You don’t want to join the ranks of failed startup founders. The truth is, that club is much easier to become a part of than a lot of wannabe entrepreneurs realize. They make the mistake of not counting the costs and honestly assessing themselves to find out whether they’re ready for the challenge. Reliable figures for Nigeria’s startup failure rate are hard to come by, but it’s not hard to tell that only a few make it past the first five years of operation. The others litter the landscape of memories in the minds of only a few people (apart from their unfortunate founders), telling stories about how a particularly harsh business climate (what we deal with here in Nigeria) conspires to wreck dreams and make nonsense of the handiwork of young hard working people. Sometimes, the business climate isn’t the problem. Poor idea conception and shoddy market research and implementation, as well as other errors on the part of entrepreneurs, are also to blame.
If you’re a startup founder and you dream of rising above the troubles besetting and stumping startups, you’ll need healthy helpings of these five things:
Aliko Dangote, the billionaire industrialist, and Africa’s richest man, has a simple but well-known way of pointing out why ambition is important:
“If you don’t have ambition, you shouldn’t be alive.”
This looks rather blunt at first glance, but on considering it a bit more closely, the truth it conveys becomes plain to see. You can’t even get out of bed in the morning if you don’t think you have a reason to do so. Everything you do is motivated by a reason you’ve thought up in your mind (unless you have a misfiring nervous system). Your decision to found your startup isn’t any different. The question is, are you setting it up for the right reasons? Are you really motivated by a genuine desire to meet a need (and make money from it in the process)? Or is your sole aim simply to rake in cash for yourself, even if it means misleading clients and milking them dry?
The fact is, you’re not likely to make it past the five-year mark if you’re not inspired by a goal that goes beyond monetary gain. The reason is simple: when the going gets tough and you find yourself cash-strapped for extended periods, you’ll need more than just thoughts about becoming super rich to pull through.
Dangote, himself a man of great ambition, sums up the attitude that ambitious people have to work and life when he says, “Every morning when I wake up, I make up mind to solve as many problems as possible, before retiring home.”
What sort of daring will prove enough to force adversity to take to its heels?
If you know Chris Kwekowe, the young entrepreneur who founded internship placement and training startup Slatecube, you’ll have a good answer to this question. Kwekowe had such a belief in the viability and significance of his dream that he turned down a job offer from Bill Gates’ Microsoft, to focus on building his startup. He showed his unwavering confidence (and defiance, perhaps?) when, in a television program that also had Mr. Gates on it, he proudly told the world’s richest man how he rejected the offer from Microsoft.
Kwekowe has described his project as “more defining” for him than any job offered by a tech giant. What gives him this push? Apparently, it’s his belief that through his startup, he could help solve Nigeria’s (and Africa’s) unemployment problems.
If you’re not convinced that what you’re taking on is worth the try, you won’t last long with it. Achenyo Idachaba, the pioneering social entrepreneur whose company creates saleable household items from water hyacinth, emphasizes this as the key to entrepreneurial success and staying power.
“You have to be a person of conviction,” she says. “You should believe in what you have to offer.”
Not much to add here. There’s no point in pursuing a cause if you aren’t convinced of it yourself. You’ll only be able to get the world to believe in your product if you have shown belief in it yourself.
Raw talent is not enough. Sharpen what you have into a formidable success achieving force, by learning and training yourself in the areas that your startup needs you to be good at. Be sure that every other person on your startup team is constantly updating their knowledge and skills in their areas of specialization. You’ll need this in order to satisfy customer’s product quality demands, stay ahead of the competition, and remain relevant in what could be a fast-changing market. Strive to be the best you can be in your field by constantly training and retraining yourself.
The broader the network of industry-relevant contacts you have, the greater your chances of picking up new leads more frequently and expanding your market reach. Link up with people who are doing similar things as you are. It’s true that they could be your competition, but at least, you’ll stand the chance of learning a few useful things from them, especially if you’re new to the business.