Founders Spotlight: Nomsa Makgabenyana(Co-Founder & Chief Operations Officer, Seriti Insights)

When Nomsa did not manage to land her dream job at a major consulting firm, she did not let this hurdle slow her down. Instead, she proceeded to self-learn data analytics, digital business and digital transformation and after that founded Seriti Insights, a Southern Africa Startup Awards nominated and recent JICA award-winning fintech startup. In this interview, she takes us through her inspirational career journey.

First off, congratulations on the “2020 Ninja Competition” award you just received from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Please tell us more about the award and the solution you provided

Thank you very much, we are so grateful for the open doors we’re walking through experiencing. The award basically recognises Seriti Insights as an “Excellent Company”. This is mainly for the solution we created. Out of more than 100 applications, we are one of five startups to make it through JICA Botswana’s screening process since they put out a call for proposals in the first half of last year. Essentially the call was for startups to come up with solutions that address Covid-19 and the many problems that surround it. On our part, we used technology, mainly Artificial Intelligence to address the disinformation and misinformation that was/is evident on social media to date. We plan to grow the product so that it serves a greater purpose beyond Covid-19 and serves more people in the country including businesses and brands. 

In your own words, tell us who Nomsa Makgabenyana is
I am trying to detach from the idea that I can be defined. I say this because I am a young woman, so who Nomsa is evolving and changing EVERYDAY. However, I can say that I am a businesswoman, the founder of Seriti Insights and I am deeply in love with the company we are building and the work I do every day. A great part of who I am is due to my mother Jennifer Makgabenyana, a powerhouse in the banking industry in Africa.  She is my muse as a businesswoman, how I move how I behave, my hunger to be excellent and my will to demand excellence from my team - I learnt from her and I am very glad to say she is a huge part of who I am. At my core though, the part of me that can not be changed or moved. I thrive off grace and the spirit, that's my fuel, my sustenance; even for building Seriti Insights, I depend deeply on, Spirit & Grace to give me purpose. I am very purpose-driven, and I wake up each day wanting to live my purpose, in my career, as a daughter, a sister an aunt & friend, I just want to live my purpose and leave a fruitful legacy. 

Please briefly take us through your journey to a career in tech

My career in tech wouldn't exist if I didn't make it happen myself through Seriti Insights. I wanted so badly to work at one of the big consulting firms(I won't say which one, haha), but that door just never opened for me no matter how much I tried. Naturally when you have such a desire one has to learn a lot about their work and I was just drawn to their work in digital. I think that's where the light turned on. When you’re keeping abreast with the world of tech and then you look around to see how poor digital and tech adoption is in this country, naturally I become frustrated. The deeper that frustration went, the more I was sure that I wanted to build something that would change that situation. So I self-taught in Data Analytics, Digital Business, Digital Transformation and how it occurs in an organisation.  I already had two degrees from UCT but I knew I needed to invest more in learning and educating myself if I was going to take this career seriously and be taken seriously also. 

What inspired you to pursue this career path and eventually start Seriti Insights?

I chose to be a founder of this start-up because, to tell you the truth, there was no space for me to do what I wanted in Corporate Botswana. I had to start Seriti Insights so I could pitch the ideas that I wanted, with no “bagolo” presenting me with red tape and stagnant bureaucracy. The first Fin-Tech projects I pitched to a few banks were rejected, and that was expected because our corporates don't create room for tech solutions to thrive.

But I still chose to stick to Seriti  Insights despite all of that cause that's the only way I could pour technology (particularly AI)  into our economy and in some ways start to change perspectives one person at a time. If we’re talking about my career as COO of a tech company, that came very naturally to me. My job is to lead the execution of our strategy and to keep the business performing at its peak. I'd have to get into my entire resume especially in my varsity days to explain why that is but for the sake of brevity it chose me

Women representation in senior and decision-making positions in tech is still unfortunately low in Botswana. As a woman in a tech senior position, what has been your experience?

That's so true unfortunately. Almost all the time, I'm the only woman in the room. At the most, there’ll be one other woman involved (from the client's side), but even that’s extremely rare. Similarly, when we approach prospective clients, women aren’t always as receptive as their male counterparts. The reality is that women and tech in Botswana seem to be two repelling ends. I don’t really know why that is the case. To dwell on this as a problem would be counterintuitive though, and I also can’t certainly say it's getting better.  However, I always remember to look at the Financial Services sector in the country and it’s dominated by women, so who is to say that can’t be the case for the tech space? I think it’s definitely possible.

If there have been challenges as a result of this representation gap, how have you managed to surmount them?
Yes, of course, but I don't focus on those. Here’s why;  I always say to my friends, there's no time to be woke in my career/job. I don't have the capacity to walk into rooms and count if there are other women around me to support or listen to me. The people in there don't owe me that, no one in this world owes me that. Quite simply I just do my job, BUT I have to be twice as good as my male counterparts. I make sure my voice is heard and heard clearly. The challenge is that sometimes someone might not want to hear my voice (be it due to sexism or ageism I don't know, or they just don't want to hear all of that “ complicated tech stuff”). However, my resolve is to know that if James and Martha won't hear my voice, John and Mary will. There's always someone else. I might have to knock on a few more doors but there's always another door, another person or executive who will listen to my voice. Eventually, I'll be in positions that make sure all women get heard, I work smart to get to that place where other women don't have to “feel” the gender representation gap. 

What do you think can be done to reduce this lack of representation?
I think our education system needs to be transformed- radically transformed. We need to introduce young girls (and boys) to technology and the career possibilities in the field from a really young age. Everything from programming to robotics, blockchain and cyber-security, hardware engineering and user experience (just to touch on a few). We can't wait for children to become exposed to this world in university. There's no better time to develop minds and create geniuses than at primary school. I think that's the best and most fool-proof path to take.

