This entry is part 10 of 19 in the series Running a StartUp in a Crisis Economy

Most often, some startups or entrepreneurs fail or collapse at a given period because they didn’t solve a market need or reevaluate their brand. And because most people want to start with perfection, they find themselves drowning in time a crisis like the one going on now in Cameroon. However, according to Martin Fongoh, CEO at Digital Renter, crises should be used as a speed brake to understand your market and rebrand.

This isn’t strange from someone who started his company when Cameroon was already into the Anglophone crisis. If he didn’t drown then, he shouldn’t drown now. Martin launched Digital Renter in August 2017 after the horrific Internet shutdown. Digital Renter was a 2016 final year project with attention on real estate management. However, after serious thought and research, he decided to create a platform to rent, advertise and book for vacant houses online.

Digital Renter was created to solve the problem of house search in Buea. The platform offered four services; helping students rent their rooms or get rooms, provide vacant homes for visitors coming to Buea for a short stay, help a real estate agent keep track of his business from any corner around the globe, and help people who need land for constructions get verified lands. This is to avoid double selling or the risk of getting land that has a case in court.

Digital Renter’s journey hasn’t been an easy one because, from the beginning, it was difficult for people to accept the idea. The company started with two houses on their platform but today, they have over 300 vacant properties.

The success so far has been good, until October 2018 when things turned a little sour for Digital Renter due to the Anglophone crisis.

How the crisis affected Digital Renter

Digital Renter demands online marketing. As a result, information is supposed to be posted online for its very wide audience. If this isn’t done, the platform is almost useless. Thus, in this moment of crisis, it hasn’t been very easy to run the company smoothly.

The periods, two weeks before and two weeks after the October 2018 elections in Cameroon, was a very rough moment for Digital Renter. It was rather difficult to send agents out because of fear of arrestation, stray bullets, and other unpleasant predicaments.

While Digital Renter feared to endanger its employees during the socio-political hazards, house owners and real estate agents also feared the demise of losing their houses or lives in the act of advertising. Due to this, workers had to become IDPs until things got better.

Coping in such a horrendous atmosphere

It hasn’t been a ride in the park for the startup. Martin and his team were able to pull through the storm. Why give up now after succeeding in planting your roots deep into the soil? It wouldn’t make much sense.

According to Martin, he was able to stand firm thanks to his incubator, ActivSpaces. Digital Renter, at this critical moment, copped because they weren’t paying rents and other little bills at the space. An advantage of being under a hub.

In a bit to fight the financial crisis, the best solution was to look for side jobs, jobs that are in line with your brand. Digital renter helped in building real estate websites for other companies. This played a great role in sustaining their finances.

Advice to fellow and future entrepreneurs

Martin used this period as a speed brake for his company. A moment to lie low, track, reevaluate his strategies, brand, and rework his business models in order to come back even stronger. He used this as an opportunity to expand his brand with different tools such as creating a mobile app, Another Eye.

Stay alive, run for safety, humble yourself, face the challenges and accept the fact that you will tone down for better turnover. Get side projects that are in relation to your domain to raise income. Survival instinct becomes paramount.

For Martin, now is the best moment to start an entrepreneurial journey. There is ample time for upcoming entrepreneurs to have a rethink, get their ideas right before launching a business. Build your product with less pressure.

Digital Renter is ready to expand to other cities like Douala and Yaounde. The aim is to save these cities from the problem of searching for a house. Presently, house owners in these cities still have the opportunity to upload their vacant houses with their details on Digital Renter’s platform.


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