Erik Hersman is co-founder and CEO of BRCK (a ‘backup generator for the internet’), technologist, investor, writer, Marine, and advocate of technological and entrepreneurial innovation in Africa, joins me on the podcast today.
I like solving big problems, and there’s big problems to solve.” – Erik Hersman
We discussed Erik’s amazing life growing up in South Sudan and Kenya, the surprisingly difficult cultural transition he faced when moving back to the United States for college, and his spectacular entrepreneurial career.
Erik is an incredibly humble man, particularly for someone who has accomplished so much in his life. He displays a quiet kind of grit, one that’s infectious in a different way than we usually see from the flashy and charismatic leaders of Instagram. But make no mistake, Erik is an absolute world-class leader.
In this episode we talked about:
- What Betting on Yourself means to him
- The culture shock of moving from Africa to America
- His drive to build his own company
- What it takes to build something meaningful
- Facing failure, then going at it again
- How COVID affected his business
- What drew him to entrepreneurship
- How he looks for opportunities
- The immense talent that’s waiting for the world in Africa
- The future of technology in Africa
- The absolute necessity of entrepreneurship
Erik Hersman: I like to solve problems, and I like to solve big problems. I feel that your life is only so long, so work on something that matters. Try and make a dent in the world. And so, every organization I've built, everything I'm doing and everything I will do in the future is something that's ... And there's nothing wrong with running a small business. Please don't mishear me on this. But for me and what I try and do, I'm trying to look at big problems and solve those big problems, or at least move and nudge the world forward in that space in a way that I think I can bring maybe a unique set of experiences to.
Michael Redd: Hey, everybody. This is Michael Redd, and welcome to the Betting On Yourself podcast, where I interview successful entrepreneurs, athletes, and other top performers who rose to the top, took success into their own hands, and bet on themselves.
Michael Redd: Today, I'm talking with Erik Hersman, cofounder and CEO of BRCK, a backup generator for the internet. He's a technologist, investor, writer, Marine, an advocate of technology and entrepreneurial innovation in Africa. In this episode, we talk about Erik's amazing life growing up in South Sudan and Kenya, the surprising difficult culture transition he faced when moving back to the United States for college, and his spectacular entrepreneurial career. Erik is an incredibly humble man, particularly for someone who has accomplished so much in his life. He displays a quiet kind of grit, one that's infectious in a different way than we usually see from the flashy and charismatic leaders on Instagram. Make no mistake about it, Erik is an absolute, world-class leader. If you're someone who wants to make a serious dent in the universe, even if you consider your own personality to be more on the quiet side, this is your episode. Here's my conversation with Erik Hersman.
Michael Redd: Erik, I'm so glad to have you on the podcast and taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today.
Erik Hersman: Hey, Michael. Yeah, great to be here. Thanks for having me on your podcast, too.
Michael Redd: Absolutely. We have a dear friend that has been one of your biggest champions, Caleb, who was on the podcast earlier this season, has been raving about you and your story and journey. And I couldn't wait to hear more about it and hear about what's happening over in Africa. As you know, I've been doing podcasts with the influencers and investors in Africa, shining light on what's happening over in that region of the world. And you've been in the thick of it for a very, very long time. So as you know by now, the podcast is all about betting on yourself. And I want to hear your journey and your story about particularly what it has meant for you, for you to bet on yourself.
Erik Hersman: Yeah, Michael, thanks again for having me. It's fun to listen to some of your podcasts over the past week as I was getting ready to be on it. And Caleb spoke a great deal about you as well, and how much you've been doing stuff in the business space as well, since you left basketball. And so excited to be here.
Michael Redd: So thank you for saying that. What has it meant for you to be a person that bets on himself?
Erik Hersman: Yeah. So, good question. I started off trying to do my own thing. I built a company straight out of university, and ended up failing on that and then going to work for people, and then coming back to building my own thing again. And so, it's been a journey of opportunity and what risk looks like, how to deal with that risk, knowing what the bottom looks like, and what it takes to succeed at things.
Michael Redd: You actually grew up in Africa, Sudan and Kenya, I read on. And talk about that experience and then coming back to America, or going to America and then coming back to Africa?
