In recent years, Kresten Buch has become a name strongly associated with the emerging mobile-based startup scene in Kenya. The Berlin-based “serial investor” is behind several projects and initiatives designed to support the wealth of young entrepreneurs and innovators in Kenya and the rest of the East African region, mainly through the seed-investment company 88mph, and through the professional social network, HumanIPO, which he co-founded.
Kresten’s latest venture, Startup Garage, is set to open in Nairobi in mid 2012, and will be the largest coworking space in East Africa to date. He also plans to introduce a desk-exchange between coworking spaces in Nairobi and Berlin, in which betahaus will take part.
You initially worked within Denmark and Northern Europe. How did you become interested in Kenya, and what made you eventually change your focus to East Africa?
It all started when I sold a company in 2006 to investors in Eastern Europe. As part of that sale, I had to build a company in Eastern Europe, so that was what first got me out of Denmark. Following that, I decided to take a 14-day business course at Stanford University, and it was there that I then met David Owino, then the COO of Kenya Data Networks Limited. At that time, I was looking to start investing in tech companies, and he told me a lot about what was going on in East Africa: about mobile money and the growth of the mobile industry. Soon afterwards, I decided to spend a week in Kenya to see this for myself, and that’s how eventually started working there.
There’s plenty of talk about mobile business leading the way in regional development, not only in East Africa, but in a lot of developing regions of the world. How widespread throughout the economy and throughout Kenyan society are the benefits of this development – are they limited to only certain economic sectors or certain classes of people?
Mobile technology has really increased its presence in Kenya these days. For instance, the biggest mobile operator in the country, SafariCom, has over 22 million subscribers, and the population of Kenya is 40 million. One thing mobile technology has brought to a lot of rural Kenyans is the ability to have a bank account. SafariCom offers subscribers access to banking services, so they not only get access to a phone - something they may not have had before, but also the opportunity to send or receive money from the cities, or from abroad, with their mobile bank accounts. Phones prices are also much lower these days - you can easily get a perfectly-functional, Chinese-made smartphone running an Android system for about 80 USD.
Despite there being such a promising, talented population, Africa is still unfortunately associated with poverty, corruption, political instability, and the resulting capital flight, which, of course, deters potential investors. Do you believe that, through the growth of the mobile start-up scene - this so-called "mobile revolution" - this stereotype can eventually be overcome in the international community?
That’s definitely one of the more interesting challenges we are trying to face. There needs to be a change in the way people look at Africa – too many people only associate it with poverty, charity work, and so on. Africa also needs to be seen as a land of opportunity that is attractive to investors. We hope that we can eventually create some kind of regional success story through our work which would spread worldwide thanks to social media, ultimately changing everyone's perceptions of Africa for the better.One thing I’ve noticed is that, when you’re in Kenya, you feel surrounded by growth – strong population growth, economic growth, and so on. You’re able to take on projects which may not have the same impact on the markets in Europe. For instance, we founded a football website, Futaa.com, which found great success in the Kenyan markets - something that would not have happened as readily in Europe. A lot of people who do show interest in investing in East Africa mainly see the region as a source of cheap labour, and ignore the true potential of the local population and markets.
Will this also change the way in which business is conducted between Europe and Africa, as people become more aware and more respectful of the local population and business culture?
Of course. Obviously, I encourage Europeans to go down to Africa and start something. It’s great for the local population to be able to collaborate with foreigners, exchange skills, experience and expertise, and to eventually start their own companies based on that. I think that all successful economic growth is based on interaction between nationalities. In order for the economies in East Africa to grow, the local population has to be a part of it; and as equal players. I would love to see small companies being formed by a mix of nationalities – that’s one of the reasons why I’ve decided to start a desk-exchange with betahaus and other coworking spaces in Europe.
HumanIPO has just announced a desk-exchange between coworking spaces Berlin and Nairobi, and that betahaus will be participating. What are some of the main differences between the coworking scenes in East Africa and Western Europe, and what could either side learn from this kind of exchange?
