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4 lessons every start-up should know before hand


Kenyans all over the country have embraced entrepreneurship. There is a growing desire to make a better life for themselves through their own endeavours rather than formal employment. It is this never-give-up attitude that enables many young people find a way to make ends meet.

Sadly, not everyone finds financial success and certainly nobody will find success immediately, but the vast majority of young people think they will strike it BIG and FAST. I call this the ‘handcart to Range Rover mentality’. This is the desire to jump over all the steps and get straight to the top.

To succeed in business, you must plan for the long haul. Business is a journey that should span a lifetime. Don’t think you’ll achieve what you wanted to within 2 or 3 years. Yes, there are a few exceptions but the right mind-set is that you won’t strike it lucky. So here is a short list on how to get started on your business with PATIENCE and a meticulous approach. You’ll find that the more meticulous you are in your planning and execution, the higher your chances are of survival and growth.

1. MOST STARTUPS FAIL. Yes, we might as well start with the hard news. The vast majority of startups fail within the first 3 years of business. Still think you’ll be rich in 3 years? The first 3 years of any business are marked by lack of funds, dwindling employee morale, stiff competition from established industry players, inadequate sleep, futile attempts to access funding from investors and financial institutions. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It is for these reasons that many will not succeed in the business world; the world out there is cutthroat and you need to be able to tough it out.

My tip: keep your overhead costs LOW. You are not in the business to impress your friends, you’re in it to secure your future. Remember that every day. When I started out I was the secretary, the tea-boy, ran errands, did the accounts, found clients and more. There was no shame in not having multiple employees because I simply couldn’t afford it. In the long run, that work ethic paid off – and that’s all that matters.

2. SEE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH. Never think that you have reached the pinnacle of your growth. Never allow yourself to get comfortable. Remember, business is a competition that never sleeps. Others are out there trying to get your clients. How hard are you going to push to make sure those clients come to you? I recently met 3 young people with an innovative IT pitch. Instead of going out and visiting different companies to pitch their services, they created a social media page and a YouTube video and decided to wait for companies to come to them – believing their product was strong enough. What a shame.

My tip: Stay hungry. Look for new revenue streams for your current business. Keep innovating and let CHANGE  be your friend. If you find yourself sitting in the office checking out pages on Facebook and Twitter, knock yourself back into reality and figure out how to optimise your time. Sales are everything – if you aren’t making sales, you need to evaluate whether business is for you or not.

3. EMBRACE THE JOURNEY. You will not make millions in profits in year 1. So you can take those fancy projections that you have come up with and throw them out. Every day I have young people who write to us claiming to have the next ‘billion shilling idea’, and a couple of times even ‘trillion’. It’s delusional. Realize that you must first show an ability to sustain yourself over the long haul. When you make your first million, do not buy a car or rent a better home – put it back into the business. How many of you would do that?

My tip: My attitude was that the business must succeed at all costs because if it did – then I would too. Never put yourself first. Realize that before you get to the Range Rover, or whatever you view as ‘success’, you will have to sit in a Probox or Vitz  first. The home in Muthaiga may eventually come, but till then – you must put up with less. If you’re willing to embrace the journey and learn the lessons that must be learned along the way – you will grow.

4. LAZINESS IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. If you’re comfortable, you aren’t doing it right. As a startup you need to be willing to put in long, productive hours towards your growth. People think because I’m 26 it has been a quick ride. My story has been 8 years in the making, working 16-18 hour days – 6 days a week. There is no shortcut to getting to where you want to go. If your weekend plan is more important than your weekday work schedule – you are lost.

My tip: sacrifice your free time in your youth so you can have a better later life, otherwise you’ll always be playing catch up with yourself. Don’t despise long work days either. When you learn to enjoy it – you’ll be in the top 5 percent of workers out there. That’s a great place to be. Yes, there will be hours of work with little reward, but you will learn much about yourself and your business – and subsequently be able to optimise that knowledge for your growth.

By Heshan De Silva

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