Being an entrepreneur anywhere is tough. Richard Branson says that no matter how well thought out or sound the ideas are, most entrepreneurs will fail. He should know. He has been there. Consider that he speaks in an environment where things work. Come along with me for a minute on a tour of what entrepreneurship in Nigeria is about.
If you choose to have an office from day one, half of your capital goes into rent. The other half goes into buying furniture and a generating set. This means that you start out broke. More or less, if you don’t have a wad of cash to spend, your best bet is to use your little lodgings as an operational base. Even at that, you will start out half broke anyway. Should your business require internet access, you will learn soon enough that having one connection only is a sure strategy to frustration and ultimately failure. You need a backup internet connection, same way you will require a backup generator to your generator. Or perhaps an inverter.
In these parts, forget about raising funds from investors. Nobody cares about your stupid ideas of changing the world, Einstein. They need returns in weeks and your vision of raking in millions (or is it billions) after ten years is too stretched for them to consider you serious. God forbid that you approach the banks for loans. Those want both your kidneys and maybe your heart as well before you can obtain anything from them. I know. You get the picture of vampires when you think of them; don’t you? It’s not all their fault too, but this article isn’t about that. Starting a business with lofty goals in Nigeria – especially starting with next to nothing – is hellish. There are no infrastructure to support those dreams. No cash too. No credit facilities. Little or no support. You make some small change and you burn it upfront. Then you repeat the cycle again and again.
You have trained yourself (yes; you have to because our institutions don’t teach anything that anyone can use in today’s world), and now you start, provide your own infrastructure sometimes, and get going. You are good at what you do and ready to take on the world. But you are soon rudely awakened to the reality that in Nigeria very few care about how good you are. Painfully, it dawns on you that many are more interested in where you are from or who you are connected to. Sometimes, you ask yourself why you bothered investing in and fine tuning knowledge and skills when mediocrity would put money in your pockets much faster – and in bigger quantities.
If and when you do need hands to expand your coast, you are back to square one. Writers who cannot write an introduction that makes sense. Social media experts whose only claim to fame is asking for follow backs. Webmasters who are still stuck in HTML 3, and accountants who can’t balance a pencil much less any books. Yes; you employ and train but then lose them to the more established blokes down the road who have deeper pockets. Then you hunt again. It’s a hard knock life.
Entrepreneurship is not beans. Entrepreneurship in Nigeria is a much worse kettle of fish than it is anywhere else. Yet; a daring band of young people wake up daily to pursue their dreams. Day after day, they hack at those dreams. Many times, they look like fools and are openly mocked. Yet, these are the hope of the country. Why do I say so? Year after year, millions of young people graduate from our universities to find no jobs waiting for them. Millions more will join their ranks this year. And the next. Someone must build the great companies that will employ these hordes. Someone must dare to dream and to pursue that dream so as to put food on the tables of others.
As an entrepreneur, I have lost count of the number of times that I wanted to quit. You know, just pack it all up and get a job. Sometimes I am inches away from a total breakdown. If it were just about me, I would give up. Sometimes it is my team that reminds me of the faith they have in me to keep going and to make things work against all odds. Sometimes it is just looking around. I see those kids in school today. What will they graduate to meet in ten to twenty years time? I don’t blame those who give it up and find something else to do. Trust me, if you have never been in the oven, you have no idea how bad the heat gets at times. Still, we must applaud those who trudge on, bearing the torch of hope.
At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is far bigger than the entrepreneur. The dream is more than the dreamer. Entrepreneurship guarantees our country a vibrant future. For this reason, many press on regardless of the pain and the frustrations. This is my salute and my tribute to the Nigerian entrepreneur or startup founder. Regardless of how rough your road is, may success be yours.