Since launching Rare Customs in 2014, which facilitated investment in small and medium African enterprises in agriculture and tourism, founder Cherae Robinson has continued on her upward trajectory. Her mobile app, TSTMKRS Africa, aims to disrupt “what the world thinks about Africa, one trip at a time”. She speaks to Ishay Govender-Ypma
I’m proud of my African-American heritage. I have always admired leaders such as Maya Angelou, WEB 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 among diasporan 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 TSTMKRS app. The goal is to take you beyond safaris in Africa. We focus on curated experiences and influencer-driven content.
In Johannesburg we offer a cooking lesson on seven colours dishes. Our experience partner is 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 the 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.
TSTMKRS also offers a virtual concierge service for intimate group travel several times a year.
The #SeekAfrica contest with SAA, Uber and Radisson Hotels was an amazing brand-building event 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 such as 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 5 000 mark.
Young start-ups face many challenges. Raising capital is one. By working with large entities such as 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 20 hours because 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.”
Although 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.
An improved Tastemakers Africa website and 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 website, 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 had to prioritise self-care, even when I’m too busy. This includes mindfulness, meditation, physical fitness and doing things I really enjoy occasionally.