Erik Hersman: Yeah. I don't look or sound like I should have that history. So, when I was two years old, my parents were missionary linguists that went to South Sudan. And so, I was way off in the bush in the middle of nowhere, growing up in South Sudan. The civil war got bad, so we moved to Kenya. And I just grew up my whole life between these two countries, then graduated high school and shot off to the U.S. for university. And I got to tell you, that was one of the weirdest experiences of my life, is really landing in the U.S. and having to understand and build an understanding of what the U.S. was, because for people who when you look like you should be from there and you sound like you should be from there but you're not, there's a lot of cognitive dissonance, for not just yourself but everybody who's dealing with you.
Michael Redd: Wow. So it was a culture shift for you.
Erik Hersman: Yeah, it was a real culture shock. I mean, I went into university. I walked on to the ... This was a small NAIA college team, basketball. Played just one year there. Basically sat on the end of the bench, played some minutes. That was actually probably the best thing that happened to me, though, because by having that team of other young men around me, they helped me break in to what was going on in the U.S. and helped me understand a little bit of where I was, like I didn't know how to set up a bank account. I didn't know basically anything about cars, in the U.S. anyway, or how to get around easily in the city. So they helped me a lot with that, and then getting locked into the university.
Erik Hersman: But then it got stranger because actually from there, I went off into the Marine Corps for four years, and that's where I really got to understand what a cross-section of the U.S. looked like, where you've got people in your unit who are rednecks and city guys and ex-gang bangers and guys who were amazingly smart, but just wanted a different life. It was just a really different time. And I got to really understand what America is like and it actually has helped me a great deal in understanding what America is, every election cycle, and not getting too bent out of shape over one direction or the other.
Michael Redd: Was there a moment in your life where you took the biggest risk on yourself? Is there a pivotal moment? Was it coming to America? Was it going back to Africa? Talk about that pivotal moment where, "I'm going to take this risk on myself."
Erik Hersman: Yeah. So I got out of the Marines and I went straight back to the university. I was at Florida State. And I just really wanted to build my own company. The company that made the most sense to me was I wanted to import into the U.S. markets, so really high-end furniture and home accessories from East Africa, into the wholesale markets of North Carolina. And so, at my graduation at Florida State, I wasn't even there. I had already left on an airplane back to East Africa to start filling a container of furniture and home accessories.
Erik Hersman: And so, obviously, that was a big risk. I borrowed from family and friends to make it happen. And I had my business degree in hand and thought I could figure this out. And I learned some hard lessons along the way about what intellectual understanding of cashflow is versus what realistic, everyday cashflow actually looks like, what it means to have stuff on a ship for six months versus how much can you pre-sell, all those kind of things. And it was a great experience, learning how to manage it, manage partners, figuring out the wholesale markets in the U.S. But it was really tough too, and eventually ended up failing. Had to close the company and then pay back all of my family and friends the money I had borrowed them, over the next couple years.
Erik Hersman: So that was a real lesson for me in two things. Number one, what does it take to build something? But second, and maybe more importantly, what does the bottom look like? And if you can deal with that, can you do it again? Yeah, so that was probably the earliest and biggest risk that I feel like I've taken.
Michael Redd: Talk about that mindset though, to see the bottom and to go at it again. [crosstalk 00:08:16] last year and a half of seeing the bottom with COVID around the world. Talk about that mindset that you had to have.
Erik Hersman: So, it gives you a little bit of fearlessness, actually. So after I failed at that business, I had to go back. I had my first kid, my wife and first kid. And I had to go back and live with my parents for a year before I could get my feet back on the ground. And that's really humbling, as a grown man. And you go through some dark times as you're dealing with that, just working for the man somewhere else now, trying to make some money to pay back your debts and get back on your feet, get your own place. In the subsequent businesses that I've built, I know what that bottom looks like. And so, I don't have the same amount of fear anymore. I feel like I know what it looks like and I can deal with it, and I don't want to go there again, so it also gives me encouragement I need to make sure that I don't lose. But no, it was an important lesson for me on many fronts.
Erik Hersman: But even in this time of COVID with our business, in my business here in Kenya, we have been going for eight years. We manufacture, engineer and design hardware, and then we also roll out networks for affordable internet connectivity across Kenya and Rwanda. We cover about two million people, and it's a pretty decent-sized company, a hundred people. And then, COVID hits. Well, when COVID hits, we just get hammered. And the reason we get hammered is because 75% of our user base is served out of public transportation vehicles, and they all go off the road within a day. So we go from a million monthly active [inaudible 00:10:05] users down to 250,000, overnight. And then, everything else just starts going sideways.
