Lessons from 'Founders' on Navigating Difficult Times
Founders has been an important part of who we are as MombasaWorks - a space and community that represents the existence and diversity of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Coast region.
Since 2018, we have had the honour of diving deep into the hearts and minds of entrepreneurs building businesses in this region. These men and women have been immensely generous in spirit - they haven’t held back on their most trying moments as entrepreneurs. As such, their journey's have served as a great source of learning to those of us who've had the privilege of hearing them.
There’s no doubt we are in the throes of a major economic crisis, the effects of which are expected to last for many months to come. As entrepreneurs, we are navigating through unchartered territory - running a lean business has probably taken on a whole new meaning. A significant portion of our time and energy is probably consumed by managing more uncertainty than we've ever known, forcing us to make decisions on the future of our businesses with very little information to guide us.
We’ve picked out some nuggets of wisdom from our Founders that might be useful to you during these times. These are verbatim excerpts with non-verbatim to give the full context of the discussion and main points. Full summaries can be found on our blog.
“Most entrepreneurs know their products inside out, but not all of them know themselves inside out." The one thing that stood out from listening to Samier was how self-aware he was. "As an entrepreneur you rarely have enough resources, notably money but also time." Our ability to know ourselves - our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, values etc. as well as be conscious of our actions and reactions – and then apply this to our business is hard but essential and helps us save time! It’s likely you are going to need to make difficult decisions, quickly. Self-awareness is critical in this process.
“Sitting in a room, sipping on crap coffee and brainstorming on the whiteboard is arguably the most fun part of what we do. We come up with hundreds of new ideas every week but the truth is that we all have limited time and resources, which is why we need to focus and prioritize. Settling on a clear focus — your product, your audience, your strategy — is critical from day one.” This is perhaps even more so in periods of uncertainty.
Remember your purpose
Jo Maiden (founder of SOKO Kenya)
Jo worked in the fashion industry for a large part of her adult life. She moved to Kenya at 28 with the goal of opening up a manufacturing unit. Why? Because she felt convicted to do something about the challenges and exploitation she had seen in the global fashion industry. She wanted to build an ethical, sustainable company. But the funding to establish what would become SOKO fell through at the very last minute. Despite this major setback, she pooled together her savings and came anyway.
Jean-Claude (co-founder of Lori Systems)
“Everything is going to be difficult." At the very start, you’re filled with euphoria and optimism about your idea and can easily visualize success. But how do you keep going once you’ve put yourself out there, and faced the lack? According to JC, "clarity about your purpose and your passion is really important when the going gets tough. And there’s no doubt it will…”
A clear purpose and a big-enough why will get you through almost anything. Remind yourself what yours is.
Check your beliefs about failure
Munyutu Waigi (co-founder Rupu, Umati Capital)
As a young serial entrepreneur, Munyutu has lived through a few exits already.
“They were painful" he told us. But they taught him that companies are not children. "You don’t have to see them graduate and you definitely need to let them go sooner rather than later.”
We consider letting go or closing shop as a failure. But it's not particularly if you're able to identify what went wrong and react quickly - it becomes a skill, and builds your tenacity. Unfortunately our ego gets in the way, and we start telling ourselves that things will work out just as we'd planned. We see a change in the prevailing circumstances as a threat to our control over it. And we lose the opportunity to learn and grow.
May this season bring you greater self-awareness, clarity of purpose, focus and tenacity.