Mail and Guardian

Cherae Robinson

Since launching Rare Customs in 2014, which facilitated foreign investment in African SMEs in the fields of agriculture, tourism and market entry, founder Cherae Robinson (nominated a “woman to watch” by the U.N. in 2014) has continued on her upward trajectory.

In December 2015 she launched her start-up mobile app Tastemakers Africa (TSTMKRS), with the aim of “disrupting what the world thinks about Africa, one trip at a time”. African-American Robinson navigates the world of start-ups for black entrepreneurs and a desire to reframe the world’s perception of travel in and to Africa. Interview Profile: Cherae Robinson for Mail and Guardian.

I’m proud of my African-American heritage. I have always admired leaders like Maya Angelou, W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and others who worked collaboratively with African leaders during the independence struggle and civil rights movement respectively. I feel that I am cut from the same cloth with a 21st-century approach that focuses on commerce as a tool for collaboration and partnership amongst diaspora people all over the world. I first travelled to Africa in 2009 and visited Sierra Leone, where I was surprised by my ability to easily understand Kriol.

We have about 100 epic activities on the Tastemakers app. The goal is to take you “beyond safaris” in Africa. We focus on curated experiences and influencer-driven content. So, for example, in Johannesburg, we offer a cooking lesson on “Seven Colours” rice. Our experience partner is actually the mother of one of our local ambassadors, Twiggy Moli (Tshepang Mollison). You travel to the heart of Soweto and learn from a member of the community. Afterwards, you visit a South African black-owned microbrewery to enjoy a tour, local music and sundowners. In Ghana, you can take a fashion journey from traditional to the contemporary designs you see gracing “Afropolitan” style guides and runways. You start by learning batik fabric-making from local artisans. You learn about adinkra symbols and take part in the process of dying the fabrics and eventually designing your own fabric that you receive after it dries. Tastemakers also offers a virtual concierge service for intimate group travel several times a year.

The recent #SeekAfrica contest held in collaboration with South African Airways, Uber and Radisson Hotels was an amazing brand builder and validation in the African market. It was a good way for us to illustrate our commitment to making travel in Africa easier and more enjoyable for those coming from outside, and for Africans exploring their own countries, and of course other places on the continent. We’ve built buy-in from supporters like Maps Maponyane who joined the campaign and continues to be a key source of ideation for both TSTMKRS and to myself as a first-time entrepreneur. In the process, we doubled the number of installations of our mobile app and are crossing the 5000 mark.

Young start-ups face many challenges. Raising capital is one. By working with large entities like Uber and Radisson we embarked on an incredible learning curve; the demands and requirements to play on this level. We also learned about their pressure points and operational systems which were critical to us understanding how we can continue to add value to future collaborations.

I was locked in South African immigration for nearly 20 hours recently. I lost my yellow fever card. After years of effortless travel to Africa, this was my most harrowing travel experience. I took it as a serious lesson. We’ve doubled-down on prepping travellers about document safety and storage so that everyone can avoid this experience.

Our current challenge is building our team. We’ve been building so nimbly for a long time but as the saying goes: “If you want to go far, go together”. While we have strong and well-known influencers in key markets in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, we’re putting out a call to locals who want to share their expertise in their cities. If you’re in South Africa and can offer our travellers a truly unique experience, reach out. We’ve refined our method that allows us to turn influencers and creatives into micro-entrepreneurs. As the founder, I want to build with a team that is innovative and ready to “sweat excellence”.

Right now we’re working on a new and improved Tastemakers Africa website and on growing the app. We’re bringing on a world-class technical team to achieve our product vision. And we’re hosting some very cool pop-up events during the upcoming Essence Music Festival in Durban too.

One of my favourite African cities is Dakar, Senegal. It’s the epitome of old and new  – beautiful and deeply rooted in traditional culture. I’ve had some beachside conversations that made me feel like the past and the future were colliding in the best way. Our curators in Dakar are also incredible. Amath curates high-end African art on his own web site, Malick helps us understand the local culture and the DakarLives collective ensures our travellers get behind-the-scenes access across the city.

My dream African destination is the Vanilla Islands. Or a yachting trip across the East African coast. There are so many small, hidden islands off the coast and I think some beautiful memories can be created there.

I’ve had to prioritise self-care, even when I’m too busy. This includes mindfulness, meditation, physical fitness and doing things I really enjoy occasionally.

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Cherea Robinson

Cherea Robinson, image supplied.