Please tell us more about your startup, Seriti Insights

Seriti Insights is based in Botswana (But we have all of SADC and Africa as our vision) and we specialise in tailoring Artificial Intelligence solutions specifically to solve our clients’ problems. We take pride in this because we believe our clients are worthy of excellent implementation of digital technology when they make such a crucial investment in us and our solution. We bring the complete opposite of plug-and-play AI solutions. We build solutions for our clients from the ground up; doing so timeously so our clients can realize their return on investment.
Because of the above, Seriti Insights is an award-nominated tech start-up. In 2019/20, we were nominated in the Southern Africa Start-Up Awards for:

-Best Newcomer,
-Best Fin-Tech Start-up  (Which we were finalists),

-  I was nominated for Founder of the Year,  and -Female Role Model of the Year.
However, as of July 2021, we can officially say we are an award-winning start-up having won the title of “Excellent Start-up” presented to us by JICA.

At Seriti Insights, your motto is “Problem-solving through data”. Please elaborate on this

Different Businesses have different problems that they face. When we say problem, for the most part, we mean anything that causes inefficiencies and these can occur in various aspects of a client's business; in sales, in client retention, fraud detection. It can be in the operation or breaking down of machinery or even in logistics and fleet management. There's always a way to improve a business and render it efficient and continuously improve that efficiency. So where we come in is using the often dormant big data resources that a client has; leveraging it to bring the client to a better position where there were inefficiencies. So we apply various digital technologies under the umbrella of Artificial Intelligence to do this, and we do everything from the ground up so our solutions are specific to the client and are not generic in any way. 

As a B2B enterprise specializing in relatively new concepts such as Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence, what challenges have you faced?

There are so many challenges, too many to count. I think the most important one for me is the reality that not all organisations are aligned for change( and by change I mean readiness to adopt the kind of solutions we bring forth). To give you an illustration of this: we can have a solution for “Company Z” where senior management and C-Suit are so excited for the solution they actually cannot wait for it and are ready to sign the dotted line. They relegate the adoption of this solution to middle management and that's where breakdowns begin to occur for several reasons. Sometimes the scenario happens the other way around where middle management are so eager for AI adoption because they have a clear understanding of how it would better their work, but once it gets to the top, the wheels fall off. It's a strange phenomenon that we’re seeing a lot. 

How have you been trying to overcome those challenges?
Well, we take the approach of knowing our goal and our mandate. We aren't here to change the internal dynamics of another company or business. We would get lost if that's what we tried to do. In fact, we have a profound respect for any client's business and the way they do things and this includes our potential clients. We try to make sure that the doors STAY open in several ways : 

1. We make sure that the solution we create/the pitch is excellent so that the solution is not the one in question.
2. We try again another time. Sometimes the timing is wrong. Businesses have cycles and maybe we would've come into the picture at a less than ideal time in that cycle. But if 1. is guaranteed, we can always come back and find new ears and new minds ready to take the leap. Essentially, we are a very persistent team. 

On the other hand, what are some upsides to working on a startup engaged in such a new and niche field?

Listen, it’s so much FUN. We get to do whatever we want. There's no red-tape, there's no such thing as wrong, no one fears anything. When we fail, we fail, learn and we move on. We win and we win big and we celebrate because we are the owners of that win. There’s a vulnerability that we get to share as a team because we aren't looking over our shoulders in trepidation. My co-founder and I refer to ourselves as co-creators, and we require our staff to be as wild and creative as they wish. It's a really good space where there's the freedom to create and fulfilment. Our only limitation is ourselves.

What is some of the advice you can give to young girls who are interested in a career in tech?
Go for it and don't let anything deter you. Yes, Botswana isn't where we would like for it to be in terms of the global standard, but we are going to be the ones to get it there. And also apply to Seriti Insights (cause we are always hungry to work with brilliant, exceptional women who love tech) ;)

From an entrepreneurial perspective, what advice can you give to people looking into founding a tech-centric startup in Botswana?

I'll just speak on what I'm learning right now and what I've already learned. Get a good team around you even if it's one person. Your co-founder needs to be someone you can depend on and someone who's your match intellectually and who has a vision as big and strong as yours. I think once you have a good team anything is possible. Secondly, be grounded in something. There are so many challenges in entrepreneurship that if you don’t have a firm foundation, the winds and the waves will topple you. Those are the 2 most important things. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers regarding what Seriti Insights is up to,project-wise, currently and in the near future?
Our stronghold is in the Financial Services sectorWe are doing very exciting work and our job is to make sure that we solve our client’s various challenges EXCELLENTLY. Our team has grown so we can achieve this goal and vision and we are so excited to share our team and how much they add to our work. We’ve really recruited the creme-de-la-creme of tech talent in Botswana and that excites us so much.

In line with the NINJA-JICA competition we won, we are working on a product that is the first of its kind to be developed in Botswana and we will be going to market with it in Q1 of 2022. It's a solution that excites us because it will serve big companies, big brands, small businesses and even sole entrepreneurs like influencers to tap into the world of AI to grow & benefit their businesses.

Lastly, please share with our readers where you can be reached if they are interested in getting in touch

We are reachable on and we always share our insights and discoveries on our LinkedIn page “Seriti Insights”. Readers can also follow our Instagram ‘Seriti Insights’ for a lighter and more intimate view of our team, who we are and what we get up to.

NB:Interview has been edited for clarity
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