Leadership in a startup is a challenging and dynamic role. The founder of the startup holds the responsibility of driving the business forward, while also being the face of the company and its culture. It’s their responsibility to set the vision for the organization and to make sure their team is working toward the same goal—even if that means adapting that original vision to accommodate employees’ ideas.
That’s partly what made my conversation Duhqa founder and CEO Victor Maina so illuminating—he spoke frankly but also perceptively about his role. He shared his wisdom to anyone with the drive to launch their own startup, including how to survive the mental and emotional toll such an endeavor can produce. In discussing his leadership experience, he describes not only his endeavor to set his team up for success but also the very important ways that he relies on them, too.
“Leadership is not about me,” Maina says. “It’s about how to empower people around me.”
Based in Nairobi and launched in early 2021, Duhqa addresses logistics pain points of manufacturers, seeking to expedite the distribution of inventory and increase sales for retailers. Duhqa’s mission is to make SMB logistics easier, allowing companies to focus on growing their businesses. Eventually, Maina says, it’s the consumer who benefits.
“The problem we are trying to solve is availability of products to the mass market,” Maina says. “Up to 490 million Africans are living under $2 a day. … The person selling the goods has to travel long distances (and) incur logistics costs. … By us making it leaner, making it easy, then we can save money to the people who matter and people who need the money, which is the retailers who then can pass it on to the consumers.”
Maina combines 13 years of experience in logistics with eight years spent as an executive to guide Duhqa through the unpredictable world of startups. The most successful trait of a startup founder, he says, is building up his employees.
“It’s how do I empower people around me,” Maina says. “It’s less about who I am, more about who they are. … (Team members) would come and say, ‘Hey, should we do this?’ And I’ll tell them, ‘What do you think?’”
For Maina, humility is one of the most valuable traits for a leader. Building the startup into a successful venture that helps area businesses is bigger than one person. It’s the creation of his team—supporting them, coaching them, mentoring them—that’s important for pushing the company’s vision forward.
In addition, Maina believes it very important that startup founders take their mental health into consideration during the difficult building phase of the company. Long hours of being pulled in multiple directions can be wearisome, but again Maina says it helps to surround yourself with a team you can trust.
“I learned to rely on a team of capable people around me,” Maina says, “and being humble enough to say, ‘Hey, I’m not equal to all the tasks that the business is demanding of me—can you help?’”
Watch the entire interview series with Victor over on the Microsoft for Startups YouTube Channel.
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