2 December 2016

5 Entrepreneurial Myths Busted – what you think it takes to succeed may be all wrong


Recently, while browsing the internet intent on finding what I was looking for, I suddenly came upon an interesting writeup in which Perry Kamuel, senior manager for small and medium enterprises in Africa at Microsoft, is credited as saying that what people believe it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur may be all wrong.

The writer goes on to say that although there are many stories out there about the common traits of an entrepreneur, almost all are written as if there are magical properties they are born with, and if you don’t possess these you will never succeed as an entrepreneur. He practically ridicules such writers.

Deal Signing between serial internet entrepreneur, Div Turakhia of Media.net (right) and chairman of Miteno Communication Technology Co. Ltd, Zhang Zhiyong (left) in Dubai (August 2016)

On the contrary, however, what you often find is that many entrepreneurs that seem to display these ‘common traits’ still often fail, while those who don’t, make it. So why is this the case?

Where are entrepreneurs going wrong? The article below answers these questions.

The truth about succeeding as an entrepreneur

Myth 1: You have to be a risk taker

Diving head first into your brilliant idea does not make you an entrepreneur. More important than risk appetite, is how risk is managed when the wrong step is taken.

For example, iKubu, a South African business started by two engineers. They developed a radar system that alerts cyclists of potential hazards on the road. Leaving their corporate jobs to build their innovation is not what defined them.

It was how they responded to failure. They battled for nine years to sell the radar software technology – even trying door-to-door sales – but could not get a big break. They did not give up though. They adapted, learned and realised that they needed an accelerator. After getting involved with Knife Capital, iKubu was sold to Garmin last year. iKubu is proof that agility and determination is a better determinant of success than being able to take a risk.

Myth 2: You must have start-up capital

“It’s not about start-up capital. It’s about keeping the business going after it has started,” says Catherine Young, owner of Thinkroom Consulting.

Many businesses can start with very little capital, particularly those that operate online. The trick is sustaining and growing your business for the next 18 – 36 months. This is the most difficult.

This is often where we see entrepreneurs sell their homes, work 18-hour days and borrow money from family and friends, doing whatever it takes to make the business work. That is what makes for real entrepreneurs. There is a saying in the SME ecosystem that if entrepreneurs are not prepared to invest and lose everything, they will not be taken seriously by investors.

Sayu Abend, the CEO of SpacePointe in Nigeria, ran into funding challenges relatively early on. The old adage of using other people’s money to grow a business helped greatly, as she first turned to family and friends, paying them back incrementally. By showing this commitment, it helped her secure US$1.2 million in funding from multiple investors.

Myth 3: Entrepreneurs don’t know when to quit

Oh yes, they do. There’s a saying that when you fail, fail quickly, pivot quickly. Quit what isn’t working, but never quit the dream.

When an idea doesn’t work, or you’ve taken a wrong turn – let go.

Prepare just the minimum viable product or service to see if it will fly. If it doesn’t, move on. Good entrepreneurs don’t get so attached to their solutions that they are blinded by their desire to make that specific solution work.

As Perminus Wainaina, founder of Career Point in Kenya, says: “Do not quit without having tried and tested your idea, seen it is viable and had enough savings to last you until the business picks up.” Career Point is now the second largest career search engine in Kenya.

Myth 4: Entrepreneurs are extroverted leaders

‘It’s who you know, not what you know.’

Not every entrepreneur is an extrovert. There are many ‘quiet’ leaders who demonstrate the resilience, listening skills and analytical insight to build great businesses.
One of the best things an entrepreneur can do is to surround themselves with people who have different styles.

Adding to this, Beth Buelow, author of The Introvert Entrepreneur, says: “Introvert entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Tony Hsieh, Guy Kawasaki and others have transformed our lives, not by pretending to be extroverts, but by applying their introvert strengths to their entrepreneurial endeavors.”

Myth 5: You must have a business plan

A business plan is traditionally used to project financials to secure investment. However, many successful entrepreneurs have never had a formal business plan, and an increasing school of thought suggests that a better strategy is to explore and fine tune assumptions before defining a specific plan with financials based only on dreams and passion.

I would advise that instead of getting fixated on a business plan, rather focus on a business model. This complements the business idea by describing the customer journey, and more importantly, the channels to acquire new clients.

There is a big movement currently underway to focus on Strategic Growth Plans that show how Go-to-Market can occur for entrepreneurs. The focus is on bringing customers to the business, not necessarily money, which often requires a business plan from investors.

What does all this tell us? If you are an entrepreneur, stop worrying about not having the ‘chosen’ characteristics. Breaking the mould is what makes you an entrepreneur in the first place.

Also read: 4 Important Apps Every Entrepreneur Should Have

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