"It's better to be a lioness for a day than a sheep all your life!"
The Edit is the blog of LoA founder and editor-in-chief, Melanie Hawken. Featuring opinion, commentary and analysis on a wide range of topics of interest to today’s women entrepreneurs on the African continent. It’s your daily must-read for relevant, thought-provoking entrepreneur news, with the occasional irreverent moment thrown in for good measure.
GE and Standard Bank today announced the launch of the new ‘Healthcare Accelerator’ a country-first for South Africa, growth and training programme designed for Healthcare Professionals (HCPs). The aim of the Healthcare Accelerator is to provide technical, clinical and business acumen to HCPs who want to improve and grow their existing practices, whether private or public, or transition into private practice. The Healthcare Accelerator is now calling for entries from healthcare professionals across the country and will provide over 100 hours of training and professional development over 6 months, commencing November 2016. The practical modules will be delivered weekly in a classroom environment at the GE Africa Innovation Centre (Houghton Estate) and the Standard Bank Incubator (Rosebank) by leading experts. Courses will include strategy and business plan development, operations management, governance and ethics, digital practices, human resources and marketing. The interactive classroom experience will be complemented by access to e-learning platforms providing further resources for HCPs to develop and learn additional skills. Interested practitioners looking to take advantage of this program should apply online here, with the forty selected candidates to be announced before the end of the year.
A fascinating new report has just been launched by McKinsey, ‘Lions on the Move, Realizing the Potential of Africa’s Economies’, which suggests that although there have been some economic challenges over the past five years, the continent’s fundamentals remain strong. Africa’s real GDP grew at an average of 3.3 percent a year between 2010 and 2015, and as a whole is projected by the International Monetary Fund to be the world’s second-fastest growing economy to 2020. In an ageing world, Africa has the advantage of a young and growing population and will soon have the fastest urbanization rate in the world. By 2034, the region is expected to have a larger workforce than either China or India—and, so far, job creation is outpacing growth in the labor force. Accelerating technological change is unlocking new opportunities for consumers and businesses, and Africa still has abundant resources. Spending by consumers and businesses today totals $4 trillion. All in all, the future looks bright for entrepreneurs who want to look to Africa’s exciting marketplace for the growth and development of their own businesses.
If there is one thing that entrepreneurs who are providing specific services to their customers are good at, its building relationships. Why? Because they have a constant touchpoint with those customers; they are getting to know them, to know what they need, they are providing a service which makes life better or easier. They are leveraging their skills, knowledge, experience and service offering to develop trusted relationships. And, in business, that’s what matters. Take for example an entrepreneur who has a hairdressing, beauty or wellness enterprise, or perhaps a designer or couturier who is creating clothes that enhance confidence. Every day, they are using their skills to make their customers feel and look better, they are making personal connections, they are building trusted relationships. It’s why it’s so important to hone that skill, study to become a craftsperson or specialist in a particular field, become the best version of yourself as an entrepreneur, so that you can build meaningful and lasting relationships with your clients that are built on service excellence, trust, and mutual understanding.
Entrepreneurship has the power to help Africa overcome many of its challenges, and at the Lionesses of Africa Annual Conference last week, Standard Bank launched a new survey to gain some invaluable insights into what women entrepreneurs need to take their businesses to the next level. The bank firmly believes that female entrepreneurs can be a prominent force driving many of the solutions that will move our rich, vibrant continent forward. Yet it acknowledges that from its existing research, although there are numerous female entrepreneurs in Africa, there is still much to be learned - hence, this new survey. As a bank, it needs to understand the specific opportunities and challenges that women on the continent face every day, the societal pressures they feel, the support structures on which they rely, and what is needed to help their businesses reach greater success. Ultimately, it feels that to better engage with women entrepreneurs going forward, it needs to genuinely know what it’s like to be a woman entrepreneur in Africa today. So, if you would like to have your voice heard and to ensure that a major financial institution such as Standard Bank really understands the needs of women entrepreneurs in Africa, you are invited to take 5-10 minutes to complete the survey here.
