INSPIRED by the idea to promote rural tourism and empower the rural community while connecting to one’s roots, stand-up comedian Carl Joshua Ncube founded the Ekaya, a rural tourism start-up with a vision to foster rural development.
According to Ncube, rural areas in Zimbabwe have a lot of untapped potential which could be realised with adequate investment. Speaking to The Entrepreneurial Magazine, Ncube said Ekaya has been successfully welcomed in a rural community in Victoria Falls. The start-up is set to scale-up and expand to other rural areas using a number of different models included in the extract below.
Below are extracts of his interview with The Entrepreneurial Magazine:
Please tell us about the Life before Ekaya
Born in Bulawayo in 1979 to my parents Miriam Nyemba and the late Charles Palma Ncube, I can’t say there was ever a life before Ekaya. For me, Ekaya has been a life pursuit.
I remember my parents sending me to England to study nursing and the agreement was that after getting the qualification, I would come back home and do anything that I wanted.
When I returned, I got into television. I loved the idea of storytelling and it graduated into advertising. Copywriting became my thing. I loved writing adverts and putting humour into them. I was always surrounded by humour because my father was a comedian.
Eventually, the TV business got me into the arts sector. I started doing live TV productions and directed a lot of events such as State Galas, National Arts Merit Awards, Zimbabwe Music Awards, and the Miss Zimbabwe Awards.
I later became a stand-up comedian, primarily because I wanted to help my father build a career in comedy. I was trying to show my dad how he could do it in the comedy industry and inevitably, because most people loved what I was doing, they encouraged to pursue comedy. This is how I became a stand-up comedian.
What Inspired Ekaya?
My parents split when I was quite young and never inclined myself to any specific tribe considering that my father was an Ndebele and my mother Shona.
I always wanted to have a place that I called my own and that’s how my journey with Ekaya began. Ekaya means home, resting place, place of origin; my work has been about establishing a home.
Primarily, I wanted to solve a problem for myself and my immediate family, which was my wife and if we ever have kids, they was need of a place that they could to be identified with. Although some people perceive the rural set-up as backwards, a form of punishment or a place to escape from the fanatic world we live in, I believe it is a serene place with great potential.
I always viewed rural villages as aspirational and at the forefront of the use of homemade technology, retaining its identity while moving forward with the times in forms of methods of communication, sustainability, development and so on.
What really bugged me was that a lot of companies are playing in the rural space while providing access to technology and access to different facilities but they are not taking into consideration the look and feel of how rural communities need to be presented.
People are putting up dura walls and fences and building city houses in the rural areas. That’s a decaying part of our culture and I believe that all technology that come for rural setups should reflect the design and expertise that we would get in the rural areas. That is what inspired me to get into the space to reinforce that technology, architecture and culinary art can be done differently while preserving our culture. You can still get a high-end rural place without taking away the essence of what rural areas are.
What triggered action?
Initially, we were going to develop a concept and try to send it off but my wife and I are the kind of people who walk the talk. We were trying to get out of the rent trap. Being 41 and not owning any property was unsettling so we approached local chiefs and requested to start a rural development project. We asked for a small piece of land so that we could live with them, learn what they do, teach them what we know and expose them to the various markets and networks, for instance, a lot of friends’ friends or whoever may want to go and stay in that village so that the villagers can benefit from the concept itself.
What really triggered that action is that we had to prove that a rural lifestyle is cool and even the top comedian in the country can comfortably live in the rural areas, enjoy it and thrive.
What are some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome?
The hardest thing was failing to get land from our families until we started looking for places outside those circles. In the past, if someone wasn’t in good terms with his or her family, they could move and start their own life in a different village. That is what we did and approached a number of rural communities to see if they could welcome us, and we were finally accepted in Victoria Falls.
How has the community received it?
The community we are in is very receptive to the idea. However, I think it will take some time for us to fully explain the magnitude and scope of where this idea is going. But, we have had a lot of positive response and there is a lot of curiosity, obviously, but I think the wider community is even more curious about it on social media. The corporate world and different types of potential investors are interested in watching where this project will go.
What Milestones Have you made as a Start-Up?
The first milestone we had was getting the land, which was the most important part for this dream. We are now in land development, breaking the ground and pulling together resources. It is an exciting part of the project, where we are about to see this dream actualize. It is more like touching the dream and feeling it.
We have completed a design of an awesome house that utilizes the existing environment. We haven’t cut down any trees because you can incorporate them in your home. The types of foundations we are using allow us to build around the trees and be flexible in how we can construct the house. We have taken the shape of an icosahedron which is made up of different types of triangles and forms the shape of a hut. It’s very strong, versatile, and it can be built and packed down when moving.
Recently we had a site visit by the tourism which he came with a delegation of more than 30 people from Forestry Commission, Environmental Management Authority and Press, to us it was an encouraging visit.
Is the project open for investment?
Yes, the project is open for investment. We are trying to build a rural company that will be worth US$100 million. We are in the first round of accumulating funding. We are trying to source and raise US$100 000 as our seed fund, which will allow us to create proof of the concept before we take it to the market.
How can people invest?
We are going to launch what we call “our bids system.” Our bids system allows people to know how they can participate in the investment.
B stands for Build that means people will be able to build their own Ekaya under our Franchise.
I stands for Invest, meaning people can invest by buying equity directly from us. Potential investors can contact us and discuss issues in terms of financial agreements and the number of shares one can hold.
D stands for Donor Community. We are trying to create a donor community (a list of 500 donors) who are going to be the back bone of some of our rural development projects.
S stands for stay. We have developed an application which is basically like a rural BnB that’s called Ekaya. The idea is, once people have bought different Ekayas under our franchise, we can then put them on our application.
Other people with their own rural set-ups can also join the app, however, they have to meet a certain number of requirements and standards so that they can be on the app. We want to make sure that everything is above board and everyone has been registered properly in order to pay tax. We also want to make sure that all the responsible authorities are aware of our businesses activities and are able to certify us where necessary.
What is the future objective of Ekaya?
The future goal of Ekaya is to go global. We are looking at the fact that our project is going to catch on like a veld fire. We are talking smart green cities. We are going to lead the conversation on tourism, Intellectual Properties patterns, inventions and education. We are looking at rethinking everything. We want to develop an education system that prompts students to develop their rural communities.
It is all about disruption every day and this disruption is about building communities. We believe that it is very profitable to be a good person and we want to be good people and unlock all of this potential that’s there. We are excited that we are going towards a road of listing our company on the stock exchange so that we can be able to expand in other African Countries.
We are already having discussions with stakeholders in Botswana and Zambia. We are really excited with this project and can’t wait for it to be out so that everyone can see what we are talking about.
What Advice would like to give to other start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs?
My advice to other start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs is to just keep doing it, keep trying, keep learning, break eggs, make mistakes and learn from them. As long as you are moving forward you will arrive at whatever destination you want to be at.
But the truth is, all of us are on a journey, it just never ends. The moment you think that you have made it, I think that’s the greatest mistake every company that has disappeared has made. Some companies didn’t do anything wrong besides that they thought they are the market leaders and forgot that someone younger, fresher and with new ideas was just hungrier than them. So, just like Steve Jobs would say, “Stay hungry, stay foolish!”