__The journey to build a bigger business.
For those of you who have read some of my early writings, you will know that I started very much like a lot of you. We were originally four partners who were each required to put up $75 into an “investment club.” Two of them did not put up their share, leaving only two of us who were committed. That happens even today. So if it happens to you it’s not the end of the world.
The two of us remained together for a while as 50:50 partners until we split up because each of us wanted to do our own thing. That too happens. Keep the friendship and move on. My former partner is a lifelong friend.
I was alone as 100% shareholder for several years, working hard, borrowing from everyone I could think of just to keep my head above water. It was hectic and nerve racking, just like it is right now for some of you.
Eventually I figured out how to get a bank overdraft, and then spent my life working to pay it back on time, until it felt like that’s all I was working for! My little business grew, and I ended up employing more and more people. There was no one to teach me the ropes, but I knew that if I was going to be a successful entrepreneur, I must learn from those who were successful. So I read a lot about international entrepreneurs from all over the world, and attended local business events where I could meet and talk to people.
I was constantly asking questions of others, and also of myself…
“How did they fund their businesses?” was always at the top of my mind.
In asking such questions I did not take anything for granted with simplistic answers like a high school student. I asked questions and researched. If I got in front of an established entrepreneur whom I knew not to be a thief, I would ask the same question:
“How did you finance and grow your business?”
It did not take long to find out that the subject was big and complex. There were many ways to fund a business, but many of them were not available for African entrepreneurs. I did not complain or waste my time lobbying and writing letters, because I was looking for a solution.
I knew a lot of big men in my town and country, but I did not dare approach them because I knew many of them well enough to know they would simply take over my little business. This was a reality of developing countries in general, and I had read terrible stories from Africa, Brazil and India.
__It is a genuine fear and you must tread cautiously, even today.
So I soldiered on, just like many of you today. I kept searching for the type of organization which could invest in ventures like mine, whilst allowing me to keep control of my destiny. This is what each of you that is at that stage in business should be doing.
If you have been in business for a long time, and think you already know it all, remember my dictum: “When you think you know it all, that is the point at which you know nothing!”
I was constantly writing letters to organizations if I heard about funding support for young entrepreneurs. I even visited embassies to meet their trade people. Many of those people are there even in your own country. Look them up. Find out about their programs.
__I was constantly alert! You have to be!
And it was because I was READING all the time that I learnt about an initiative in which the International Finance Corporation (IFC) part of the World Bank Group was planning to set up a “Venture Capital Window” for young African entrepreneurs. It was an obscure little comment somewhere, but it was enough…
I had seen it! (Then I “katalambano-ed”! Seized the opportunity!)
I found a massive organization that was prepared to invest and take equity in my business. In the next part I will tell you about how I sold 25% of the business, and launched myself to the next phase of my entrepreneur’s journey. Hold onto your seat!
To be continued. . .