They say if you can imagine it, you can make it happen. I can certainly attest to that. My vision for Lionesses of Africa has taken me from a germ of an idea to get the world talking about and connecting with the continent’s women entrepreneurs, to what is today a powerful community of over 200,000 inspirational women in business in 36 African countries. Imagination has been the key to what is now an extraordinary social enterprise journey and one shared by some of the world’s leading companies and organisations, including GE one of the world’s leading Digital Industrial Organisations. GE has brought the opportunity to innovate, imagine, and invent to Sub-Saharan Africa with the launch of its GE Africa Innovation Centre (GEAIC) in Johannesburg, South Africa, and it has made a commitment to developing women entrepreneurs. With this in mind, the GE AIC is partnering with Lionesses of Africa on an Open Innovation Challenge. Women entrepreneurs in the network in South Africa are invited to provide a sustainable digital solution to a pressing challenge – or opportunity. The solution should ideally focus on the sectors, and businesses, that GE SSA serves. The winning entry will receive USD 1 500.00, and the opportunity to work with GE AIC Digital Academy team on developing their proposed project. Short-listed candidates will be included as preferential suppliers to GE Sub-Saharan Africa. Deadline for entries is 23h00 on November 15, 2016 via the link: www.geafricainnovationcentre.com/lionesses-ge-open-innovation-challenge So, what are you waiting for - join GE as they Innovate, Imagine and Invent – In Africa; For Africa.
We’ve all experienced those ‘goose-bump’ moments in life, when we see or hear something that touches us at an emotional level. Well, yesterday at the opening of the Lionesses of Africa AnnualConference, we all shared one of those moments when the talented operatic soprano, Nozuko Teto, walked onto the stage and performed the truly inspirational song, ’You’ll never walk alone’. It was a reminder to all of us as women entrepreneurs in the room that when you belong to a strong, supportive community such as Lionesses of Africa, you are never alone on your entrepreneurial journey - you are surrounded by fellow Lionesses who know what you are experiencing and can offer support, advice and sometimes just a shoulder to lean on when things get tough. That’s the strength of the pride!
I passionately believe that the way to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship on this continent is in our hands. As women entrepreneurs, we must create and champion the way forward for the next generation of young women who will follow in our footsteps. It is our responsibility and we must rise to the challenge. I believe real solutions to real socio economic problems will start to be found in meetings just like the Lionesses of Africa Annual Conference we are staging today, with entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment through enterprise leading the charge. Wherever we can bring women entrepreneurs together on this continent to share ideas, to find solutions, to collaborate, to put those game-changing ideas into action, we have the seeds for real change. The change will not come from government. It will not come from Washington programmes. It will not come from consultants and advisors. It will not come from books. Real change will come when women entrepreneurs accept they have to create the change we want to see, and they begin to roll up their sleeves and just get on with the job of making it happen. So, that’s really what’s at the heart of Lionesses of Africa. It’s about women entrepreneurs doing it for women entrepreneurs, and powering a new era of women’s entrepreneurship in Africa.
Were you one of those people at school referred to as a ‘good all rounder’, someone with the ability to be reasonably good at doing lots of different things at the same time? If so, that phrase probably irritated you at the time in your school reports, as it suggests the old adage ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. Yet if you are sat right now about to launch a new startup, or in the early throes of building your business, then it could be a phrase whose time has come in your case. Why? Because as a startup entrepreneur, the chances are you will need to fulfil so many different roles at the same time, from innovator, marketing and PR person, and book-keeper, to salesperson, delivery person and CEO. It goes with the turf in the early days of being an entrepreneur, particularly if you are going solo in your business. Learning the art of wearing lots of different hats when required is all part of the startup journey. So maybe being a ‘good all rounder’ isn’t that bad after all?
