The dark side of entrepreneurship

Did you know that, on average, one in three entrepreneurs experiences depression?

There’s a fairy tale that goes around about entrepreneurship, and it’s not helped by the fact that most of the businesses we hear about are the successful ones.

We’re rarely exposed to the reality of failure. As much as we go by our instincts to find what succeeds, we need to invest in researching what measures to put in place should our idea fail.

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Why am I talking about this? Well, last week a friend of mine was in hospital, so I went to check up on him. I called a few other friends from our circle and we carried the usual Kenyan fare of fruits and a card.

We got to his room and found his family just finishing up a prayer session. They then left, giving us room to visit with him.

The dream

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Let me give you a brief history of my friend.

Three years ago, he started a poultry farm. It had been a dream of his. I mentored him where I could, and we even made trips to one of the mega poultry farms along Mombasa Road that occupy acres of land.

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What I loved about that visit was that the founder talked about the profits and they sounded heavenly – but one thing he emphasised was that it wasn’t easy getting his business to where it was.

There’s a sum of failures that eventually build you as a person. Basically, his theory was aligned to that of building a house, just that this house has a different end result.

Every entrepreneur should know the rules of architecture that build a strong business. Over time, I have come to understand that the life of a business will depend on the foundation that it’s built on, which is the rule for every house constructed.

The foundation will determine how far up you go. If your foundation is not strong, then expect a falling business or a lower shelf-life for your products.

The foundation

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So with this poultry guru, we talked about the foundation and what it takes to build a strong business.

The foundation is the research, the product evaluation. What does the audience you initially experiment with say about what you put out?

Even if you have the capacity to build your building in a month’s time, use your resources wisely and spread them out. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

The take-away was to spend as much time as possible building your business to respond to a real need.

I was talking to another friend who registers businesses, and the number of people looking to set up businesses is large.

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It’s not a bad thing; it means that entrepreneurs are taking the right steps in setting up legal entities. Plus, I assume by the time you’re getting to the registration phase, you’ve done some research.

However, have you thought about what to do if you fail, and how you’ll deal with this?

Stress threshold

The human body has a stress threshold. The question for any entrepreneur is: what are doing about it?

A while back, I attended a business conference in the United States, and there was a speaker who talked about depression and how he got through it.

He ended up opening a free counselling centre for entrepreneurs in nearly every state. His programme helps business people put structures in place, including for failure.

Even big businesses are shutting down, and nearly every day we read about multinationals that once ruled the world laying off staff.

Try as we might, we can’t avoid asking ourselves how to deal with failure and eventually bounce back.

Passion wakes me up every morning, but what happens when I run out of it?

I used to stress about money and I was lonely, not physically but it was a feeling I’d find myself grappling with.

So those many times when things were not adding up, I’d blame myself for not taking the safest path.

But along the way, I had to be hard on myself and learn the art of keeping my chin up, changing course and seeing what happens.

Remember, you can’t change the past, but the future is a plain piece of paper and you can paint on it as you wish.

My friend’s diagnosis was stress. His business didn’t pick up like he thought it would. He’d borrowed money, and ended up having his things auctioned to pay the loan off.

This is my advise to entrepreneurs working towards making it: take it easy and move at your own pace.

The writer is an award-winning artiste and entrepreneur.

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