Just Go With It

I used to sell a lot of things in the township when I was young. I sold everything from 10c sweets and lunchtime snacks to a few second-hand appliances.

My customers were teachers, classmates and the nurses at the hospital where my mother worked. The extra income helped our single-parent household.

I loved business; I still do. I saw opportunities and went for them, turning a handsome profit. But I never saw myself as a traditional “entrepreneur”.

Entrepreneurship is often portrayed as a scary and elusive thing. You must have completed an in-depth market analysis. You need an amazing idea to get there. You should be a born risk-taker. A bold, super-special being. These “requirements” clearly meant that I did not fit the entrepreneurial mould. So, like many, I initially opted for the safety of a corporate job, even though I was running a profitable small business in-between lectures at the University of Cape Town.

But recently, I remembered the general trader where I used to buy meat every week. Or the minibus shuttle driver who had a near monopoly because he was the only one delivering children to schools in my neighbourhood.

I wondered if these people did a detailed strategic market analysis before they started. Did they have a thorough business plan? I doubt it. I doubt they would have started their businesses if they had. They probably would have spent months, if not years, bogged down by the research mission.

As a former management consultant, I have seen the months of daunting effort behind these research packs.

I often hear a variety of excuses from wannabe entrepreneurs: “I am waiting for the big idea”; “I lack the guts to do what Steve Jobs [or some other famous entrepreneur] did”; “I do not think I can get the money to start”. The list goes on. It is unfortunate that these people are scared to even try being an entrepreneur – especially when South Africa is in such dire need of small businesses to create employment.

I spent two years studying at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, one of the hubs for global entrepreneurship. The more I listened to invaluable insights from the world’s most successful serial entrepreneurs, the more I found myself reflecting on my interactions with entrepreneurs in South Africa.

Now I really question the typical guidelines and beliefs on what you need in order to start, who you need to be and how to get the money.

Here is an alternative view on what it takes to launch a business:

Instead of getting bogged down in the details and analysis paralysis, why not pick a simple unmet need, find a customer and continue from there?

This article was first published on the Business Times on 2015-08-23

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