Erik Hersman: So you look back on that now, it gives you a little bit of perspective. But if I look at that in the context of my earliest business failure, I could have some courage. And I know how bad it can get, now what do we need to do to make sure it doesn't go there? How do we survive through this? What do we do now? And it puts you in a place in your head to start looking ahead and planning and thinking and logically moving towards the possible opportunities that are there, to not just survive, but position yourself for growth after this is over.
Michael Redd: So powerful, not only to survive, but ultimately to thrive. And let me just ask you this question before we move forward in what you're doing with BRCK and all the businesses that you've built, what drew you to entrepreneurship?
Erik Hersman: I want to say I make a bad employee. Gosh, I guess it's I like to solve problems, and I like to solve big problems. I feel that your life is only so long, and maybe this is some of the background of my parents as well, but your life is only so long, so work on something that matters. Try and make a dent in the world. And so, every organization I've built, everything I'm doing and everything I will do in the future is something that's ... And there's nothing wrong with running a small business. Please don't mishear me on this. But for me and what I try and do, I'm trying to look at big problems and solve those big problems, or at least move and nudge the world forward in that space in a way that I think I can bring maybe a unique set of experiences to.
Michael Redd: So with that being said, you're known as a technologist, built companies; why the bet on Africa?
Erik Hersman: So a smaller part of my life that doesn't normally get talked about was I went to an HBCU. I was at Tennessee State University in Nashville when I first got married. My wife was across the city at a nice, big expensive school, Vanderbilt. And I remember there was a professor there. He had us each introduce ourselves in front of the class. And after mine, he stopped and he said, "Hey, everybody stop. What Erik just said is really interesting. Erik has the opportunity to bridge cultures and geographies like nobody else, and that opportunity is something that you should pay attention to." And I'd never had anybody look at it that way before, or position it that way to me, this old, African-American professor.
Erik Hersman: And I was like, "Okay. Yeah, maybe what I need to be doing is looking at what my experiences are, how I can bridge between the cultures and society of East Africa and the cultures and the society of the U.S., and see what opportunities are there." And of course, Kenya and East Africa is home to me, so it's easy for me to come back. So I started looking at those opportunities and looking at what could be done. And I didn't realize I had something else in my background that was valuable, and my parents being linguists meant that even when I was a kid in the '80s in Sudan and in Kenya, my parents had computers, often before even their counterparts in the States had them.
Erik Hersman: So I was used to being on computers. I was used to getting into the back end of games, and I could build websites already, and all these other things. And I was just, "Oh, this is a skillset I have and could put to work. Well, let me start thinking about technology as a thing that's actually a business." And when I started looking at the world that way and writing about it and figuring out who's doing what and what are the opportunities, it made it very clear to me that there's an immense amount of challenges in Africa that technology allowed us to solve. And it was right around the time that we were seeing that big leap from copper line phones in Africa to this leapfrogging effect that we got with mobile phones, with cell phones.
Erik Hersman: And so, when you start looking at the cell phones and the internet's starting to come into the continent, you're starting to see that there's a huge amount of opportunities, whether it's in fintech or it's edtech or insurtech; you can name your space. And there's just lots going on here and a lot that can be done. And so, it made it much easier to eventually move back.
Michael Redd: You talked about bridging culture, and that gift that you have and that heart that you have. I've always felt like acceleration comes from collaboration. So talk about that and how important that has been for Africa, the coming together of companies or ideas or influencers or you name them, aggregating together to accelerate a society and ecosystem. Because that's a big driver to innovation, coming together and collaborating. Talk about that, and your experience in Africa.
Erik Hersman: Well, yeah. In Africa, well in East Africa and Kenya, we have a term called [foreign language 00:15:24], which means coming together. And it's really part of society here, [foreign language 00:15:28], as one. So most problems are not solved by individuals. In fact, in East Africa, this is very different in West Africa, but in East Africa, there's a very big influence on what you can do and how far you can go with who you partner with and who you corroborate with. And I've seen that in the organizations that I've built here. So for example, the iHub, the Innovation Hub here in Nairobi that I built with ... I say I built, but I didn't. I didn't build it alone. It was built with a whole community of people.
