Cyrus Agbo

6 Sure Steps to Building Your Own Entreprise

6 Sure Steps to Building Your Own Entreprise

Okay everyone, I have just one request on this post: Try not to get bored with the introduction. I know most of you aren’t really into technical definitions, but it’s reeeeally important that we have a common foundation first. Okay? We good?? That’s right… Leggo!

Now the word ‘Enterprise’ refers to a company, business, organization or any other purposeful endeavor. For the purpose of this post, I’ll stick to enterprise development as it relates to building a profitable business. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of enterprises: Micro enterprises having 5 or fewer employees and requiring less capital for commencement, and Macro enterprises having 6 employees and above and requiring much larger capital for commencement. Now have no doubts, dear reader, starting a business, whether micro or macro is not for the faint hearted, especially in Africa, particularly in Nigeria where you are faced with a trailer-load of odds to conquer including basics such as uninterrupted power, access to credit and effective business mentoring. Despite the odds, there remain a valiant few who seek to be conquerors of the status quo and are faced with just one throbbing question:

“How Exactly Do I Start???”

I’m going to adopt a bare bones approach towards answering your question beyond what the Harvard Business Reviews would tell you (don’t get me wrong, I read a lot of them, that’s how I know what’s in there in the first place) :D.

  1. FIND A NEED: This may sound cliche but it is actually the defining factor of your business. This need that your business will fill is actually what is referred to as your Value Proposition, that specific problem that your business is solving for your current and prospective customers in a creative and different way. The easiest way to find what need it is you wish to fill is to seek out something that frustrates you. It is said that your greatest frustration is oftentimes the problem you were created to solve. The greatest companies were founded by individuals who simply had a deep-seated frustration about something. For Steve Jobs, it was humanizing technology and making it more intuitive… That gave birth to Apple Inc. For Roy Raymond, it was simply finding a way for married men to buy lingerie for their wives without feeling embarrassed about it… that gave birth to Victoria’s Secret, a billion dollar company. For my Nigerian friend Silas Okwoche, his motivation is to make mobile technology more relevant and supportive to local innovation across emerging markets, that is giving birth to possibly the biggest revolution in mobile technology in Africa called Nerve. The greatest of businesses/inventions were always created in response to a particular problem, even the simplest ones. So you want to start a business? Find a problem.
  1. FOCUS ONLY ON IDEAS THAT YOU HAVE THE SKILLS FOR: Kick starting any business venture requires practically EVERYTHING from the founder(s)… and by everything I mean your time, money, expertise, blood, sweat and tears… and yes by Tears I actually mean Tears. Frankly speaking, it will be equal to signing your death warrant if the business you intend to build is completely outside your immediate area of skill or knowledge. In simple terms, if the success of your idea/business is dependent on a third party, it is a failure waiting to happen. It is also very cost effective at the beginning to be able to execute at least most of the initial tasks involved in the establishment of your business without having to pay someone else to do it. So you want to start something? Acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for that venture so you can cut costs, avoid intellectual property theft and other related possibilities. Having basic knowledge of crucial areas of your business will also help you to delegate duties properly.
  1. LEVERAGE ON SUPPORT SYSTEMS: Finding start-up capital is mostly always an impediment for most would-be entrepreneurs. Over time though, it has been proven that the easiest and most reliable source of start-up capital is Friends and Family (F & F). They love you (generally) and believe in your dreams (sometimes) therefore are more likely to be willing to part with sizeable amounts of money for that experimental venture of yours. Now this is not a ticket for you to go mediocre on planning, you must prepare a detailed BUSINESS PLAN (more on that later) and make a solid presentation before them like you were pitching to VCs (Venture Capitalists: The people with briefcases asking you tonnes of questions without a guarantee of investment in your business). Your attention to detail and presentation will convince them that you are determined to make your business a profitable venture.
  1. DELAY GRATIFICATION: There’s an African saying that goes ‘If you do not make plans for money, money will make plans for itself”. When you get going, keep your expenses on the low. You don’t want to eat your seed before it germinates. Make plans for money, keep a detailed journal of your expenses. Thanks to technology it’s easier to keep records these days. You can make use of productivity apps such as Evernote, Any.do or the Notes app on your Android, iPhone or tablet. Whatever you do, separate your personal expense from the business expense and let the money you have received as support for your business be spent strictly to get it off the ground.
  1. START: This point needs no further ado. In practice, there is never a completely perfect time to start executing on your ideas. The longer you take the get anything done, the less likely you are to ever get it done. So you’ve identified a problem, spotted your area of strength, planned and sourced for finances, wait no further, let the rubber hit the road and give pedal to the metal… START.
  1. BUILD PEOPLE SKILLS: It is said that the easiest way to get something done is to do it yourself right? Wrong! The easiest way to get something done is to train other people to do it better on your behalf. It makes processes faster, encourages breakdown of tasks and ensures sustainability whether you are present or not. Also, you have to network like your life depends on it… because it actually does. Often times the success of a business is only as strong as its relationships. So find the right people and maintain strong relationships. You’ll do just fine.

See you on Forbes List!

