James Lightfoot is the co-founder and director of The Latitude Hotels Group, an African hospitality brand that operates hotels in Malawi, Zambia and Uganda.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
Broken promises. I’ve been far too naive, had too much faith, or bit of both, along the way taking people for their word. While we have to maintain a belief in people, there are way too many “yes men” out there who will say anything to get a deal or bide some time. I have been caught out by this on more than one occasion.
Sadly, gone are the days of handshake agreements. Everything needs to be in writing and with an incentive, [either] positive or negative. Ensuring you have good advice upon hand, in the way of business partners or colleagues, is invaluable.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
There’s no greater moment than seeing your idea become a reality. Seeing a building, literally, rise out of the ground, through the construction transition stages to fit out, and, finally, operation is amazing.
However, for me, it is our ever-increasing social impact programmes I am most proud of. From the training and empowerment of staff to the support of the local artisans producing artworks for the hotels.
… We would not succeed without the support of our local community within which we are operating, and supporting them is our greatest achievement.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
When you are as passionate about a product as any entrepreneur should be, at times, it is difficult to separate the head from the heart and form from function. To succeed, one has to compromise on the “dream”.
Surrounding yourself with people who are creative but realists is the key here. It is crucial to have colleagues to pick you up when … [things are just not] working [and] … similarly ground you when it all seems to be going too well. The latter, probably more so.
I don’t know any entrepreneurs who don’t “dream big”. However, the net result is they can overpromise and underdeliver. [That is] to be avoided at all costs.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
Be realistic about what you are aiming at. While having a long-term vision gives you something to aim for, the business must remain fluid. If an idea is not working, reassess why and how to change it.
Every day is a new day when growing a business. Challenge what you are doing every day … to [gauge] whether it makes sense and change direction if and when required.
… It is crucial to employ talent … [and] to have a mix of characters within that. Having diversity often results in situations being self-managed without the need for your time, it also encourages creativity within the workplace.
Focus on profitability from the start, it does matter. In the tech age of apps and user numbers, people have lost sight of that. Profitability and the ability to reinvest do matter and mean you will not always spend 100% of your time fundraising and being diluted. It builds value and longevity into your business.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
… It’s … more hard work than you think and it can, at times, be hard to maintain the passion and the energy. Many parts of entrepreneurship are far from exciting. Sadly, your enthusiasm and passion aren’t always spent on the areas you would like.
That said, it’s easy to maintain a positive outlook. Always look at where you started, what you have achieved and the obstacles you have overcome to get to where you are. There’s nothing better to reignite the passion and the drive.