How to Launch and Gain Traction in Ghana

3 min read
01 Jan 2024

ounders need to overcome a number of challenges when launching a startup, and even more when gaining traction in the market. For Ashwin Ravichandran, managing director of MEST, there are three areas where founders need support to successfully launch and gain traction in West Africa: training, recruitment and funding.

Originally from India, Ashwin is an entrepreneur who understands what it takes to successfully exit a company, as well as what happens when a company fails. He joined MEST in 2015, initially working with students participating in the organization’s year-long training program, which teaches the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. He then moved to the MEST incubation program, helping graduates of the training program take their ideas to market and gain initial traction. Now, he manages MEST’s entire portfolio of companies and operations across four hubs in Africa. 

“Talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn’t,” Ashwin says. “Training at MEST has some of the most competitive recruitment on the continent. When an entrepreneur comes out of MEST, they now have an opportunity to change the world.”

For Ashwin, the journey to becoming an entrepreneur begins before a business is created. The MEST training program provides aspiring entrepreneurs with the time and resources to learn about software development, business and communications without the pressure of building a product or scaling a business. “There are a lot of people focusing on incubation, but MEST recognizes many startups fail at the starting gate,” he says. “Our training is a hybrid of technical skills-building and practical training for aspiring entrepreneurs to build a successful business.” At the end of the program, participants present their “NewCo” (their new company project) to investors. To date, MEST has invested over $24 million in training entrepreneurs and funding the companies they create.

— Photo by Sarah Dorweiler

Recruiting the correct team is another important pillar of successfully launching a startup. Ashwin teaches MEST entrepreneurs not to hire on a whim. “Often what happens is there’s no specific job for the person, but a startup wants to show that they’re growing. They end up hiring for three roles, but they don’t really need those roles,” he says. “One of the things people often forget with startups is that the first couple of hires are really critical to making or breaking your business.” To ensure that founders are hiring for the right reasons, he advises they dedicate a lot of time to the hiring process, going through as many as eight rounds of interviews to understand if the person is a good fit.

For startups that are gaining traction, he suggests founders spend time hiring their executive board and leadership and building a trusted circle of mentors. “Having a team that’s not participating in the day-to-day, but in the general growth and wellness of the company is vital to being able to see the big picture,” he says. 

When transitioning from launching to gaining market traction, startups look to seed-stage investors who can provide the financial resources they need. Contrary to what he often hears, Ashwin doesn’t believe there’s a lack of investors in West Africa. “I think there are a lot of investors in these markets, but there is a lack of knowledge and information on the investor’s side about what comes with seed funding, angel funding and ROI,” he says. 

Talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn’t.

He advises entrepreneurs to put time and research into understanding their investor audience, and to be prepared to educate them about the opportunity. “When they walk away from the conversation, they should be able to understand the clear value and win,” he says. He also advises founders to be realistic when discussing ROI. “No startup can promise 35 percent ROI per year,” he says. “If you’re promising returns, make sure you educate them on their options.”

To help its portfolio gain traction, MEST has an internal seed fund. Though the funding is important, Ashwin says the main reason founders approach MEST to help them start and scale their businesses is the training and network. “If you come to MEST, you’re walking away with easily five-hundred to eight-hundred person contact books,” he says. “It’s such a massive network effect.”

Most important tips for startups:

  • Hire for your top line. Spend time hiring your executive board and leadership to drive your company forward.
  • Spend time getting to know your early hires. Understand what motivates them. They’ll be spending time, sweat and money on your business, so the least you can do is spend time with them.
  • Educate investors on your market. Don’t expect the investors you approach to have the same industry knowledge you do. Be prepared with information to help them understand your market opportunity.
  • Understand your ROI. Investors want to invest in companies that are going to make them money. Present your company in a way that shows them you have a plan to pay them back.
  • Have a culturally relevant value proposition. Make sure that what you’re building is really necessary and solves a problem in your new market, and that people will want to use it.