Seven business truths that drive success
SEE ALSO :Strange ideas that made millionairesShe applied for a grant of Sh500,000, which she got through YALI, and got into business. While her product was addressing a real need, her business could do with a little guidance. Through BSI, Stella was linked to a mentor running a similar business. “That’s when I realised the importance of having someone to guide you,” she says. “The benefits of a mentor include having someone who can point out the pitfalls ahead of time.” Chris Gumbe, one of BSI’s mentors, says a mentor has walked the path of nurturing a business and is, therefore, suited to help budding entrepreneurs avoid mistakes. “Most of us weren’t lucky enough to have such a person; one who can give you good advice on what to expect and the best ways to handle a problem. As a result, we lost investments. Having a mentor increases the chances of a business achieving success.” Chris, who’s a successful businessman who started out in Tanzania before expanding across East Africa, believes some of the ideas he had earlier on would have survived if he’d had a mentor holding his hand and helping him navigate the rough spots. 3. Focus on the solution you’re offering Imagine having an idea you think could change your community, but having no clue on how to turn it into a business. That’s the position Felicia Masaki found herself in two years ago in Dar es Salaam. “I grew up in an informal settlement where life was generally difficult. I saw my peers get themselves into drug abuse, early pregnancy and other similar challenges,” Felicia says. She was lucky to avoid a similar fate “because my parents made sure that I went to school in spite of the hardship”. Felicia eventually attained a university education and ended up working for the government, as well as teaching economics at a university in Dar. “I escaped a life of misery because of my mind, because of what I learnt and how I put my brain to use.” She came to value an independent, daring and focused attitude, learning first-hand that it was vital to success. “I started looking at people’s minds as powerful tools that many haven’t harnessed, and I knew that if they did, their lives would be different,” Felicia says. But converting this understanding into a business idea was not easy. Through what she learnt at BSI, she knew that to find success, she knew she had to solve someone’s problem. So she narrowed down on the problem she believed she could offer a solution to. “What I wanted to do was to cultivate success qualities into our thinking as Africans, so I started Mimi ni Nani?, a business that provides training to help people construct their own sense of self-understanding.” Mimi ni Nani? takes in students aged 12 and above through a 12-week training curriculum aimed at transforming the way they think and view themselves. 4. Innovate at every stage In today’s fast-paced world, if your business is to have any hope of survival, you must innovate. Without this, you’re likely to be outcompeted. As a result, innovation is a key teaching point at BSI. “If you want your business to be here in the next 10 years, you have to pay attention to technology,” Silvere Mantz, a trainer in the programme, says. Justine Abuga, a university graduate and the proprietor of Eco Bora, a clean energy business, understood that his company needed to look beyond what was already available in the market to make its mark. He came up with the idea of manufacturing cooking pellets – compressed six-centimetre rods from organic waste – as a source of fuel. “Our innovation primarily makes use of rice husks, which are readily available from Mwea. However, cooking pellets can be made from virtually any organic matter,” he says. The pellets are dried to a moisture content of less than 1 per cent, and can then burn hotter than charcoal. “Pellets are a clean way of dealing with organic waste, as well as offering an alternative to cutting down trees for charcoal or firewood,” Justine says. When he started Eco Bora, he’d buy organic waste from farmers. He, however, discovered a simple, more cost-effective way of getting raw materials. “I have entered into an agreement with some farmers who give me organic waste for free. In return, I give them pellets. It’s cut down on costs, providing savings that I can pass on to the consumer.” 5. Be patient and eliminate mistakes If there’s a trait young entrepreneurs need to train themselves out of, it’s impatience, says Silvere, “the belief that returns must be instant”. But according to the trainer, what young entrepreneurs lack in patience, they make up for in passion. Unfortunately, passion alone seldom leads to success in running a business. “It takes a while for a business to break even,” he says, adding that rushing towards profits leads to disappointment and premature decisions. Chris, the mentor, adds: “Ask yourself ‘what am I doing wrong?’ And then ask yourself what you could do differently to solve a problem.” What Chris does with his business, and what he advises the entrepreneurs he mentors to do, is to systematically eliminate mistakes until there are none left. “Every now and then, get rid of the mistakes. It’s sort of like starting the same business, but this time minus the mistakes. Only fold when you’ve eliminated all the mistakes and you still aren’t making progress,” he says. 6. Market yourself at every opportunity A business thrives on the wings of extensive marketing. Every new venture has to make itself known to potential clients. For a start-up, the stakes are even higher – you often don’t have enough to buffer you from the business environment chewing you up and spitting you out. “But while traditional channels of marketing may be out of reach due to cost factors, all’s not lost. We find ourselves in the middle of a digital revolution that has brought forth social media opportunities,” says Sharon Olang, a BSI project manager with KCDF. Social media, Sharon explains, has presented a cheap, effective avenue through which entrepreneurs can market their products and services. Beyond social media, entrepreneurs also need to market their businesses to friends and the people they meet in their daily interactions. There’s no room for shyness. 7. Get the right staff Employees are the people business owners entrust with service or product delivery. The success of every start-up, says Rhoda, depends on people getting the job done. “I have learnt through growing Mr Gift that if one is going to hire staff, they need to get people who believe in the idea in the first place,” she says. On her part, Stella’s experience with Alternative Waste Technologies taught her to make sure her employees had the necessary skills. “I had met and worked with these young men in Kibera before hiring them. But beyond equipping them with the skills to run my machines, which was critical to avoid wastage and keep costs low, I also needed to sell them on the vision I had. They’ve since demonstrated a passion for what they’re doing.” [email protected]
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