Founders Everywhere: Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn is the co-founder and CEO of Boost Technology, a digital platform on a mission to enable 10 million informal small businesses to thrive in Africa’s digital economy.
Welcome to Founders Everywhere, where we highlight the incredible people behind the companies we’ve backed at Everywhere Ventures, a global pre-seed fund supported by a community of 500 founders and operators.
According to the International Labour Organization, around 70% of employment in Africa is informal. Mike Quinn, CEO and co-founder of Boost Technology is providing a digital fulfillment and credit service for small, informal, African retailers offering: a chat-based ordering system, working capital finance, and an order fulfillment platform. He, along with co-founders Mary Roach, COO, and Will Croft, CTO, are enabling growth and empowering financial inclusion in various African countries, where there is a huge market with a plethora of opportunities. They are differentiating themselves by remaining asset-light, using a scaling model that sets up Boost franchises that are owned and managed by founders in each market, and creating a business culture of collaboration and trust with an exceptional team.
Mike is the former co-founder and CEO of Zoona, one of Africa’s first fintech companies. They helped thousands of micro-entrepreneurs across Zambia and Malawi. Unfortunately, and fortunately, the company Zoona didn’t have the unicorn success or the exit that so many people use as the benchmark of a startup. His experience inspired him to write the book Failing to Win because he learned that all of the failures he endured really sowed the seeds of success. His failure at Zoona created the conditions to launch Boost.
What’s Boost’s "Northstar"?
The "Northstar" at a mission level is enabling micro and small businesses to order, stock, and access working capital on our digital platform. The more small businesses that we have ordering stock from Boost permits us to aggregate that demand, which allows us to get more suppliers on our platform. That turns the business model flywheel because we can get better terms and we can offer a wider range of products in our catalog. We then find fulfillment partners to help us connect the stock from the suppliers to the retailers so that they can match their supply and demand. That's how we can help them increase their turnover and grow their businesses, which is what we believe will create jobs in this informal sector and that's what we want; that's why we exist.
Tell us about a recent milestone Boost crushed.
We've raised a $1.5 million pre-seed round, all during COVID. We also have a 3-country footprint in Ghana, South Africa, and Nigeria, and are about to start a pilot in Egypt.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishments?
I wrote a book called Failing to Win that will be published in July. I joke about this, but I think it's true that it's easier starting a business than writing and publishing a book! That was a massive challenge. It’s about founding my previous business Zoona, growing it for 10 years to a peak of 2 million active customers, and then surviving a big crash at the end that later led to me founding Boost.
Do you have any advice for startup founders?
The first is to take care of yourself because your personal well-being is so important. It's a marathon, not a sprint; or maybe a better analogy is it's a marathon of a series of sprints. Never forget you are more than your business. The second is learning to embrace failure, reflect on it, analyze it, and don’t personalize it because “failing” is very, very different from “being a failure” and in the past I didn't separate those two things enough. To me, these are the secrets of being an entrepreneur and it’s how I try to live my life.
You have traveled extensively, do you have any fun anecdotes from your adventures?
When I was a volunteer in Ghana with Engineers Without Borders (EWB), I made friends with a woman named Christy who was an orange seller on the side of the street. I wrote a blog about her and it was picked up by an international award-winning musician named Sarah McLachlan. It inspired her to make a music video for her song called "World on Fire" and it featured Christy (at minute 1:30 talking to me, but I’m not in the shot). All of the money that would have gone to producing a video was instead donated to charity, including to EWB Canada. That's probably my closest claim to fame, being a catalyst in what became a Grammy-nominated music video.