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…
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.