Thursday, 20 October 2016

My Experience in Responding to Hard Times

One of the HARDEST times to survive is a RECESSION. Being the veracious reader that I am and always being prepared for the worst but expecting the best, i did some digging and funny enough this the events that followed re-affirmed my being of "always being prepared for the worst but expecting the best".
A lot of business men and women, entrepreneurs alike have different responses to hard times such as a recession and how to survive it. When I read their responses its mostly from a large corporation point of view which I would suppose when you have shareholders, I suppose justifies the response of a business in order to remain relevant or profitable.

One thing resonates as fundamentally true when hard times hit "tell people why they should shop with you, provide them with the added value and not discounts" - Donald Trodin...........Growing, strategically expanding, diversifying.

A few suggestions have been made with how one should respond to hard times. Shifting our focus to start ups, its tough to respond to tough market conditions. In Zambia where our market is so volatile, consistency in policies, economic sustainable environments is anything but rhetoric to rely on for planing. When drastic changes are made in the economy, the effects on SME and startups is so profound, shutting down is almost unavoidable.
Here are some points made on how to response to tough times
1. Evaluate and eliminate excessive debt
2. Downsize
3. Reduce Inventories and overhead by any cost
4.Train and cross train staff
5. Track finances daily
6. Review marketing and reduce spending on traditional media
7.Resist profit eating sales and discounting
8. Expand geographically
9. Manage effectively
10. Focus on quality
Extracted from

As a serial entrepreneur and having start ups I have learned one thing. A lot of the advise must be taken with a pinch of salt and analyzed as to whether it is in alignment with the environment in which you find yourself. One must have profound understanding of how things work. Along my journey I have learned that the common moves are to downsize, reduce inventories, reduce marketing expenditure and discounts stop. This is the every day response i have witnessed in the Zambian arena but I believe fundamentally if the potential we have in this country is anything to go by then these would be last resort moves.

Having my own start up these cited moves were laid as part of the foundation of my business. Tracking financing should be some thing done on a daily basis especially for start ups considering the shoe string budgets we have. Managing efficiently should be some thing instilled in company culture from the onset. Train and cross training staff, should be one of the fundamental principle in the success of any business as it speaks to the company's belief in its employees. Investing in your employees is one sure move for success in any business. Our problem in Zambia or most african countries is we are scared to invest in our employees because we fear they will eventually leave and out investment will have been for nothing. But I like to take the GOOGLE approach. Most people who have joined and left Google went on to start up their own business. These businesses one day or the other will come in handy and help your business in one way or the other. This also attracts talent to your company which supports development and growth with the coming in of new ideas and lessons on effectiveness and efficiency.

From my experience in zambia, in response to events in our economy eg. Fuel Price hikes, which drastically changed a number of things which as a business we relied on, my response was to diversify inventories instead of reduce them, look to other emerging geographical locations, open up arms of the business using the same work force to create additional services, looked to partnerships, collaborations, co-sponsorship events, look for ways to strategically expand, and as Donald Trodin said "provide them with the added value". Responding in a progressive manner for start ups in Africa is one sure move to beat hard times. Relying on external forces to alleviate those hard times is no sure response to ensure your company remains relevant, least of all survive because you are not in control of those forces but your immediate environment should be your first go to place for answers. Our markets are so volatile that being dynamic and innovative in our response to hard times is the only way we can secure start up survival. We need to be quick in our response, remain focused on growth. What ever choices you make keep moving forward and growing its the only way we beat hard times.               

