AFRICANGLOBE – “Three components make an entrepreneur: the person, the idea and the resources to make it happen.” – Anita Roddick
I get confused with quotes sometimes – one points at a direction and the other seems to point at the opposite. However, the above quote is meant to set the pace for this exciting account of a touching account of entrepreneurial experience which I have the copyright to share with everyone willing to pick up a thing or two in their personal sojourn into entrepreneurship.
I recently sat with Bukky Shonibare, the Group CEO of “The 555 Group” owners of 555 Consulting Limited (Human Resource Management, Operations Management, and Strategy); 555 Foods (owners of ‘Beans City’); 555 Impact Centre (Training & Development); and 555 Foundation as she shared a story every budding entrepreneur must take to heart as you navigate the mucky waters of entrepreneurship.
“Let me start by stating how difficult and sensitive it is for me to pen this down. This is not just my real life ‘business failure’ story, but also a fresh wound I am still recovering from. It is especially tougher because as a Management Consultant, I am not expected to make these kind of mistakes; yet this has proven to me how hard it is for a surgeon to operate on himself. I have also come to understand that making mistakes is not a reason to stay down and dwell in pity parties, and giving up is NOT an option no matter how grievous or seemingly irreparable the challenge may be. Surmounting these roadblocks has invariably empowered me with the ability to better advise others.”
When I decided to start a regular income generating business so as to have real life business field experience which I believe would boost the depth and quality of my consulting, I started 555 Foods (owners of “Beans City”).
Below are some of my mistakes and the lessons I have gathered so far in running these businesses:
Lesson 1 – Festina Lente: This literally means: make haste slowly. My greatest mistake was moving too fast, when I should have actually hurried slowly. Beyond every reasonable doubt, I am now convinced that every idea has its perfect timing. That you ‘caught’ an idea, and you are so excited about it does not mean you should start immediately. It is sometimes wise to wait and plan; but our fear of someone else starting the same unique business makes us rush into commencing. StartingBeans City, when 555 Consulting was still relatively young was a decision I should have considered well. The consulting firm being young is not so much a function of how many months or years we have been in operation, but how well we have built the internal processes and structure to ensure its survival and sustainability.
Lesson 2 – Start small and grow gradually: I was able to gather funds from different sources to create the physical standard I wanted for Beans City; but I later realized that perhaps I should have started really small – from my kitchen, serving family and friends, or doing outdoor and delivery services, as that would have provided me the opportunity to learn some things I had to forcefully, yet painfully, learn on the business. This did not only set us back, we wasted money.
Lesson 3 – Bounce-off ideas: This is about standing on others’ shoulders so as to see farther! I was unable to find any business owner who was doing the kind of business I wanted to do – a beans-only restaurant; everyone was doing the regular kind of restaurant. I made avoidable mistakes even though I have great people around me who are brilliant enough to help prune my crazy ideas, yet I narrowed down to a microscopic few whose advice/contributions were limited to their fields and experiences. It is however unfortunate that the experienced ones were unwilling to share important information that would have helped my start-up. Some were so scared of competition that even when my business is geographically far away from theirs, they still were unwilling to share.
Lesson 4 – Manage Opportunities: Even though I had written down my idea of a Beans City three years before I started, I prematurely commenced because an opportunity came for me to pay 25% towards the purchase of a shop, which I jumped on without having a concrete plan for how the next payments would come, believing that Beans City would grow immediately and make enough profit to cover the huge monthly installment payments for the completion of the remaining 75 percent. Truth is, not all opportunities are to be seized no matter how juicy they appear; there is time for everything! And that you have one out of all that is needed for a business to start, does not mean you have all, as there is need to consider several factors like: costs, preparedness, time, resources, etc.
Lesson 5 – Start and move with the end in mind: The best way to build a structure that will last is to first have a clearly mapped-out architectural plan. Though while building, there will be need to make some adjustments based on realities, but the presence of a plan will save a lot of headache. Another mistake I made was to ‘jump start’ the business without a well thought-out management and operational plan.
Lesson 6 – Feasibility: To run a successful business, assumptions don’t work! I conducted a virtual presumptive Feasibility Studies, which of course, was inconclusive and inaccurate. I assumed setting up Beans City just anywhere would sell due to the uniqueness of the concept, and the aesthetics I planned to create. I later realized that one cannot build a castle in the desert; people will only admire or wave at it from afar and may come close once in a while, sometimes never. It became valid how that the three most important things for a business are: Location! Location!! Location!!! If I had conducted a proper Feasibility Studies, it would have revealed, among others, the fact that the location of the business was not suitable for the standard I created.
Lesson 7 – When you fail to plan, you plan to fail: It is one thing to have a great idea; it is another to have a framework on HOW it will work out profitably and sustainably. I realized that the most important thing any aspiring business owner need is NOT funds, as you may have all the funds and not know how best to utilize it! I lavished my funds on aesthetics, yet the internal structure was suffering. I should have had at least a six-month plan on how the business will be sustained operationally; like plans for salaries, fueling of the generator, buying electricity units, re-stocking, and even statutory government payments (e.g. Food Handlers fees, Signage levies, etc) so much so that government officials were coming with threats to close the Restaurant, which destabilized and demoralized me as well as my staff. I beseech you to please PLAN!!!
These are some of my avoidable mistakes and the unpalatable lessons I have had to learn; but I am glad I did as I have become wiser having learnt lessons and gained experiences I would not have got in a 4-walled classroom or a-thousand-page book. While I am currently recovering and making my way back on track, I implore you to learn from my goofs and not repeat them!
I wish you great success.
By: Segun Akiode