Coined by CNN.com as one of Africa’s Marissa Mayers, Rapelang Rabana is founding CEO of Yeigo Communications and ReKindle Learning. Yeigo is credited with creating ground-breaking applications and services that took advantage of the internet, mobile and cloud computing technologies to tackle the cost of communication in South Africa. In 2008, the Swiss-headquartered Telfree Group of Companies, a pioneering next-generation telecoms operator, acquired a majority stake in Yeigo, enabling the group to provide the full range of telecommunications services.
Chosen by Forbes as one of Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs, and listed on the ‘O Power List’ by The Oprah Magazine, Rapelang Rabana is one of Africa’s success stories. More recently, Rapelang started an innovative technology-driven education company seeking to use and integrate the power of mobile and internet technology to improve and complement learning for students and corporate employees. The AWP Network met with Rapelang to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey and new venture.
How did you come up with the name of this business?
The name ReKindle Learning, speaks to my dream of making learning easier, accessible, and effective to South Africans. The deterioration of South Africa’s educational system has undermined the magical process of what I think learning should be. It is kind of like ‘rekindling a fire.’ ReKindle Learning is about re-igniting a desire to learn.
What inspired you to start this business?
I had a great education. I was not short of support. Despite all of the privilege, I wondered about some of the inefficiencies in the education system. I began to think about a different approach to learning. For instance, integrating mobile technology into South Africa’s educational system -– my dream is that education will be accessible to young South Africans. I want the learning process to be so easy that young South Africans can easily interact with each other about assignments, ask questions, chat with friends, tweet, or send out an email. I want them to be able to take out a cellphone, open an app, complete their homework, solve a math quiz or an assignment.
ReKindle Learning is an interactive mobile learning platform designed with the idea of ‘learning as a lifestyle.’ I believe that education is the way out of poverty and helplessness and for Africa to grow and build sustainable development, we must focus on education and improve the learning process and system.
Who is your target market?
This solution supports learning needs in a number of markets as learning and training are pervasive and the platform is content neutral hence it can be customized. The specific challenge that ReKindle Learning tackles is that of knowledge acquisition and retention through a mobile learning application designed to reinforce the assimilation of knowledge. The private and public sector require this for training staff, and schools need this to support learning in the classroom.
How have you financed this business?
I have financed the business with my own savings. This idea is currently in its early stages and there is a need to validate the offering in the market. I have come to greatly appreciate the risks of funding a business idea in its early stage.
What is your competitive edge?
There has been a lot of innovation in the education space – streaming lectures, online videos, and digital textbooks. These are means to e-learning and methods to access various forms of content online thru tablets and mobile phones. While digitizing content is crucial, it only solves the issue of ‘access’ and does not automatically ensure that learning happens. After one has read the digital content how can we continuously measure the level of knowledge attained?
ReKindle Learning hopes to deliver on a new learning experience using mobile technology and we are focused on these five (5) pillars: personalized learning, micro-learning, immediate feedback, transparency, and mobility. ReKindle Learning is an interactive mobile learning platform designed with the idea of ‘learning as a lifestyle.’
The platform provides a personalized learning path adaptable to each individual’s learning style and pace. Content is encapsulated in small repeatable learning steps to match the way the brain works. Instant feedback is provided after each interaction or a learning step is introduced to reinforce learning though a strong feedback loop. The learner’s progress is transparent and visible through a dashboard. It is not just about using technology but about providing a well-grounded solution to an engaging learning experience.
What is the long-term plan for this business?
Education is a significant space with many extraneous variables influencing educational learning outcomes. Technology-driven educational solutions are by no means a silver bullet solution for the vast array of problems affecting schooling, general skills, and training levels in South Africa. Technology has a critical role to play in solving Africa’s education problems.
