How to get ahead in business: advice from Africa’s top business people

Africa is a continent of entrepreneurs, with a recent survey entitled ‘Accelerating Entrepreneurship in Africa’ revealing that 57% of respondents consider becoming an entrepreneur a desirable career choice. While this may be the case, there is no doubt that entrepreneurship in Africa is not for the faint of heart. However, while the risks may be huge, so is the potential to be successful.

This year, How we made it in Africa has interviewed a number of successful African entrepreneurs and business people who have provided us with some of their secrets to success.

In light of the Global Entrepreneurship Week, we have highlighted eleven words of wisdom for entrepreneurs, as imparted by some of the continent’s leading business people.

“Simple, my message is the virtue of hard work, honesty and persistence. By all means, nothing comes easy!”

Atul Shah, managing director of Nakumatt Holdings, a leading supermarket chain in East Africa

“Spot an opportunity, make a plan and run with it. I definitely had the right idea, in the right place, at the right time and I knew I could do it. I learnt from my mistakes, but still kept true to my own vision. You need to have that kind of confidence to make these things work. Don’t hang around waiting for things to happen.”

Jason Njoku, founder and CEO of Nigerian-based Iroko Partners

“Stress is an essential ingredient for growth. If you want to get better at your cycling, then you put your body through stress and that stress leads to a stronger and a better body that can cycle faster. It’s the same in business. If you don’t expose yourself to stress then you will stagnate. So stress is great and good. It’s got a connotation that you don’t want to have stress or you don’t want to be exposed to stress. I think that is wrong.”

Hannes van Rensburg, founder and CEO of Fundamo, a mobile financial services platform provider

“All entrepreneurs suffer periodic ups and downs and running a successful, profitable business isn’t easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it. But this is Africa’s time and the demand levels within our own continent’s domestic economy needs satisfying. This is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurial, hard working individuals.”

Ladi Delano, CEO of Bakrie Delano Africa, investment partner of the Bakrie Group in Nigeria

“Love what you are trying to do. If you don’t like what you are doing you are not going to be successful.”

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, managing director of soleRebels, a footwear brand in Ethiopia

“[Entrepreneurs] should document their ideas. We have seen the project through on paper as successful. We are diligently implementing step by step. When you can present your ideas properly, people tend to support you. They should also consult with the right professionals. You can hit success at 30; you don’t have to wait until 60. Have unwavering commitment and be patient.”

Kimiti Wanjaria, co-founder of Serene Valley Properties, a real estate development company in Kenya

“Build a company and not just services. As technology changes, the company will be strong even when particular services have been rendered obsolete. My focus has always been to create an enterprise that is light on its feet and able to manoeuvre.”

John Waibochi, founder and CEO of Kenya’s Virtual City Group, a mobility software solutions provider

“Women entrepreneurs have to work twice as hard to succeed. They should expect certain difficulties to crop up merely due to the fact that they are women. In such situations the best thing to do is to remain resolute, focused, ethical and preserve your integrity. It is also very important to network and get to know people – the right people with the potential to help your business either as customers, suppliers or associates. Keep a sober head and remain focused. Do not rush to conclude that you have made it. Always expand your dreams and reinvest your money into the business. Avoid the trap of leading a luxurious life at the expense of the business.”

Divine Ndhlukula, founder and managing director of SECURICO, a Zimbabwean security firm

“Always, always have a Plan B.”

Michélle Booysen, founder and managing director of Pétanque Consultancy, a South African-based management consultancy firm

“Entrepreneurship is not easy but then nothing good comes easily. When you decide to embark on your entrepreneurial journey, surround yourself with like minded individuals, get a mentor in your field to guide you through the obstacles you will surely face, work hard, read every day and never give up on your dreams.”

Lois Gicheru, founder of Solafrique Limited, the first distributor of solar generators for the Kenyan market

“Most times there are inconsistencies between the founder’s vision and that of the VC. If that is addressed then you are good to go. Entrepreneurs should be careful to look at every term and condition because some of the VCs, not all, but some, put fine prints there that can hurt your business.”

Kamal Budhabhatti, founder and CEO of Craft Silicon, a financial software provider based in Kenya