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  • February 18, 2024

An Open Talk About Entrepreneurship

An Open Talk About Entrepreneurship

An Open Talk About Entrepreneurship 1024 617 OBG VIRTUAL OFFICE

“The western media (most-consumed-content-factory) has painted a very flowery picture about entrepreneurship. Credit institutions have taken advantage of the trend by replacing the carrot with a bag of loans. The donkey that once pulled this wagon is now something with a V8 engine. It’s the easiest way to fleece the unsuspecting masses of the 21 st Century, who would dive into any fresh soup, head-first, as soon as they get a whiff of the aroma of profit. But the truth and reality is: The entrepreneurial journey is NOT for everyone,” are the first words that flame out of Jacob Ngari’s mouth, seated across me at the Seven Seafood Grill; one of Nairobi’s most distinctive and innovatively designed restaurants, owned by Kieran Jethwa – host of the award-winning cooking series, “Tales from the Bush Larder.”

I felt a sharp stab I my chest as soon as my ear drums vibrated, echoing a grilling statement from Vatican vaults of my brain – “You are not an entrepreneur, Mandla.” This demoralizing remark, megaphoned in public by a brother years ago, when I wasn’t making any money from my startup, sounded more like, “You’ll never be entrepreneur,” then.

In the not-too-distant past, Jacob and I shared the same classes in campus, under the faculty of commerce. Life was simple then; not too much to worry about because everything was paid for, plus, one had a steady stream of “income” aka pocket-money. And when you ran out, which was as common as a scandal in government, you could still drink and eat like a Roman general. If that wasn’t divine intervention, then I don’t know what is. The most vivid memory I have of the first semester (Jacob and I still hadn’t met), is walking into class early, one time, and finding a group of bookworms revising Basic Economics in their mother-tongue. That incident would be knocked off the number one spot at the podium of “Top 3, Funniest Incidences in Campus,” several semesters later, when a friend of ours “misplaced” his car at Acacia (a popular hang-out joint for campus students) after a drinking spree. In a state of panic, the “learned fellow” began searching for it underneath other people’s cars. Later, after sobering up, he remembered that he had parked it at a nearby hostel. As I said, those were simpler times. It took a group assignment in the “Entrepreneurship” class (one of those things the Universe pulls out of a hat) to Jacob and I realize how much we had in common in terms of ambition. In summary, we envisioned building an empire of a company akin to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. We synced and became like Warren and Charlie soon after; perhaps so close that he would be the one to rescue me from a bulky bouncer’s chokehold, outside a “27 AND ABOVE” nightclub in Westlands, for an offence that I, conveniently, can’t recall 10 years later. As I said, those were… Never mind.

Teleporting back to real time, I find myself in the midst of fork-n’-knife orchestra, trying to debunk the myths born out of the oversimplification and misunderstanding of entrepreneurship, with that same person, who I can proudly call a lifetime business partner. I wouldn’t call it an interview, because it isn’t one, although it’s heavily seasoned with my own research. Apart from the eating instruments and a menu full of fancy words, there’s no pen, paper nor a voice recorder, on the table. Just two good friends catching up and recapping on the life episode that brought them together. One, though, is still yet to make an order.

“I mean, entrepreneurial talent isn’t that much of a rare commodity but it’s also not a path that every soul can take. People should forget what they see on TV and in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ type of movies. Entrepreneurship is not cool, sexy and fun as the media portrays,” Jacob adds, as he “Krav Magas” the exoskeleton out of his lobster with precision. A tantalizing display, to say the least, but like Miguna, “I’m not boarding.” Actually, it’s my body which wouldn’t allow it. I was cursed with peculiar allergies that make me one of the blackest sheep among my people around Nam Lolwe (Lake Victoria). I raise my hand, signaling to a waiter that I’ve finally made up my mind to eat anything non-aquatic (as if I had a choice to begin with). I order for slow-cooked beef ribs, much to the dismay of the person who invited me; licking his fingers while shaking his head.

Before Jacob called me to join him for lunch in Westlands, I was experiencing a different kind of “grill” at my work space, OBG Virtual Office in Jadala Place. My editor, Laura, currently out of the country, decided to roast me in an hour-long Skype video-call, for the “bohemian” manuscript that I had sent her a few days earlier. Frankly, I don’t know of any good writer who has it easy with his/her editor. My work, basically, is to come up with the ugliest notes ever drafted, and hers; to make me look good by fine tuning them into the most beautiful symphony. The manuscript is one of the ashy drafts supposed to be lotioned into my second novel, and as concluded in the exchange; I’ll to make 100 changes before re-submitting. Last week, it was 101. Not particularly what I wanted to hear but maybe it’s what I needed to hear. Anyway, I’m just glad that there’s progress, nonetheless.

