Jessica Francisca ColaÇo is the co-founder at Brave Ventures which is a network data science lab that uncovers the secrets of human performance to link people with the right job opportunities and building better teams for companies. She is a TED Global Fellow and was part of the co-founding team at iHub where she served as Director of Partnerships and Community, the Founding Manager and the Director of iHub Research in 2013.
She is also the co-founder of WMIAfrica, AkiraChix, and ISOC-Kenya chapter and also served as an advisor at Ma3route and DFID’s digital Advisory Panel. Jessica describes herself as fun, passionate and energetic is also a bass guitarist at her Bass ii IV band. She is on the Top 40 under 40 women in Kenya in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
A graduate of the School of Computing and Informatics at The University of Nairobi, she is currently the Director and Head of Business Development and Talent at Brave Ventures which she co-founded in 2016. Brave Ventures has offices in Nairobi and San Francisco.
Q1. Has entrepreneurship turned you into a better person?
A: It has allowed me to set myself on a self-discovery journey by moving me out my comfort zone. I have been able to find my weaknesses and strengths and also how I can realign myself working with diverse teams.
Q2. What are some of the lessons you have learned in your entrepreneurial journey that you would want upcoming entrepreneurs?
A: Well, three things have stood out for during the process and the first is, you need to build the right team if you want your business to succeed. Finding the right co-founding team and skills set will go along a way when starting out. The second one is to clearly understand the market you are operating in; Listen to the needs of the customer, you might love your product but if it is not adopted then you will lose at the end. Then pivot when necessary so that you may find the right business model. Lastly, use the best and relevant technology when building your product.
Funding and Mentorship
Q3. When starting Brave Ventures, how did you fund it?
A: We have actually bootstrapped our way for last 15 months by using our personal finances to fund the company. But we also have one angel investor which we brought on board when we needed to hire a team. At this particular time, we are still in a round of raising more capital for product scaling. Nevertheless, we are operational on revenue. Bootstrapping is the best way to go as it allows you to validate your product and if you can prolong it as much as you can then this will prove to be an asset when negotiating with investors.
Q4. We understand that mentorship is crucial when building a company, do you have any?
A: Well, my role model has been my mum. She has pushed me into doing my very best since I was young. I wouldn’t be in the music scene if she hadn’t pushed me into joining the Don Bosco youth group. She had the confidence in telling me that you can actually participate in the first phase of Facebook developer’s garage. On a business level, I look up to Erik Hersman (co-founder of iHub and Usahaidi); for him, there’s nothing like impossible. He has face challenges after challenges and still managed to be on top of it all. He inspires me a lot.
Q5. Any are there any missed opportunities you wish you would have leveraged on:
A: I have come up with something called Intentional Serendipity – meeting the right people at the right time for the right opportunities. When I had just joined iHub, I had the chance going abroad of to join MIT, but I decided to stay here for two specific reasons, one is to be closer to family and secondly to understand the local tech scene well.
Honestly, if had taken the opportunity to go to MIT, I don’t believe I would be where I am today. But MIT is still on my horizon, probably in 2018. The ability to understand what opportunities are right and what to tap on at any particular moment is very insightful and very important. You need to have the innate aptitude to be able to be very mindful and aware of your current needs and if whatever presented on your table is something that you are ready to have it. So yes, opportunities have come and gone and I have chosen my path careful.