Love, Work and the Power of Decisions

Love, Work and the Power of Decisions

Have you ever been in love before?

Yeah, I thought so.

Take a moment and think back… Exactly how much contribution or effort did you put into that initial spark, that instantaneous rush of blood to the head? Did you even have anything at all to do with it???

The answer is most probably a resounding ‘No’. You were just sitting quietly, minding your own business. You were probably structuring your big plans for the future, following through with your academics or going hard on that new job… You may have harmlessly been providing mentoring support to someone as directed by your group, fellowship or church leader… and then it happened. With the unpredictable strength of lightening, it struck you, without your outright permission. Effortlessly and unconsciously, it began by your suddenly heightened ability to notice the uniqueness in the way they smiled, laughed and sounded. You unavoidably began to see how much sense they made in every passing discussion you engaged them in. You gradually began to feel different around this person. At that point and in the words of Disney’s Hotel Transylvania, you ‘Zinged’!

The usual 10 minute conversations began to stretch to 30 and sometimes over an hour. You began to want to contribute more to this person’s well-being, to be a part of their day, to be a reason for them to smile on a cloudy day. You wanted to nurture them, watch them grow and ultimately give the same amount of attention back to you. At this point you JUST KNEW that you were ‘in Love’.

The feeling was spontaneous, but the accompanying actions were deliberate. It was a decision.

The same thing goes for your passion.

You actually had nothing to do with the way you feel about a certain field of work or endeavor, be it Medicine, Music, Artistry or a combination; You just ‘zinged’ with it. But your ability to find and enjoy fulfillment from it is defined by a set of deliberate, accompanying actions. Now the trick is, when you love someone or something, the desire to make effort towards its development is often spontaneous. Even if the spontaneity diminishes with time (which is classic at some point in every love story so far) it’s a lot easier to find that ‘lightening in a bottle’ again just by remembering how you felt the first time it all started.

So you see, it’s dangerous to adopt as work something that you do not sincerely love and will be willing to commit totally to, not that it isn’t possible to develop love for it along the way, but it is indeed an avoidable risk. This is because it’ll require a greater deal of effort from you to sustain it and you may eventually never find fulfillment in it. Also in making your decision about what you want to be defined by as work, you must NEVER be driven by survival. Many people in Africa have fallen into what I call ‘The Survival Trap” and end up living grossly unfulfilled lives.

No matter where your passion lies, even if it’s barbing, dancing, taking pictures or even speaking, your consistency and ability to execute is more than enough to generate rewards sufficient to pay your bills and bring you fulfillment.

Lastly, the whole point of working must be to become great at it. In the famous words of the late tech legend Steve Jobs, “The only way you can do great work is to love what you do”. You can hardly become phenomenal at something if you don’t love doing it in the first place. It is love that will provide the strength to put in those long hours, to gain sweat equity in that business, to put in that 99% perspiration necessary for perfection, and work without it would be meaningless. The same thing goes for our relationships.

So fall in love, it’s beautiful and free.

Stay in love, its profitable and rewarding.

And no matter what you do, make sure you love it and then commit yourself to be great at it. If you haven’t found it yet, “Keep looking, don’t settle” – Steve Jobs.

5 Hardcore Lessons I Learnt from my Last Boss

5 Hardcore Lessons I Learnt from my Last Boss

Bosses… We love them, we hate them, we glorify and sometimes vilify them but one thing stands out, there’s always something to learn from them… especially if you intend to become one someday. So, while working on my last job as a business developer in a Consulting firm, I paid attention to details and learnt the following lessons from my female boss who was nothing short of a genius and drove results. Learning them was a bit tough at the time but they are indeed worth sharing.

 

EXPECT THE CLIENT’S APPROVAL, NOT HIS SYMPATHY:

I know this may sound brutish, but I had to learn it the not-so-easy way. Creative people as well as all humans find it convenient to make excuses why we couldn’t get the job done: “Oh there was terrible Michael Corleone 2traffic”; … “It rained heavily this morning and my street’s drainage spilled into the road”; … “I didn’t have electricity (Light, as we call it in Nigeria) to work at night”; … “I couldn’t iron my clothes in time”; … come on, help me with more excuses, we know these things don’t we? They are essentially infinite in number. And as you rehearse the excuse in your mind as you head towards the office, store or meeting, you unconsciously expect that your listeners who probably would have been waiting long hours for you would “understand what happened” and sympathize with you. Cool expectation though… but the bottom line is YOU DID NOT DELIVER. Now if you are to consider what the common denominator is in all the excuses you gave or can give, you’ll find that they all affect only you. The part of the whole scenario that affects the client negatively is the fact that you were unable to deliver your end of the bargain which may in turn hinder or even end a process in which your result was a defining factor. That is dangerous and unfair. Never forget that the very things that your clients came to you for, there are a thousand and one other people who can do the same and some even better yet they came to you having expectations. So stop expecting them to sympathize with you better, and stand on your feet and by all means deliver!

