Yusudi, When Passi...

Yusudi, When Passion for Learning and Entrepreneurship Met on Valentine's Day

Talking to Charlotte De Ridder and Nastia Gutsol, it's obvious they love what they do. So it seems fitting that they celebrated their company’s one-year anniversary on Valentine's Day. Yusudi, a leadership training program in Nairobi, Kenya that provides paid internships, has made considerable progress in its first year. The name ‘Yusudi’ combines 'Youth' with the Swahili word for Purpose, ‘Kusudi.’ Last November, Gutsol represented Yusudi at Slush, a global entrepreneurship conference, after winning a pitch competition at the World Bank-supported mLab East Africa. Check out our interview with Yusudi’s founders.

Yusudi co-founders Charlotte De Ridder (left) and Nastia Gutsol (right). © Victor MurithiYusudi co-founders Charlotte De Ridder (left) and Nastia Gutsol (right). © Victor Murithi
How did you decide to start Yusudi?

De Ridder: Nastia and I are from Ukraine and Belgium; we met in Mexico, while we were both working for AISEC. It’s a great program that connects students to internships around the world. Around that time, I traveled to Kenya and had the idea for Yusudi. Since Nastia and I had discussed starting something on our own, I immediately called her and asked her “Hey, do you want to come to Kenya and create a company?” Luckily, Nastia followed me with a blind eye.

What is Yusudi’s business model?

Gutsol: We have a four-month program where we provide training for one month and paid internships for three months. Our holistic approach is really what differentiates us from others. The fact that we not only provide technical and leadership training but also guarantee internships and continue to coach and engage with the interns is really unique.

De Ridder: We’re also able to find high-paying internships and charge the trainees for the program. The total cost of the program is $340, and interns usually pay partially upfront and partially through their internship. We’ve negotiated with [participating] enterprises to pay our interns at least $160 per month, which is a considerable amount in a market where interns are often paid $100 per month.

How has the local start-up ecosystem enabled you to grow your company?

Gutsol: When we first arrived in December 2015, we found iHub, applied to become members, and were accepted into the community. They provided space to work, Internet access, and a great network of entrepreneurs. We participated in several events and training workshops, and we got to know about mLab through iHub. A big part of our success is due to the network we met at iHub. They were incredibly supportive and helpful; we had a great experience and we still keep in touch with everyone today.

Can you share some stats on your company’s progress?

Gutsol: We launched the company on Valentine’s Day last year. In the first year, we had nine cohorts and trained between 90 and 100 students; 60% of our interns have been hired and we receive a recruitment fee, which is 50% of their first month salary.

The Yusudi team. © Humphrey Gateri

The Yusudi team. © Humphrey Gateri

So far, what has been the most rewarding experience?

De Ridder: For me, the moment when I realized what we had built [Yusudi] from scratch. We started with two or three part-time staff, and now there are nine of us in total. I think we have a great culture. Also, when our trainees tell us, “I came for the paid internship, but this training is incredible!”

Gutsol: Becoming part of the local entrepreneurship community and gaining recognition was a really nice experience. Just to be able to go to Slush and represent Kenya was really rewarding.

Tell us about your journey to SLUSH and your experience there.

Gutsol: Through iHub, we learned about the Slush pitch competition at mLab. Last August, I competed against 10 other start-ups and was eventually selected. The entire experience was extremely empowering! It made us really feel accepted in the local community and recognized for our work.

The biggest advantage of the Global Impact Accelerator was the networking opportunities. With so many entrepreneurs and investors, you have a chance to find out what are the global trends and who might be interested in providing support. It was incredibly well organized and it was an honor to represent Kenya at Slush. Since I’ve come back, I’ve been sharing my experience with our team and the trainees. It has been really motivating for all of us.

Where do you see yourselves in five years?

De Ridder: Right now, we want to grow using technology and scale up through mobile apps. We are constantly testing and experimenting new training methodologies and innovating experiences. We want to develop certain technical skills but also encourage self-learning and self-motivating. In five years, we hope to expand to new countries and regions and develop program options for younger trainees and interns.

What advice would you share with aspiring entrepreneurs?

De Ridder: I think you have to take care of yourself and not lose yourself in the business. If you try to do everything, eventually, it’s not sustainable. So, having a good co-founder makes a huge difference. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Gutsol: My advice is simply to stay positive, be patient, and trust the process. It’s important to stay modest and don’t expect anything to be easy if you want to realize your vision and turn it into reality.

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