By Jude Odika
Three weeks ago, I had a brief chat with an acquaintance who recently started a small agri-business. In the course of our discussion, I was curious about how the person came about the business idea, and what prompted the person to go into business as against going the conventional route of seeking and taking up employment right after college. So, I asked. The response I got was that the person had applied to several jobs and after interviewing with two different companies and got no positive result, the person resorted to entrepreneurship. In the person’s opinion, instead of striving so hard to get an employment and ‘slave’ for another person, it is better to strive hard knowing that you are working for yourself. And this really got me thinking.
Now, I was not so concerned about personal capabilities here, because I think this person is intelligent and smart. But I am very concerned about the thought process that led to the person’s decision to go into business. I think that this person, just like many others out there, have misconstrued the concept of entrepreneurship and what it takes to achieve success in that space. And unless this level of thinking is upgraded very quickly, there might not be a business before long.
In part one of this two-part series, I wrote about being intentional about your career path. It was basically for those that are about to begin their career and those seeking to make progress in theirs. In this sequel, I would like to address individuals who want to, or have already started up ‘anything’ in the form of a business, all in the name of being referred to as an entrepreneur or simply being their own boss, and not having to answer to anyone. I hope to help these individuals understand why ‘anything’, in the context of starting a business without a solid mission, ultimately amounts to nothing as well.
I believe that, if you are going to start any business primarily because you could not secure a job, then your chances of achieving entrepreneurial success are almost next to none, especially if you do not have any prior experience of running a business. If you think that because securing a job is very hard then you would have better luck with entrepreneurship, you just might be in for a big surprise. This is not to say that everyone who starts a business right out of college would not succeed. No, it goes to say that those who do it just for the sake of the status, without an evolving sense of mission overtime, typically don’t succeed. Join me as I share my thoughts on why jumping right into starting a business for two categories of individuals is a poor strategy, and might ultimately be a bad idea.
Those in the first category are fresh college graduates. You see, there is this present rave about being an entrepreneur, so much that both those who are and those who think they are almost wear it like a badge of honour. And now, almost every graduate wants to be an entrepreneur right out of school. They want to do their own ‘thing’ and get access to the big bucks (especially investor funds) as quickly as possible. What I find interesting is that these people typically draw their inspirations from absorbing contents around the successes of the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, etc. But they do little to absorb contents around, and possibly get inspiration from, the processes that equipped these people with the capabilities that have now allowed them to attain great entrepreneurial success. The keyword here is capability!
Capability enables you to execute on any business idea backed by a great sense of mission. In order words, no matter how great your business idea might be, if you do not have the capability to execute properly, you will get minimal or no success. In fact, an average idea backed by excellent execution will always do better than an excellent idea backed by average execution. So, dear fresh college graduates, before you engage in your lofty dreams of being the next Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos, be certain that you have what it takes to execute; because if you don’t, you will not be able to attract quality investors for your venture. I’ll tell you that for free as someone who has been there, done that. Invest in yourself first, and acquire as much knowledge and skills as possible before you begin your entrepreneurial journey. Read books, volunteer, take up a job. But not just any volunteer opportunity or any job, be deliberate about it; seek out the ones that will help you acquire the skills you need faster. Doing that comes with a double advantage: you learn what you need to drive your mission, and while at it, you earn what you need to take care of your bills.
Those in the second category are those who are already in paid employment, but want to start their own business because they are frustrated at their jobs. The first thing that comes to my mind whenever I encounter people like this is: show me a job or endeavour that does not come with some level of frustration, and I will show you a job or endeavour that does not exist. Now, I am not advocating that you should stay in a toxic work environment where there is no regard for the dignity of work and the humans that put in the work. My point here is, try to focus on the learning opportunities rather than allowing the frustrations get to you. And when you have reached the height of the learning curve, then it is time to exit to the next venture. Approaching job frustrations from this perspective will help you build resilience – a core skill you must have as an entrepreneur anyways. But if there are no specific learning opportunities for you there, then you shouldn’t be there in the first place, frustrations or no frustrations. And when you have acquired the skills and capabilities that you will need to succeed in that business venture you have been thinking about, then you can launch. But not before. It is true that Nigeria and Africa in general need more businesses that are solving real life problems, but these businesses have to be sustainable and even scalable for them to effectively address the present challenges plaguing the continent. And one of the key components of a sustainable and scalable business is excellent execution, and that you can achieve by acquiring relevant capabilities.
In conclusion, I submit that until we upgrade our thought process to approach entrepreneurship and business in general from the perspective of giving rather than getting, our businesses will continue to struggle in many ways. If we focus on giving value, then we would naturally get rewarded by getting value in return. This does not mean that running the business will be very smooth and there will be no challenges; no, there will be challenges and this is where the core skill of resilience comes into play. The fastest way I know to build your ability to give value, is to constantly give value where ever and when ever is possible to do so. No matter how little or insignificant you think it might be, do it consistently and you will get better at it. And while you are it, always keep in mind that you cannot give what you don’t have. So, the more you acquire capabilities, the more you are able to give value, and the more you get value. However, in all you acquire, give, and get, find and stay true to your purpose!