I’d rather invest in an entrepreneur who has failed before than one who assumes success from day one. — Kevin O’Leary
We live in the internet age. Everyone wants something yesterday, and some entrepreneurs expect success to come quickly because they have a good idea.
Why not? After all there are many supposed examples of quick success: Instagram went from $0 to $1billion in 2years, one of our local champions iROKO has raised $21 million in the last 2 years and is close to a $50 million valuation.
What we often miss is what it takes to turn a good idea into a company
Entrepreneurs are often plagued by the stories we tell ourselves. We have a habit of selecting examples and stories that confirm our optimism, and discount data that goes against our positions. Often, the greatest value lies in the critical points of data that may tell us when we are on the wrong path (I’ll go deeper into this topic at another time).
Success is hard! Some of the most successful entrepreneurs failed many times before the found success. Jason Njoku talks about this is the TEDxEuton talk he gave that is aptly titled Failing your way to Success. I highly recommend this to all aspiring entrepreneurs.
One way to learn is through our failures. The point is not that we must all fail to be successful. The key is that we must go through a process of learning. The seeds of success, and those of many successful startups, are planted through years of toil that precede what may seem like an overnight success.
I have spent much of my career focused on learning what it takes to be a good business operator. I stuck it out working for poor bosses, unforgiving companies, and positions I did not particularly like because I was focused on one goal: Learning against all odds.
I have worked for 4 Fortune 500 companies in a host of positions. I actually learned the most valuable lessons and skills in the toughest positions and organizations. I then spent the last 3 years testing the entrepreneurial waters as a Non-Executive Director of Splash Mobile Money, a mobile money firm in Sierra Leone.
While I believe I had the requisite experience to take on the role at splash (12 years in strategy, management, and IT consulting). I still had to go through a process of understanding the unique challenges of working in an underfunded startup in a tough market.
I was not unlike many others who thought that in 2 years max, Splash would take over Sierra Leone and liberate the unbanked in an often ignored country. My optimism was tempered by harsh realities. Here are a few of lessons I learned that I believe are particularly relevant:
It almost always takes Longer: Be conservative in setting expectations and milestones. Whether in raising money, reaching sales targets etc.
Experience Matters: Whether it’s street smarts or corporate experience, those who have experience to offer, have an advantage.
Find Good Mentors: It’s always a good idea to have experienced sounding boards. Seek people who have done it before, and are willing to provide advice.
Don’t be afraid to Pivot: Along the way you may get new information that may necessitate a change in direction. Do not ignore what the market or prospective customers are telling you.
Cooperate and Collaborate: It’s always better to own a smaller piece of a successful entity that to own 100% of a failure. Don’t be afraid to give up something to get knowledge, insights, or partners that can increase your probability of success
Enjoy the Process: This is key. Enjoying what you are doing will tide you through the difficult slug that building a business can be. It has to be your passion.