Vitor Coff Del Rey is one of the three partners behind mobile app, Kilombu, the first enterprise app developed for afro Brazilians by afro-Brazilians. Vitor and his business partners, Gilvan Bueno and Thiago Campos set out to create an app that would help to address the disadvantage that many afro Brazilian entrepreneurs face because of their race, and the direct impact that this also has on access to good quality education and opportunity in Brazil.
Having been lucky enough to work with a number of afro Brazilian entrepreneurs during my time in Rio, I was keen to find out more about how Kilombu was helping to overcome the challenges faced by afro Brazilian entrepreneurs, supporting them to create stronger and more sustainable enterprises within the low-income communities and beyond.
What makes Kilombu unique?
Kilombu is a mobile app showcasing afro Brazilian entrepreneurs as well as offering free consultancy in
partnership with organisations that have expertise in key areas such as marketing, finance and operations that can help afro Brazilian entrepreneurs run their businesses more effectively.
What inspired you to develop Kilombu?
Whilst completing my Social Sciences MA at FGV, I was invited to help facilitate a new business clinic aimed at entrepreneurs from low-income backgrounds who were running their businesses informally. The course facilitators were struggling to communicate many of the key concepts around running a business to the participants, who had the real life enterprise experience but were unable to relate the formal business terms and structures to their own enterprises. As someone who grew up in Rio’s periferia (the outskirts of the city) but also studied at university, I was able to help bridge the gap between the lecturers and the afro Brazilian entrepreneurs, finding common ground in the different languages they were using to speak about business.
This experience highlighted to me that there were many business tools available to help afro Brazilian entrepreneurs, which were not being adopted as they weren’t relatable, creating a further disadvantage for entrepreneurs that were already setback because of their race. I developed the idea of Kilombu as a way to connect afro Brazilian entrepreneurs with their customers, and provide them with free training and consultancy to develop stronger businesses.
What is the problem you try to solve? What is your long-term goal?
We want to help afro Brazilian entrepreneurs have greater visibility so they can sell more products and services, grow and employ people to work with them. Although more than 50% of Brazilian entrepreneurs are black, only 9% of them are employers. This is compared to 78% of white Brazilian entrepreneurs who are also employers. This data from SEBRAE, the leading body supporting small and medium enterprise in Brazil, reflects the impact of limited or unequal access to opportunities that can lead to growth and effective business development for afro Brazilian entrepreneurs.
We want to promote greater access to opportunities for afro Brazilian entrepreneurs as well as highlighting and showing the value that their businesses bring in terms of Brazilian culture. From afro hair stylists to moto taxi drivers to home cooked food and delivery, the variety of businesses is vast but often not recognised. In reality, Kilombu is more than just a mobile app. By offering free consultancy to afro Brazilian entrepreneurs, we are providing them with training that they have never had access to, whilst helping them to have a much bigger reach.
What types of entrepreneurs use your app?
The majority of the entrepreneurs are women aged between 16-40 who work in beauty or gastronomy. They’re normally based in the periferia or suburbs of Rio and tend to work very locally. This makes the need to give them more visibility even greater as their potential client base can be very limited.
What are common challenges that afro Brazilian entrepreneurs face?
The ability to navigate all of the processes and bureaucracy linked to setting up formally as a micro or small enterprise can be very challenging. These processes are often very complex and lengthy and are set up in a way that can feel very exclusive for afro Brazilian entrepreneurs who have not had access to the same educational or societal privileges as their white Brazilian counterparts, and therefore struggle to understand these structures and make their businesses fit into them.
Many afro Brazilian entrepreneurs set up their businesses without a business plan or systems in place to monitor or record their income and expenditure. This means they can have real difficulty being able to structure their operations, to establish how profitable their enterprise is and to see where there are opportunities to grow their business. I worked with a female entrepreneur who had 3 small salons in her community, and was on the verge of closing her business as she was struggling to monitor her finances and thought she was running at a loss. When we explained profit, revenue and expenditure and then went through her accounts, she was actually running at a profit and in a position to keep growing but had not realised this.
What are the three lessons learned so far?
It’s a reality for afro Brazilian entrepreneurs that they will have to work much harder to get their businesses off the ground, and they should be prepared for this and prepared to put the extra work in to achieve their business goals. To get Kilombu off the ground, we started with nothing and managed to get as far as we have without investment. It all comes to lots of hardwork!
Having someone on your team that has a good head for business and really understands the different elements of this as well as believing in what you are trying to create is very important. They’ll have the knowledge and commitment to help you get there.
As a social business, the economics and administration of your enterprise shouldn’t feel completely separate to the social part and the social part of your enterprise should not feel separate from the admin and economic part. All of these aspects should support each other and remain connected to make sure you’re achieving your overall objective. We want to strengthen and grow the economy for afro Brazilian entrepreneurs and Kilombu’s success is intrinsically linked to this.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs / start-ups?
It’s very important to learn as much as possible about business in general, not just your own business. Really understanding the basics of business will be very beneficial to your own business but it is something that is often overlooked as people just focus on their own business. If you do not feel confident in this area then you should get someone who is a specialist on your team so that they can share their knowledge and help you in this area. The ability to understand how to be sustainable is linked to good basic business knowledge along with having a good grasp on future business planning, keeping an overview of the medium and long term progress of your business.