I believe that we must invest in creating new learning experiences and develop new learning paradigms away from the status quo, especially if we are to take significant steps forward. Too often we assume that we already have the technological solutions, but in my view we have barely began to understand what it means to learn on a digital platform and it is up to Africans to invest in this exploration for no one else needs it as much. My intent is that ReKindle Learning will play a critical part in this epic journey for many years to come.
How have you managed to stay in business this long?
I ran my first business, Yeigo, for over 7 years. This new venture is but a few months old. Entrepreneurship for me is a personal journey rather than a business journey, which is why perseverance and humility go a long way. Entrepreneurship, especially at a young age, is an incredibly steep learning curve and learning every day is a very humbling experience because you have to acknowledge how little you know and perhaps how-not-so-smart you are, and still keep going regardless.
What challenges do you face or have you faced thus far?
The main challenge is the challenge most new businesses face – validating the value proposition. It is not just great to have an idea, you must be able to execute.
What key things have you learned since starting this business?
This is my second business and it isn’t any easier the second time round. In fact this time, you are not blessed with the power of naiveté and you see many obstacles.
What five (5) things do startup entrepreneurs need to know?
1. Be an Expert – You must decide that you are going to be an expert in your area of focus. You must do your research and know your competition. It is the only way you find and maintain a sustainable niche. With the internet, there is no excuse not to build an area of expertise even as a small startup. It is the fastest way through the clutter in the market. Read! Read! Read.
2. Do What you Love – Running a business will take up everything you think you have and a whole lot more after that. This is why it is very important to do what you love and not just pursue money. The pursuit of money provides little solace during tough times.
3. Find a Partner – Look for a business partner whose values are similar to yours. Statistically, your chances of survival are higher when you have a co-founder than if you are by yourself.
4. Trust your gut or intuition or what I call your natural intelligence. The more you use it over time, the better it gets. Learn how to tune into yourself and your innermost thoughts, the sooner you start, the better.
5. Share your ideas – Secrecy does not protect your idea. As soon as you launch, people will know anyway and if your idea can be stolen by talking about it, then think about the competitive advantages. The only real protection in the world is your execution, and your delivery on a product or service. You have to make people want your product or service and them feel that there are no other options available to them and build your market share from there.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
Money really is not everything. It is a false comfort. Money will not stop a “real entrepreneur” from starting a business. Work until you have saved enough – find investors, ask friends and family, borrow. Money should not stop anyone from fulfilling their dreams. Money is an accelerator – whether you are going in the right or wrong direction, money simply accelerates you in the direction that you are already going in.
It is far more important to figure out how your business really works, your business model. What is the real value proposition that will keep customers coming back? That is what dictates if a business succeeds or fails. Investment funding often decides the scale or pace of that success or failure. Finding investments does not necessarily save a business. It is not the silver bullet. Get as far away from that idea as possible.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
If Africans youths traded with each other, the market would be so large and so valuable. There are obviously a number of limitations including various environmental and infrastructural factors that hamper inter-regional trade and economic activity but we can choose to begin the journey and make changes right now. I must also say that the lack of trust among Africans is actually far greater than the barrier to trade and economic activity or any environmental factor. We can start by opening up our minds and having more conversations with each other. Let us begin with establishing trust.
How many jobs have you created so far?
I am still in the startup phase of the company – we are growing and plan to hire. For now, I work with a group of consultants and advisors.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
The single most powerful thing we can do is to deliver quality broadband internet to the majority of Africans. That, I think, will do a lot more than any ‘Ministry of Innovation,’ than any innovation fund, or any kind of innovation vehicle that we can think of. Access to information and communication is the most empowering thing we can do, to support innovation. It opens the door for greater innovation in farming, education, health, financial services, and supporting entrepreneurs.
Rapelang Rabana graduated with a Bachelor of Business Science Degree (Computer Science Honors) from the University of Cape Town.
Immediately thereafter, she co-founded Yeigo Communications – a Technology Top 100 company. She is also Board Member for Ubuntu Africa, an NGO providing lifesaving health and support services exclusively to children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Website: www.rekindlelearning.com is coming soon.