What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
One of my biggest challenges and failures in business has been the inability to get perspective. As an entrepreneur, there is a very strong emotional connection – especially to the businesses you start from scratch. This can be a bad thing and one can ‘catastrophise’ when things go wrong – which invariably they will from time to time. As one matures as an entrepreneur I believe that it’s important to get better at rebasing one’s perspective and to get better at dealing with the regular small knocks without getting to ‘emotionally derailed’.
I have also failed at times to back our products and services to the extent that some of our competitors do. We have learned, in recent years, that we fare well with the best in the world, and sometimes far better than far bigger companies. We have at times been very intimidated by some of these companies and we would have done better to realise that we are as good as all of them and not to have been scared by them. It’s hard to learn that competitors are a good thing and a sign of a buoyant sector.
Drawing from your experience, what would you say are the three key ingredients for starting and running a successful business?
1. The lesson no one wants to admit: luck. You need a certain amount of luck. It can mean the difference between success and massive success [or] marginal success and failure.
2. Tenacity. Because luck is important, you have to stick at it. Not everything will go well… Staying focused on the long game and remaining positive, in light of the little knocks, is absolutely critical.
3. Sailing close to the wind. Managing how much to spend without over or under doing it is a skill that takes time to acquire. It’s critically important to get the balance of leveraging your business and your people and stretching your resources as far as you can without over-stepping the line. There is a point beyond which things break. Knowing that point and taking just one step back is a very hard yet an important skill to harness.
What advice do you have for Africa’s budding entrepreneurs?
Go for it! The single biggest differentiator between aspiring entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs is activity. Embrace the creativity and wonder of going it alone and stop talking about it and do it. Having just had my first child, I believe that it is as impossible to explain the joys and challenges of [being a parent] to the childless as it is to explain the joys and challenges of entrepreneurship to the employed. So do it and learn the only way you can, through experience.