Kela Ivonye says being from Nigeria is a privilege when it comes to the startup world.
Ivonye founded the Louisville company Mailhaven after a missed package cost him $250. Mailhaven is a smart mailbox and app that enables users to track packages, get real-time notifications and secure important deliveries.
His penchant for transportation — and interest in climate change — led him to entrepreneurship.
I chatted with Ivonye about the intersection of transit and tech and how being West African is a plus in business. Listen to our conversation in the player above.
On his love affair with mail and delivery:
“So, mail and delivery is definitely not your traditional sexy tech stuff, but the reason I love this is I always loved transportation. Right from when I was young I used to with the play toys, I would have a huge map on my table and say, ‘Hey play soldiers, we’re going to get from here to here.’
“Loving maps and loving how things move around got me into delivery.”
On being an entrepreneur since childhood:
“The first business I remember was when I was 12 in boarding school. I had a bunch of my uncles buy me Game Boys, so I had two or three Game Boys.
“And I took the Game Boy and I got my cousin to be the enforcer, and people would rent the Game Boy hourly or daily and then they’ll pay me. I’d get my cousin to pick up the money and then we split it.”
How school helped with entrepreneurship:
“School was never a waste of time for me. I loved school. I thought I was going to be a professor even though I had an entrepreneurial mindset. But the best thing about school, like for an entrepreneur, is a bunch of my co-founders, I met them in school.
“I think the really important thing in going to college, which I think every entrepreneur should do is, that is the best place to find your co-founder. You know what that person does in class, you know how they act, you have interactions with them before you decide to start a company together.”
Being from Lagos, Nigeria is an advantage in business:
“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Whenever people say ‘oh, this is a challenge,’ I say ‘hey, I lived in Lagos, man. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ You’ve got that developing nation feel, but also you got the hustle and bustle of a mega-city. If you’re not from a rich family it’s usually hard. That kind of hustle mentality is what I took away from there.”
This interview is part of From the Ground Up, our new weekly conversation with entrepreneurs, changemakers and other innovators in Louisville. Listen to more interviews in the series here.