You have probably heard me share this a few times.
In 2015, I thought I should take time off from actively promoting my music and focus on working on some of my entrepreneurship ideas. I felt I had more to offer than just being a hip hop artist. Being an artist is a great honour in itself, but I had hit a plateau.
So, I performed at a few gigs, hardly did interviews and released seven videos every month from my album Exponential Potential on YouTube, without any promo.
I was finding out that I am an all round creative from the consulting work I did with NGOs and corporate companies. I actively started pursuing my business ideas and boy! It was such a ride. A ride I am glad I took.
Here are some of the entrepreneurship lessons I have learnt and continue to learn in the journey of building ideas into sustainable business.
An Idea Is Not A Business
Just because it makes sense in your mind, doesn't qualify it as a business. It needs to be tried out in the marketplace and consumed by customers to be considered a business.
I wrote a proposal and met people who were really impressed with what I had to offer. I learnt that the doors opened because I am Juliani, for selfies and such. I also could pitch well but it ended there.
There are specific things investors and potential partners look at to determine how far a business or partnership can go. How many users to date? Who are you working with/ getting support from? How does their business fit into yours? When will their money return an investment?
What makes you unique in the marketplace? Pricing? Services? Something else?
As I mentioned earlier, being Juliani got me through the door, but it wasn’t enough. We needed to be clear on what our products/ services would change in the current state of our market/ customers.
What sets you apart from the other business? Why your idea? And most importantly, what’s in it for your customer/ partner/ investor? A good idea is just an idea until there’s a customer.
I was lucky to have cash in hand from my work. I also raised some from a guy we pitched to early on. The ideas we presented then didn’t come to fruition, but he saw my passion and wanted to help kick start something.
We were like guys who decided to go on a journey, but didn’t know how long it would be and how much supplies they would need to keep going. They don’t even know what to carry in case of bad weather.
There were so many holes in my plan, that every time I got cash, it was spent on paying debts and catching up, not actually going into the development of the idea.
This is important: never borrow money to start an idea. Instead, borrow to grow the idea. Growing means you have established revenue streams, tested the product in the market and made sales. The only exception is if the funder understands that you are testing the idea and kunaeza nuka!
Clarity In Communication
I used to assume that just because I know and I have told you and you nodded, you got it. Developing an idea into a product takes time and needs a team. Communication was essential and I wasn’t good at it, in fact, I’m still learning.
I have had misunderstandings with a few people because I didn’t communicate well and I assumed I did. I ended up frustrated and stuck. Today, I follow up with emails after discussions and I write down my thoughts. Which brings me to-
I found this interesting and it got me in trouble many times. I trust easily and am willing to hear people out, especially DMs about #IkoKaziKE. Unfortunately, most people wanted work to meet their immediate needs, not work that aligns to their personal vision. So when the job got tough, away they went.
Or they wanted to work with me based on an assumption they had of who I was, and got surprised when it didn’t live up to their expectations. This might be harsh but ni kama ‘mbwa koko kuingizwa nyumbani iwe family dog’. It is used to roaming around, you can’t expect it to settle.
I realised that most university graduates and jobless people around are not well-equipped. The sad part is that they don’t realise it. They need to do more to learn grow their skill levels to become invaluable to institutions.
For me as the lead in the business, it is key to be clear on roles, responsibilities, targets and the business’ needs. At idea stage, I try to get involved in everything so that I get the feel of things and learn what I need to improve. I am constantly learning, with great support from Wylde International.
Budah! Building a business is no joke. If I’m not wrong, only 5% of entrepreneurial ventures launch. You have to accept failure as part of the journey. And it hits hard. Mental strength demands that you see clearly and focus on what the problem is, and not interpret the situation as a personal shortcoming.
I have broken down many times: when in debt and you need 300K by tomorrow, when unacheza paka na panya with the landlord, when you get the first warning letter from auctioneers, when you face rejection- a potential client has been leading you on only to tell you in the end, “based on our business direction blah blah blah”
All of those challenges were necessary to force me into building my resolve and studying the problem from all angles until I found the opportunity in it.
So, I try to shower often with cold water, I pray, read books, do breathing exercises and deliberately get into uncomfortable situations to find new ways of dealing with things.
I realised that I needed to stay sharp to be ready for future challenges and opportunities. Some of the struggles I went through were due to inexperience, which is not a bad thing, but can be disastrous if you don’t learn fast and improve fast.
Doing things that build my capacity is important to me, like meeting new people, taking up activities not related to work, volunteering. The different activities open up new dimensions of my brain, just like reading. I read stuff that has nothing to do with my profession to gain a new perspective.
These are my lessons for today. Maybe one day we can get into specific stories.
If you are curious, my ideas were MyMsanii, Customer Bora and RBG Live. I have tested them over time and am consistently working to improve them, which leads me to my final point:
You Can't Save The World, Only Christ Did
Meaning, no matter what, don't be in a hurry to succeed. Perseverance gives you perspective. It may not look like what you planned right now, but you stay the course and it will work out better than you imagined.