Chude Jideonwo is the founder and the CEO of Joy, Inc., a US- and Nigeria-based benefit corporation which teaches young Africans happiness and resilience skills. The company aims to transform culture and build a new generation focused on the greatest happiness for the largest number of people. All of Joy, Inc.’s profits are invested in charities.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
A few years ago, my business had its first financial crisis. It was a cashflow crisis and, for the first time in over five years of running the business as a business, our expenses had massively outcropped income and we had to dip into our savings. It threw me into a major depressive episode because I just couldn’t handle it. We were financially prepared for it, but I was not emotionally prepared.
However, this dark, dank depression became the turning point for my life. I overcame it by burrowing deeper into myself, confronting my fears and weaknesses, and understanding my deepest values and motivations. That entire process literally changed my life.
Ultimately, our company had its best financial year by the time the year ended, but rumbling with depression and self-doubt, and coming out of that terrible experience changed the structure of the business and my role in it. It led me to set up a new mission that seeks to help people overcome the same challenges of being and resilience that I had suddenly battled with.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
In 2017, I ended the year with a 100% staff retention rate – 100%. This is from a company that had terrible attrition rates barely five years before.
A deliberate implementation of a people-centred, bottom-up talent development and engagement agenda – driven by our values and by listening to the team – changed our culture, people and outcomes. It is my proudest moment because it was a strategy effectively executed.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
Anger. I continue to struggle with anger.
Previously, I would raise my voice endlessly. But three years of consistent staff feedback on how this affected their work made me take steps through reading, reflection and coaching to change this. That is a problem I have largely conquered.
Yet, anger remains. The way I have managed it effectively – so that it doesn’t impact the company negatively – is to be completely honest and vulnerable with my team about the fact that this is a weakness. That creates a virtuous loop that makes the team feel safe while creating the conditions that helped me overcome raising my voice and managing myself better.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
“All you need to do is hire the best people and give them the freedom to do what they need to do.”
It’s so simplistic, it’s almost malpractice.
Yes, human beings need autonomy and capacity, but leading a company or a team is a more complex venture than pithy statements. It requires treating human beings as human beings, finding out what makes them, creating the conditions and incentives for that, and reaching out for opportunities as they present themselves – and facing adversity when it comes.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
That I could choose to do things my way and succeed. That I could ignore what I didn’t like, reject things that didn’t make sense, find my own, and build my own vision on the top of reality as it was apparent to me. It’s amazing how powerful this really is for those who discover its truth.
‘The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip, and content production by Justin Probyn and Nelly Murungi.