“THOU SHALT NOT BE LATE”; the 11th commandment:

 

There isn’t so much to say on this… because it’s pretty obvious the many things that can go wrong simply because of lateness. However, I’m just going to highlight one of them and it’s wrapped in one word: Process. In the workplace, every contribution is part of a process. This means that the company or your boss’ overall result is made up of many tiny pieces of results, one of which is yours. So if you’re one minute late, all the other steps involved the process will be one minute late (and that’s if they all keep to their original timing). How much more if you deliver 10 minutes late, or 30 minutes, or even an hour late??? Your boss could miss out on that deal, the guest of honour could get impatient and leave, the meeting may even end and the decision made without you! Your work is a part of a bigger process, even if you work alone. So bottom line, lateness for anything is the devil. Obey the 11th commandment.

 

‘I DON’T KNOW’ IS A CORRECT ANSWER:… and yes, I don’t intend to get you fired or laDunnoughed at. Now of course you are not expected to stare wide-eyed at your boss or client and declare you don’t know what is expected of you, however, it is accepted that such an answer when rightly delivered helps you to effectively manage expectations. Managing expectations is a fundamental part of any business that will retain customers. The key to rightly delivering the “I don’t know” reply is to make it a function of time. Saying “I don’t know right now”, RIGHT NOW being the key words gives the indication that you will find out the required piece of information and provide the necessary solution. Never forget that beyond the business and career spheres of life, it is immensely important to effectively manage expectations. So saying “I don’t know”, especially when you put a time limit to it, buys you not just an opportunity to manage expectations but also time to get out there, find out what you need to know and get back into the game.

 

 

“I’LL NEED SOME TIME” SAVES US ALL TIME: SometimeFour words, great impact. Still in the spirit of managing expectations, people should be able to hold you accountable to your words. And if for any reason there’s going to be a change in the agreed plan or delivery schedule, integrity demands that you inform the parties involved ON TIME. Of course there’s a place for breaking your back to get the job done on schedule, but sometimes partner there are just some things you cannot control. When you’re faced with such, come out straight and say the four magic words “I’ll need more time”. Everyone should respect that, especially if it’s something that you don’t say often… because in truth, you’re not expected to.

 

 

WORK LIKE YOU ARE YOUR OWN SUPERVISOR:

When working in a team, what are your expecbosstations of your supervisor if you had one? You’ll expect them to provide guidance and correction where needed so as to achieve an acceptable level of perfection right? Well, corrections while working are good but the thing is every correction made takes out time and effort from the overall process. So, what if you didn’t have a supervisor? Would you repeatedly deliver half-baked stuff? A lot of times, we make mistakes in our writing, documentation, projects etcetera because unconsciously, there is a certain level of relaxation that comes with knowing that your supervisor will probably spot the error and correct it. Cool, but inefficient. To be able to work effectively especially in a team, you must take creative ownership of your work and strive for perfection. Your perfection boosts my perfection as the performer of the next task in the chain and that also saves us both some time. So, review your work like you would if you were your own supervisor and save everyone productive time.

I’ve learnt these and I try daily to put them into practice especially now that I’m growing a start-up of my own. Try them out too and if there’s more you think we should know, let me know through your comments below.

Why Entrepreneurs should respect Career People

Why Entrepreneurs should respect Career People

As I walked into the bank that morning, shaggy hair (because I woke up too busy to brush it), full beard, head phones on my neck, white Polo shirt and the back pocket of my jeans full of cash paid late the previous day by one of my major clients, all of which I was about to pay into my account, I stared full of smiles at the attendants on the counter and for the first time, I realized how much they looked like minions…

They simply do THE SAME THING EVERYDAY.

But then I also realized how important the ability to do that was. If not for people like these, the great banks would not have grown to the point where I can walk in, deposit money and be assured that its safety is guaranteed. Same applies to other big institutions…
Banking-hall-edit

Companies only grow through the establishment of systems and the strongest systems are those that are managed by consistent people. Entrepreneurship requires dynamism, spontaneity and the ability to change your mind when occasion demands, but staying in a career requires consistency, discipline and a deep respect for processes… a quality that true entrepreneurs generally do not have. Its a blessing as well as a burden. I know this because I’m privileged to be one of them. Its something we’re born with… That basic restlessness and hunger for The-Next-Big-Thing we can can create and sell.

So, what’s the point of my whole story?

Everybody is preaching entrepreneurship these days, especially in my country Nigeria and I respect that. However, I do not subscribe to the concept being forced down everyone’s throat, even those who in their hearts know they are wired for careers and processes. I also do not subscribe to the developing idea that career individuals are lesser beings and entrepreneurs are gods of the arena. Entrepreneurship requires guts, creativity and an intense ability to sell and believe me the entire chase rocks. But if you know you are not wired that way, its not a thing of weakness, its an identification of what I’ll like to call your “Work DNA“…

So get a job, stay in a job and become the best at what you do in that office or field of specialization. Because an Entrepreneur, no matter how driven and dynamic, without a group of INTRApreneurs (the men and women that make and maintain the system on a daily basis:

the women at the counters..

the Accounts Officers..

the Sales Managers..

and the Supervisors etc)…

An Entrepreneur without these guys… is simply a shop owner, a lonely one at that.

Enough said. Thank God its Friday, Monday or whatever day you’re reading this. ;-)