It’s Time To Stop Celebrating People For Starting Businesses

Opinion

A quick look through my LinkedIn’s suggested connections and there are about 10 scrawny-looking individuals not a day over 25 who are Founder/CEO of something. It’s not surprising, though. An enormous premium has been placed on entrepreneurship in our day. With a whopping majority of Forbes Richlist made up of business owners, it’s impossible not…

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A quick look through my LinkedIn’s suggested connections and there are about 10 scrawny-looking individuals not a day over 25 who are Founder/CEO of something. It’s not surprising, though. An enormous premium has been placed on entrepreneurship in our day. With a whopping majority of Forbes Richlist made up of business owners, it’s impossible not to see the allure. The only problem here is, that statistic only tells part of the story – the success story. A brief research into these successful billionaires shows a trend of hard work, dedication, foresight and vision. Come back to our home land and it’s all about the title and the ‘prestige’ that comes with starting a business.

For four years, in the University of Ghana Business School, I sat through countless lectures, seminars, pep talks and casual conversations which all had the same theme – entrepreneurship is the way to go. Some even went as far as to claim it was the one true path to success. For a school that had no dedicated Department or Major for Entrepreneurship, it often confused me. We had brilliant students, studying Accounting and Banking and Human Resource Management etc, all being told on a daily basis that, starting their own business after school made more sense than getting a job with the degree they were toiling for. The feasibility of this is a topic for another post but you can see how a graduate from Ghana’s premier business school would feel more comfortable putting up Founder, CEO & Managing Partner of Dodo Savings (a small business on the side) to Junior Human Resource Executive at Diamond Bank on her LinkedIn profile. It doesn’t matter that the small business on the side is failing and she is a rock star at her HR job, all she knows is: her own business > a 9-5 job, every single time. You know why? Because when she started her small business, she got more oohs and aahs than when she announced that the HR department was keeping her on after National Service because she was the best Service personnel that year.

Entrepreneurship is a phenomenal thing. We need to encourage more young people to get into it and break out of the old ideology that a safe job in an office is the right way to go. But in doing that we also need to manage the idea that entrepreneurship is a sure way to success. We don’t have to celebrate any and every person who decides to turn an idea into a business. As someone who has started 4 businesses (two of which failed woefully), I can confirm that the sense of pride that comes with the praises is amazing. It makes you want to start a new business every other day. But the biggest problem for me was, no one was bold enough to tell me that the first idea was completely stupid from a business standpoint. Sure, people loved the idea but no one was willing to pay for it. That small leap from loving an idea to the willingness to pay for it makes all the difference in the success of that business. No one told me that there were too many people with more resources doing the same thing I was trying to do with the second business. Everyone knew that, of course, but the focus was on how amazing it was that a 19 year old was competing in the same game with the same strategy as multinational businesses.

I read about entrepreneurs all the time and I have m noticed a pattern. Outside of Ghana/Africa, very little attention is paid to a start-up until they are gaining customers, getting funding, achieving strong revenue numbers or making profit. Start your business and do it but no one is going to call you on a show just because you decided your hobby should become a business. It’s a different story here. On our TVs, radios and on the internet, ‘business-starters (because entrepreneur is not the right word for them) are getting booked for interviews to talk about why they started the business, how long it’s been going on and what advice they have for other young people. No one asks the important questions like; how much revenue the business is making, the value proposition, what the business plan says or whether there is a business plan at all. If we are going to be celebrated for starting businesses without actually excelling at them, we will keep getting more CEOs around us who are making less than the grocery shop owner down the street. After all you don’t need to register to become a CEO/Founder.

Encourage people in your life who start businesses because they will need it but let’s not make that the endgame. Ask the questions that matter, follow up on the real growth of the business beyond how many retweets the business twitter account got. Help them to aspire to better so we can have better businesses providing real value. It’s time to stop celebrating people simply because they started a business and make business success the standard.

Responses

  1. king.blacqmajik
    “That small leap from loving an idea to the willingness to pay for it makes all the difference in the success of that business”

    Spot on

    The is the bridge to success which most people fail to locate amidst the oohs and ahhs.

    Funny thing is the people closest to you are the last to support your business.