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Separation of Affairs

Through out high school and university, one profound lesson I have learned is the separation of relationships. As an entrepreneur, you will encounter this a lot. Along my journey I have lost and made friends, learned that some people will come into your life for a specific purpose then leave, others are only there for as long as you are in the same country, city, town, area etc, others are there only for a season then leave, others are only there for as long as you both are for the same purpose or against the same thing, others will come and will be with you for then long hall. Whatever it is you must learn to discern your relationships because building a company is not easy and neither can you do it alone. You need your networks, your friends, acquaintances, family etc. In understanding that you need them, it's important to compartmentalize them so that expectations are not misunderstood and professionalism is not mistaken or mixed with friendship. There must clear distinction and expectations.
My experience in building a business with friends, acquaintance, I will be the first to say it gets very volatile and fragile if not handled with maturity and clear understanding. In the board room and within the business it must strictly be business but outside the business you are friends and acquaintances. Having made that abundantly clear, establish the need for communication of a specific nature and expectations to be set for both parties. I learned this lesson from my ex boss who could be tough to get along with in the office but outside the office he was your friend and would do anything to help you. It buffeled me at first and I was constantly at logger heads with him in the office but outside the office he helped me out alot. I quickly learned he was just very passionate about his business because he built it from scratch. I learned quickly that you need to separate relationships, environments as well as understand the dynamics of your relationships. At any company learn from those around you but know that your relationships may not go past that. Strive to work well together but know at some stage, you will go separate ways in life and understand that you are in that environment to learn and after that you may or may not ever see or speak to those people again or that your paths may cross, just always recall to keep the channels of communication open.
Along your journey you need to learn to discern friends, know who will help you in so far and who would be with you till the "fat lady sings". In learning this I learned to pick my team and know who was in it for the long hall, those was there because the business excited them and they wanted to be a part of it and those who just want to get paid. There is nothing wrong with people who only want some thing specific out of what you have or are offering ie want to get paid but its important to discern those people in order to establish expectations. This is extremely critical especially when you are just starting your business. At that very fragile point you have to create the synergy and the team that will take your business to the success levels and achievement arenas that you set out for, for the business.
When expectations are not clear and mixed with friendship, emotions tend to cloud perspective and direction and that's how bridges are burnt.Let business be business and friendship be friendship then go a step further and compartmentalize them in accordance with their roles in your life and business. I found that this allows you to determine how to handle emotions and when to engage logic in exchange of emotions. This also allows for better decision making and progressive understanding of relationships be it professional, intimate, family or informal. I won't say it's an easy undertaking but if you are going to build a business there will be plenty of frustrations with people, systems, expectations and it can feel pretty lonely, some times it may even feel like people don't want you to succeed, some times that maybe the case but most times it's a matter of different wants in life, different expectations from relationships be it business or informal,intimate, family or informal.
You will have people let you down at the very last minute when you needed them the most but that was business and you have to understand how to react at that point, with logic or emotion or both in synergy. Lots of money maybe at stake when it happens and it could be some thing you had been working towards for weeks. You need to learn to react by thanking him/her and begin mining through your contacts and other networks for help on the matter till it gets done. He/her will still remain your friend just not your business friend. Will you ever do business with him/her maybe not. But understand that you have to separate the two to allow for progress and maintain the channels of communication. Never burn any bridge, one day it may come in handy.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Starting Out

When i first came back  to zambia, it ws not an easy transition. I have to say it was quite frustrating because there were so many inefficiencies  and red tape. I could see why just having a job was the way out. I wont say i had a dream when i was coming back or i always dreamt to do this in zambia. My experience in returning to zambia fired my desire to do some thing about the current situation. My mentor once said to me "stop complaining about stuff you are not ready to do anything about". so if i was complaining about so many things that frustrated me about the systems in the country i had to do some thing about it. I knew i couldn't change years of the way things were done but i could influence change by showing how it should be done. From customer service to product and service quality, much work was needed. I have a profound belief that zambians deserve more than what they are being handed. It is also my profound belief that first class customer service is not some thing you should ever have to pay for. The product and the service yes pay for it, but the elements that constitute it......anyways thats just my 2 cents.

Starting out was not easy, i didnt have much or any support but i knew i had to start. Aside from my savings from abroad which really wasnt much i didnt have much to go with but the experience i had the first few days in zambia and after complaining so much i knew i had a chance at doing some thing. I have been working for my money since i was 5 so i knew nothing was going to come easy my way but i didnt expect it to be this hard but a challenge was some thing i never shied away from regardless of whether i was going to fail or succeed. I was always taught no matter what the challenge is ahead of you "TRY". Having assessed the opportunities before me, i offered to take over the running of some property owned by my family. I didnt want any hand outs. if i was going to get it i wanted to earn it. So i took my little savings and pumped it into a old warn down and dilapidated house and gave it new life. I created my first avenue of passive income. The monies from this property that i generated i pumped into starting my business. I didnt have a car so i borrowed from friends when possible and my parent. No offense to those who use public transport in zambia but me being a very time conscious person and always on time i couldnt do using the public transport. I tried it once and it took me near an hour and a half to get to the movies. For anyone who is trying to be successful, time is not some thing you really have to play with. You have to respect it, demand it of your self and others. I suppose its because i lived in fast paced cities all my life, time was always of the essence but when i jotted down my to do list and thought using the public transport i would be able to complete them, certainly not.

It was after moving around that i learned i needed my networks. I wasnt going to be able to do this alone. I know nothing is for free so i negotiated and leveraged their help in exchange for benefits such as pay, shares, marketing etc what ever could help me get to the next stage in setting up my business. Friends helped because well we were friends and if they could they did and were they couldnt i picked up from there and learned and did it myself. These few occurrences taught me nothing is impossible you just have to want it bad enough to work harder than anyone else and push further than anyone else. So my advice is use your networks, "mine your networks" as i would like to say, you just might be surprised who is willing to help you.

