Why Motherland Moguls need to master the marketplace

One speaker at the recently concluded TEDxAccra 2016 spoke passionately about the ills of the entrepreneurial journey. This is an aspect of entrepreneurship that we often don’t like to talk about, or don’t want to admit. He spoke about the uncertainty that is associated with being an entrepreneur, as well as the depression that comes with that for many entrepreneurs. This speaker addressed the need for openness and honesty in the entrepreneurial narrative. Entrepreneurs need to have a supportive community of other entrepreneurs around them to engage and share lessons with.

Passion is not enough

As he spoke, I was reminded of one thing I often hear from and about entrepreneurs. That is the need for a deep compelling passion for what you are doing. I don’t disagree with that, I will just add that passion alone will not sustain you on the entrepreneurial journey. You need strong knowledge and understanding of the marketplace in your field of work. You also need a deep appreciation of what that marketplace needs, for you to operate successfully and efficiently in the medium to long term.

To elaborate further, it’s rather like a parent saying of their newborn; “I am going to bring this child up with so much love, that s/he is going to be a gift to this world.” The child may be a gift to this world the child. But whilst a foundation of love is a vital ingredient for raising a child, it alone will not prevent the child from being bullied at school, for instance. It will not stop the child from failing at Math. That love foundation will not protect a child from the negative externalities of this world that we live in. Love may sustain, it helps in going through and coming out of many uncertain times, but it will not prevent uncertainty.

Likewise the entrepreneur.

The entrepreneur’s marketplace

For the entrepreneur, mastering the marketplace is a continuous necessity for going the long haul in business. The marketplace is that space you operate in, that space that comprises your product, your clients, your suppliers, your team, your financing, and your intellectual property. That space is intangible for some, but for the more successful and the more resilient entrepreneur it is very tangible. This is because successful entrepreneurs make it their business to know, understand, assess, learn from and develop that marketplace. It is their passion for their service and/or product that leads them to a relentless, almost incomprehensible obsession to understand their unique marketplace.

The marketplace is different for everyone. For each business, no matter how similar, there will be nuances that make you, your brand, your service and your product distinctive. However, if you have not studied or thought deeply about the marketplace, you will not know your nuance. Passion alone will not sustain you.

The key is to learn

Peter Senge in his decisive work, The Fifth Discipline, alluded that; “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” And there you have the operative word, learn. Learning must become a way of life for the entrepreneur. It is not enough to create Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages, engineer likes and exhibit your products and selfies with celebrities on social media.

The viable marketplace is less trivial. The world needs a compelling reason to buy your product. It takes learning, engagement with like-minded people, conscious conversations, mentoring and a truly informed engaged network to reach the peak of entrepreneurship. What all of that does is change you, it strengthens and grooms you to be the leader you need to be for your business, your clients, and your team. Selfies with personalities and social media likes will not get you there.

Senge also said, “Business and human endeavors are systems…we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system. And wonder why our deepest problems never get solved.” By focusing on our passion alone, we focus on snapshots and in doing so may fail to really respond to the opportunity and the value of our business idea to the outside world.

We need to master the marketplace. My own response to this dilemma is a master class called “Mastering the Marketplace”. This class outlines a framework for fine-tuning a business concept. It also helps with developing a responsive business strategy and roadmap that will meet the needs of your preferred clientele and your business as a whole.

4 ways I was failing my business

A friend asked me to attend an event she was setting up to discuss the challenges that women have when it comes to running a business in Kenya. Everyone knows that running a business has its challenges but what does it mean to have ‘women only challenges’? Are we saying that it’s hard for Kenyan women to run profitable businesses?

I can list the cost of doing business, from the licenses to the cost of raw materials. From the taxes to the high cost of living. From corruption to sexual harassment on these streets. However, while we talk about the external factors that affect our businesses, we rarely focus on ourselves as women entrepreneurs and what we do that may cause our businesses to fail.

When I thought about it, I realized that most of the challenges I have had, have little to do with the business environment and more to do with my attitude. These are challenges that have been in my control and could be fixed.

My doubts and my fears

When I chose to be an entrepreneur, I wanted to create a solution to a problem that many girls and women face. It took me a long time to figure out my path and in that time, I lost some relations. I had friends who were far ahead of me in life. They were investing in property and driving big cars. They were employed and happy, or so I thought. When business was slow, I would always fantasize about the lives ‘other women’ are having and how easy their lives are. This affected how I ran my hustle.

Then, I would often entertain the thought of going back to employment. I started doubting if I took the right path. I worried about how I would pay rent and fuel my small car. As this was going on, I was focusing less and less on the business.

My doubts would show when I told someone about my business. They would see I was not sure of myself. Why would they trust me when I did not trust myself to run a business?

My lack of confidence

I hated speaking in public, so how was I supposed to pitch my business in front of 100 strangers? How was I supposed to show how passionate I was about my business? I think I lost out in my first pitches because they did not see a woman confident enough in herself to speak out passionately about her business.

With practice, I have been able to speak in front of strangers. I start by telling a story, from the problems to solutions of my entrepreneurial journey. I find that the crowd is calm and ready to listen. I imagine that the crowd travelled thousands of miles to hear me speak and I cannot let them down.  Now, I have been invited to speak at conferences and forums and before I take the mic, I remember the days I shook and stammered and I smile.

My exit plan

I always had an exit plan. If I did not do this business, I would run the best digital media house in Nairobi. I would spend hours imagining how I would bring Huffpost to my city and run it better than mainstream media. What I did not realize was that every time I would wander into the thought, I was detaching my mind from my main business. Every time I got a rejection email, I would always come up with another idea. This made my business slow down and I kept blaming it on the tough business environment.

Yet I did not sleep, eat and breathe my business. I was entertaining other ventures and not giving my main 100%. I was not knocking harder on the closed doors because I filled my head with these other ideas. I felt that I needed an exit plan.

Now, the only exit plan I have is to sell to a big corporate company when my company is worth millions of dollars.

My social life

Ever had love so good that you make your business an afterthought? Having relationships affects your business either positively or negatively. For a long time, I did not know how to balance my relationship and my business. I did not have the discipline to say no to those late night dates that affected my performance the following morning. I would spend time on the couch watching movies and enjoying our time together, then rush to beat deadlines the following day.

What I realize as a Motherland Mogul is that I do not have the luxury to enjoy a weekend or a holiday as an ordinary person. Work comes calling at odd times and as the leader of the team, I simply cannot ignore the calls just to have a great night out. That time will come, just not now. Whenever I meet a great person, I make sure to tell them just how important my business is. I ensure they realize that my work comes first and when we have made those millions, we can afford to take a one month long holiday and relax. But for now, my work comes first. If he is understanding, he will stay.

I have learnt to point the finger at myself first before blaming other factors for the poor performance of my business.

Share with us what challenges you have learnt to overcome as a business woman.