The sound of an email notification distracted me from my deep thoughts. It was an email from a youth I had spoken with, a few weeks prior, at an entrepreneur event and so I excitedly read the introductory sentence. Alas, from then onwards, the email sounded like all the others before: Please can you advise me on how to get funding to set up my company, a website, organise an event, pay for media adverts, attract investors, attract customers etc etc etc There was no mention whatsoever about PLAN B i.e. what this entrepreneur would do, if money was not forthcoming. For them, it was either outside funding or nothing. One point to Note: Over 90% of entrepreneurs world wide build their businesses from scratch with zero outside money. The Facebook, Twitter, Instagrams of this world who attract investors, comprise 0.01% This is reality.
I raise this point for the simple reason that even now, despite being told hundreds of times before, it seems our youth still refuse to believe there no bank or fairy God Mother waiting to sign a cheque for them. They cannot seem to accept that few entrepreneurs (even in Silicon Valley), start with an office, a secretary or a ready made customer base. Meanwhile, our high youth employment rate means many of our youth have no choice but to consider entrepreneurship as a career path – however challenging that may be.
The impression that there is a fairy God Mother out there, waiting to write a cheque may be due to the high numbers of start-up competitions which often give the impression that money is falling off of trees, yet this is not the case. These so called competitions are often not what they seem and I have heard of young entrepreneurs who 3-4 years down the road, are now employees of the company they started because they have sold off most of their equity stake.
Youth unemployment is a very serious matter. So when we have youth with university degrees or, are educated but still expect someone to come and hand them cash on a plate, this is not reality. For many of our youth, it is as if no business can start small – some even ask for funding to rent premises and yet they have not even created a prototype nor tested their idea on the general public – despite being on a campus with sometimes over 20,000+ fellow students – an opportunity for free (potential) customer feedback. I have even had requests to help youth secure Ksh 300,000 for media costs – yes, you read that right! Who on earth is advising our youth? Why would you need to pay media costs when you have 500+ so called “friends” on Facebook and over 20,000 campus peers? Will someone please explain this to me, a GEN X?
At ATB, whether popular or not, we tell is like it is so here goes; there is no money to fund your business. You need to do one simple thing: create a product that people will pay for. Family & friends telling you an idea is good, does not count. Why? Because trust me, they will expect free samples and will not pay. When outsiders are willing to pay for your product, you are on to a winner – this is where your funding will come from REVENUE, my friend. It is a tough call but then who said life was easy? We have all had to learn the brutal truth.
A few words of advice:
- SOCIAL MEDIA AS A MARKETING PLATFORM – Use social media to market and publicise your services/product. After all, why would you want to pay for marketing when you have over 500+ Facebook friends through whom, you have access to hundreds of thousands of potential customers?
- MAMA MBOGA IS YOUR BEST ADVISOR – The mama mboga who you do not even spend more than 2 minutes with, is one of the best entrepreneur advisors you can speak with. Everyday, come rain or shine, she is there; fruit and veg in hand. Unlike you, she does not have access to the internet but what she has is: good timekeeping (she is up at 3am), consistency (she always turns up to work even when she is not in the mood), has regular stock and this leads to a good, loyal customer base. How does she do this? Ask her next time.
- START SMALL – That barber who you see serving his customers under the mango tree, is another entrepreneur to seek free advice from – not your friend who is looking for office space and printing business cards with CEO, marked on them. That tree does not require rent or electricity. The barber starts small, with simple tools and over the years (when he has steady cash flow), only then, will he commit to renting a shop.
- 24/7 START-UP MENTALITY – When you are in start-up mode, you will walk more and do more things yourself to save money. Your friends will call you tight because you are not out having a beer anymore but keep moving and keep your focus.
- PARTNERS ARE IMPORTANT – There are occasions when you cannot do everything because you do not have the know how or technical skills and this is why partnerships are so important. You may be an accounting student and your friend is an IT student; time to do some barter trade, my friend. Also ensure you market their service too. Too many of our youth receive a favour and then move on – sometimes with not even a Thank You. This is short term thinking.
- RE-INVEST CASH BACK IN TO THE BUSINESS – Never confuse the money from the business (even Ksh 20 shillings), as your own personal money. Do not get any emotional attachment to any money you make from the business. This is not your money. Sacrifice for a few years first before you enjoy the fruits of your labour.
- VIEW YOUR FELLOW YOUTH AS POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS – Many youth do not see the potential their peers hold. I cannot stress how much potential our youth have – I see it everyday. If only they too would see this. Our youth need to unite and put their egos aside. Many prefer to call themselves CEOs of companies earning zero, than be a small partner in a company that could earn them more, were they to combine all their specialist skills. To read more posts by Miriam, click HERE
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