Winner of the first She Leads Africa pitch competition in September, entrepreneur Cherae Robinson is quickly blending her passion of travel, tech and Africa. Her imminent Tastemakers Africa app will help travelers on the continent find cool things to see and do. Robinson got the idea after meeting leaders and budding entrepreneurs during the first Social Media Week Lagos in 2013. She talks about pushback she received while in the She Leads Africa competition, where she found inspiration to get over it and what’s next for her in travel.
What motivated you to create this app?
I’ve been working in development most of my career. And I was traveling a lot in African and South Asia and one of the things that kept happening when I was in Africa whether it be Kenya or South Africa or even Sierra Leone was that I kept meeting these really cool people. And so I would meet them and I would be having these really posh experiences in these cities that, frankly, before I traveled there I didn’t know it existed. I didn’t know there were some parallel, cosmopolitan scenes in all these different African cities. And when I would come home people would see my Facebook pictures they would say “What? This is in Africa? Are you kidding me!?” And so I decided to marry my passion for development, particularly on the continent, and my love of travel and all these really dope interactions I was having and put them all into an app.
What year did the idea come for the app?
Probably around the time of the first Social Media Week Lagos (2013). That was towards the end of my career in development, in terms of me thinking that was what I was going to do forever.
It seems like the natural thing to do to document your experience and these cool people you were meeting is through blogging. So why an app?
So, I’ve always been anti-doing what everybody else is doing. And I’ve always really prized being a nerd. So that’s really what it boils down to. I said to myself, “Okay there’s a really crowded space of black people blogging about their travel. And not only is the space crowded but these are people that I know or I’m friends with.” So for me the competitive advantage just wasn’t there. I wondered about how I could put my nerd powers to good use and thought “Let me enter tech.” Because it will really stretch my thought processes. And it’s not very crowded, especially as it relates to Africa. It’s a wide open space. So just from a competitive analysis this made the most sense.
Did you got any pushback for being an American in the She Leads Africa competition?
There was none of that business leading up to it. But the night before the pitch competition there was a cocktail party and the tech community in Lagos was invited. And it was really cool and lots of really interesting people came and it was just dope. But there were some people who were semi-finalist who were also invited. And so I’m sipping my cocktails and whatever and three different people were like so where are your parents from? And I was like, um, Georgia? And they asked where in Africa? And I was like if we want to go back 400 years we can sort it out. I was disheartened by the whole thing. I didn’t stay until the end because I was like I need to do some prayers, I need to go home.
That night I ended up reading all the Pan-Africanist stuff that I’ve always identified with. I was looking at photos of Malcolm X in Ghana and Maya Angelou in Ghana and I was reading old quotes from Leon Sullivan and reading Kwame Nkrumah’s papers. I came across his quote ‘I am African not because I was born here but because it was born in me.’ And it just calmed my nerves.
I re-wrote my pitch about 30 minutes before I went on stage on my phone and I decided to say that quote on stage. There was a part in the pitch where you talk about why your team was qualified and I said “Before I get into my professional stuff let me just say I’m qualified because I’m not African because I was born here but because it was born in me. And as a proud member of the historic diaspora I had a keen invested interest in what happens here.” And it was so crazy, there was like a chill across the room. People were clapping and everything. But I felt like I had to nip it in the bud like for all you people that wanted to question me last night let me just tell you guys now I deserve to be here. So, yeah, there was a little pushback but by and large people have been supportive.
So What’s Next?
I’m really focused on Tastemakers Africa in terms of what I’m doing with the business. But once we get traction and it becomes its own self-sustaining entity I really want to start working with these big hotel chains that are entering the continent and I want to do farm-to-table restaurants and tap into my agriculture roots and kind of merge that kind of stuff. There’s still stuff I want to do, but right now its all Tastemakers everything.
The theme for Social Media Week Lagos 2015 is Upwardly Mobile: The Rise of a Connected Africa. If you have any questions about traveling to the conference, please contact yours truly at email@example.com. I hope to see you in Lagos.