Having done some ground work, ie registering the company with all the appropriate insitutions, researching requirements, creating the blue print to the business functions, operations, financial requirements etc it was time to survey the market. I already loved food and coffee shops so i began my research. I wont say how but lets just say if people knew they would say i was crazy hahahahahahahahaha but crazy is what built the concept of super markets, crazy built planes and cars. To build some thing you love you have to be willing to be viewed as crazy. Along this journey i started to see that my business had the potential to change lives. It was one day when i was walking across from a shopping centre to a fueling station to buy brake fluid that i saw a kid walking in the drains kicking a bottle. It just hit me, "he deserves just about the same opportunities as anyone else", "he has not business being there". It was then that i focused my business core values in being a business that provided a platform for young passionate guys to perfect their craft, develop and grow. If i didnt provide that opportunity, who would?

So in order to get started i needed a logo, i went looking for a young guy who was hungry and wanted an opportunity, i had previously dealt with alot of self proclaimed graphics designers or so called "really good" graphics designers but no one understood my business more than this young man and he designed the company logo, the rest  is history we have been using him since. Seeing the fruit of my decisions, i decided to move full steam ahead and focused on recruiting for the most important roles, finances, marketing etc. i didnt have much to pay but where i could i did and i leveraged the rest but i maintained that young was what i wanted, hungry was what i wanted on my team because that was who i was and am and more. I have never looked back, yes there are critical mistakes that have been made along the way but id rather they were made then and now than when it really mattered for us to be "perfect". It hasn't been easy and i think the most important thing i ever did was sharing my story with my team so they knew where i was coming from and where i was headed and if they were going to grow with me we had to be a tribe.

So when you are headed to the top, make sure you take people with you. I was never given an opportunity when i return to zambia. Admist  nepotism, a career that was not in demand in the country, no jobs etc but growing up i was always told. if the opportunity wont present itself and it isnt there, create it and create for others too and those are some of the fundamental beliefs that have driven my business and are at the core of its existence.

You need to build you business on strong belief and fundamentals if you are going to succeed. The money will come me. I started deliveries using my parents car, a 4x4 4 litre engine car, i didnt make any money, infact i worked at a loss with such a vehicle. But i was making the rounds within 30 to 45 minutes. i was making deliveries across town and suburban areas. i studied the roads, routes, knew when to use a road at which time in order to make sure the delivery was done on time. i had a head piece to take calls while driving....the car was literally my office hahahahahaha but it worked. having seen the fruits of it. i knew it would work but i had to pull back the service and build so it would function on a larger scale. Along the way i have discovered niches within niches, needs, requirements, saw the problems , created solutions, i focused on weeding out all the threats, strengthening weaknesses, making the most of opportunities, maximising on strengths.

I dont have the i was poor, from the village story. I was told as i was growing up that every man is created equal, the only difference is one has worked harder and made the most of their opportunities while others dont.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

In the Beginning

Having grown up outside of africa, I had a very different view of what africa was or is like. Having witnessed and experienced, how startups engaged with the community and the pivotal role I.T played in establishing a platform for the community to access their services and information, I came back to africa with the view that the communities were like the ones i had spent so much time with. It has truly been a learning curve.

Having traded in working abroad to start my own business in zambia, i have learned more than anyone could teach me about survival, development, growth, self motivation, mentors, true courage, failing forward, being consistent, persevering, self belief, criticism, having a clear non monetary purpose, digging deep to keep moving forward, learning from failure and more. These things they don't teach you at university, college or high school. Would i trade it to go back and work abroad, NEVER. Some one once said "its difficult and dam near impossible to beat an opponent who doesn't give up". I was raised with the ideaology "failure is not an option", so no matter what the challenge is or was, giving up was never an option on the table, you had to find a way or make a way. So the words "where there is a will there is a way" resonated and still do so profoundly in me that what ever the challenge, it can either make you or break you but what ever happens make sure you come out on top.

Africa was truly different and all these profound life lessons i was raised with suddenly were needed for my survival then and now. When i first landed in zambia i was faced with some serious cultural shock. But survival instinct kicked in. If i was going to make it in this country i had to blend in. I had to learn the languages, harness the strong characters of the systems,capitalize on threats, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses. I had to learn to view everything as a blessing. One cannot deny that every thing is a blessing its just  matter of what lens you use to analyze and view things and grow and develop from there.

