Imagine for a moment that time travel is possible. What would you go back and tell your younger self? Perhaps it would be to take more risks, or to not let others steal your joy. For Miishe Addy, it would be three simple words: trust your intuition.
Addy is the co-founder and CEO of Jetstream Africa, a technology-enabled logistics company focusing on cross-border trade. Ghanaian by heritage and American by birth, she grew up in Texas and earned a philosophy degree from Harvard. But she always felt a pull to do something more innovative and impactful.
After moving to Ghana in 2017, an opportunity to innovate presented itself in an unexpected way. So, she followed her intuition and dove head-first into the male-dominated shipping logistics industry – launching Jetstream in a country where women-run businesses are not only common, they are celebrated.
Globally, Ghana consistently ranks near the top for the number of women-owned businesses. A 2020 report found that 36.5% of all businesses in the country are owned by women – the third-highest ranking out of the 58 world economies included the study and higher than countries such as the US, Spain and Australia.
Now, three years in and with her company growing, CNN recently spoke to Addy to get a first-person perspective on being a female entrepreneur, what she has gained from her experience, and why with that journey comes a sense of responsibility to lend a helping hand to the women coming after her.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CNN: What brought you to Ghana?
Miishe Addy: I moved to Ghana to teach business at a startup incubator in Accra and spend time with my extended family. When I arrived at Kotoka International Airport [in Accra] in 2017, there were signs everywhere that Ghana was developing fast. New housing compounds were springing up in what used to be forest areas, market women selling wares on the side of the road were using mobile phones, and I wasn’t hearing the constant hum of generators as businesses were relying more on the national electricity company. Pre-Covid, Ghana was officially one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The pandemic slowed that growth, but demographics, governance, and economic fundamentals still point to a recovery this year.
CNN: What is your favorite thing about your career choice?
MA: My favorite thing about my career choice in tech entrepreneurship is the ability to make an impact. Technology is like nothing else in the sense that a relatively small team of people who build a technology platform that’s relevant to the market can impact hundreds, thousands, even millions of people within a relatively short timeframe – and (have) the ability to create things that are of value to other people and scale those things across countries, across geographical boundaries, across cultures. That’s incredibly rewarding.
CNN: What have you learned about yourself as an entrepreneur and CEO?
MA: The most important thing I’ve learned about myself is that my intuition is often right. The things that I believe are going to happen in the world and that are going to materialize are accurate. And sometimes I doubt my intuition, or I’ll ask a lot of people for their opinions because I want to get things right. But more often than not, when I’m the one closest to the problem, I have a big picture view of what the solution is. In many cases, I’m the best person to know what the answer is and where the market is going.
CNN: Speaking of problems, how has the pandemic affected your business?
MA: The second wave of Covid has hit the continent hard, but it has also accelerated trends toward digitization that were already happening in the shipping industry. Jetstream tripled our revenues and customer base last year, and this year we saw over 1,000 sign-ups for our mobile technology by logistics vendors who, two years ago, would not use their mobile phones for anything other than WhatsApp and phone calls.
CNN: Is it harder for a woman in Ghana to start out in the tech sector as opposed to other countries?
MA: I would generally say it’s easier to be an entrepreneur as a woman in Ghana than in other countries. There are so many women entrepreneurs in this country who are doing amazing businesses in many different sectors. Technology specifically is a little harder in Ghana because there are so few women with engineering backgrounds or who have the capabilities to build an engineering or technology-based business.
CNN: What roles have your parents played in your life?
MA: Both of my parents are inspirations. My dad is an inventor, investor, and entrepreneur. He developed a groundbreaking sterilization device for Johnson & Johnson in the 1990s that is still used globally today. He’s gone on to lead and invest in businesses and development projects in Asia and Africa. My mom is a whip-smart rabble-rouser who grew up in a military family, studied economics at Stanford, and now consults a bunch of manufacturing and logistics companies in Ghana. I get my ambition and entrepreneurial spirit from my dad, my stubbornness and grit from my mom.
CNN: What are your secrets to success?
MA: My secrets to success are really not so secret. It’s really about hard work and curiosity. I think over time, the biggest factor in my growth and in my company’s growth has been our willingness to stay humble and to be wrong and to admit when we’re wrong, and to fix our solution every time it’s wandering astray from the problem. The entire business has grown on the basis of continually applying ourselves to a better understanding of the market and what we’re doing. So, I would say humility and a growth-oriented mindset have been key.
CNN: What advice would you give to young women starting out in the tech innovation field?
MA: I think the key advice I would give to young women who are starting out, especially in technology entrepreneurship, is this notion of coming to solve problems that need you; coming when you’re called, not when you’re ready. And so, I think for many high-achieving women or women who are creative problem solvers, many times there’s a lot of pressure to get things perfect or to get things right. And I would say that if you have an idea of a problem that you want to solve, and you have the intuition that technology could make that solution scale bigger or faster or to more people, do it. Don’t wait till it’s perfect – just do it.