Erik Hersman: It started off with a group of true believers, in that there's a lot of people in tech here, but we're just not coming together. We don't see each other very often. What if we have a place of our own? So we built this little space. It's 1,500 square feet or 2,000 square feet. And within two months, we have 2,000 members, software engineers, designers, mobile phone developers, all this kind of stuff. And you're just like, "Wow, okay." Within a year, we had 12,000 members, and then we grew to 17,000 members and we grew to four floors in the building. And you realize that there's so many people who want to do these things together and want to solve these things. New companies are coming up out of the woodwork, just because one guy met this other guy at the coffee bar on the fourth floor. And investors are now dropping in because this is the rich hunting grounds for good deals. Media people are showing up because this provides them a rich target to find a good story.
Erik Hersman: And all of a sudden, there's acceleration in a space that was already active, but didn't have a nexus point, didn't have a nerve center yet. But that wasn't done by me. That was done by me and a few others, and then a lot more others. And it's that community, it's that network of people that actually makes you successful here in East Africa. It's not normally ever done alone.
Michael Redd: One of the things I've been blown away by is the immense talent that is in Africa. Talk about that narrative changing in Africa, and how now Africa is being seen as this innovative hub for the world.
Erik Hersman: Yeah. No. So I mean, it's often overlooked that ... So, I'll go back to building the iHub. One of the issues we were facing when we were designing the space was, how do we make this place both feel like somebody could walk in from the Twitter or Facebook or Google offices and feel comfortable, yet Nairobians would still feel like this is home, right? And the reason I bring this up is because we were trying to fight against something that was very prevalent at the time, and is less so now, which is people had a complex about themselves as software engineers or designers, compared to their counterparts in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world. And we wanted them to see that there's actually not very much difference between them, that the biggest difference is the access to opportunities.
Erik Hersman: And so, the iHub really represented that space, which would give more people access to those opportunities. So I think that's what the world is starting to see now, is that as these software engineers start building companies, as the entrepreneurs start getting involved, the business guys, as larger, Western companies start coming to Africa and realizing there's other people who can already do the thing better, and then just acquire the company, that's becoming more well-known. But it's a story that's taken 10 years to get to. It doesn't always exist. People have always looked to Africa as the place that consumes new ideas and products from elsewhere in the world. And getting their head around the narrative that Africans can create products and service that are not just valuable in Africa but valuable to people around the world, is just now becoming known.
Erik Hersman: There's that famous quote about the danger of telling a single story. And the problem with Africa is that the single story has always been about athletes or animals, anarchy or war or corruption. And while some of these things are true, that is not the whole story. It's the story of Africa from the West that we're still living on, this narrative of the '80s and '90s. It's been 20 years since then, and there's a crazy amount of opportunity, and there's a great deal of amazing young talent now that are taking advantage of it. I realized, and I listened to the podcast you had with Tomi Davies, who's an old friend as well, and he's in the same space with me. We've been looking at doing this for a long time.
Erik Hersman: He has his fund. I'm part of the Savannah Fund. We've invested in 30 companies across eight countries now in Africa. And it's like there's just huge opportunities waiting to be solved. And those companies are now scaling, the ones we've invested in. And we're starting to see not just further investment in them, but real market traction in multiple countries now, and that growth is going to continue. So the longer it takes for people to realize what's going on in Africa, the more those of us who are already paying attention will be able to take advantage of it.
Michael Redd: What gets me passionate and gets me excited about what you're saying is that not only is there equal opportunity that's available, that equal opportunity leads to equal outcomes. And I'm proud to see that happening now with the acquisitions of tech companies out of Africa, you name it, IPOs, whatever, what have you. I think one of the one things I'm really passionate about is equal outcomes that come along with equal opportunities. And so, your perspective on entrepreneurship has been brilliant. Wouldn't you say out of Africa, too, that entrepreneurship is really out of necessity, too?
