When people contemplate starting an enterprise, the first thing that occurs to them is the idea of what they want to do. This idea is so precious to the birth of business that even with excess other resources, a sustainable business will not see the light of day without that resource called IDEA.
The idea is the nucleus of the enterprise, the jugular vein of the venture. What the entrepreneur wishes to produce, the service s/he wishes to provide or the solution s/he wishes to make available must come before any other thing. But the question is; how and when does that come about?
While few businesses may be born with all the paperwork carried out in a lavish sitting room or on a sturdy in a reading room overlooking the finest of scenes, most of the micro entrepreneurs I interacted with had no typical-business-school-standard plan in place. And the idea to start the business did not arrive when the entrepreneur was in the best possible mood or when the circumstances of the subject left the latter in his/her comfort zones.
In my quest for this piece, l met a 26-year-old who lost his father when he was 11. He had to drop out of a school that already held no promise for a boy of his circumstances. He was not gifted with enough brain prowess to be able to hope for something worth the huge investments in that education. By the time he was 19, he had started farming vegetables on commercial basis. Today, he is hiring up to 11 other people to help him farm okra, lettuce, garden eggs and other crops all year round relying on his hand-dug wells and semi-mechanised irrigation.
Another young man has had to take the insane risk of going to Libya by road. By the time he was arriving in the Libya of his dreams, this country’s power had changed hands; rebels held a share of political power and the country was increasingly becoming ungovernable. He, however, lived in this chaos until news of crossing over to the other side of the Mediterranean became rife. On board an overloaded, illegal, death-decorated vessel, he arrived on the island of Lampedusa.
In this same quest, I ran into a woman whose only hope of escaping the savagery of deprivation and even squalor was through a painful real life melodrama in which the consequences for failure were as horrid as the situations that first birthed these uncertain journeys.
It seems to me that when operating within the comfort zone, the entrepreneur is much like anyone of us who is making a living hewing logs and drawing water for someone against whose account they may draw a cheque at the end of the month. As soon as uncertainty, resulting from an imminent loss of job, dependence on one single, meagre source of income, assumption of single parenting, or any such casualties stare the individual in the face, just then does the idea to start an enterprise dawn and become urgent.
I met a leather entrepreneur in the Ashanti Region who manufactures world-class knapsacks, exotic ladies’ handbags and some medium-sized travelling bags. His route to entrepreneurship was interestingly exciting. He left behind a modest sandal-exporting business, sold out his share in that cross-border business and set out to Spain, Nigeria and Libya first. He undertook, in his own words, “the riskiest journey there ever was” to Europe.
The young man’s journey first took him to Libya by road. When he arrived in Libya after missing death by the skin of his teeth, he had to tarry there for 28 months; and when he finally landed in one of the islands, he had a huge luck deficit. He was going to be deported to Kotoka after six months; and when all hope was lost after arriving in Ghana as a cargo with all zones pushed furthest away, then did the entrepreneur realise that his leather works experience in Libya were going to be worth the while. And they proved worthwhile.
So when the odds are against you, when your job is threatened by a local recession, when employment prospects have become dim for you, when the other half of you has departed painfully, when your employer is letting hell loose over your head, then has the opportunity to own a business arrived.
The idea to start a business sometimes may be silly, incredible, even laughable and sometimes difficult and impossible to share with another person. When a university grad with computer science major tosses the idea of building a piggery, raising ducks and turkeys, farming snails, repackaging ‘dakwa’ and ‘coco’ or growing vegetables such as okro, lettuce, cabbage, garden eggs or keeping bees, s/he has to have extraordinary courage in order to outdoor this strange idea.
A micro agripreneur whose story I have already shared with the world in this column admitted to me that his father was more willing to send him back to school for an advanced degree than lend him half such resources as were required for the MPhil so that he might start pig farming. And like the late Steve Jobs, your idea may be mocked at, you yourself ridiculed and your degree and diploma thought of as a waste of university space which could have gone to a more deserving applicant.
In the case of a certain beads entrepreneur, when the idea to start a business dawned on her, she had to shield this yearning for well over a year. When she finally outdoored this idea, her parents were so mad that they thought their daughter had wasted the university degree she was pursuing. The middle-class parents did not leave the jeering of their daughter to the illiterate community; they led the booing.
Like the iconic brain behind the Microsoft Corporation, if Gates had confided in any of his friends about his crazy idea of foregoing a promising university degree as one offered by Harvard, chances are that they would have mocked him. But when your idea seems silly, strange and incapable of being reasonable to those whose ways society has reprogrammed, instead of that putting you off, let them inspire you to new heights. It won’t be long before you shame them by handing an employment contract to their children; and why not, themselves.
Start-up ideas may be strange, like the entrepreneur whose staff are retailing Hausa coco around town in Accra; and bizarre, like the grad who has reinvented dakwa by bringing the snack to people who love it but can’t drive to the zongo to get it. The idea might make people around you feel like you are a little unbalanced.
When you are at this strange intersection, you are about doing yourself the very good thing that happened to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or the fashion designer Kweku Okyere Darko. Don’t look back!
Credit: Graphic Business