Do you remember a time without social media, when there was no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat? It feels like social media has been part of our daily lives for ever and part of our everyday language. Over the past decade in the world of the entrepreneur, social media has become an intrinsic part of the business brand-building process, a fast, efficient way of engaging with audiences and potential customers on a daily basis. It has brought the world and its marketplaces closer to us as entrepreneurs, and provided a mechanism to get people talking about, and connecting with, our products and brands without the need for big marketing budgets. Social media has probably been the biggest game-changer for the startup, helping to level the playing field and allowing access to markets for even the smallest of businesses to play in. But like anything, harnessing the power of social media to build your brand takes effort and consistent hard work. Social media platforms need to be fed regularly, often daily or even hourly, to reap the rewards of constant engagement with customers and your brand. Think of it like having a beloved pet at home - it needs feeding at regular intervals with great nourishment in order for it to thrive. It’s the same with your social media platforms - you need to keep feeding them with great content on a regular basis in order for them to really connect your business and brand with your audiences. Something to think about as you get ready to tweet or post to Facebook this morning!
Entrepreneurs always tend to remember their first year of starting up in business, usually because they can still recall just how exciting it was to switch on that website or social media page with the new company logo, launch that new product or service - and then hope that someone is interested! There is nothing quite like the buzz of the initial startup business year, it’s full of highs and lows, some expectations met and others not, times when you feel on top of the world and others when you feel like giving up. It’s all part of the journey. So how do you survive that first year as an entrepreneur? Here are a few tips to help you stay on track and get you through to year two and three. Firstly, be really clear about your vision for your business and what you are trying to achieve - that vision will keep you focused when things get tough, as they inevitably do. Secondly, always remember why you decided to become an entrepreneur in the first place and your passion for what you are creating. Thirdly, tell everyone you know about your startup business, your new product launch, your unique service offering, your brand - it’s much harder to give up if you have lots of people rooting for you and your future success - and you’ll be too embarrassed to throw in the towel early with your major cheerleading team alongside you. Finally, remember that being an entrepreneur takes real determination, it’s hard slog most of the time, but ultimately if you can stay in the game through your first year, it’s worth it.
You have probably all heard of the phrase ‘disruptive innovators’. It refers to those industry changing entrepreneurs who come along with a small but truly innovative idea that has the potential to totally turn a business or industry sector on its head. Because they start out small, they can easily go unnoticed by the established big players who continue to dominate because of their sheer size and market dominance, but in true David and Goliath style, these disruptive innovators start to gain momentum, winning over customers and fans because of their truly unique approach and product offering. That's when the real disruption starts. The market starts to shift in the direction of these innovative newcomers, the big players have to start paying attention to them because they are impacting on their own share of the market, and before you know it, there is real disruption to the status quo. Here in Africa, there are women entrepreneurs who are bringing innovative new ideas to market, and like David, starting out small but with aspirations to shake things up in traditional marketplaces. Here’s hoping they are the next disruptive innovators that set the world alight with their ideas.
I read a great definition of an entrepreneur last evening and one I’ve not heard before - "an entrepreneur is like a composer, they see something no one else does. And, to help them create it from nothing, they surround themselves with world-class performers" - Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur and academician. I thought this was a really interesting analogy as it speaks to the heart of what entrepreneurs do. They have a vision for something they are trying to create; they bring in like-minded people with unique skills-sets who can help them to bring that vision to life; and they are prepared to plunge themselves and everyone around them into the unknown, breaking new ground to make their innovative vision a tangible reality and one that connects with the rest of the world. Just like composers, entrepreneurs are rare, unique and perhaps a little crazy at times, but they have the ability to create things that others can only dream about. That’s what separates entrepreneurs from everyone else.
There was a time when thinking big, or even thinking global, for a small business in Africa was not an option without the limitless tools and resources to back it up. But today, the tech revolution means that everyone has access to world-class tools, platforms, apps and so much more to really give wings to any business, no matter how small. Just go online at any time and see the plethora of tools that are available for start-ups and small businesses, many of them free and created by startups themselves, looking to become the next big thing in the tech space. Harnessing the power of technology as a startup means that you can be based anywhere but still do business and reach those important customers and audiences, 24/7. That’s what is a real game-changer for women entrepreneurs in Africa - the ability to launch a business, connect with customers and audiences online, build digital communities of people that love your products and services and connect with your brand, regardless of your geographical location. Technology has brought the world closer and for Africa’s women entrepreneurs it really does mean their businesses can grow wings and take off.
