Not minimizing my failures & deficiencies
The entrepreneur journey is one of the most enjoyable adventure I have experienced so far. From the outside it may seem like everything is perfect on my side but one thing I came to realize is that if you want to become a successful entrepreneur you need to get comfortable dealing with the truth and face up to it. Along the way as an entrepreneur I had to overcome both my doubts and self-esteem, to ask myself the right questions and to answer them straightforwardly. Answering to the Whys I was into Entrepreneurship? The How’s? The Who’s? etc. It required removing emotions from the equation and acknowledging that I failed several times. In this blog I would like to take you through a part of my untold failure story. I am glad to share with you some of the mistakes and lessons that I learned so far.
Winston Churchill: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened.”
Blotch 1: I never took time to understand why I kept failing
Back in 2009, when I was still in Benin I started a fashion design business (JL Fashion) with some good friends and relatives, then for some reasons it failed despite all the efforts we put in it, then later on I started another business, a Communication company (Kijani Communication) around 2011-2012 … still with ups and downs. But along the way getting contracts once in a while will give you a lot of hope. Then again guess what, after 3 years of working on that startup I had to make the hard decision of leaving my home country Benin for Kenya as Africa Union volunteer. It was really hard for me to give up on something which I had spent so much time, sweat and tears building. Let me confess, at some points of my life I thought I was a failure, that nothing could ever work for me. However, I was adept at pretending everything was going so well but let me confess today, I was emotionally, mentally and financially overdrawn.
Blotch 2: I had a very Low Financial Discipline
Along the way I realized that I did not manage my finances well. I used to spend the whole of my investment and had to restart over and over again. I really did not know how to monitor and track all my expenses which made it hard to analyze the financial standing of my first two startups. I think that it’s very important for startups to learn to manage and control their burn rate and other expenses. Of course, we should not be starving, but instead learn how to spend strategically. Working with my business partners at 3hi Africa, I had to learn that discipline, I am more conscious now that for the sustainability of the company it was important to learn how to allocate resources and also keep investing for the company growth.
Blotch 3: I had no technical background
“Ego is the greatest enemy. Ego will hold you back every single time.” When I landed in Kenya, I was very open to my former boss and I openly told her and with some pride that I was going to work for the organization for only a short period of time because I needed to go back to my business; she looked at me and smiled. I know she did not take me seriously and thought it was a young lady’s dream and she had so much hope in me. I thought I knew it all but at an early stage I came to realize that I just knew nothing. The basics I had from school were not enough, I had rather minimal working experience. I had to humble myself and open up to embrace the learning process. She taught me so many things and under her leadership I became a better version of myself; and at some point, I realized that I was not yet ready to run a business. I had no experience, no proper leadership skills, no management skills, and I had no mentor to walk the journey with me. Working in that organization was the channel which led me to the right track. I got so many technical skills. Thank you Mrs. Hendrina Doroba.
Blotch 4: I neglected realistic thinking while planning
Back then, all I wanted was to sell my ideas, my products but unfortunately, I had no plan. And I was so convinced about my great ideas that I was not even open to any criticism from others, my business partners included. I was just wasting my energy with no plan. During the time I was at FAWE, getting my monthly allowance was subject to the submission of a report, and beginning of every month I had to submit to my line manager my planning for the month plus my weekly schedule then I came to realize that I was just not serious in the past cause I had no one to be accountable to. This really changed everything in me. I realized that I was too impatient. Growth takes time, and it takes commitment, sacrifices, consistency for people to start trusting you first then your company later. I remember my mentor telling me that people buy people first before they buy their products.
Blotch 5: I had a vision but I had no strategic plan
Being part of a startup is not always glamorous, and often requires simply submitting yourself to the process. And guess what, I knew nothing about the whole process. A big part of starting a business is having a plan then having the discipline to act on it. My business partners became first friends then looking at some of our similar areas of interest we decided to try an adventure. We laid down our vision and from there started asking ourselves the right questions. We took time to describe the problems we wanted to solve then finding the solutions became easier. Who are we & What do we believe in? That was the next step and that is our daily motivation for staying in this amazing journey of 3hi Africa. I came to realize that I never spent such valuable time with my former business partners in order to keep strategic decisions fluid as we experiment and learn. And my take away from this is that a well-defined strategy is important for each partner because it helps to evaluate and adjust our role to directly impact the company vision. Now I feel motivated on a daily basis because there is now a strong connection between what I do and the purpose of our company.
Blotch 6: I was not realistic and I did not think through the Pros & Cons
Coming back to 3hi Africa, first of all, we never worked together so we needed time to get to know one another, so it took us some time to get familiar with our ways of work. Secondly, the vision was clearly enough to us, we had the competences and required skills but we were too ambitious the first year. I remember at the end of the first year, during our annual review we looked at each other and we just laughed. Yet we achieved quite a lot but compare to our initial annual plan we came to realize that we did not achieve even 50% of what was scheduled because we tried to be all over the place and on a brand-new ground to all of us. One of the keys to maximizing realistic thinking is aligning your resources with your objectives.
Looking at pros and cons and examining worst-case scenarios will make you aware of any gaps between what you desire and what really is. From the mistake we made the first year we now took time to scale the company strategic plan: ‘One step at a time’.
In this journey as an entrepreneur, I made a lot of mistakes and lessons were learned. It does not matter how well researched your business plan is, there are always bumps in the road and mistakes to be made. But at least I have tried, failed and learned lessons from my mistakes. The grind and hustle are part of the process of entrepreneurship, and that is what you have to do to succeed. But there will come a point of time when persistence becomes stubbornness and the hardest part is acknowledging and facing the truth.
The most important lesson for me to come out of this experience was, that it is ok to fail. Failure is not going to kill me and I will survive it. In fact, failures have taught me things success would not have. Today I am more determined to embrace the journey as entrepreneur and invest the best from my learning for the growth of our startup 3hi Africa.
Chester Bowles said, “When you approach a problem, strip yourself of preconceived opinions and prejudice, assemble and learn the facts of the situation, make the decision which seems to you to be the most honest, and then stick to it.”
Article by: Larissa BYLL CATARIA