Tania Ikedji Mukwamu is a wanderer who has managed to call the African continent her home. She was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), grew up there, went to school there and moved to South Africa at the age of 17. After completing university in South Africa, Tania decided to stay and many years later she transitioned from the corporate world into entrepreneurial ventures.
She’s a proud mom of three who keep her busy, but she keeps herself even busier! A warrior woman who never stop learning and growing as a friend, mother and partner – living this life as happily as she can. We hope you enjoy Matoyana Media’s wide ranging interview with Tania Ikedji Mukwamu, who is the entrepreneur of three businesses, including being the Co-Founder of MaxiCash – the ultimate virtual wallet.
Hi Tania, many thanks for your time, please tell us a bit about your background?
“I’m a software entrepreneur – I’m in tech industry as a software development consultant, as well as being a fin-tech entrepreneur – which basically someone developing financial solutions for individuals as well as businesses. The third thing I do is completely different; I’m a bit of a fashion entrepreneur, having an accessories line, mostly bags, at least for now. Whilst the businesses all opposite – they are the same in one way – they have me in common.”
What is your definition of a modern day warrior woman?
For me a warrior woman is one that can take in the pain, like the pain of losing out on a deal, the pain of having to fire staff and downsizing in a business. Not only taking that in, but letting it sit and process and rise from it. And overcome and learn from it in one small way, if you can. Because warrior sounds so tough, but it’s really the recovery that defines what type of warrior or position you want to play in this battlefield, so to speak.
So for me it’s not really about the accolades or anything like that, but it’s on the downturn, when things are tough. You know the warrior woman is the one that would be like, ‘Okay, this has happened, but then how do I reinvent myself?’ Keep thriving towards whatever goal you set for yourself.”
Why do you identify as a warrior woman?
“It’s precisely because I just don’t limit myself. Yes I have three businesses, but it’s also not the sort of thing which started spontaneously – I did take time in venturing in whatever industries I’ve chosen. For me it’s knowing that where we live in, this digital world, you really can be so many things. And why not explore that? But obviously take calculated risks. Why I define myself as a warrior woman is by not limiting myself to whatever is dictated by an industry, or a venture or a partner. I always try to challenge myself; I take more learnings from others. And whenever I do show up to anything, I try to bring my A-game and try to be a very strong participant in anything I do.
Being a warrior woman has had its fair share of tears that I might not show. But just to go back on the failure side. Nobody likes to fail; I know I don’t like to fail. I think there’s a misunderstanding about that – we should embrace failure – it’s not because it’s cool, it’s terrible and nobody wants to fail. But just taking it as a learning curve – and accepting the fact that it is going to happen in a big or a small way, I think is what keeps me going. I have sometimes been able to realise (much later) that wow – I’ve been able to close this deal because of this past experience that I’ve had – looking back and learning. It might sting in the moment, but trust me, you are only better from it.”
What has been your most important battle?
“I guess our biggest mistake (and our battle) has been to have our egg in one basket. Meaning you sign that big client who just changed your life. But then contracts end for various reasons – people change their business directions and so on. From that sort of exit it was really a battle of trying to secure our IP and also protecting ourselves as a business, and unfortunately having to let go some of our partners and employees. From a revenue point of view it also affects heavily.
So for us the biggest battle was really getting out of that contract and diversifying in our product offering and not finding ourselves in that position again where 80% of your revenue really is generated by 10% of your client base. So it was quite the lesson.”
What type of warrior woman would you describe yourself as and why?
“There’s a TV series, I think it’s on Netflix and it’s called Vikings and it follows Viking warriors, especially their leader. How I identify with that is whilst I play my part as the leader I’m really not scared to get down and dirty in the battlefield. I want to know what’s going on in Production and in Marketing and the deliverables and to be present.
I don’t lead from my desk – far from that. It’s a very spiritual journey as well – where I find that sometimes business can be very lonely – so being able to take time for yourself and reflect on past mistakes, your journey and how you can do more. You believe that all your friends will be your first buyers – they don’t and it’s for many reasons – it’s not because they don’t like you. The leader (in the series) is able to play different roles and learn from different cultures and apply that to his own herd and challenge both himself and his team. In not limiting myself – so I would be that multi-faceted, disciplinary warrior – someone who is able to play one position, but is also clued up enough to contribute wherever I am called.”
What are the skills, characteristics or tools of a warrior woman?
“Patience is important, and clarity. I would say take the time to research whatever venture you want to get into, from who are the current players, the price points and how you are able to position yourself. People are marketed-to from sunrise to sundown, so you’ve got be clear in your message as to what you are offering.
You need to be humble, humility comes in different aspects… Humility would have you learn from your staff, humility would have you understand that there are benefits in surrounding yourself with people smarter than you – both from your team to your friends. You don’t have to be the one who is always talking; listening is actually more rewarding at times.