There is a common theory backed up by a host of academic studies that women entrepreneurs are naturally predisposed to being risk averse, and certainly more so than their male counterparts. So it was interesting to read another study recently that somewhat bucks this trend. KPMG’s study on ‘Women Entrepreneurs: Passion, Purpose and Perseverance’, found that most women entrepreneurs it questioned (55 percent) say they embrace risk-taking. In fact they rank it third among the factors that are critical to their success (64 percent), and fifth among traits critical for CEOs and founders to possess (57 percent). The key take-out from this report seems to point to the fact that if you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be able to look uncertainty straight in the eye, embrace it and not be paralysed by it. In fact, for many women entrepreneurs, taking risks may be a precursor to future growth.
So what’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a wantrepreneur? The answer is, in the words of Nike, they ‘Just Do It’. Entrepreneurs do what they say they’re going to do, they take their ideas and they turn them into businesses, products, service offerings and innovations. On the flip side, wantrepreneurs never get past talking about starting up a business, it only ever remains an idea. What separates them is action, and that’s just as important to the entrepreneurial journey as passion and determination in the early days. As entrepreneurs, action means taking that initial leap of faith and just launching, even if the concept is not fully tested, or the website is not fully ready, or the product is not as refined as it could be. Entrepreneurs realise quickly that getting to market is key, and being first to market if the business concept is innovative, is critical. It’s all too easy in the formative startup phase to think you have to be perfect before you launch and therefore keep delaying and procrastinating, instead of taking the leap of faith and just doing it. Entrepreneurs learn as they go, but one of the biggest lessons to learn is that action is key - you can have the best product, service or business concept but if no-one knows about it then it remains simply an idea. And, that is ultimately what separates entrepreneurs from wantrepreneurs.
When we talk about being innovative, we typically think about those rare game-changers who create something completely revolutionary that changes our lives and the world we live in. Yet more often than not, being innovative is often a case of rethinking an existing idea, product, or traditional way of doing something, and finding ways to make it better or work differently. Often the most creative and innovative businesses are those that combine existing ideas but take a more ‘out of the box’ approach to finding a fresh solution, in the process creating something that feels vibrant and new. Sometimes, reimagining the world opens up huge possibilities for new innovations and entrepreneurial opportunities. But the trick to success is learning to recognise that often it’s just as exciting to take existing ideas and concepts and reinvent them to meet the challenges of a changing world, rather than starting with a completely blank piece of paper.
Women have always been the ultimate multi-taskers in life and business, it’s part of our DNA. But here’s a thing - it appears that if we really want to get productive in our business time, we need to focus and become great mono-taskers, perfecting the art of doing one thing at a time really well and without distraction. Professor Gloria Mark, a resident professor at the University of California’s Department of Informatics, has some really interesting insights on this subject and the downsides of multitasking. She has calculated that it takes on average around 23 minutes to properly get back to a task once you have been interrupted, and let’s face it, when we multitask we are interrupting each of those tasks constantly. That’s potentially a lot of wasted time and energy in our busy days. Also, when multitasking there’s a tendency to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks we are trying to complete at any one time, reaching the end of the day with a ‘to do’ list that just seems to get longer. So why not try mono-tasking and see if you become more productive as a result. Block off time for a single task, avoid checking your emails and messages every other second, ask people not to disturb you, and focus - you might find you get the job done quicker in the long run and actually buy more precious time in the day!