    Posted from TNC Mobile

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  2. Dr WOLFF
    Very well said. We have to look at our clime and see why the Entrepreneur is Celebrated. The Government have refused to create Jobs and even the little amount of people in their payroll, they have refused to award their stipend.
    So, they come and give the youth talks on ‘skills acquisitions’ that will help these youths be independent. Now this programs involve tailoring, hair dressing, to mention a few that are being put out. We find that these skills have already saturated the business field and competition snuffs a good number of these newbies.
    Then we talk of those who learn businesses which do not need certain phyical skill like catering, selling cement, automobiles, house hold appliances, we find out that these businesses need so much capital to revolve so the business stays afloat and competes favourably, and most of our youths do not have that.
    Then let’s talk about businesses or ideas which might not be well accepted in our clime, anyone goin into such venture is like one who is throwing and hexagonal die. Chances of success are slim. Most of such start ups do not see the light of day.
    Now to the inference that we need to manage the idea that entrepreneurship is a sure way to success, we need to encourage people to be apprentices. We need to let the young people understudy more people who have succeeded in businesses that are similar to theirs, or if they have a new idea, just go learn and study about business. If I am to put the word right, they should go on a part of self discovery. This will help mirror the individuals readiness.
    Lastly starting a 9-5 and running a business are both risks!
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  3. Toni
    Well said. Starting a business is not very difficult or complicated (I’ve started a few); keeping that business running till it’s profitable is the true test of entrepreneurship, and like the author has rightly said, that’s what should be celebrated. Enough of the hype around Founder/CEOs; I’ve worked with many of them who aren’t running actual ‘businesses’ but merely trading: making sales and spending the proceeds, then hustling to get the next sale, no thought given to ploughing back funds, breaking even or scaling the venture to profitability. We need true success stories to inspire us, verified profitable ventures to use as models, and experienced business managers to use as case studies for the next generation to outperform us and move our country towards the much sought after economic development.
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  4. Dr. Ba'Ruu
    Word to Mutha Bro…
    I feel it is in our innate nature (as Africans, or more closely, Nigerians) to blow stuff out of proportion.
    Everyone wants a title; even the cobbler living in my hood back in the day wanted a title. Hood guys called him the CEO of Alika Cobbler Enterprise. Ordinary small shade o…has now turned to Enterprise. Issorait!
    In Naija, folks spend life savings to obtain one chieftaincy title or another.
    And this culture isn’t lost on the younglings.
    According to Yo Gotti, everybody wanna be somebody.
    So it isn’t all about the success story for most young bloods; they prefer the ‘respect’ they earn when they are addressed as ‘The Chairman, CEO, Chief Executive, Highest Shareholder of Mgbeke and Mgborie Enterprises International’…

    And what do we get?
    Misplaced priorities Bro…misplaced priorities.

    Blessings!

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  5. Andronicus
    I don’t know who celebrates entrepreneurs where you are but where I grew up, the dream was to get a great professional job. I know a few who started businesses too and there’s pressure on them to get 9 – 5s so I’m surprised that people get cheered when they start businesses. Really?! My family is a white collar one so I even understand but my friend’s parents are successful self-employed business people so I’m surprised they want their son to quit.

    My dad’s rich friend whom I went to for job assistance told me to find something I’m good at and focus on it. When I get my first revenue from it my life won’t be the same. He’s the only one I know with that opinion.

    I have friends who just respect entrepreneurs from a distance but ask them to quit their 9 – 5s and join, they’ll stammer out excuses. Another friend quit a lucrative job (300k per month after nysc) at an ad firm to do his own thing. I felt he was mad for doing so. One lady took my friend on a merry ride before confessing that she couldn’t quit her job for his startup. So I’m surprised people actually get celebrated for this.

    Well, do whatever you can to survive cos 9 -5 and owned businesses are risky. Yes you have your steady pay-check and don’t carry the company’s risks on your head. But what you learn there in 3 years, that business owner may learn in 1 year among other leadership skills. Your company may merge or get acquired and staff may get laid off. It could affect you. That business owner has his own risks including the business folding but at least he is in control.

    In the end life is tough and there are no guarantees or formulae. Do whatever you love doing and make the best of your time here. You are alone in this race.

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