I started to study the communities around me, from habits to problems they experienced and from there i began throwing ideas of solutions to their problems, like pasta to a wall when determining when it is ready, till one idea stuck which was in alignment with some thing i loved.......FOOD!!!! who doesnt love food. it makes us all happy. when you have eaten some thing amazing, you are satisfied, full, eaten some thing new, what ever your fancy, food makes it all a little better. You can work, you can sleep, allot of things becoming possible when you have eaten. How is any of that possible when you spend time in traffic and your time is so limited? i always wondered me who doesnt have ajob yet what more those who do? eating the same food everyday, constantly asking where could you get affordable food with out having to travel so far? What i found most frustrating so not know the price range of a place i was told about only to discover it was over priced or the food quality was just below par by any standard, so
1. you have waisted your time,
2. you may be forced to buy what ever is there or go hungry till later,
3. you have waisted fuel,
4  you could be late getting back to work
5. you may get a stomach bug
6. they may not have change so you are either forced to tip or buy some thing or leave money and come back another day and claim what was left behind and top up to buy some thing else.
 7. you may have waisted company resources

The list continues depending on your challenges.Then i experienced the worst thing ever what happens when the kitchens close but im hungry, tired as hell, for those working they are working late, stay far, dont have the time to be cooking when i get home?  our cities and lives are slowly becoming fast paced. it was then that i started to deliver food to government drivers, officers etc. I saw it work in the different countries i lived in, but how could i make it work for this community i was in now. how could i mold the service for this community. I began piecing it together. through the deliveries i was making, i saw the problems and created the solutions for an effective and efficient service. I studied the roads, the networks, the traffic times and best routes during peak times. It became an obsession to perfect a delivery. Funny thing is i enjoyed it. Unknowing or knowingly i was creating some thing for my community. I was making deliveries with a borrowed car. 30 to 45 minutes in a car through the same traffic my community complained and complains about. The question now was how do i reduce my costs. sure i was driving a 1.3 litre engine car with great fuel consumption but how could i really save on costs. MOTORBIKES!!! i was slowly starting to bring the idea to life. From then i began to read, study case studies of similar businesses, attend relevant talks, progressive corporate sessions. If i was going to be great at this i had to master every inch of it and build it for my community.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Lessons learned in building a lean and effective and agile team!!!

I think for most startups and companies starting out I have learned having a very lean and effective team as well as being apart of a startup two things resonate :
1. Focusing on career development – invest in your employees, provide them with a platform in your start up to actualize their passions. But remember that these things must be in alignment with your business and what it embodies. This tends to allow employees to see themselves as long term parts of the business and not replaceable which will come to life then in the work they do and their feeling of ownership of their work and towards the business.

My company focuses alot on providing a platform for young zambians with specific passions to actualize them. Its not just those who are educated in a field that are experts but i have discovered that there are youth who have been practicing in a field  due to their passion for the field and are just as experienced and all they want is a chance to prove themselves and build a career from that. If you provide such experts with a platform to, such team members tend to stay part of your company longer because you having provided that platform for them to actualize their passion creates a sense of loyalty.

I had a young man approach me once and offer services for free if only i gave him a chance. All he wanted in return was recognition for his work. I took him in and i have never looked back.providing him with an opportunity to grow and develop has rewarded not just my company but myself in so many ways and i challenge anyone to do like wise. People are loyal, money isn't, therefore we must chase the creation of value in our business not just for our services and products but our employees as well. I now firmly believe that in as much as it was a risk just as some one else poured into me, pour into your employees. building a stronger and lean team is critical for success. A certain level of cohesion is developed and achieved from such an approach.
2. Celebrating important achievements – I have to agree that" It’s important for the business owner to celebrate business successes with the team." Every team member (not employee) wants to feel like they are apart of the bigger picture (i.e the family, the business) especially if you hired the right person (thought thats kind of hard to tell). I learned some thing valueable from the book 0-1, "A company is its own ecosystem", "its a tribe of like minded people fiercely devoted to the company's mission" and in any tribe no ones activity, sacrifice, duty, passion goes unrecognized. i once read that  "an individual's power is raised exponentially with the help of a team or network " - the startup of you. Getting the best out of your employees and tea members can e very difficult because every one functions at optimum differently, ut they will always give their best if you recognize their efforts.

Having given one of my team members the podium to introduce a piece of the business which they had so diligently been working on, i realised that i was celebrating the efforts of my team. There are many ways in which one can celebrate their employees. This not only develops loyalty but also encourages growth and development if your team can see the fruit of their labor and own it.

Lessons Learned

I learned a very important lesson recently as i was hiring a graphics designer, he was passionate, said all the right things but when i placed him through a trial project, he failed to communicate, failed to meet a deadline, professionalism went out the window and when the work came it was way below par. It was then that i started to assess what went wrong and i realized apart of it was because i let my standard drop to accommodate the hire and i was not critical enough as i am of myself and my expectations. that activity affected a lot of things in my business and set us back weeks of work. so i urge all fellow entrepreneurs, that in as small as our businesses are, the same professionalism and standard we demand of ourselves must be to an extent demanded of those we hire. So we must be very very critical of who we hire and yes we must employ "based on performance, merit and competence". My company is focused on hiring young passionate guys. A lot of the time we get guys coming to us wanting to join our company and the one thing i have learned is to be very deliberate about who we hire. In as much as we want to give opportunities to the youth in our communities that should not deter us from requiring and maintaining a certain standard and ensuring our business embodies the standard we have set out to present.