Benjamin Fernandes earned his MBA
from Stanford GSB in 2017.
What obstacles stand in your way? Human
capital is hard to find on the continent. There
are smart people, but a lot of them end up
staying in the countries where they received
their education (e.g., the United States).
Or they work at a large local firm and think
it’s crazy to take a massive pay cut to join
a startup. We’re finding it difficult to get the
right people to scale the business.
Is Tanzania’s young population an
advantage or disadvantage for NALA?
Overall, it’s a large advantage. Tanzania is
importing more smartphones than any other
East African country, about 100,000 phones
a month. They’re going for as low as $26, these
super cheap Chinese devices. Our core users
are young and tech savvy, between the ages of
23 and 26. For the volume game, it’s going to
be young people.
What’s the most important lesson you took
away from your Stanford GSB experience?
Ah, this is hard, there are so many. I think
for me in particular, given the market
I operate in, the importance of focus and time
management. I thought I was good at time
management and focus, then I got to Stanford
GSB and realized the bar was at a whole other
level. People were like, “I’ve got 20 minutes in
this Uber, I’m gonna bang out a paper.” And
I was like, “Wait, what?”
Anything you wish you’d known at the
start of your time at Stanford that you
know now? Go for it. Seriously. I was so
scared and shy when I first got there. My first
day on campus, I was in tears. I remember
looking around at all these buildings and
thinking of all the people who walked those
steps and grounds, the path they paved for
all of us. It took me a while to take all that in.
When I started in class, I was scared of saying
the wrong thing or asking a dumb question.
But I learned that nobody knows everything
— nobody has it all figured out. So just go for
it. Be bold. Ask for help, ask your questions.
That’s something I’d tell myself if I was
starting all over again. Δ
“The opportunity to
simplify the payments
process is massive.”