Kukua – Lucrezia Bisignani

January 17, 2017

“Do what you were born to do. You just have to trust yourself.” – Beyonce Knowles. Isn’t it nice to know exactly what you want to spend the rest of your days doing? Few of us truly know our purpose, our passion and have the conviction to follow both. But not Lucrezia Bisignani, who from the age of 12, set her sights on changing lives. Now, as co-founder of mobile app developer Kukua, she is giving countless children the thing they need to thrive – an education. MC, editor.

In conversation with Lewis Howes, James Altucher said that everyone who starts a business/a platform, has experienced an ‘end’ (an end of a career maybe), a ‘fog’ (i.e. a stage of confusion or feeling lost) and then a ‘beginning’. How much do you agree with that? (and what did you have to leave behind/give up so you could build Kukua?)

To build Kukua, I left behind my comfort zone. Kukua is the result of a long journey of discovery, which started when I was 12 years old. I’d visited schools and villages in rural Africa with my family and it became clear to me that I was going to use my life to improve those of children. All my personal and professional decisions after that were based on the responsibility I felt to do something to change this.

Was there ever a Plan B?

Because I consider Kukua a mission and not a plan, it’s hard to have a plan B. I knew at a young age that I wanted to do something meaningful in my life and work to help children in need. I’ve always felt that I was put on earth to do this. Alongside a deep sense of responsibility, I love every single part of my work at Kukua: the entrepreneurial side of running a startup, driving the vision, coordinating projects and people, raising funds, diving into the education practices and combining them with a magical and engaging product. Probably most rewarding though is working on the ground in slums and rural areas in Africa as well as Syrian refugee camps and seeing our impact firsthand. I feel lucky to wake up each morning and be able to do this.

Do you have any morning rituals that you stick to religiously?

I “visualize” every morning. I’ve done it since I was a teenager although I would call it “daydreaming” then. I turn on my iPod (yes, I still have an iPod) on my way to work and naturally fall into an state of excitement in which I envision anything that I want to accomplish. I can see it so clearly that I actually feel the excitement of the accomplishment as if it had already happened. Not one day goes by without me visualizing and if I’m in a car or a plane, I can go on for hours.     

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far, as a social entrepreneur?

I’ve learnt that you need to build around your users and follow a lean approach. To build our game, SEMA, we used a human-centered design and tested prototypes early on (when we were actually embarrassed about them!).  We constantly iterated, based on user feedback and our intuitions, after seeing people use the game. This saved us so much work, time and money. There’s no other approach, when you want to make sure that you’re actually solving a problem and building a business.

Growing up, did you have a role model or someone you aspired to be like? Who do you look up to now?

I have very special mentors whom I look up to, primarily entrepreneurs or philanthropists I have met at different stages of my life. They’ve helped me get where I am, guided all my important decisions, believed in me when I only had dreams and ideas and given me the confidence and resources to make things happen. They are a key part of any success I have and I’m so grateful to have them in my life. Along with my mentors, I’m inspired by Walt Disney’s  life and the magic he brought to so many children around the world. I hope to bring that magic to children who live in poverty and need it the most.

You’ve described SEMA as ‘a magic wand that unlocks children’s potential’. Can you tell us a little more about the game and the impact you’ve seen it make in children’s lives?

SEMA is a smartphone and tablet game that empowers children aged 5-10 years old to learn how to read, write and do basic arithmetic. It’s an adventure game that overlays mechanics from some of the most successful games of the past decades – from Super Mario to Donkey Kong to Angry Birds – with tried and tested literacy teaching methodologies designed specifically for children from low-income communities. We’re all fueled by research that shows how acquiring even basic literacy and numeracy can change a child’s entire life trajectory; it corresponds directly to improvements in life expectancy, income, access to healthcare and, most importantly, access to education for their own future children.

What would you say is the key to your continued success?

I feel extremely lucky to be working with an exceptional team who are motivated by the impact we can have together. We are young and mission-driven entrepreneurs, innovative educators, experienced game designers, storytellers, local community builders and software developers. Kukua is what it is because of the passion and commitment everyone puts into building our products and growing the company into an exciting startup to work at. As we start to distribute SEMA, our metric of success will be how many children have learned to read, write and count, because of our work.

And how do you measure your personal success?

The way I measure my personal success is through learning. At the end of each day, and after every failure, I want to know I have learned something significant and am therefore equipped to do things better. I’m madly in love with learning and feel successful when my day is filled with an “aha moment” in which I encounter something new or find new and different ways to solve a problem (Even if it’s something very small, I’m always aware and excited about it). This mindset allows me to stay humble, open-minded, and to look at failures only as opportunities to learn more. Quoting my drama school professor,  “Fail, fail again, fail better” – this is what ultimately matters for me.

Years from now, looking back on Kukua, what would you have hoped to accomplish?

We imagine a world where any child, no matter where they live or their station in life, can learn through an engaging, rigorous and personalized education. While we’re currently focused on empowering children to master basic reading, writing and math via mobile gaming, we see Kukua growing into a major content and media player across the continent – creating and distributing culturally-relevant and educationally-powerful content through gaming, animations and social media.

You have to try. You have to push yourself to do things.” – Dallas Clayton. What words of wisdom would you give to anyone struggling to find their purpose and pursue their passion?

Focus on a big unsolved problem that can change the world – even if you don’t succeed, it will be the best use of your time on earth. And remember your I CAN is stronger than your I.Q.

Photographs by Fiorenza M.J. Panke

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