A while ago, I was asked by the YALI Alumni network of Kenya to speak at a forum on Technical and Vocational Education in KICC in Nairobi. The topic was “What it takes to become a successful entrepreneur?”
While I was preparing for the talk, I asked myself the usual questions:
Why was I asked to speak at this forum for YALI? What are the expectations of the hosts and what would I want the participants to leave with? How will I deliver so that I can make the greatest amount of impact in the shortest amount of time?
From these questions I found that the hosts wanted me to spur a mindset of entrepreneurship within the young people who have acquired and are acquiring vocational and technical skills. They wanted me to inspire these young people in order for them to take charge of their own future and create jobs for other young people in Kenya. However, I was struggling with how I could make a great impact in a short amount of time, even though I had a full one hour session.
I was struggling because, I knew that there was already a lot of noise, content and speakers who were engaging and motivating young people to become entrepreneurs.
And even the least knowledgeable of them, have spent hundreds of hours watching youtube videos and reading articles and blogs on Forbes.com, Entrepreneur.com or Kuzabiashara in order to come up with reasons as to why we need more entrepreneurs to end poverty, create wealth and make change in Africa.
However I have seen the consequences of entrepreneurship development when it drives people to undermine the value of being part of the team rather than leading it. I have had so many people tell me about their aspirations to start their own businesses and when I ask them why they believe they should be entrepreneurs, their responses are as shallow as their business ideas.
Them: I want to be my own boss!
Me: Good. Why?
Them: Because I have been working for this guy or lady for many years and they’re making all the money, while I’m the one doing everything.
Me: Why are you still working for them?
Them: Because I have bills to pay.
Me: Can you find another job elsewhere?
Them: Yeah, I can. But that’s going to be a whole other challenge. What if that boss is even worse than this one?
Me: You’re not meant to be an entrepreneur.
Some think that I’m often brutal with my trainees and audiences on the subject and that I expect a lot from them, and that’s true. I do have high expectations from entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Just like a peak performance coach who wants to bring out the best out of his athletes, I also want to bring out the best out of visionary, bold, ambitious, focused, creative and hardworking innovators and entrepreneurs. And the rest, I want them to stop taking their jobs for granted and help us build great and lasting organizations.
So I decided not to go with the flow -like I always do- and make a presentation on Why You Shouldn’t Become An Entrepreneur?
And the slides looked something like this:
Slide 1: Excitement & Frustration
If you can’t manage constant excitement and frustration, you probably should keep your day job. Being an entrepreneur is managing a flow of emotions and feelings that constantly arise as you pursue an idea and then realize that there’s more to the idea than you thought.
I’ts understanding that you are always testing your assumptions and that the market will never respond exactly as you expected. Being an entrepreneur is learning to manage and convert your emotions of excitement and frustration into opportunities to seize or challenges to overcome. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t become an entrepreneur.
Slide 2: Constantly Learning
What does Warren Buffet spend most of his time doing? Reading…
Either by watching videos, listening to audiobooks, taking a course, finding a mentor, reading or learning by doing, great entrepreneurs are constantly learning. They are avid learners who are never content with their level of understanding and knowledge of their particular field, industry, market or customers.
If you think you know everything and don’t need to be taught anything, then you are definitely not going to succeed in entrepreneurship. I suggest that you get a job or go into politics. But even there, if you don’t learn, you’ll quickly become obsolete.
Related: How Warren Made His First Billion
Slide 3: Take Risks
I don’t need to stress on this part. For a long time, people have thought that entrepreneurs are all avid risk takers. But that’s not true. Some great entrepreneurs are actually risk averse, however they still make great progress.
And they do this because they understand that different situations demand different levels of risk. So it’s not because you are adventurous by nature that every decision has to be like jumping off a cliff. Sometimes, you simply need to build a ladder or walk the safer path.
But at the end of it all, you must go down the hill, step out of your comfort zone, make the call, go for the meeting, test the product, accept rejection and try again. At the end of it all, you must overcome your current fears and expand your horizons.
An entrepreneur is different from a gambler. They may be ambitious like Elon Musk, or bold like Chris Kirubi, but they are not foolish. Their ambitions follow something that they know is worth the risk.
If your mentality is “all or nothing” or “nothing rather than all” then don’t join this sport. You may hurt yourself or hurt others.
Slide 4: You Have To Lead
When you work for a company and the lights are cut because the bills were not paid, you may even heckle the boss, before you start thinking about your own future in that firm. If there’s an order that doesn’t go through or a customer who fails to pay, the worst thing that can happen to you is to get fired.
It’s not up to you to keep the lights on, pay salaries or lead the way. Entrepreneurs cannot delegate leadership all the time, employees can. It’s an entrepreneur’s’ responsibility to lead his team to a destination that he or she sometimes doesn’t even know.
Why? Because most of the time, they themselves have never been there. They are on this journey for the first time, and as much as they are learning, a lot of it is through trial and error. And often times there will be more failure and losses than wins and gains.
And in those moments if you cannot stay focused, driven, motivated, enthusiastic despite all the opposition and challenges, you are not meant for this.
Slide 5: You Have To FIGHT
The world is made of opposites. And oftentimes the bad is more visible and present than the good. The market is tough. And despite all the good things your mama told you while you were growing up that made you think that people were good, nice, honest, ethical, loving, caring and supportive, reality is often very different. Especially in Nairobi.
You have people out there to eat you and force you out of business. You have companies that are led by individuals who lack morals, good sense and respect of the rules of life.
They don’t care about your good heart and your desire to serve your customers and make a positive impact in the world. They want to make money, gain fame and power.
Everything and everyone else is a means or an obstacle to that end. And if you’re not willing to FIGHT against those people in your market, then you’d better join them or disappear.
Everyone wants to take something from you and some money from your business. The government and it’s taxes. The legislators, the corrupt officials, the competitors, the dishonest clients, the treacherous partners and the disloyal employees…
If you’re not willing to fight for yourself, your business, your people, your customers, your industry, your money and your rights, then you should not become an entrepreneur.
Slide 6 & 7: Cash Flow Is More Important Than Your Mama & Manage your Success
Many people go into business because of the independence it brings. Making your own schedule and living on your own terms. However they forget that without a good sense of money and time management, they are as tied up as those who have a 9 to 5 job.
The ultimate goal of being an entrepreneur is to create value for yourself and for others. That value is very often measured in money in the bank or time spent doing the things that really matter.
So if you find yourself running after time or money, then you have not understood what you’re in. Great entrepreneurs understand the importance of creating a money machine that enables them to have more time for the people and causes that matter the most.
So if you’re spending more than you’re earning and constantly looking for an extra second, hour or day in your calendar to live, then you should probably not go into this field.
The presentation yielded even more desire for people to become entrepreneurs, despite the challenges that they were now aware of along the journey. And to finish, I told them that entrepreneurship, like any sport, rewards the perseverant and those who come on the field to win and to enjoy themselves.
You cannot be forced into it, nor can you cheat your way to the top. The Entrepreneurship game also has its rules, and they are the same as what makes you and I exceptional people in society: Honesty, integrity, patience, perseverance, vision, excellence, passion, determination and hard work.
So if you’re thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, go into it to win. If you can’t make that dedication to become a champion in your field, then, YOU SHOULDN’T BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR.
Amadou Chico Cissoko is a seasoned Business Innovation, Leadership and Strategy trainer. He founded Guinea’s first Agrotouristic retreat and the largest social entrepreneurship community in the country. Awarded Mandela Washington YALI Fellow for extraordinary leadership, Chico lives to inspire entrepreneurs to build profitable businesses and live meaningful lives.