Like many entrepreneurs, I like to catch up with my reading on the weekend. On my list was a great interview article with one of my personal entrepreneurial heroines, Tabitha Karanja, founder and ceo of Keroche Breweries in Kenya. If ever there was an example of a woman entrepreneur here in Africa who not only dreamed big, but had the courage and the tenacity to take on an established industry monopoly that was over 85 years old in the process, then Tabitha Karanja is it. She had to fight battles in court, in the marketplace, and on the floor of Parliament, to build a game-changing business that gave local consumers the right to have a choice of products in the marketplace - and she won, repeatedly! Not only that, she demonstrated that it’s also possible to perfect the art of juggling personal life and business brand building in the process, raising four children and maintaining a successful personal relationship along the way. Today, thanks to her ‘never give up’ attitude and her ability to never let go of that dream, Keroche Breweries is the second largest brewery in Kenya and the fastest growing brewing enterprise on the African continent. So, what are her five top tips for success? She says, focus and hard work; getting out of the comfort zone and taking big but well calculated risks; belief and faith in self; humility; and trust in God. Words to inspire this morning!
The second U.S. Africa Business Forum convened earlier this week in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, with political heavyweights such as U.S. President Barack Obama delivering keynote addresses. U.S. agencies and companies announced plans to invest more than $14 billion on the continent in sectors including banking, construction and information technology. Jay Ireland, President and CEO of GE Africa, also speaking at the conference, said: “I continue to be excited about the incredible innovation and entrepreneurship that is happening across the continent. GE has a rich history in Africa and we are committed to continue investing on the continent." The topic of investing in women-led enterprises in Africa was also top of the agenda at the forum, with reports such as the 2016 McKinsey Women Matter Africa report supporting the premise that investing in women or gender-diverse enterprises makes good business sense. According to the report, companies with higher female executive committee representation are 14% more likely to outperform their competitors. USADF (the U.S. African Development Foundation) an organisation that supports African-led solutions, understands the importance of investing in women - it is now focusing its investment efforts on launching the next generation of women entrepreneurs to light the way for other women on the continent. It’s good to see influential organisations and global business giants recognising that empowering and supporting women entrepreneurs on the continent is a real economic game-changer.
Any successful entrepreneur knows that being able to sell is an essential part of being in business. You can have the greatest idea or new product innovation, but if you can’t sell it to a customer or investor, then it will never be anything but a concept. How many times do you hear aspirant entrepreneurs telling you they have a great business idea, but it never gets past the talking stage because they can’t close the sales pitch. As entrepreneurs we know how important it is to get people to take notice of our business, our brands, our products and services, and that means we have to connect with them, to inspire them, to motivate them to buy - that’s selling! Let’s be honest, if you are a startup you have to sell from the time you launch your business idea, it’s how you get out of the starting block. If you are launching a new product or service, particularly if it’s a new and innovative concept, then you have to be able to persuade potential customers and investors to take a look. And, if you need to raise capital for your business, then you have to be able to sell your business concept to investors who will need to be convinced of the viability of your business. If you are still one of those people that say they are no good at sales, or just hate the sales process, then work with specialist sales people who can get the job done for you. Ultimately, business and the art of selling go hand in hand - it’s not a nice to have, it’s a necessity.
I was sat with a group of women at a television studio last evening waiting to do a live interview, and we were chatting about what it takes to make the leap from the world of corporate to becoming an entrepreneur. One common theme emerged from our chat. It would appear that many potential women entrepreneurs are deterred from pursuing a business because they don't believe their idea is original or differentiated enough for the marketplace to be successful. But the reality is that there are very few truly original ideas, instead what differentiates successful businesses tends to be how they are executed. Just look at the meteoric rise of Uber - when that company launched there were millions of taxi businesses around the world working to a well-grooved business model. Yet, when founders Travis Kalanik and Garret Camp experienced difficulty finding a cab back in 2008 they came up with a simple idea—tap a button on your mobile device and get a ride. What started life as an idea for a mobile app is now changing the transport fabric of cities around the world, using the power of technology to give people what they need, when they need it, at the touch of a button. These mega successful disruptive entrepreneurs launched Uber knowing there were highly experienced and established taxi companies in the marketplace. However, what set them apart was their incredible vision, their ability to harness the power of mobile technology, their execution strategy, and their sheer persistence.