Alix Martínez Martínez
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Building a Pan African Brand

FFA launched in October 2018, new to the continent, required a strong presence in Africa to attract founders, startups & investors.

FFA launched in October 2018, new to the continent, required a strong presence in Africa to attract founders, startups & investors. The vision is to inspire optimism & sense of possibility.

A very unique context of 54 diverse countries where Design Thinking, Brand Strategy & Product Design are still finding their way.

360 experience

Founders Factory Africa. Energy!

Founders Factory Africa is a venture development company - we invest in early-stage tech startups and build businesses from scratch across the African continent. Along with our corporate partners  Standard Bank and Netcare, we focus on both the Fintech and Healthtech sectors, and are also part of a global family of factories across London, Paris and New York. If you think this sounds fascinating - you’re right. It is!

My journey with FFA started in early May 2019. I joined, inspired by the company’s vision to fuel early-stage tech entrepreneurs powering Africa’s startup ecosystem, and to build and scale more than 100 startups across the continent!

As Head of Design, I am responsible for building and scaling the Design Team. We work with the broader FFA team and our portfolio businesses in all things Design - across Product Design, Brand and Business Design. Alongside building and creating the diverse artifacts our businesses need, we seek to impart to  founders and their teams the ability to infuse Design in everything they create. Generating value long after they have left the programme. 

Building a Brand. Expensive shit

There are many levels to a Brand. From Brand Strategy (the articulation of the what, the how and the why of a business, the purpose to exist and the vision to follow), Brand Positioning (what makes you unique in relation to the competitor’s landscape, your differentiating factors and how the brand appears in front of the rest) and Brand Development (how the Strategy is translated to different outcomes and touchpoints) to Content Strategy (creating compelling narratives that establish a dialog with your audience to experience the Brand... Brand DNA, Behaviours, Values, Tone of Voice, how Customer Service interactions in front of customers... Influencing how you build Partnerships & relationships…) the list can go on and on...

Every experience adds up to how users perceive you. A brand is only as strong as its weakest link. As Dhar Mann referred to trust, the same happens with Brands. “Trust takes years to Build, seconds to break and forever to repair”. A strong brand is not an accident or coincidence. It is deliberate. Planned. DESIGNED. 

Building a Brand is as difficult as building a Business. One cannot exist without the other. A brand just does not refer to how things might look. It also doesn’t mean  the logo on a website, the pretty marketing material or the shiny Powerpoint slide deck, as some entrepreneurs might think. A Brand is more than a website or a product, more than advertising or marketing materials. 

Don’t challenge me. The Makers

Designing and building a Brand in a startup comes with extra challenges. Building a brand whilst managing a day job delivering for our portfolio. Time. Scope. Budget. Too much of one and not enough of the other two (can you guess?). 

Founders Factory London was the first Factory initiated in 2015, and by the time FFA was launched - a Brand already existed, focused primarily in the UK and Europe. We knew that Africa needed a distinct approach to reflect its local nuances and cultural context, and to ensure relevance. We recognized the need to create a unique African brand to resonate with African entrepreneurs, investors and other stakeholders. A continuous conversation with the FF Global family was a key factor in how best to address the Global/Local approach. We think globally and act locally.

This year, we were challenged to design, build and deliver a world-class brand to increase brand awareness across the continent (no less than 54 countries!) and to attract the best founders, startups, investors, and FFA new teammates. 

The journey. Le Le Le

Important for us was a Moodboard that we created collectively at FFA after a series of interviews, collaborative working sessions, individual contributions… This moodboard included essential/fundamental concepts for us that we wanted to be represented in our Brand: One of the most important, the diversity of the 54 African markets and their realities that build our fascinating/dazzling continent. We are all about people, the real people with real problems that live in these countries and need real solutions, to their everyday lives and situations. From rural to urban areas. Diversity that can be breathed in every layer of the society, from its architecture, culture, art, politics... Colour such an essential part of these realities. The beauty in the organised chaos where everything appears orchestrated. Heritage reviewed, instrumental, analysing how the new takes the traditions and create new narratives and represents contemporary realities. We went to music, fashion, furniture... to find excellent ambassadors and creators of experiences. With their young energy, leaders and driving forces of change.

For one reason or another we could not find the right partner for us. After months of interviews, very compelling proposals and weighing pros and cons, we decided to take the challenge internally. With the support of additional professionals at specific points of the process. These are considered since the first very second, part of the Founders Factory Africa family. A list of some of FFA’s collaborators can be found here. We are so proud and grateful to work with such amazing professionals and individuals. 

To consider the best approach, definition and execution of this endeavour, my role was to enable and facilitate dialogue. To crystallize the vision through a series of conversations and facilitate getting results through workshops with our team. Ultimately, my role was to deliver an Africa-focused Brand and to relaunch our website (together with how the new Brand would be applied to the rest of channels such as Social Media and Comms). 

We scouted the continent and explored the possibility to work with external agencies and individual contributors. We created an initial request, where we’ve included different options/bundles to create a new brand, a website, 

The early discovery included qualitative and quantitative research activities: internal interviews, understanding the markets, competitor and SWOT analysis, market and industry trends... With a clear understanding of the status quo, we identified an array of obstacles founders and startups face in their journeys. 

