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3 lessons for startup entrepreneurs #HeshDeSilva


Around the world people find it hard to talk about the problems they’ve faced. It’s much easier putting up a facade, saying ‘everything is going great’ and such rather than being open and honest to each other. Let’s get this straight – having problems does not make you weak, it makes you human.

I used to be that person – till I realized that sharing with people who care about you can positively impact your life. It’s uncomfortable at first – but when you get past that barrier, it becomes liberating.

We live in a society that glorifies materialism. What car do you drive? How many cars do you have? How much did that watch cost? Questions that we constantly ask to place ourselves in a different societal bracket. Heck, I was that person. Not proud about it but that was the person I was.

Defining ‘me’ by what I had instead of who I was.

This comes from my personal experiences. Learn from my mistakes and please don’t make the same ones. If you have, just know it’s never too late to make changes.

It started in university – desiring a girlfriend like every other guy. Yes it may sound immature, but we’ve all been there. I was in South Florida, and as a kid from Kenya I never dreamed I’d have a girlfriend who was South American. Then this girl came into my life and I was smitten. I overlooked all the wrongs because I wanted to believe that the relationship was right. Turns out it wasn’t meant to be. I was heartbroken which led me to drinking harder – a decision that led me to being expelled from university after I tried to take my life.

Lesson Number 1: the difference between a good person – and someone who’s good for you. In life and in business you will come across a number of people. I believe that all people are inherently good. Choices they’ve made tend to define them, but they all have good inside. Whether those people are good for YOU is another question altogether. If the people around you aren’t building you up, supporting you and your dreams constructively, or helping you see the bigger picture – you need some new people in your life. Change is hard – but when it’s for the better, you will grow.

When my business started growing I decided it was time to look for investors. People to help boost my company to further expansion. I believed that investors were the light at the end of the tunnel. Boy was I wrong. I had times when I had no clue how to scale, had people breathing down my neck, and had many sleepless nights. While those times were extremely trying, they shaped the investor I am today.

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Lesson Number 2: investors are not the light at the end of the tunnel if you cannot meet their expectations and demands. Do not expect that just because you have investors all your problems will go away. In many instances, your problems will only get bigger. You may have a compelling story of overcoming odds to get to where you are – but if you cannot meet the expectations post receiving money, you’ll be in an equally horrific nightmare. KNOW when you are ready to take on an investor – just because you need extra cash does not mean you are ready.

When I reached a level of success I needed to keep up an image in my mind. Flashyness sells – so get a beautiful car, go on expensive holidays, wear the finest clothes. Show people that you are a cut above them. How wrong I was.

Lesson number 3 : Materialism hurts you on the inside. You are constantly trying to fill a void inside you with THINGS. The problem with that is things get old. That car you’re driving is old next year. Those clothes are out of fashion. Runda isn’t enough, you now need a home in Barcelona. You need more and more and more – just to fill that void.

I changed. The people around me know that my day to day car is a Toyota Corolla. I don’t need to keep up an image of constantly partying and being lavish – my girlfriend of 5 years and I go out once every 3 months. A perfect night for us is a meal for 2 from Galitos, a Fanta Blackcurrent, and something good to watch on TV.

When you achieve peace and happiness on the inside, you don’t need the plaudits from the outside. It’s something you have to work on daily – but when you taste that peace, nothing beats it.

Our poorest in Kenya have something many people wish they had. How many times have you heard tourists say ‘they have so little but are always so happy!’ That is a life defined by experiences, not by things.

Today my life is very different to the person I was. Before I believed I had to be flashy to get attention from people. I had a girlfriend who said yes to my flashy self – only to move on when it turned out I couldn’t sustain myself.

Today my girlfriend of 5 years is still with me – and when she met me I believed an IST was a great car.

The investors I had before are long gone, replaced with organizations and people that share our vision to make a change in the lives of people at the bottom of the pyramid.

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The first thing I tell people who come into the office to meet me is this “lose the facade. Everyone is fighting a hard battle – I want to know who YOU are”.

So yes I was an alcoholic. Yes I dropped out university after trying to take my life. Yes getting clean was hard. Yes building a business was harder than any quote can capture. Yes sustaining that business and keeping your feet grounded is difficult. Yes! Yes! Yes! I’m still standing. If I could make it through, you can too. Just ditch the pretence and be you. Work harder than anyone you know. LOVE those close to you, and live life for more than self.

Let your actions, choices and character define you – not the things you have.

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