Interview with Luni Libes
For the first twenty years of his career, Luni (co)founded a series venture-scale software companies, growing each from an idea and a starting team to a company earning millions in revenue, collectively serving tens of millions of customers. All but the first of these startups are still in operations and a few acquired by Global 1000 companies.
He now uses the knowledge gained from those twenty years to help the next set of entrepreneurs. His goal is to have them increase their odds of success by not repeating the common mistakes that he and his peers once made. He does this through writing books, hosting podcasts, teaching, and much more. Check out Fledge here
Hi Luni! Could you please introduce your work with Fledge and tell us a bit more about the accelerator?
Fledge is the conscious company accelerator. We use the tools and techniques from the tech world but we do it for mission-driven for-profit companies. For companies that are truly improving the world but doing it through business, through for-profit business. We do this in the same style as the tech accelerators. So anyone who wants can apply from around the world. We've seen applications for 120 something countries. We pick just seven at a time. We invite them to come to one of our cities. We have a dozen cities where we run this program. While they're here we do three things with them. First, we make them better. We teach them entrepreneurship. Now they know that already but we fill in whatever gaps they have. Secondly, flood them with mentors. Mentorship is awesome. A lot of mentorship is even better. Third, we teach them how to do public speaking, we teach them how to do it. We teach them how to do a TED talk because a TED talk is way better than an investor pitch. And we invest money in all of them as well. Then they go home they grow their business and we support them because we're owners of their company we introduce them to investors, we introduce them to potential customers and so forth and then we do it again and again. So we've done this over 12 times in four continents. And we're always looking for more mentors, more entrepreneurs and more investors to make this bigger.
What are some of the additional challenges faced by companies in the social impact entrepreneurship field? How does Fledge help them to overcome these specific challenges?
Being an entrepreneur is hard. It's actually a crazy thing to do it's so hard and I know this because I've done it six times myself. And now I help others. And out in the world of let's say software and technology well you know, there are struggles. But in the world of social good, in the world of trying to do good through business. Yeah the bigger struggle, the biggest struggle is the lack of funding. So there's just a whole lot fewer investors out there who are seeking companies that are doing good through business. There are fewer angels, there are fewer funds, there are fewer angel groups, there's fewer everything. Which means it's just that much harder to find funding. And then on top of that, out in that tech world in the traditional investing world the funders are actually based in the same city or the same region as the entrepreneurs. But in the world of social good they're not necessarily local. In fact, it looks like 80- 85 per cent of the investing is global, instead of local. Which means that the investor you're looking for may not be not only in your region, the investor may not be in your country. That investment may not be on your continent. Which just makes it so much harder to go out and find investors who are interested in solving the problems that you're solving as an entrepreneur, once you get past that everything's about the same. Finding customers is the same, finding partners is the same. You know banking and accounting and everything else is the same. But that's one extra struggle comes from finding funders that can help you.
How has your "The Next Step" podcast changed the way you interact with others in the entrepreneurial space?
So I launched The Next Step podcast in 2018 because by then I had written six books in The Next Step series and I had a blog with hundreds if not a thousand posts on it already. And it didn't seem like enough. So all I do these days is help entrepreneurs. I do that through a business accelerator, I do that through teaching MBA, I do that through writing, I do that through workshops. All I want to do is help entrepreneurs. And so I created The Next Step podcast to be one more place to interact. In this case, in a short form and in 8 to 12 minute chunks someplace where I didn't have to sit down for days to write chapters of the book or just a few minutes to write a blog post but something in between where I can share an idea in a little bit more detail, where I can share the ideas that have already written down in the books and where I can share interactions I'm having with others in the world, who are either entrepreneurs or more often than not people who are helping entrepreneurs. And so if you haven't seen it already go to Google type in The Next Step podcast, it'll find it for you and check it out and see if it'll help you and hopefully it does.
On your website, it says that platform focused startups usually do not get picked because they haven’t showcased a business model that can scale. Can you go into more detail on that?
What are some of the most successful and influential companies Fledge has partnered with?
Fledge has graduated 83 companies in the last 7 years and so picking just a few to talk about in a minute it's really hard. Right, two that are the most impactful we've ever worked with through are 'evrnu' that has a chemical technology that makes cotton recyclable, like papers recyclable. And 'Zirconia', which has a non-toxic spray on coating that stops steel from rusting forever. But we don't just work in tech. We work in agriculture as well. We have the largest fruit and vegetable aggregator in Tanzania, it's called East Africa fruits. It grew from 100,000 to a million in revenue in four years. We have the largest distributor of veteran supplies in Malawi. Oh boy, we have companies that turn waste fuel into biodiesel, we got companies that turn waste plastics into aggregate rock for using concrete. We have companies that do just about everything, come to http://fledge.co/ if you want to see the list of all 83 and we keep adding more.