Being humble is also learning from your mistakes and taking ownership of them and moving on. Also, perhaps, never stop learning. There’s education everywhere – there’s something to learn everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a course and bettering yourself with time. Perfect your skills and be that inquisitive person.
Lastly I would say – resilience. In life nobody owes you anything – even your family. They don’t owe it to you to buy your piece of software or download your app. So you’ve got to be okay with rejection and keep on. Tell your story in an authentic way and be ready for those waves and stand your ground. Standing your ground doesn’t mean being like that Idols contestant who has that terrible voice but keeps on – no – learn from the feedback and don’t go to the next audition the way you were before because then you’re just going there for the laughs. Be ready for life to straighten you because that will happen, one way or another. Life is still worth living – try to find some happiness in whatever you are going through and stay positive.”
How can we help other women become warrior women?
“My wish for the African woman is for her to be more visible. Through my entire formal corporate journey I’ve always had my job opportunities come through a friend or a referral. I’ve never applied on my own and gotten a job on my own, strangely. Obviously you interview for it eventually but it’s always been through an introduction. So I want us to be ambassadors, share our stories, and highlight what good another young female is doing. I want the African woman to be someone who is not secretive with her knowledge, who is able to share and grow others. It could be through a networking event – or if you are really committed – take on some mentorship hours.”
Why is it important for warrior women to see themselves as warriors?
“The strangest thing with women in business or leadership or anything with certain significance is for the longest time we have had the most important role. We raise human beings, we educate, we nurture but somehow translating those gems into the workforce, we allowed things to keep us at bay.
You cannot be the leader of your household and not be seen as a valuable contributor in the boardroom. Today, for women to not only be present in various fields, but by showing up and being excellent in whatever you do, it is this silent battle. I’ve been in meetings where they’re all ready to start but we’re waiting for the manager to arrive, when I’m here – you know – can we start. I think the difference of the time we’re in now is that the voices are louder – it’s no longer about proving, it’s about contributing.
It’s about letting our work talk for ourselves and also be really aware that in everything we do (big or small) we inspire others. If you are able to help another female do so. I have this thing when I put a job description out to an agency and I only get male CVs, it’s incredible. But how about you go back and tell them exactly what you want, so for example, for this role I would like to fill it with a female developer and I’m willing to wait. You need to be intentional, as a female entrepreneur, in promoting your own. Also with our kids, how we educate our boy child and our daughter is the same – so it’s also how we educate and bring up the next generation. We all, in our own way, have an equally strong part to play.”
What are your words of affirmation?
“Show up and deliver. Your work will speak louder than any presentation you do. I am a strong believer in excellence. Have humour, the world is so tough already,y I try to find time to just laugh and see candour in the world around me. Be your first cheerleader – believe in the brand, ‘you’, that will save you a lot of heartache looking for validation in a husband, in a partner, in a business, in an investor. Be a big promoter of yourself, what you stand for, what your message is – there’s got to be some essence to who you are.”
Which women warriors do you look up to?
“My mother – I always had these ideas I would tell my mom, ‘Oh I want to start this, I want to do this’. She lives in the DRC so I go back on holiday frequently, and she’d ask, ‘So, have you done this? How far are you with that project?’ She always says, ‘Start with what you have’. If you have a computer or this small space or this cell phone, start with what you have and work, the money will follow. You will never have everything in place and be able to start. Because we are always chasing, for the next big something, you know.
Understanding that starting with what you have shows that you have something. Even when you are seeking investment, investors today, they want to see what you’ve done. An idea is no longer enough, you need to have some kind of prototype – something to show that they can see that you’re really that person that they can back up with their money.
At this year’s Dell Tech forum I met Patricia Florissi, their Vice President and Global Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Sales. She was asked the famous, ‘How does it feel being the only woman in the room’ question and she said she doesn’t have extra brain capacity to think about how she’s the only woman in the room. She shows up and focuses on delivery or excellence.
In a different industry, the African American actress and producer Jo-Issa Rae is a warrior woman. About three or four years ago on a YouTube channel she was doing this mini-series and I know she’s graduated from a prominent university, she could have gone to work for big studios and where ever. But she was focused on telling her own stories, our stories, and with her rise, she was able to also bring together this whole generation of African content creators.
So, sometimes it’s not about being the next Oprah – sometimes being yourself is valuable enough. Creating that lane for yourself to also be able to pull others. Be yourself because everybody else is taken. I admire Issa Rae’s rise and her journey and understanding that it takes time. But when you do something with love and dedication you can only come out to be strong and beautiful and be a contributor and make way for your tribe.”
Many thanks for sharing your journey and wisdom with us Tania.
Listen to Matoyana Media’s Warrior Women podcasts here: https://soundcloud.com/user-201756680-698831979