A friend with over 20 years banking experience finally quit her job to run a retail clothing business. Even though she lost huge sums of money in the stock market crash of 2008, she was saved from total financial ruin by the investments she made in some precious metals. She realized her investments to set up her business. I asked her what her experience has been. She said that she has always been a businessperson even as a salaried worker. Her advice for the youth is: “Every youth should add entrepreneurship to whatever discipline s/he may be pursuing.”
The global increase in the rate of youth unemployment has made entrepreneurship a buzzword. Notwithstanding, entrepreneurship remains a concept not so many people understand. This is probably because entrepreneurship has its origin in the French word ‘entreprendre’ which means to ‘undertake’. Not a few people call an entrepreneur (the person that undertakes a business), an enterpreneur. The ignorance people display is not limited to the pronunciation of entrepreneur.
The words used to define entrepreneur which include innovator, planner, profit maker, resource allocator, risk-taker, etc have not helped the understanding of what entrepreneurship is about. These words are rather complex for the critical mass of people in need of entrepreneurial skills.
A good understanding of entrepreneurship is important because it is going to be the ‘in-thing’ for the foreseeable future. Thus it is expedient to simplify the concept of entrepreneurship. Simplifying this concept would encourage many more people go through the grind, learn the needed skills and, more importantly, imbibe the right attitude required for entrepreneurial success.
I am from a family of entrepreneurs. My paternal grandfather was a big-time farmer. He owned a very large cocoa farm in Ondo State. My maternal grandfather was also a businessman. He started out as a launderer and later went into farming. He had a sizeable cocoa farm.
My maternal grandmother, who had no formal education, was an accomplished businesswoman. She sold beaded necklaces and hand-woven textile materials. I recall she bought her 1,000+ sqm plot of land, on which she build her residential accommodation, with the profit she made from one business transaction! When I gained admission into the university in 1985, she gave me N200, equivalent to US$220 then, as pocket money. At the current Naira / U.S. Dollar exchange rate, that’s about N36,000!
My mother took after her mother. Even though she had just about 9 years of formal education, she was able to train all her children (five of us) from the proceeds of her trade. There was never a time I went home and couldn’t go back to school because there was no money.
Key Attributes of an Entrepreneur
There are three (3) key attributes would-be entrepreneurs require, namely: enlightened self-interest, empathy, and value creation. These qualities are mutually reinforcing. Almost everyone has self-interest but only few people move to the level of enlightened self-interest. At this esteemed level, you take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. Empathy and value creation need no expatiation.
Myths about Entrepreneurship
Some people associate entrepreneurship strictly with big names like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Carlos Slim (Grupo Carso), Aliko Dangote (Dangote Group), and many others. The challenge with this viewpoint is that it discourages people from venturing into the murky waters of entrepreneurship because they see the prospects of joining the league of the above-mentioned entrepreneurs as a tall dream. What they forget is that entrepreneurship is a scalable activity and anyone is free to choose his spot on the entrepreneurial spectrum.
As a consequence of the above, would-be entrepreneurs build myths around entrepreneurship that distract them from venturing. Some of the myths include:
1. Capital makes an entrepreneur
2. Markets for goods and services are saturated
3. Entrepreneurship is an inborn trait
The scope of this article wouldn’t allow me to go into detailed arguments to debunk each of these myths. Suffice it to say that none of them should deter you from becoming an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship in its simplest form
Entrepreneurship boils down to making things better and/or making better things. If you’re desirous of becoming an entrepreneur, one question you should ask yourself is: “Do things get better in my hands?” In essence, are you a builder or a wrecker? Let consider some examples.
A friend of mine who has taken the property market in Nigeria by storm, started out in Europe buying and letting properties. He bought not-so-impressive properties (in relatively good locations), renovated them, and let them to prospective tenants. He did this for well over twelve (12) years. Preparatory to his relocation, he cashed out on his portfolio of investment properties and used the huge profit he made to start off in Nigeria. The skills he learned over the years are at the heart of the signature on the houses he builds and sells.
Recently, I asked him what he is doing with his profits. He said that he’s still building the goodwill (the most valuable asset in a business) but making just enough profit to keep his family and himself. He is obviously not blinded by the quest for profits at the expense of goodwill. According to him, goodwill enables him sell his properties off-plan. That people pay him tidy sums of money when all he has to show them is a bare piece of land is something he doesn’t make light of. With that response, I know my friend is prepared for the long haul and he will very likely succeed.
Not long ago, an estate agent took my wife and me to see a storage space she needed to rent. When we got there, the whole place was scattered and filthy. The roof was leaking. When I asked the agent why the place was left unkempt, he said everything will be fixed before my wife moves in. I told him that the first thing should have been to clean up the space before showing it to a prospective tenant. From his body language, I knew I had wasted my advice. We never called him about the property again.
When we lived in rented apartment, my wife and I maintained our apartments in excellent condition. Our maintenance schedule included painting the apartments every other year. We never thought for a moment that the properties were not ours.
I’ve shared the foregoing to say that entrepreneurs make things they touch better. If you don’t yet have a Midas’ touch, it’s a handicap you can cure immediately. Make a decision from today to leave things better than you met them.
Entrepreneurship is an attitude
While entrepreneurial education in core skills is necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur, it is not sufficient. More importantly, you need to have the right attitude – the attitude of making things better. You must be someone whose contact with anything makes those things better.
Since entrepreneurship is an attitude, it means it is a concept open to anyone.
One word that binds the three key attributes of entrepreneurs (enlightened self-interest, empathy, and value creation) together is love. You must love yourself enough to take care of yourself so that you can care for others. Secondly, you must put yourself in your prospective customers’ shoes just so you can give them what they really need. Finally, you must create value for your customers. As a rule, your customers’ perception of the value they receive must be higher than the price they pay.
When you imbibe the above attributes, you will be set on your entrepreneurial journey and how far you want to go will be your choice to make.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, the guiding principle is: think ‘better’.