Erik Hersman: Yeah. I mean, like here, there's just not a lot of job security. And so, there's actually a term that I first read in a Harvard Business Review article, maybe nine, 10 years ago, which was coined because of African entrepreneurs. And it's a parallel entrepreneur. So in most parts of the world, you're told to focus, do one thing, do it really well. There's a danger of doing that in Africa, in that there might be some type of political issue, economic issue, maybe even family issue, who knows what it is, that comes along and it derails that. So it doesn't matter if you're a cabinet secretary in the government or you're a recent college grad or a successful businessman. You probably have one, two, three, four, even, other small companies going that also bring in revenue to you. So what it is, it's a derisking mechanism for African entrepreneurs.
Michael Redd: Sure.
Erik Hersman: And it's been really interesting to see this at work. My biggest thing with the guys who come and work for me, some of my best talent are these hustlers. They come from really bad slum backgrounds, but end up being some of my best people. And when they become really good is when they realize, when I say to them, "Listen. You're used to hustling on nine different things at one time. What I want you to do is focus on three of them. So just do less of the side hustle across all these different things, and focus on just a couple of them." And they start doing better, they start making more traction with those things. And oftentimes, that's internal, too. So my own companies also benefit from that. And these guys become amazing. And so, there's this hunger and desire because, yeah, if you don't do this, the streets are right there. There's no safety net.
Michael Redd: One of the things that I harp on a lot here in America for native Blacks is the incentive to be an entrepreneur, right? The question was asked to me by someone in government, they said, "Why do we not have more Blacks involved in entrepreneurship?"
Michael Redd: And I said, "Well, you have the credit issue. Your credit score has to be a certain level, standard. And then, it's hard to get a loan from a bank. And then you have to deal with the friends and family rounds. Well, my friends and family are not well-to-do." So, there's a disadvantage of being Black here in America, when it comes to entrepreneurship. Talk about that in that region of the world, in Africa.
Erik Hersman: Yeah, that's a great point, Mike. So, there's a term I didn't hear until recently, but it was down in South Africa, maybe five years ago. And it was ... they call it Black tax. And I was like, "What the heck is Black tax?" And they were asking the same question. Most of the tech entrepreneurs in South Africa are not Black, or they weren't at the time. And the lady who was explaining it to me said, "The reason is" ... And actually, it's similar here in Kenya, we just have 90% of the tech entrepreneurs are Black Kenyans, whereas maybe inverse in South Africa, at least it was then ... Was that the Black tax is that you've got to pay your family back for education. You've got to pay for your brothers' or sisters' education. School isn't free here, right?
Erik Hersman: And so, you're supposed to take a job, actually, because a job can give you a salary that you can have consistent and pay back, whereas you and I both know, as an entrepreneur, you don't have that security of a standard paycheck all the time. The upside might be bigger, but the hours are longer and the risks for real cashflow and salary for yourself are sometimes lower, especially in the beginning. And so, that reduces the desire for people to be entrepreneurs. And there's just that family pressure, so that Black tax is actually family pressure to pay back the family, pay for your siblings to go through school, too.
Michael Redd: Wow. I know you're a big proponent of education. How important is that in Africa, continuing to educate the next generation when it comes to entrepreneurship, innovation? Talk about that for a moment.
Erik Hersman: Yeah, we have a big problem with education here. It's a lot of rote learning, and people are just really trained to do certain things, and not very many are trained to actually think on their own. And the people who are, tend to not do as well in the school system here. So, it's been an issue. What's turned out is that we actually don't really look at people's resumes anymore. We look at their track record, and we ask them, "What have you done?" So they can show us their track record of getting things done. "And show us things that you've done that are smart," so smart getting things done, so that you can show us that you can have the ability to problem-solve, think laterally on stuff.
Erik Hersman: That's whether you're, for me, with an investor hat on, or me as an entrepreneur building businesses, or that's me [inaudible 00:26:54] the iHub community and talking to entrepreneurs and trying to think of new businesses that they're trying to build. Education is problematic here because of the way it's done, but it's incredibly valuable at the same time because we benefit in Kenya relative to our counterparts in the countries surrounding us, in that people know how to speak and read English as well as their own native language. They are able to do math and understand science, and all those basic things that you need to do, too. And I think there's value in going to university for some things, and not for others.
