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  • Failing to Win

  • Hard-Earned Lessons from a Purpose-Driven Start-Up
  • By: Mike Quinn
  • Narrated by: Mike Quinn
  • Length: 7 hrs and 37 mins
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (14 ratings)

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Failing to Win cover art

Failing to Win

By: Mike Quinn
Narrated by: Mike Quinn
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Summary

In 2009, Canadian entrepreneur Mike Quinn packed his backpack and moved to Lusaka, Zambia, on a mission to find African entrepreneurs building scalable, high-impact businesses. There, he stumbled across two South African brothers, who had founded a business to help unbanked smallholder farmers receive mobile payments in a market where cash was king. After convincing his retired parents to mortgage their house and lend him $100,000, Mike joined as a co-founder of Zoona and became CEO for nine of the next 10 years.

With his partners, Mike built a network of more than 3,000 entrepreneur agents across Zambia and Malawi that enabled millions of unbanked consumers to send and receive $2.5 billion in money transfers and remittances. Headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa, Zoona raised over $35-million of venture investment and operated on the leading edge of Africa’s emerging fintech ecosystem.

Mike’s remarkable story gives a rare and honest glimpse into the workings of a pioneering African startup through the lens of a purpose-driven entrepreneur who went “all in”. Zoona faced tremendous adversity along the way: currency crises, investment round collapses, ruthless pushback from the major mobile network operators, and a continuous internal struggle to discover and execute a growth strategy that matched the company’s billion-dollar ambition. It was by failing to win that Mike learned what entrepreneurship is all about, and it was what motivated him to double down and try again.

©2021 Mike Quinn (P)2021 Mike Quinn

Critic reviews

"This raw, honest account is a must-read for anyone thinking about starting a company and for every entrepreneur who feels alone in the journey." (Elizabeth Yin, Co-Founder and General Partner of Hustle Fund)

What listeners say about Failing to Win

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Pioneering and heartfelt

A candid and visceral insight into the rollercoaster of energy, commitment and determination behind one of Africa's first VC backed fintechs. A rich mine of experience and earned wisdom.

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Riveting African start-up story

An amazingly open, honest and riveting account of Zoona's story, which I binge listened to in 3 days flat. You will rarely get such an up-close view of what it's like to build and run an African start-up, never mind one that failed to win.

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A Masterclass for every entrepreneur

Mark not only teaches us how to win against the odds, but he also teaches us the importance of exercising ownership of our decisions.
Mark's vulnerability, honesty and clarity are the true gems for so many entreprenuers.
Thank you Mark

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Genuine and open story about founder experience

Best book I have read in a very long time! Super helpful, inspiring and candid story about entrepreneur journey. Must read for anyone building a team, trying to find product-market fit, raising money etc.

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Exciting African Startup Story

This is the gripping true story of the struggles, triumphs and hazards of starting a fintech business in southern Africa. It is told with great humility and brutal honesty. Social entrepreneurs will have much to learn from the story of Zoona. It is beautifully read by the author himself.

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A great read for an African entrepreneur

This book shares great insights if you are an entrepreneur in Africa planning to raise funding from investors, choosing a founding team and board members.
It's such a huge inspiration to everyone planning to persue a business in Africa and scaling. We usually think the same dynamics and metrics used to raise money in silicon valley in the US cut across to Africa but usually this is not the case. Am glad to have gotten the opportunity to read such an inspiring book and I recommend investors, funders and entrepreneurs to listen in and learn from a seasoned entrepreneur. Thanks Mike for putting this together great stuff.

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A must-read for all Entrepreneurs and Investors

I highly recommend this audiobook!

This book is one of a kind; about a passionate and ambitious entrepreneur who built one of Africa's first fintech startups in Africa.

Mike Quinn, the author, superbly narrates the story and highlights the real challenges in building and scaling a high-impact venture.

The book is divided into three parts; "Founding, Failing and Winning." And each section takes you through the various stages of doing business in Africa and is filled with valuable lessons and insights you can learn from. It also reminds us that it's ok to "fail," and "failure" does not define you.

This story is guaranteed to inspire all entrepreneurs and is an ideal read for anyone in business, particularly for purpose-driven entrepreneurs or venture capital investors.

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  • Burak Buyukdemir
  • 25-01-23

An Honest and Inspiring Look into Entrepreneurship

I recently enjoyed listening "Failing to Win: Hard-Earned Lessons from a Purpose-Driven Startup" by Mike Quinn. As an early-stage investor in Boost, Mike's latest startup, I had the unique opportunity to witness his short journey first-hand, and this book offers an honest look into the world of entrepreneurship.

