Meet Our Talent: Epaphrate Minuifuong, Founder of Africa’s Airbnb
"My mission is to positively impact people’s lives and society in general — to leave things better than I found them."
Fuelled by a drive to leave the world better than he found it, Nghombombong Epaphrate Minuifuong became a serial entrepreneur before he had even entered university. As the founder of Bongalo — ’Africa’s Airbnb’ — he seeks to enhance the travel experience across Africa and make it hassle-free. This talented young professional in The ROOM shares the story of his Google-backed startup and the mindset that enabled his career odyssey.
My mission is to positively impact people’s lives and society in general — to leave things better than I found them. It is fueled by my beliefs in lifelong learning and continuous improvement. I always have new ideas and enjoy being in an environment of constant creation like a startup or business, where new ideas are needed to better the status quo.
This entrepreneurial drive has always been with me, and before joining the African Leadership University (ALU), I had developed two startups. One of them was Bongalo, but it didn’t exist as a booking company in its early days; it was a real estate platform.
After I left Israel in 2016, where I was participating in Mass Challenge Israel Accelerator (one of the biggest in the world), I returned to Cameroon. The civil war had begun, so I decided to leave the country again to pursue my studies, and Rwanda was an appealing destination to me. After a friend told me about ALU Rwanda, I joined the inaugural class. Through my experiences there, Bongalo in 2019 pivoted into the booking platform we have today. I sold my shares in my other company and left to focus on Bongalo full-time.
Growing “Africa’s Airbnb”
When we began, it wasn’t about going against Airbnb. In fact, they remain an inspiration to us. We came into the market because we saw that many Africans didn’t know about Airbnb, and those who did couldn’t easily make payments on their platform due to the limited payment options provided. Further research revealed that many hosts in Africa using the booking giant’s platform struggled to receive payments from it too. Consequently, they suffered significant remittance losses — an average of 15% of their total amount in fees. Bongalo entered the market to fill that gap with our mobile wallet solutions, thoroughly addressing the issue for both landlords (hosts) and travellers (guests).
Africa has a lot to offer; we just need the right footing.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic sent us from $3000 revenue a month to $0. I believe that if it hadn’t been for COVID-19, we would’ve been a unicorn by now, because of how fast we were growing when we first took off. However, this disruption did not stop us; we built the technology infrastructure during lockdown and were able to launch in Cameroon in September 2020. Resilience and conviction in our work kept us going until one of the world’s leading companies, Google, found us worthy of investment.
In 5 years or even less, we aspire for Bongalo to be in every African country and achieve our mission of connecting travellers to affordable places to stay on their trips, ultimately enhancing travel opportunities across Africa. We hope to be a unicorn not for the money, but for the impact our work will have on the general populace and how our story will encourage other students in schools to pursue entrepreneurship. Africa has a lot to offer; we just need the right footing. At Bongalo, we want to create thousands of jobs on the continent and contribute to growing African economies.
It Takes a Village
One person who has inspired me on my entrepreneurial journey is Nigerian entrepreneur and philanthropist Tony Elumelu. Another is my brother, friend, mentor and round-the-clock supporter in Israel, Oded Israeli. Apart from them, I’ve also had tremendous support from a whole “village”; people from my country who love me and what I do, or admire my resilience, commitment and steadfastness. I can’t count how many people have critiqued a pitch deck for me, reviewed my different write-ups and business models or referred my business to others and gotten us customers. I’ve also met amazing people at the ALU who encouraged me, especially in the darkest days.
Sometimes, entrepreneurs need that encouragement to feel better about themselves and what they’re doing. It keeps them going!
Advice to Young Innovators
If you want to be an entrepreneur, forget about the myth that school is not important. People always use abstract examples like Gates and Zuckerberg, saying dropping out of school made them who they are today. There are often very different realities. So I’d say this; to be a successful innovator or entrepreneur, get a good education (which is not just content-centric, but truly connects you to solving real world problems), get some experience working in spaces you love, build networks, save some money, and then start a business. All the above will contribute to your success as an entrepreneur. You’ll need to survive in your early days of business. You’ll need money and people who will either be your customers, partners, employees or investors. This is why your network is so important.
Above all, offer value to your customers. If, like Bongalo, your value you add is a payment solution, present it in a convincing way to either the investor or customer. Show them how it addresses their problem or makes money for them. It’s really all about value.
The ROOM is home to a highly specialised community of agile digital talent, connecting individuals and companies across the globe with the skills and resources they need to thrive in the new world of work. Visit The ROOM to see what talented young professionals like Epaphrate can do for you.