Erik Hersman: I think there's a problem of over-education, where people try and get an MBA or their third or fourth master's degree, just because they want to get another piece of paper, which is a problem. What we need is people who want to build things and ship product and make businesses work. And then you can over-educate yourself on that too, so that you're 10 years out of the market before you actually start doing anything. And then you're not used to building and doing work, so you become a philosopher instead of a builder. So I have mixed feelings on education, as you can tell. And I think it's a product of the education system here being good at certain things and bad at others.
Michael Redd: That's a great point. Talk about the new reality that we're in right now with COVID. The context has been sad over the last year and a half, but talk about the importance of still, yet, having optimism with innovation through this time.
Erik Hersman: Yeah, man. So yeah, this last year has been really interesting. We have not been hit at the same level in Kenya as you guys have in the States, or the guys in Europe have been hit, either. So I think we're just over maybe it's 2,500 deaths in the last 12 months. And we've had our waves. We're currently going through one right now. And Nairobi and the five counties surrounding were locked down Friday last week. So there's still things happening here. So even though we haven't been hit as hard on the deaths front, on a relative basis, what we do have is a massive economic shock, and there is a health issue, too.
Erik Hersman: That's not saying it doesn't happen here. The repercussions haven't been as bad. But we've had massive issues on the economic front where companies have had to have big layoffs. Certain industries have just been gutted. East Africa is well-known for its tourism industry. Tourists aren't coming, so that's an issue. The ripple effects of that is just not the driver of the safari company or the cook at the lodge, but it's also the families that they support that are hurting. So it's having huge economic repercussions on the country.
Erik Hersman: At the same time, the Kenya of the '80s and '90s that I grew up in, we also were dealing with really an autocrat, and we had a lot of issues with the economy at that time, too. So it's not like Kenyans haven't seen a bad economy before. And Kenyans are entrepreneurial, and people are trying and hustling and building new products and trying new services. The internet has been just one of the best things ever, because it gives people access to business and work from other parts of the world. The problem with that is that there's a digital divide in those that can afford the internet and those that can't.
Erik Hersman: And that is maybe the biggest analog between COVID economic disparity in the world, has been not just that everybody's economically impacted and educationally impacted, kids can't go to school, but the middle class and above who can pay, which is about 20% of the country, their kids can still do video education. They can still do work-from-home. But the 80% who can't afford that, really just are in a tough place, and they're really having to hustle. So yeah, we can have good attitudes about it, but it's a grind. It's a grind right now.
Michael Redd: Speaking of the grind, I'm big on mental health and wellness. My wife is a major advocate for mental health. Talk about your dynamic with your family and the dynamic between work, life, family balance. There's a lot of entrepreneurs that listen to this podcast. Talk about that balance for you, being married, having three kids, but also having businesses and doing what you're doing in Africa, which is remarkable. What's that balance for you like?
Erik Hersman: I think actually COVID's been good for that in that I'm home a lot more. I used to travel quite a bit, I'd have to be on a plane different places, and I haven't traveled for a year. So, that's been good. Just beyond COVID though, I guess one of the things I found myself doing over the past few years, I'd say maybe three years now, is I tend to not pick up my computer in the evening or on the weekends, if I can help it, because I realized that I would just work all the time. And so, I try and take that temptation of getting to work away by just keeping the computer in a different room, and just doing other things. Sometimes, it's just puttering around the house and reading a book, and sometimes it's playing a game or working on a project with somebody in the family.
Erik Hersman: But I don't know. I think I've been blessed by having a wife who also grew up here, so understands me a little bit, and also creates a great home where we want to be, and where the girls' friends want to come over to, and it's a good environment to just be. And while a lot of people see me out on stages, or used to see me on stages, and doing things out there, I do like to be at home and I do like to be in the cave. And so, being here and being around each other ... I think it's just being available to each other is maybe the most important part of that balance. And so, having a life partner that allows that to happen and helps make it a great environment for that has been a real blessing.
Michael Redd: With all of your successes and achievements over the years, your legacy continuing to grow with iHub and the companies you've built, BRCK and so on, what continues to drive you every day?