I highly recommend this book to any entrepreneur, as it offers a rare and honest glimpse into the workings of a pioneering African startup. Mike shares his failures and lessons learned fluently, making it easy and enjoyable to read and listen.

My story with Mike Quinn actually begins with my reading habit. I came across his book "Failing to Win: Hard-Earned Lessons from a Purpose-Driven Startup" after reading Scott Hartley's "The Fuzzy and the Techie." I invited Scott to be a speaker at the Startup Istanbul conference organized by our company, but unfortunately, Covid intervened. I later learned that Mike and Scott had met because of this book. Last year while evaluating investment opportunities together with "The Fund," for which Scott is a partner. In our network, reading and writing books is a common thread. Through our new fund, I had the opportunity to become an early-stage investor in Boost, Mike's new company. Therefore, my views may be somewhat objective, but reading this book offers an honest look into entrepreneurship.

The book follows Quinn's journey as a co-founder of Zoona, an African fintech startup aimed to empower the unbanked through mobile payments. Throughout the book, Quinn shares his struggles, failures, and successes as he navigated the challenges of building a business in a developing market.

One of the things I appreciated most about the book was its honesty. Quinn doesn't sugarcoat his difficulties; instead, he offers a raw and honest account of the ups and downs of building a business from scratch. This makes the book relatable and easy to connect with, especially for anyone who has ever had to navigate the highs and lows of entrepreneurship.

Another aspect of the book that I found particularly valuable was how Quinn shares the hard-earned lessons he learned along the way. He provides valuable insights on everything from fundraising to team building, making the book a valuable resource for any entrepreneur.

I got to know Mike through listening to the audiobook version of "Failing to Win" during a delegation visit to Finland. The book was a great addition to my trip and offered a unique and honest perspective on entrepreneurship. It was fascinating to see Mike's real story and the lessons he learned while building a successful business in Africa.

As someone who closely follows all the entrepreneurship stories, I took notes and shared them with the entrepreneurs in the book I finished quickly. Being in the road story of Mike's new venture, Boost is excited to witness his future experiences. So, if you're looking for a book that will give you a valuable perspective on entrepreneurship and help you navigate the challenges of building a business, this is it.

Overall, I highly recommend "Failing to Win" to anyone interested in entrepreneurship, especially those looking to start a business in a developing market. It's an engaging read that offers a unique perspective and valuable insights that inspire and motivate any reader.

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  • Khalifa Obai
  • 20-09-22

A must read for anyone keen on understanding startups ecosystem in Africa.

Failing To Win by Mike Quinn, is a must read for anyone keen on understanding the startups ecosystem in Africa and risks / opportunities associated with scaling innovation at the “bottom of the pyramid”.
Mike candidly discusses failures and critically analyzes different strategic pivots made all through the rollercoaster journey of Zoona. He does not only focus on the main challenges startups grapple with (i.e. raising funds) but also emphasizes the importance of finding investors who are strategically aligned with your mission.
Apart from the remarkable impact delivered by Zoona in serving the underserved communities and their contribution to increasing financial inclusion in the territories they covered between 2009-2019, their journey confirms that purpose-driven business in Africa can be a viable one. However, definitely not for the faint hearted.
Enjoy the read!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 24-03-22

One of the best reads on Startups

This is a must-read book for anyone with keen interest in startups, Africa and innovation. I loved the sheer honesty with which the author and former CEO, Mike Quinn narrates his start up journey, the many insights and owning mistakes. The book is a great leadership lesson.

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  • David Damberger
  • 18-09-21

More Honest Than "Hard Thing About Hard Things"

Raw, Vulnerable, and Bold. An extremely well written and narrated tragedy of a pioneering African business. If you are doing business in Africa, an entrepreneur, or apart of any tech start-up, this book is a MUST READ! So many entrepreneurship and business books are all about success and all the things the author did right. Just like "The Hard Thing About Hard Things", probably my favourite entrepreneurship book before this, Mike flips the traditional formula on its head and instead treats the reader to a full book of brutally honest struggles, failures, and lessons learnt. Even though Zoona had a wealth of success and had huge external factors constantly beating them down working in countries that are very difficult to launch tech-startups from. I find it exponentially more helpful as a business person to hear these vulnerable learning stories. Zoona was a founding Africa fin-tech firm that built the foundation for so many African companies that came after it. We are all grateful that we get to stand on their shoulders today. I can't thank Mike enough for exposing such raw and powerful moments.