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable differences between corporate executives and entrepreneurs is that in business, there really is nowhere to hide when you are an entrepreneur, particularly in a startup. Every strategic and operational decision made is down to you; the responsibility for employees; all aspects of the day to day running of the business; innovation and product development; all starts and ends with you, the entrepreneur. This could sound daunting - however, there are so many benefits to being a ’present’, hands-on entrepreneur in the business. Smaller “entrepreneurial” firms have fewer rules documented, an absence of politics, and the world to gain. Talent coming into the business can be developed and nurtured on a personal level in order to grow as the business grows. Innovation can be given the chance to emerge from a workforce, led by the founding entrepreneur who innovates by example, with the resulting dynamic environment being created for all to enjoy. The outcome is a constantly developing business that has strong and inspirational leadership, but with a hands-on approach to steering its future journey. So maybe having nowhere to hide as an entrepreneur, and being ever present, can only be a good thing.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation has teamed up with Deutsche Bank, UnLtd and the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network to conduct the world’s first experts’ poll on the best countries for social entrepreneurs. Perhaps not surprisingly, the US sits at the number 1 spot. The poll shows that women globally are embracing social entrepreneurship, not just because of a strong desire to impact people’s lives rather than focusing solely on profit, but also because it represents a level playing field for women. Gender bias has almost disappeared when it comes to using enterprise for social good. Social entrepreneurship is disrupting the traditional status quo, fostering innovation, and developing sustainable business ideas to solve the world’s most pressing social problems. These social entrepreneurs see success not just through financial returns, but also in terms of social impact. The ultimate business goal? To set up successful companies that improve the lives of underserved and marginalized communities. It’s not just about the balance sheet, but it’s not charity either. Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation said: “At a time when the world faces unprecedented challenges we can only benefit from the courage and the ideas of these change-makers. Just imagine what could be achieved if they were encouraged to tackle global issues such as climate change or the refugee crisis. Now more than ever society at large needs a different point of view; social entrepreneurs might just be our best answer.” We couldn’t agree more.
I was chatting to a number of amazing women entrepreneurs yesterday at the Lioness Lean In breakfast event in Johannesburg, and an interesting topic came up in conversation - the need for authenticity when it comes to building a business and a brand. Sometimes entrepreneurs have a tendency to think they have to present themselves differently when pitching to clients for new business, or speaking at an event where they are hoping to engage and win new clients over. In fact I was at a pitching session recently where I knew one of the entrepreneurs presenting, but hardly recognised them when it came to delivering their big pitch as they had removed the very essence of what made them unique. Authenticity is about being genuine, not adapting ourselves and changing the way we present ourselves and our businesses depending on who we are talking to. Plus, when we are not presenting our authentic selves, others can sense that something is off key. Ultimately, people make connections and choose to do business with other people based on authenticity, and when you’re authentic it automatically builds trust. And remember, trust is the key foundation of a business. Oprah Winfrey once said on the subject: "I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I've become. If I had, I'd have done it a lot earlier."
One of my own personal global entrepreneurial heroines has always been Anita Roddick, who sadly is no longer with us, the British businesswoman, human rights activist and environmental campaigner, best known as the founder of The Body Shop, a cosmetics company producing and retailing natural beauty products that have since shaped ethical consumerism. She is a great example of a woman entrepreneur who took a small idea and turned it into a global brand with impact. She originally opened the first Body Shop in 1976 with the aim of making an income for herself and her two daughters with the idea of providing quality skin care products in refillable containers and sample sizes, all marketed with truth rather than hype. By 2004, the Body Shop had 1980 stores, serving over 77 million customers throughout the world. It was voted the second most trusted brand in the UK, and 28th top brand in the world. In 2006, L’Oreal purchased Body Shop for £652 million - quite a business journey for one small idea. Anita Roddick once said: ”If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito."
As an entrepreneur, one of the major challenges in business is knowing when to bring other people in, and then finding the right people to fit the culture of the company you have created. After all, it’s your baby and you want to find people that can continue on your business journey with you, sharing your vision, buying into the culture you have created and contributing to the company way of doing things. Leading global management consultant and author, Peter Drucker, has some interesting insights on this subject. He says: ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast,’ believing that you can develop what you think is the best business strategy in the world but if you don’t create the right culture in the business with the right people who fit in, it’s hard to make things work. The notion of creating a specific business culture may seem like a nebulous concept, and perhaps hard to get right, but when it comes to hiring people it’s often better in the long run to make sure that there is a business culture fit from the start.