Erik Hersman: I like solving big problems, and there's big problems to solve. Like the one I'm working on right now, which is a new business, is like if the iHub was really about creating a nexus and accelerating the technology community here in Kenya, and BRCK was about trying to get everybody online, the next thing I'm doing is a business around accelerating sports in East Africa. It's building a facility, a sports academy, and working with the NBA, working with some professional teams in Europe for football, for soccer, and for basketball, so that we can provide the pathways for the youth talent that's coming from South Sudan and the DR Congo to Uganda, as well as here in Kenya. And provide them a pathway to universities in the U.S., to professional teams in Europe, things like that. So I'm really excited about that business and how we're just getting started with it. It takes a little while to buy land, build facilities, build a school, build an academy, but we're on the way. And I'm excited about trying to make a dent in that part of the business of sports in East Africa. And I think, again, there's massive gap that's ready to be filled.
Michael Redd: There's so much talent in Africa.
Erik Hersman: Oh my goodness, it's amazing.
Michael Redd: Some of the great players that I played against were from Africa.
Erik Hersman: Well I think, actually, I was doing a little bit of background research on this, I think you played against my business partner's brother. He played at Wisconsin. His name was Duany Duany.
Michael Redd: Yeah.
Erik Hersman: And my business partner on this is Kueth Duany, who played at Syracuse with Carmelo-
Michael Redd: I remember Kueth.
Erik Hersman: [crosstalk 00:36:03] the championship. Yeah, so Kueth and I are building this company. And the idea though is saying, "Hey, listen. We know how much talent is here." I mean, Kueth represents that talent. "Let's create the pathways for it." And there's a business here. I mean, sports is a big business globally. So we don't have to do this as a charity. It can be done as a business that has good returns.
Michael Redd: That's right.
Erik Hersman: That does good at the same time. And so, yeah, we're really excited about that. I'm excited because I think that we're seeing this from the people at the NBA. The NBA Africa team is phenomenal, by the way. And their interest in this same problem set is not just about getting more eyeballs into watching the NBA in Africa, though that is part of the business. They're also interested in figuring out ... We're starting to see a massive ... Well, I say a massive; let's say a growing number of Africans coming into the NBA and making an impact in it. And we know who they are. There's a whole generation coming behind them, and there's a huge amount of talent there. How do we provide the right pathways for it? Because there's a lot of bad guys out there, too. There's a lot of guys trying to take advantage of these kids. How can we make sure that they have the right opportunities? And that's not just the boys. There's the girls' programs. How do we make sure they have access to getting to university programs? And then I'd love to see the first Kenyan WNBA player at some point.
Michael Redd: Yes.
Erik Hersman: How do we get that? How do we make that happen? And I think this is a problem for my next chapter, as well, is trying to figure out how to solve another big issue that can make a difference in the world.
Michael Redd: I think we're in the genesis of tapping into that talent pool in Africa, I really do. As we close out, if you had any advice for your 16-year-old self going back, what advice would you give yourself?
Erik Hersman: Gosh, 16-year-old self, okay. I was thinking, "Was that my junior year, was that my sophomore year?" Gosh. What would I say to myself? Yeah, so always be curious, right? I think that's one of the things that has driven me. Always be curious, but then also be brave enough to try the thing. It takes a while sometimes to think through a problem and then do it. And I think you can short-circuit that a little bit, because it's through this repetition of trying things and experimenting that you find success. And I think as young men, young women too, you need to quickly try new things. And I think a 16-, 17-year-old me would be better served by trying these things out instead of just thinking about them, putting them into action to see if it works: "Okay, it doesn't work. It doesn't work that way. Okay, that worked." And then going on to the next thing, even as a high schooler sitting in boarding school in East Africa. I think that would have been valuable even then.
Michael Redd: That's great wisdom. It's been an absolute pleasure to have you on, Erik. And like you, I want to be a builder, not a philosopher, so it's been a joy to have you on, bud.
Erik Hersman: Thanks a lot, Michael. Really great to be here, and good to have the conversation.
Michael Redd: Yes, yes. And we will continue our relationship beyond the podcast, I promise you that. So you've heard it here, you are the secret to your success. As Erik said, I like solving big problems, and there's big problems to solve. He's seen every side of the world. In all these years, he's even more ready than ever to serve and to lead. If there's anyone that can help take Africa and the world into a more connected, inspiring and courageous 21st century, it's Erik. He's rewriting the story of possibility for us all, and he's doing it his way. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Erik. You can follow Erik on Twitter, @whiteafrican. Thanks for listening. And until next time, I'm Michael Redd. And remember, betting on yourself is the secret to your success.
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