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Four entrepreneurs share valuable lessons learned from making mistakes

By Peter Theuri | October 28th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Many years in business bring along worthwhile lessons. There are mistakes one is bound to make, some which will kill a venture. However, every wise business person learns from their missteps to make formidable success.

Four entrepreneurs share lessons they learned through mistakes made in business.

20 YEARS IN BUSINESS

Chris Bitti (pictured above) is the founder and CEO of Digital Brands Agency, attracting a raft of top notch corporates as clients. He has worked with KTN, Safaricom. Citizen, Airtel and various NGOs to help them maximise their digital influence. 

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The biggest mistake I ever made in business…

This must be bringing onboard wrong partners. These were equity partners with no real strategic input. I have since learnt that if you intend to be a successful entrepreneur, you should be on your toes to avoid carrying on people whose dreams and output do not contribute much to the business. If they do not share your vision, and if your partners are not contributing enough towards steering your business ahead, you should not embark on a business journey with them.

Another mistake I made was losing a lot of good people that were a great asset to the business. They left because as they got frustrated by the introduction of a new culture. It is a tough thing to deal with as a business owner. You have to be completely honest with your employees. Full transparency. You should build a great rapport with them and show them you have their back, or they will leave you at the first opportunity. However, it really depends on the people you have. If they’ve bought into your vision, they will probably stay. In Nairobi, money talks, people make the mistake of only following money. There are employees that are loyal though.

The business lesson I would pass on to young entrepreneurs…

Business is made of a million failures, and a couple of wins. Rough times make you reevaluate your goals and adjust your strategy. If you have the right mindset, tough times make you grow, and help you appreciate the good. To overcome rough times, you often need to go back to basics. You need to remember why you started and what are you great at. Focus on that. Success is not an event but rather a state of mind. It is ok to fail. Like everything else, business has a tipping point. A moment that justifies all the failures. A big win.

32 YEARS IN BUSINESS

Back in the late 80s, Catherine Wanjoya (pictured above) and her husband started Silmak Agencies. She had just gotten out of employment with Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) and was confident about going all out on her own. In 2015, the couple started Genesis Care, a brand of Silmak Agencies that offers comprehensive menstrual hygiene solutions, and more.

The biggest mistake I ever made in business…

The most expensive one was taking on a big job I could not deliver. A German company gave an LPO (Local Purchase Order) where they wanted us to supply sorghum and simsim to Sudan. The contract asserted that we could be surcharged for late deliveries. We could get sorghum in Kenya, but we had to go for simsim in Uganda. There, we met and dealt with a company that was anything but straightforward. Being green in business, we did not know how to navigate the situation, and ended up getting the deliveries late. The contract was cancelled. We learnt never to bite more than we can swallow. I have since learned to only bite what I can swallow.

Every businessperson should evaluate opportunities that come their way candidly as to gauge what they can handle and what they cannot. If the business is not in a capacity to deliver a certain product, do not take that order. It will hurt the business when orders are not honoured.

In hard business times, I would tell an entrepreneur to…  

Look at these times as opportunities to analyse their businesses and come up with new innovative strategies to counter the situation. This may mean diversification of the products or even pivot to serve a problem caused by the new environment.

10 YEARS IN BUSINESS

Byron Adera (pictured above) runs a consultancy business, the Special Group Agency. After a hard-core army life that ended with about 4 years in the elite Kenya Special Forces which he pioneered, he transitioned into corporate security starting off as country operations director for XFOR, an international security company. In 2014, he went his own way and since then, he has been running his own consultancy.

The biggest mistake I ever made in business…

My biggest mistake was a lot like what they call a Perfect-Storm Fallacy. Mine may have been stirred up by my false self-image, taking on too much work so I was spread thin. This led to financial management issues and in some ways, I was lacking in peripheral vision of the competition.  

After having driven XFOR to a coveted SEA (Security Excellence Award) and growing the staff to 1,000 plus within the first year of operations in Kenya, I had tremendous confidence in myself and believed I could somehow just FedEx that template everywhere else. Boy was I wrong.

With time, I was able to eliminate some objectives to focus on key areas that I fine-tuned, built Michelin-standard capacities around and optimised them for excellence in line with the 80-20 rule. The 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, asserts that 80 per cent of outcomes (or outputs) result from 20 per cent of all causes (or inputs) for any given event. In business, a goal of the 80-20 rule is to identify inputs that are potentially the most productive and make them the priority. Applying that helped me grow my business. 

In hard business times, I would tell an entrepreneur to…  

Learn from the failures, lest they be all for nothing. Also, embrace what Brandon Webb in his book, Total Focus, calls total situational awareness. In simple terms, it says crises will always happen. That it is the one assurity of life. What matters therefore, and my operating rule, is what you do before the journey starts. Thoroughly plan, inject a healthy dosage of forethought and with moderate sense of vigilance so you are able to realistically adjust during the stormy times with sound contingencies that may prevent total annihilation. It is equally vital that what the pitfalls bring thereof as you grind on mustn’t be disdained, but embraced as vital lessons for growth as the law of wasted effort counsels.

Eds note: Law of Wasted Efforts refers to a law of nature which can be explained by the simple analogy of a hunting lion. A lion only succeeds in 25 per cent of its hunting attempts. But can’t afford to give up because by hunting is how it survives.

Ivynne Okoth

ALMOST TWO YEARS IN BUSINESS

Ivynne Okoth (pictured above) graduated from The University of Nairobi in 2019 and started Kairo, an online business that deals in fashion, furniture and home décor.

The biggest mistake I have made so far…

Pricing. Basically, underestimating real costs. I did not price correctly therefore did not take all costs into account. To price correctly, all costs need to be identified. I ignored little things like transaction fees which add up to 1 per cent or 2 per cent of every transaction. I also did not understand the difference between margin and markup. I was essentially selling at cost price. Margin is based on sales price, while mark-up is based on cost. Don’t make the same mistake. To be sure your pricing reflects your perceived value, it’s best to evaluate your brand and identify all relevant distribution channels. This allows you to develop the most effective pricing strategy. 

Three things that have worked for me not just in business, but in everyday life...

1. Be resilient. Things won’t always work the way you plan them to, but this doesn’t mean you should quit. Persist and have courage to move forward.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. More often than not, we tend to do things on our own because we don’t want others to see that as a weakness. Getting support from others is also great way to learn how to do things more effectively.

3. Always find ways to add value. No matter how simple it is, going above and beyond what is expected of you will never hurt you or your business.  

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