When you look at Kenyan startups, you notice that the entrepreneurs there are a lot more hungry and a lot more driven than those in Europe. One of our employees in Kenya, for instance, had his taxi hijacked, and was held hostage all night. The next morning, he went straight to work, as if nothing had happened! Needless to say, many European entrepreneurs can at least be inspired by that level of determination. I also find that, in Africa, people are much friendlier and more passionate. This creates a good contrast when paired with Germans, who are more structured, formal, and reserved.The space in Nairobi is almost ready for the desk-exchange; so it’s just a matter of enough people from Berlin applying for it. Our newest space, Startup Garage, is about to open, and should be ready in a week. The space has about 120 desks – not quite as big as betahaus, but so far the biggest coworking space in East Africa. Mind you, coworking is still a relatively new trend over there, as many Kenyan companies still hold on to a very traditional, hierarchical office mentality. However, there are more and more young, educated people today who are embracing the concept of coworking - of working openly with others. We’re hoping that, by allowing Kenyans to work in German spaces, and vice versa, we can not only promote coworking in Kenya and in East Africa, but also change the perspective many people in Europe have of Africa, and of doing business there.
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Let’s start with the big one. Anyone who has ever moved houses before knows there are tons of tiny expenses that suddenly add up to a very expensive relocation. And that’s just for you and your stuff.
When you start an office from scratch, you’ll have to invest in everything from new furniture to office amenities. You’ll need to outfit meeting rooms and stock the kitchen. Sign a monthly contract with the internet provider. Decorate. Even if you have a lot of these things from your old office, you’ll have to hire someone to help you move it and use up hours of your time getting everything set up.
One of the best parts of moving your team into a coworking space is that most of these costs are already covered in your monthly membership. You’ll move into a fully-furnished space with everything you need to get to work, AND you’ll know exactly how much you have to pay from the time you move in.
In a traditional office, you’ll typically have to sign a year lease (or longer). You’ll be committing to a fixed space that won’t grow with your team or give you flexibility if things change. Unless your contract goes month-to-month, you might just find yourself in a lifelong cycle of “let's figure it out next year”.
We believe that your office should help you grow, not hold you back. That’s why our Team Spaces come with leases as short as two months. Your rates are on a per-member basis, so you can easily expand your team or take over new rooms without having to break your lease. We work beside you rather than against you to find an arrangement that gives you the comfort of a home base with flexibility.
Did we mention this was going to be easy?
Just kidding. We definitely did.
But, look. Your space will be fully-furnished from the day you move in. We’ll have the WiFi up-and-running and printers online. The meeting rooms will be ready to go. The kitchenette stocked with mugs and freshly brewed coffee. And you’ll have the support of our coworking team. They’ll provide everything from reception to package handling to space maintenance. They’ll get you oriented in the space and make sure you have what you need to get to work.
New office without the downtime.
Some office spaces have a one-size-fits-all approach, but that's not really our style. The reason no two betahaus locations look the same is because they’re locally designed. And we give our Team Space members this same opportunity to customize their space.
Choose a room with a view of the city or one on the ground floor with easy access to the garden. Change the lighting fixture or bring your own bookshelf. We want teams to be able to white label, decorate, and really make the space their own if they want to.
And if you’re really looking to customize, Team HQs allow teams to collaborate with our architects and coworking team to create a space that is completely bespoke. Whether it’s additional meeting rooms, unconventional seating, or a yoga room, we apply our 10 years of experience in building functional workspace to your creative vision to create something that’s just right.
Probably the biggest benefit of coworking is community and events. Now we know it may not be the first thing you’re looking for as you seek out your next office space, but bear with us.
Imagine using your lunch breaks to chat with someone in your industry. Meeting freelance developers at after-work beers. Networking with investors at BETAPITCH. Pitching at our weekly betabreakfast and getting support and feedback on your new ideas.
betahaus has spent the last 10 years cultivating a community of people who we genuinely like working with. And when you join, your team will become a part of it, too.
