When you think of travel to Africa, what is the first image that pops into your mind? Probably something to do with wildlife and so-called jungles.
If you are like a growing number of people, you now imagine the breathtaking views, delicious food and cool places to hangout. One person responsible for this change in perception is Cherae Robinson, NY – native and founder of Tastemakers Africa. We had a chat with her and this is what she had to say:
I’m Cherae Robinson, founder of Tastemakers Africa and a graduate of Morgan State University. Prior to starting my business, I worked in international development focused on partnerships and fundraising in the agriculture and women’s empowerment sectors. I currently split my time between Brooklyn, NY and the African continent.
SB: What ignited your passion for travel in Africa?
CR: I’ve always been a Pan-Africanist at heart, I believe in the power of connecting Black people from different perspectives all around the world and I believe in reversing the effects of colonialism and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade through economic, social, and artistic exchange between people of African descent.
On my first trip to the continent, I was enveloped with love. Music, food, and an energy that was both fascinating and familiar made me feel at once a welcomed visitor and a long lost member of the family.
This was my experience in every place I went, whether it was the beaches outside of Freetown, Sierra Leone or the trendy vibes of Maboneng and the Johannesburg CBD in South Africa.
While this notion was a common thread, the vibes and experiences themselves were unique. There was so much uncelebrated diversity across Africa that I was tapping into with each country I touched down in.
My goal is accelerate this on a global scale and in an experiential way. People are shaped most by their own lived experiences and travel to and within the continent has the opportunity to inform and transform us all.
SB: When most people think of vacation activities in Africa, they think of going on a Safari. What kind of experiences do you provide?
CR: Tastemakers Africa focuses on premium, authentic experiences. This can be anything from a pop-up dinner with a local chef to a road trip to a jaw-dropping landscape photography lesson from a local creative.
We seek to transform and carefully blend opportunities to learn about cultures (think batik fabrik making with one of Ghana’s hottest fashion designers in Accra) to more active experiences like joining the dhow boat race in Lamu, Kenya with a champagne finish on a private island or VIP access to the most exclusive party in town.
For us it’s about charting your own experience, with our carefully curated suggestions, on demand.
SB: Those all sound amazing! How are you able to find all these cool places and activities in multiple countries?
CR: We have local creatives and experience scouts who serve as our local curation network. Their job is to not only find the experiences and things to do but to put them through our screening process.
Getting the rubber stamp from our insiders means a lot to us, they are the funnel that brings things onto our radar and strengthen our relationships with business owners and experience providers in each city we operate in.
Finally – our instagram followers and TSTMKRS app users are a constant source of new ideas and happenings.
SB: Many African governments are depending on their tourism sector to help reduce the reliance on commodities like oil for revenue. Have you introduced your business to any government officials? What was the reception like?
CR: Government has not been a primary focus though in some cases tourism boards have been our allies.
We’ve got a great relationship with South Africa Tourism and Kenyan Tourism yet others don’t see the promise of the millennial market or really aren’t ready to commit as much budget towards their tourism budgets as they might say in the news.
SB: What are your growth plans for your brand?
CR: This year we’re focused on actually getting to market and making the TSTMKRS app public, we’re adding new curators and suppliers to really get the threshold of experiences available matching the appetite for our existing users.
In the product itself, we’ve got some exciting new features that will make it the app you “can’t put down” whether you are actively planning a trip or just dreaming about one – unfortunately I can’t release all of the details around that just yet, but soon come!
SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
CR: Spend a crap ton of time understanding your customer segments and their behaviors. I wish I would’ve done 10 skillshares or General Assembly courses on what this means from day 1.
It’ll save you time and resources to really be unreasonably solid about what your customer actually wants.
Entrepreneurship is a journey. The silicon valley startups you read about have often been at it longer than you would’ve imagined and nothing will go exactly as you’ve planned. Be flexible and have endurance.
Also, compete with yourself. Once you start your business, everyone else will want to start the same one, existing businesses will start pivoting into your “territory,” and people will be lazy and compare you to businesses doing “better” than you even if said businesses are only marginally related.
Don’t get caught up. Your inability to know what your customers want and innovate beyond that are your biggest enemies.