Embracing Senegal: Stop Guessing Africa
Written by: Kristina Martinez, Nick Chen, Sam Magnuson, Tianyin Shi
Embarking on an Unforgettable Journey
An indelible mark was left on our minds when we were informed during our initial IBD class that we had been paired with Lengo, an AI-driven intelligence startup based in Dakar, Senegal. Their business collects informal retail data for FMCG companies. As we glanced at each other, clueless about our upcoming destination, a surge of excitement and anticipation rushed through us. Our assignment? To strategize potential business models for Lengo, diving into areas from microfinance to fintech and health. It was a thrilling prospect, and by May’s second week, we were giddy with anticipation as we crossed the vast oceans with our hearts full of guesses about Africa.
A Cultural Carousel Before Touchdown
To spice up our journey, we turned our layovers into mini-adventures. Some of us savored the infamous Belgian waffles in Brussels, while others witnessed the enchanting sunrise and sunset over the mosques in Istanbul.
A Symphony of Work at Lengo
At Lengo, our days began with alignment meetings, whether with the Lengo team or within our own team. Mondays were exceptionally buzzing. The founder’s brief but spirited all-hands meeting was like a jolt of caffeine, setting the tone for vibrant discussions and group work time on the terrace.
Conducting on-site interviews was akin to a tornado. We found ourselves shuttling back and forth among corner shops in Plateau. The language barrier with shopkeepers was quite a challenge, but with Lengo’s help, we navigated through chaotic interviews, sometimes disrupted by bustling shop customer traffic. These experiences honed our understanding of the shopkeepers’ challenges and helped us build feasible business models and product features.
Celebrations on Fridays were the cherries on top. Together with the Lengo team, we’d head to an ocean-side restaurant and toast the weekend over pizza, drinks, and a local chili oil so spicy it could make the toughest among us shed a tear!
Savory Adventures and Street Wonders in Dakar
When it came to food, our team was nothing short of exploratory. Together, we tasted a spectrum of cuisines from Senegalese, Lebanese, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, to Vietnamese. A local crepe place near our hotel won our hearts with its enormous milkshakes.
However, wandering around Dakar was not all rosy. The heavy traffic, close encounters with rushing cars, chaotic street dynamics, and intense air pollution kept us on our toes.
The Weekend Retreat
On Saturday, we decided to venture out of Dakar, catching a ferry to the enchanting Island of Gorée. The pristine beach was alive with children playing balls and swimming, while narrow streets, adorned with stalls and old French colonial houses, bustled with carefree tourists.
A poignant moment occurred when our guide took us to the House of Slaves, an old French slave trader’s private residence. The “door of no return” opened directly onto the Ocean. It was a chilling reminder of the slaves’ last step on African soil. The moment was heavy with the weight of liberty and freedom.
On Sunday, some of us visited Bandia Reserve and had a memorable safari experience, making unlikely friends with giraffes, rhinos, zebras, and lions!
The Grand Finale: No More Guesswork
Our adventure reached its crescendo on the last day as we presented our meticulously crafted strategy playbook to Lengo. But it wasn’t just our relentless work over multiple decks or our detailed 32-page playbook that the Lengo team recognized; it was also our adaptability, our initiative, and our commitment to embracing the unknown. Their appreciation echoed in the simple yet profound words, “You lifted us!”
This journey has been more than just a professional endeavor; it has been a voyage of discovery, growth, and connection. Africa was no longer a guess, but a reality we had tasted, touched, and loved. The memories we’ve forged here – in the chaotic streets, the bustling corner shops, and the busy Lengo terrace – will continue to inspire us as we journey ahead, a thousand times over.