Through a series of collaborative working sessions, we evolved the definition about how FFA, together with our partners, could create value and impact supporting these audiences. After a lot of solid work and enabling all the knowledge from different stakeholders, we finally defined our long term vision Strategy. The North Star: African entrepreneurs are not resourced to build and scale early-stage businesses. Founders Factory Africa convenes the right people, tools, and resources to catalyse growth. So that founders are fuelled to drive a thriving start-up economy in Africa. 

We are guided by our values in this journey. We refer to them to inform our decisions: “People come first”, “Embrace uncertainty”, “Be part of the solution”, “Be open, honest & constructive” and to keep sailing forward at brisk speed “Momentum over perfection”.

“Smooth seas, do not make skillful sailors” At some point, the collaboration with one partner did not crystallize. Meaning that we had to pivot and iterate as fast as we could, so as to not start all over again. Creating imaginative ways of solving problems in a fast manner is our bread and butter in the startup environment. 

The premise was to build a Brand created by Africans for Africans - relevant to the diverse spectrum of markets. A Brand with Global relevance to help secure the success of the founders and startup teams in their aim to scale and become unicorns conquering the world. As they say “No matter how full the river, it still wants to grow.”

Solution. Lengoma

Here we designed side by side with the Design Team and our collaborator and friend Vumile Mavumengwana. To illustrate FFA’s Strategy, we created four initial concepts, ranked in a spectrum scale 1 to 4 from more conservative to most radical. We’ve ended creating a combination of the third and the fourth concepts. All these concepts breath the freshness of a new language, and are truth to the initial Heritage Reviewed concept from the very early proposals.

The starting point was to go back to the streets and people, looking for textures and materiality.  Tricky during COVID times! Hence we focused in a number of different locations, wall photographs and patterns. This brought us to the requirements of creating unique FFA brand shapes that represented the different environments. We went back to our Global brand and reviewed our heritage, creating the different shapes based on the Founders Factory logo. The FFA logo itself has been evolved, decluttering it and removing another layer to bring the next level of simplicity.

Once we delineated the Strategy, it was time to move to Brand Development. What is the Brand Expression of that Strategy?  Again we came to one of our recurrent questions within the team. “What does it mean to create an African Brand”? And ongoing discussion/conversation, and more to follow on this on a future initiative. Stay tuned!

Solution. Lengoma

The development of the website was decisive for us, being the initial touchpoint for most of our audiences. The website was the first manifestation of the new redefined Brand. We defined smart objectives and specific KPIs/metrics to measure success and to inform any decision taken. 

The website showcases the programs that FFA runs and provides a deep understanding of FFAs vision & portfolio. We designed a Marketing Strategy, Social Media campaigns… It consciously provides a ton of thoroughly created content. Caitlin Liebenberg worked with us a number of iterations and all the team was involved at some point. We wanted to give the viewer the option to discover as much as possible about us, and feel they knew us for a while. Providing the relevant content to answer any of the questions our audiences might have in advance would help us be more efficient in our future conversations. A compelling website is based by a relevant Content Strategy to attract investors, founders, startups, and talent. 

We aim to send consistent messages through all our channels and touchpoints, Social Media and all communications - translating the Brand into interactions in the digital space for users to experience the Brand. Designing Experiences, navigating between offline production and digital space is such a fascinating space to be.

Once we decided which background textures we were happy with, we added two more layers, the addition of diverse shapes that represent our values. And colour, a full explosion of colour palettes. Vibrant, invigorating, stimulating colours for each situation.

We strongly opted to build a bold and fresh Brand that inspires Optimism and Possibility. Translated in each of the actions we take, base of our values, and of course through colour. How did we achieve this through colour? Creating a Design System based on colour and shapes to be used by the different functions of the business. Some of them can be used interchangeably based on the decision of the outcome creator. Is it pure Possibility at its best?

Knowing we are on the right path? Account Balance

How would we know we’ve been successful in our effort/endeavor as a result of our decisions? How do you measure success in a Brand? We’ve established specific Brand Awareness, Engagement and Conversion metrics and specific Key Results to different areas, relevant to the Brand, the Website launch and usage, and the different touch points.

Again, as said at the beginning, A Brand is much more than than the user interactions with the distinct touch points. Is how your users perceive you as per your behaviours, your actions, the vision you are pursuing. Brands are fluid and in permanent movement and evolution. As Heraclitus of Ephesus (greek philosopher as (550-475 BC) said: “Change is the only constant”...

Finally, we’ve launched in May 2020, after a year of hard work. We are humble, ground and pragmatic in our approach. But ambitious and driven, proud of the work created by the FFA and extended team. 

What’s next? Vuli Ndlela

Thus what is coming next? Now is time to amplify the message through the work done so far. Time to run different experiments (in specific markets, targeting specific audiences...). Of course to continue following our North Star. So far this has been a great ride. Currently, we’re working on how we can iterate based on last year's learnings, and to adapt these to the extraordinary times we’re living through.

There are so many things to talk about a Brand and a full year of work! If you are interested in knowing more or specific areas, drop me a message. I would be thrilled to have a chat and continue the conversation. The next post will be on what it means to be an African Brand, and what African Design stands for. In the African context and its relationship with the world.