" People matter! Community was always what we were all about. ‘’
In June we launched #PeopleInbeta - our monthly blog post series in which our Content Manager - Vihra interviewed teams and freelancers from the betahaus community to present the variety of creatives we have in ‘haus, to understand their missions and get some useful advice for our audience. We talked on topics such as sustainability (with PlanA) , decentralized digital identity (with JOLOCOM), curated music experiences (with Bespoke Sounds), freelance photography (with Sara Herrlander), full-stack development (with Obst Digital), design (with LAUDO) and much more.
In the summer, we launched a couple of new events in Neukölln like Freelancers, Unite!, The Backyard Sessions and My friend’s BBQ.
Freelancers, Unite! developed as our productive coworking session with freelancers from in and outside the ‘haus. Once a month, we picked an important freelance topic (such as taxes, time-management, etc) and invited experts to give us insights on the topic. We saw so many new faces and had the chance to come back closer to where we started from - the freelance, grassroots culture.
Another event, which started in July (and turned out to be our favourite events) were The Backyard Sessions. Organised by our queen of Neukölln - Robbin – the Backyard Sessions are our creative evenings with live music jams, movie screenings and cocktails.
This last event was hilarious because for quite some time, nobody knew exactly who organised it or invited them. The friend was throwing a BBQ for the community in the garden and this led to all our members joining and staying after for a beer or two with us.
‘’My favourite moment this year was the second friends bbq which was actually cancelled because of the rain forecast. But despite the bad weather, people show up and it turned into a super nice intimate evening with Elizaveta and Paul giving a garden concert.’’ - Robbin (Community Manager, betahaus)
''In July, it was great how the casual after-work BBQ turned into an impromptu acoustic blues jam session with Elizavetta Barsegova and Paul, who have the voice of an angel. Actually, all of the My Friend's BBQ's and Backyard Sessions were AWESOME.’’ - Paige (Head of Marketing, betahaus)
This year we released a new event format in Kreuzberg called ‘’The betaSalon’’. It's an open panel discussion which aims to give stage to important topics and give free speech on them. The fist one we did on the EU elections, last month we talked about changemakers, but our favourite one for this season stays ‘’Mother + Founder’’ where we partnered with FemGems podcast and recorded a live podcast episode for them having Madeleine Gummer von Mohl (betahaus co-founder), Kristine Zeller (co-creater of ooshi period underwear) and Luisa Hoffman on the stage.
Every September, our co-founders take part in the Techfestival. in Copenhagen, spending a few days disconnecting from the daily life and focusing on creating a better, more human-centered tech future. This year the think tank which included our co-founders Madeleine and Max came up with the TechPledge. The Tech Pledge was made to emphasize the need for a new direction in tech. Similar to the Hippocratic oath for doctors, the Tech Pledge is a promise to make tech a force for good and ensure responsible and sustainable tech leadership. It’s a commitment to driving a new direction in technology.
One of the most exciting projects for betahausX this year (which is also continuing in 2020) is their new startup challenge called The Werder Lab - a global startup competition that aims to reimagine the way clubs like Werder work with athletes, fans and partners.
This year couldn’t end without us having our favourite events - the end-of-the-year holiday party and the BETAPITCH Global Finals. On the 6th of December we saw the 9 finalists of the regional BETAPITCH competitions pitching in front of our jury. Congrats to Troy from Hamburg for winning the big prize.
We finished the year at our Holiday Party celebrating anything and everything at betahaus | Neukölln together with our members, friends of friends and our favourite artists from Passiflora LIVE, Tapete and Kotoe.
Thank you for being with us in 2019. It's been a crazy big year for us and it wouldn't been possible without your support, trust and the hard work of our amazing team. Have an amazing holiday time and we'll see you again in 2020.