How to sail to Zanzibar (in a plastic boat)


If you’re new around here — welcome aboard.

Quite a few supporters of global entrepreneurship have joined our community since last Wednesday. So, chances are, you might’ve missed the announcement that we planned to change the format of our weekly newsletter.

Today’s the first issue of Think, Build & Grow. As always, I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to send feedback after you dive in.

Here goes!

In today's email:

  • Think with Estefania Simon-Sasyk, founder of a network-based food & gastronomy creative consultancy in San Sebastián, Spain

  • Build with Dipesh Pabari, a Kenyan entrepreneur tackling a huge, global issue you can probably relate to

  • Grow with Borja Martel Seward, co-founder of one of the largest fintech companies in Latin America

  • Watchlist: Today’s new feature story about an e-commerce business in the beauty industry

Think with Estefania Simon-Sasyk of Mycelium.

While living and working as a chef in Bali, Venezuelan entrepreneur Estefania Simon-Sasyk suffered a “pretty rough motorbike accident.” She broke her foot and couldn’t work for several months. A big problem when your entire livelihood depends on you being on your feet in the kitchen.

The need to think about the next steps in her career “became very real. [Being on my feet], that doesn't sound like a great plan for the future.

“It'd be cool to do R&D. So I was thinking, you know, like recipe development or something like that,” she says.

Ironically, it wasn’t until she landed a new job, at the Basque Culinary Center in Spain, that her path toward entrepreneurship accelerated. Through her work with the culinary center, Estefania was asked to participate in Project Gastronomía — an initiative to explore the future of food.

When asked to participate, she responded, “Oh yeah, I know this stuff. Like, I’ve heard about it. I’m sure I can wing it.”

She dove in head first, and “started doing a lot of regional development projects through the acts of gastronomy. And then I was like, I'm an immigrant here. I come from Venezuela. I have worked in Peru, Chile, Spain, France, Belgium, Japan, Indonesia, and Singapore. I like this, but I would really like to bring diversity to this food innovation game.

“There's a huge divide between people that cook every day and who these big companies target as clients, from food service to consumer products. And the people creating the strategies might not tell you to your face, but they don't know how to cook anything. And you'd be like, how's this even possible?

“And this is why I founded Mycelium.”

Estefania’s path to founding an innovative culinary business started when she was forced to think about her future, and it accelerated when she saw a gap in the market — she recognized a significant problem that her skills were a good fit to solve.

At each stage, awareness was Estafania’s biggest asset. Her open-mindedness and willingness to say yes (even if she wasn’t 100% ready) helped her keep up the momentum.

But at this point in the conversation, it still wasn’t clear how she went from zero to one. How did her idea turn into a real, revenue-generating business?

We’ll dig into that next week when we explore how Estafania got Mycelium. up and running quickly with the help of a professor at HEC Paris.

Build with Kenyan entrepreneur Dipesh Pabari

“I wouldn't say I entered the entrepreneur world because I was driven by the business aspects. I was more interested in the opportunity that could be developed from these entities.”

For Dipesh, the opportunity lies in creating public engagement to move forward with his mission: to ban all single-use plastics and ensure all other plastics are part of a circular economy.

Flip-flops probably aren’t the first thing to come to mind when you think of plastic pollution. But it was flip flops that troubled Dipesh’s co-founder, Ben Morrison. They were littering the East African beaches Ben loved. Fed up, he decided to research alternative uses for plastic — and this is how the FlipFlopi project was born.

Dipesh told me FlipFlopi’s roots formed “many, many years ago” when he developed “an infatuation with plastic pollution [working] in wildlife conservation and marine-based stuff.”

Back then, he says, “This material was just abundant everywhere, with not much attention being paid to it. The whole sort of plastic pollution narrative that we know today globally is only something people really started taking about 10 - 20 years ago. It was still sort of a fringe topic. It wasn't the first thing we had in our mind when we went to a restaurant and saw a straw.”

Dipesh later got involved in a public awareness campaign for livestock farmers about the harms of open grazing on dump sites “because that's a big problem in this part of the world.”

He says, “Trash is just thrown on the side of the road, and animals graze on it. A few years ago, a study showed that almost 50% of cows in the slaughterhouse had ingested plastics.”

When Dipesh was working on the awareness campaign for livestock farmers, he “completely coincidentally bumped into an old childhood school friend. We reconnected, realising that we went to the same school and all the rest. And he turns around, and he says, ‘I've got this idea.’”

The friend was Ben Morisson, who’d been so bothered by the plastic flip-flops polluting his beloved Kenyan beaches.

Ben’s idea? To build a dhow (“a traditional boat from the East African coast and up to India and many other countries”) entirely from recycled plastic.

“And I thought that was the most crazy and wonderful thing I had heard.

It immediately grabbed my attention, and I said, ‘I'm in; count me in.’”

Neither Dipesh nor Ben had an engineering background — they weren’t boat builders by any stretch of the imagination — so they teamed up with Ali Skanda, a boat builder in Lamu, which is on the northern coast of Kenya.