It would appear that there is a new entrepreneurial boom on the horizon, being driven by two of the biggest demographic forces - encore entrepreneurs and millennials. A report by the Kauffmann Foundation, entitled ”The Future of Entrepreneurship: Millennials and Boomers Chart the Course for 2020,” points to a need for global economic renewal not just economic growth, and this could come from these two exciting entrepreneur groups. At face value, they may seem like an unlikely combination. The encore entrepreneurs are choosing entrepreneurship for lifestyle reasons as well as purely economic reasons. Their decisions to start a business are stimulated by a passion for an industry sector or desire to realise a long unfulfilled ambition, or as a means of supplementing their income to give them the freedom to do more of what they enjoy. Encore entrepreneurs tend to be less motivated to startup businesses by a desire to change the world, as compared to millennials who are driven by such ideals. Yet, the combination of millennials and encore entrepreneurs driving a new entrepreneurial boom is an exciting one, bringing experience, innovation and a disruptive approach to the ways things have been traditionally done. It’s going to be an interesting few years ahead.
Each month when we hold our Lioness Lean In Breakfast events, one of the topics that comes up most often amongst the women entrepreneurs attending is the subject of startup capital - usually how hard it is to get and how much of a deal-breaker it can be when starting up in business. But here’s the interesting thing - so many of the hugely successful women brand builders we ask to come along and inspire our audiences at the events talk about how they started up with very little finance. Most often they bootstrapped their businesses, using their own limited savings, or borrowing from friends and family when necessary. Importantly, it was their sheer determination, hard work and refusal to give up even during the tough times that got them from startup to success, not necessarily the money in the early days. They all talk about how this situation makes you think more creatively, because there is no choice. Natasha Sideris, founder of the popular and trendy South African lunchtime cafe brand Tashas, sums it up perfectly. She says: Too many entrepreneurs feel that they can’t pursue their dreams because they don’t have the money. That’s just not true. If you’re willing to work hard, you can make it happen.”
In the early hours of this morning when I should have been sleeping but instead was wide awake and my mind was racing through ideas, work schedules, to-do lists (as entrepreneurs, we all know those moments), I read an article on LinkedIn which got me thinking and which I thought I would share this morning. It was published by Women Entrepreneurs Worldwide and written by Cheryl Collins, titled A Comfort Zone is a Beautiful Place, But Nothing Ever Grows There - Not Even You! It reminded me once again about how important it is as entrepreneurs to step out of our comfort zones and continually push ourselves into new, unexplored and exciting territory. It’s what keeps us not only fresh, innovative and reinvigorated as people, but it also ensures our business thinking doesn’t get stale. It’s a way of re-evaluating our business models, experimenting with new ideas, testing new markets, maybe even pivoting in our existing businesses. It’s a way of reconnecting us with our customers, helping us to constantly re-look at their needs, and inspiring us to invent new products and services. So when you look at it as entrepreneurs, perhaps staying in our comfort zones really isn’t that comfortable after all.
For many aspirant entrepreneurs here in Africa, in fact anywhere in the world, often the hardest challenge in getting started is finding a gap in the market that is waiting to be filled by the next innovative product, service, or new way of doing something. There is often the temptation to put off starting a business because there doesn’t seem to be a blue ocean to play in, that uncontested market space where there is room to thrive because the competition is irrelevant (take a look at the fabulous book Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne to gain some fascinating insights on this subject). But the fact is that often it’s not a case of finding that rare marketplace where no-one is playing yet (these can be elusive and often tough to find), but rather more about creating a business, product or service that can stand out in the crowd in an existing one - a business that is unique with a very different customer proposition. So, don’t be tempted to procrastinate about setting up a business because there isn’t an obvious brand new marketplace to make your mark in, instead think about how you can bring something fresh and new to an existing one and stake your entrepreneurial claim there.