I met a young business lady last week who was in the same situation as many other young business owners I know: she had no capital and was lacking in experience.
This issue has been recurring, so I asked myself how I could change that scarcity.
Changing the mentality
When you are willing, nothing is hard. In my years as a football fan, I have never seen such a composed and talented player as Lionel Messi. I have on numerous occasions gotten into verbal fights defending him.
Apart from his excellent pitch skills, he once said: “Football has taught me that you can overcome anything if only you love something enough.”
When he was 11, he was diagnosed with a growth deficiency disease and the doctors said he would not be allowed to play soccer. Since it was the only thing he loved, he pleaded with his family and friends, and since the whole community knew how good he was as a player, they — together with his club — helped him to get a three-year treatment. Now Messi is, in my opinion, the number one footballer in the world.
The street economy
I have lived the typical Kenyan story: We were raised by a single mother, three boys in one room that only had a double decker bed, a small table and one sofa.
That’s it. We would share the kitchen and washroom facilities with three other families in Maringo estate in Eastlands, Nairobi.
I have never been ashamed to embrace my past for it forms a strong foundation of the drive that I gain everyday. I went to government schools and finally got to the ‘street’ economy.
But most lessons that I have leant over the years I learnt from my mother. She ran a fruit business on Enterprise Road in Nairobi’s Idustrial Area for more than 23 years. Sometimes when it would rain and I was in class, I knew it was a bad day for business, and that made me work hard in school. My report card was really thorough, but I couldn’t wait for the system to hand me cash flow.
Lessons from mama
My first accounting job was at home. Every evening, my mum would empty the cash from the milk packet which acted as a purse, and I would start the counting. I would make entries in a small A6 book and after, we would sit together and allocate for the following day’s budget.
I did not wait for a business school to learn how to save or put money back to the craft that gave you the same money. I saw my mother embrace all the challenges she was going through.
Since then, curiosity has been my nature. I wanted to know how things work, and I would ask her if I could go with her to work on Saturdays. But what has always stuck with me was her mentality and practicality.
She once told me that the problem with small businesses is that their growth expectation kills their business. Learn the art of satisfaction but be realistic in your vision and projection. She had dreams and I saw her growth curve over the years. If a business is at the same place in terms of growth for years then it means you are comfortable.
She started by hawking a few bunches of bananas, and after a few months of studying the area she saw an opportunity.
Construction workers would have lunch provided by the local jua kali women and she saw that they would need a fruit or two. And just like that she knew where to be and at what time.
Everytime she marked a new territory she would come with that exciting news, and that meant a good meal.
Since I was the accountant, she always mentioned ‘chama’ and was keen on investments.
What threshold have you put in place that will enable you invest outside your source of income? By the time I finished my schooling, she had five different fruit stations and 10 employees working for her. She basically had built a dynasty. She always asked, what next?
Your background should never be your excuse not to succeed, but you should use it as a stepping stone. I can confidently declare that I learnt most of my business skills at Elizabeth University. In case you are not aware, Elizabeth is my mother’s name.
The writer is an award-winning artiste and entrepreneur