“In order to be a master in the ‘game of entrepreneurship,’” Jacob opines as he adjusts the napkin around his neck, “you must understand it in its entirety, starting with the basics.” When we start with the basics, we must define the subject. So what is “Entrepreneurship?”

ENTREPRENEURSHIP, dubbed “The Game of the Brave,” is an essential cog in the economic development wheel. Joseph Schumpter, a 20 th century scholar, described it as, “the process of creating new combination factors to produce economic growth.” Using that description, one could say that an entrepreneur is anyone who identifies opportunities, assembles required resources, and implements a practical action plan with the anticipation of harvesting rewards in a timely and flexible manner. Without a doubt, entrepreneurial activities help steer economic progress by creating jobs, increasing household incomes, and improving the quality of life. One could argue that entrepreneurs are the brains of civilization, because they supply the entire fabric of which all education, enlightment, and human progress consists. Entrepreneurship is also a multi-dimensional concept that can be looked at from an economic, social, psychological and managerial perspective.

“Mm-hmmm, are you saying that anyone who understands the principles is guaranteed to become a successful entrepreneur?” I pose, before digging my teeth into a short rib smothered in sauce.

“Not at all. The Kenyan business climate, for example, is different from the western world, therefore it may not be appropriate to ‘copy-paste’ entrepreneurial techniques wholesale from developed countries. You’ll find that the murky waters, full of outrageous taxes, that Kenyan startups have to plough through in order to be successful, are filtered and converted to incentives in developed countries,” he clears his throat loudly, one would think that the crustacean’s claw got stuck along the tunnel. He pauses to gulp some water, then continues, “Most successful startups are founded by technicians. Technicians are people with specific unique skills who can start businesses that utilize or sell those skills. A good example is Kieran, the chef and brains behind this restaurant. He developed his culinary skills into an affluent business. Another good example would be doctor who opens up a clinic, like your former boss, Prof. Muthure Macharia, an eminent 25-year-plus veteran specialist and co-founder of Nairobi E.N.T Clinic.”

I order for wine to blend in with my surrounding as Jacob expounds his point, “Entrepreneurs also tend to come from families with entrepreneurial parents – an effective model which increases the possibility of ownership succession and continuation of business for more than one generation.” He places his instruments on the sides of his plate, wipes his mouth gently with the napkin and continues, “The Indian and Somali/Arab communities, are way ahead of us Africans, in terms of wealth, because of this. Keep in mind also, that the roots of this wealth lie in ethnic affiliations. A Somali-owned or Indian-owned enterprise in Kenya, is more likely to grow and prosper compared to a Luo-owned business, for instance, because of the vast support networks, ‘glocolized’ purchasing and referrals, that these communities possess.”

Another bite and a swallow later, my wine arrives. Before I take a sip I ask, “What do think is an entrepreneur’s biggest competitive advantage?”

“Information, of course,” he replies.

Back to the basics.

INFORMATION is a key competitive advantage at all levels of business because the market is volatile. True economy is misapprehended, and the propagators of consumerism go through life without properly comprehending what that principle is. Any capitalist economy is in a constant state of disequilibrium due to the shocks constantly hitting it. This disequilibrium is the curtain that parts to reveal entrepreneurial opportunities. Failure to seize them, can partly be blamed on the “utter ignorance” of existing entrepreneurs who may not know that additional “gravy” is available on the ground. Access to information and resources is greater than ever thanks to the advances of the internet. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who are consistently “updated” – ever alert for new trends and new business techniques and opportunities – in the spirit of tomorrow. Being an entrepreneur encompasses reading books about things you never thought you’d read. Beyond the timetables of manufacturing, packaging and delivery, it was imperative to listen to the market, from the very beginning. One of the harsh realities of being an entrepreneur is that you cannot pin all your hopes and dreams on one idea, or rely on one strategy throughout. What works today may not work tomorrow, and over time you realize the only thing that’s constant in the business world, is CHANGE.

“One big mistake that we did, especially as Delickies (a short-lived startup founded in our final year of campus which processed and distributed baobab seeds), was not gathering data, on a continual basis, on our growth cornerstones; products, competitors and customers,” I concur, “we followed our passion blindly, without paying attention to market realities.”

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