• Failing To Win: Hard-Earned Lessons from a Purpose-Driven Startup

    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 ten 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.

    “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 & General Partner of Hustle Fund

    “Startups are hard. Most people understand this. However, most people don’t understand why. Mike’s story is a rare glimpse into how challenges present themselves — and ultimately how to overcome.” — Matt Flannery, Co-Founder of Kiva & Branch

    “In a rare look behind the scenes, Mike shares a vivid picture of the other side of leadership we don’t talk about enough. As he aptly describes ‘founding, failing and winning’, this book highlights the risk of taking that all-important first step, embracing failure and ensuring you learn the transformative lessons critical to success as an entrepreneurial leader.” — Fred Swaniker, Founder of African Leadership Group

    “This story is a gift for entrepreneurs and indeed anyone wanting to learn about the first generation of African fintechs that paved the way for future companies to thrive.” — Katlego Maphai, Co-Founder & CEO of Yoco

    “Mike’s humility, resilience and depth of knowledge of how to build a pan-African business are unique, and his testimony of experience is an important short history of the fintech boom on the continent.” — Elizabeth Rossiello, Founder & CEO of AZA

    “Failing To Win is a captivating account of an incredibly talented and unusually forthright entrepreneur who built an ambitious purpose-led company that started in Zambia. At Oxford I have taught the Zoona case study to countless MBA students to show how fundamental principles of entrepreneurship can be meaningfully applied in a novel context. It just takes courageous and smart individuals who are not afraid of failing (in order) to win.” — Thomas Hellmann, DP World Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Oxford’s Saïd Business School

    “Innovation has gone global, and is transforming people’s lives around the world. But startups are risky. Sometimes they scale and sometimes they fail. In Failing To Win, Mike shares insightful lessons from his journey at Zoona about what it takes to operate with integrity, impact and inspiration in the new Frontier of Innovation.” — Alex Lazarow, Author of Out-Innovate: How global entrepreneurs – from Delhi to Detroit – are rewriting the rules of Silicon Valley


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