For decades, the narrative on sub-Saharan Africa in the West has remained stagnant. William de Torvy-Ballou is determined to change that. He attributes the development of his business to the combination of his faith and his discontent with the way in which Africa is portrayed.
His business DTB Carbyne is on a mission to economically empower African communities and help them develop the talent to support themselves and change the narrative.
Hi William, can you begin by telling us a bit about yourself?
Sure. I’ll start with the fact that I’m a born again Christian and my faith is of central importance to me. I’m a passionate individual – I love my work and want to add value to others’ lives through it! I’ve tried to study myself a bit and I’d describe myself predominantly as a Type A ambivert with over-focused ADD (a type of ADHD). That explains my driven attitude and inflexibility at times, but there’s tons more to me which hopefully gives me a better balance. I’m naturally more of a listener than a talker, and used to be more of a thinker than a doer, but that’s now changed. In this entrepreneurship game you need a good balance of the above qualities with a bias towards action. You need to be pragmatic and on your toes with the ability to reflect on, analyze and synthesize important information.
When did you decide to create DTB Carbyne?
The entrepreneurial journey was always in mind as I never felt like I wasn’t going to spend too long in the corporate world. My long term mindset has always been to get skills, learn the ropes, then Wexit. However, of late, entrepreneurship is something I’ve actually tried to avoid out of fear that I was forcing it. But I haven’t been able to shake it as it’s something I feel I’ve been called to. All manner of work that allows you to earn an honest living is honourable, but to me, entrepreneurship is synonymous to adding value to the world in a new, different and/or freer way. So through this channel, I’m exercising my vocation in the marketplace for God’s glory, I don’t see much difference fundamentally but there are tons of differences at a practical level. The decision to create DTB Carbyne specifically though was in 2017 due to a few events that marked me at the time.
What was the main inspiration behind developing the company?
The two events that marked me were the following. Firstly, it was shocking to me that in 2016-2017, the sub-Saharan African narrative in the West had generally not progressed much since the 90s in that the region was not deemed open, accessible or attractive enough for business. I was fed up with the contempt for Africa that my colleagues had in regards to tech adoption and wanted, and felt compelled, to do something about it. Secondly, I lost a lot of faith in corporate culture and didn’t want my family and I’s livelihood fully in an employer’s hands. It’s too risky to not diversify your income as with your portfolio, client contracts, products or markets these days. I saw this evidenced early in my career when I was hired by a long serving director of a company. He had put in around 15 years of hard work into it and had built an arm of the company. We suddenly went through a restructure and he was axed as he was no longer needed. The rug was literally swept from under his feet. Being young and impressionable, I couldn’t get over the harshness of that lesson and was disturbed by it.
These are some good reasons, but unequivocally, the main reason was for God’s glory and I believe our company and what we stand for can make a marked difference. To add some context, at the point of starting DTB Carbyne I had software engineering skills, I was stationed in a tech firm, I had a long lasting lament for the stagnant African narrative, and a disappointment at how perceptions hadn’t changed much in 20 years. Those points coupled with my faith and the expression of it being to commit myself to loving my neighbour as myself, I started to see an opportunity for change. I started to research Africa’s aggregate GDP growth in comparison to other emerging markets and noticed a stagnation over a generation. I then went on to learn about the several economic factors that make the difference between developing and developed countries and saw that hi-technology, in its broadest sense, was one of the key differentiators. Tech products and services in the hands of consumers are a lot more valuable if they have been designed for a frictionless customer experience so design became core to our offering. From this point, it was clear to me where my focus should be. As of 2020, 10 of the poorest countries in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. The perceptions perpetuate for a reason. Can we be a part of this massive digitisation shift that’s currently taking shape on the continent? Can we serve the needs of the people in a personalised and focused way? Time will tell, but I really do hope so.
Businesses have lots of innovative ideas how can you help and leverage their potentials?
Innovative ideas need to be brought to life within an affordable, speedy and reliable process. Prototyping is a great way to achieve that to get a visual or feel of the product to then assess whether you’re on to something or not. The beauty of the process here is that you can tweak some inputs and that will have a knock-on effect to the concepts and derived applications. It’s important to have a repeatable process to progress these ideas through and for that to be a part of your company’s culture and toolbox. We can provide the tools for this and will ensure that you know how to think through it’s phases.
What are your steps and approach when you have a new client on board?
Well, we celebrate with them first because there’s a level of trust, rapport and alignment of values that need to be shared to get to that point and when that happens, it’s something worth celebrating. We then level set them to prepare for the rewarding journey ahead. Directly after, we get to work on empathising and connecting with their customers so that we can challenge assumptions and uncover insights to get to the core of their unique needs and desires. Next, we define the problem by synthesising our observations about the users. Clearly defining this design challenge allows us to, in turn, ideate clearly. Together, we gather with open minds to produce as many ideas as possible to address a problem statement in a facilitated environment. There’s no single correct answer. Thereafter, it’s time to build those ideas out. We have a bias towards action when it comes to learning, believing that we’ll learn more about what we are doing once it’s out of our heads, and in the hands of the users. Finally, it’s time to get real user feedback, and interpret the results to know what stays and what goes.
Finally, what would you say makes DTB Carbyne unique?
We are an experiential and innovative company fully focused and committed to several key markets in sub-Saharan Africa. We seek to understand the unknown and believe the African experience and culture is not very well understood within software or computerised devices, focusing on behaviour, looks or style. We believe there is a need for intermediaries to do this leg work and translate these rich consolidated insights into personalised calls-to-action within software solutions. This is all fairly new ground and we are building new products and experiences with the latest technologies and insights. Our story is one that resonates with many Africans throughout the world. We are an African-owned brand, with pan-African ambitions and are on a mission to economically empower the communities we work in by reinvesting heavily into them to develop talent in a myriad of ways through technology.
Thank you William for your time!
You can follow up with William de Torvy-Ballou at https://www.dtbcarbyne.io