Despite the initial excitement and Ali’s experience as a boat builder, it was hard to progress. They still had no idea how to build a plastic boat. The team “plodded along with zero money” for about a year until they met “the right engineer [who said], ‘This is really crazy. I’d love to be a part of this.’”

Says Dipesh, “That was the game changer, having this engineer who understood the material. He was the link between the recyclers and knew what polymers to mix XY and Z.”

Roughly four years later, after “the media went absolutely crazy,” the United Nations ears finally perked up and offered their support. That year (2018), “it was one of the most told stories on plastic globally.”

Dipesh and his team named the boat Ndogo, sailed to Zanzibar “...and it floated! She’s still going strong. Entirely recycled plastic, like the hull, the ribs, everything except the mast was made out of recycled plastic in a very, very low-tech style.”

It’s been several weeks since I had this conversation with Dipesh, and I’m still floored by the incredible initiative to bring awareness to the global single-use plastic problem. You’ll hear more about this in the coming months.

The FlipFlopi team’s next boat is currently under construction. It’s triple the size of Ndogo, made from 100% recycled plastic waste collected along the Kenyan coast. Colourful, happy and guaranteed to stop you in your tracks.

Grow with Borja Martel Seward, co-founder of Lemon Cash

Argentinian entrepreneur Borja Martel Seward struck digital gold in 2011; as a curious 14-year-old, he invested in Bitcoin at $20. He held onto it for six years, and in 2017, at 20 years old — well, you probably see where this is going.

“So I said, man, I would love as many people as possible to access the same opportunity I did. And that's how I started with Lemon,” he explained.

It wasn’t so much that he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. “When I was a kid, you didn't have [many] examples of an entrepreneur in Argentina.” It was about “taking all that money to reinvest it in things with a clear purpose or that can make the planet a little better or help society in some way.”

Lemon became the largest crypto app in Argentina and one of the largest fintech companies in Latin America. Today, they have 2 million users and have raised over 50 million dollars.

Borja stepped out of the business in early 2023. After experiencing “some existential issues because I was like, what am I going to do? I don't feel like I'm liking anything,” he took a sabbatical.

“I've been all over the place. I've been to India and Nepal and many countries in Europe and America. I went to Peru and did an ayahuasca retreat in the Amazon rainforest.

“In December next year, [I will climb] Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas,” he says.

While discussing existential issues, Borja mentions that many people approach him to explore new projects and investments. So I ask him how he knows what to say yes to and what he should leave on the table.

“The truth is that I've come across many opportunities. I find all of them super mega interesting. But, as you say, time is limited, it's a scarce resource, and we cannot take [on] everything. Unless something happens and that something is, unless you are a team,” he explains.

This brings us to his current focus: growing his “Executive Ninja Army of my legionaries, let’s say. The best people that I've worked with in my life. I'm putting all of them together so they are like my special task force, my special SWAT team.

“We are working towards that, where I am in multiple places because I am [multiple] people. So when you want to work with Borja, you are not working with Borja, not necessarily directly; you are working with a group of people that work like or better than Borja.”

Borja describes this as “an organization of extremely talented people — where we all work in the same way, with the same language, tools, framework, and mindset. Where we can run and operate these different opportunities and so on.”

How does one grow the best team, I ask? Where do you start? What does the MVP of that team look like? In other words, what skills do you have to combine for the minimum viable team to exist?

“My minimum viable team is all very analytical people. I work mostly with data because I don't care about what anybody says. All I care about is what the data says. Of course, I care about what everybody says, but at the end of the day, if I want to know how a business is performing and I only have one option, talk to people or look at the data, I will look at the data first, and then I will know exactly with whom I need to talk.

“My framework and way of working is data first — structure first — people second. Thanks to my experience in Lemon, I've discovered the six to ten core levers that any company needs to have in an okay status to perform well. So, my MVP team and the team I've built today [are]… data, tech, products, and operations.

“But the most important thing is the culture and the mindset. Working on different projects — like existing companies with millions of dollars in revenues and so on where they've invited us as stakeholders, equity holders in exchange for building alongside them — the main issue [we see] in companies is a mindset and culture issue.

“The product and data and all of what I told you, that is just to diagnose.

Because once you have the diagnosis, let's say, it's always the people. It's always about the people.”

Borja went on to tell me that, while growing his Executive Ninja Army, in addition to analytical skills, he likes to sniff out overall professional ambitions before he decides if someone’s a good fit. There’s much more to unpack here, so, like the other two entrepreneurs we’ve featured today, you’ll learn more about Borja’s approach soon.

🔎 Watchlist

Angered by the disdain makeup brands showed for older women, Tricia Cusden turned her back on retirement at 65 and ventured into entrepreneurship. In the last decade, she’s built a booming beauty business that challenges perceptions about aging. Here’s her story.

Know an entrepreneur we should meet? Drop us a line at [email protected].

Until next time,

Nolan Bulger

Founder, Mergerous Media Co.

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