter job marketplace in Africa.

Just goes to show that the world can sometimes transpire against you and force you to succeed. Sure, you can plan for things. But most of the time, opportunities come storming through the door, knock you down, and if you’re lucky, force you to look around for other people to help you up.


If there was any part of this post you want to talk about, or have me go into more detail about, please let me know in the comments! 🙂 And make sure to stay posted on my next post by clicking the follow button.

This was the first post of the series – stay tuned for “Friday kutwa” (the Friday after next Friday…in fake Swahili) where we will be diving deeper into one of earliest challenges – understanding the market.

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  Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Introducing Founder Fridays

This section of our blog is set up to provoke honest, insightful, and sometimes even funny conversations about the crazy awesome world of startups in Kenya. There are tons of learnings each founder has along the way, and I think it’s really important we share them – to learn from one another. The first Friday of every month, I will share a new story on this section of the blog – follow along and enjoy!

– Arielle

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