Three top entrepreneurs share some of the mistakes they made on their entrepreneurial journey and what they learnt from their missteps.
Raisa Ocholla, CEO and founder, the African Thrillist Ecotours
“I am a better listener now.”
After many years abroad, I came home to start my business. Prior to coming home, I did everything from being a bartender, a supermarket attendant, a computer programmer to being a flight attendant for Emirates. But I yearned for something fulfilling. That is why I came back home and started a tour company.
Mistake 1: Not having separate checking accounts.
Being a one-man show, it was easier to just use my personal account for my business. After a while, I could not keep track of all the money movement and I ended up not having a clear record of how my business was doing. I have since learnt to separate my personal and business finance.
I attended a couple of workshops and classes like Centonomy and Africa’s Pocket to give me the relevant knowledge on how to go about it. Keeping good records year-long will give you proof of your business expenses if you get audited. I also got apps like bookkeeping, to ensure a percentage of my profits goes to scale up my business. Of course, I also learnt how to pay myself first.
Mistake 2: Being a serial entrepreneur
I was bubbling with ideas and couldn’t commit to the vision all the way through. An idea at inception requires all focus and attention to go from 0 to 1. I had to discipline myself to focus on one business at a time, giving a minimum of 10 hours a day of work because this is a newborn that needs extra attention to mature into a fruitful and solid venture.
Mistake 3: Having a rigid business model
I wasted a lot of time not listening to experts and clientele. I wasn’t very agile in my thinking at that time. Having just arrived, I targeted visitors from Europe and other cold areas to introduce them to Kenya’s beautiful weather.I had to learnt to adjust my approach and create packages for people based on their budgets and time. I now work with local clients to show them hidden treasures in Kenya. Adjusting my product scope has resulted in more sales.
Muthuri Kinyamu, co-founder Of Turnup.Travel Global Limited
“We realised that we shouldn’t be working just to pay the bills”
Before launching Turnup.Travel, I was part of a Kenya Tourism Board domestic marketing campaign dubbed ‘The Great Migration’ as a team leader and ambassador. I have spent the past seven years building startups, events and managing relations for early and growth-stage companies setting up or expanding into or across the continent.
Mistake 1: I did not invest in the right team members
When you fail at something, say your product doesn’t scale to the level you expected, revenues slump, or your rate of growth stalls, great teams use their shared experience to figure out what went wrong and develop a solution that generates results even better than previously thought possible. I may not have been very keen on my teams at the start. Success is contingent on teams that are persistent, trust each other and learn from their failures. I now make sure to recruit through my networks to get people aligned with my vision. I also ensure I do not overextend my terms and conditions to make sure my team is happy and comfortable.
Mistake 2: We did not bring in relevant trained personnel
I did not have a tourism background but ventured without that expertise. I was able to learn eventually but it was hard. You need to get the best people in at the start. I am aware that as a startup you are sometimes forced to work with what you have and on occasion you don’t have the budget for employing people, but if you can, start with experienced team members.
Mistake 3: I did business only to cover bills.
My business partner and I were just two clueless young people running a highly seasonal business. Financial management was grossly overlooked. We always felt like we had money or were making money but we didn’t really know. We felt we had no reason to worry since rent and utilities were always paid but in the end, a lot of wastage was happening. We would always ask… “What have we not paid today?” “Tell the other one we will pay later.” Financial reporting earlier in the business helps you get a better picture and understand the business better. I would advise startups by the second year mark to have an accountant. This will also help them get into corporate business or even government procurements.
Ashley Kibali, CEO and founder of Seventy-Two Media Group
“No shame in asking for advice”
When I started out in 2014, it was only a high school film training project. That opportunity turned to film festival organising to now a content production company. Seventy-Two Media is a media company that produces and distributes African content. I was passionate about creating easy access of premium African content, especially family-based content.
Mistake 1: Making rash decisions
Knowing what to do and when is crucial in business. I made plenty of premature decisions to release a festival or project to the public without analysing the timings. I thought having a good idea was enough and I could go public. My experience has taught me to plan backwards and prioritise projects that are timely to solve a current relevant need within the market space. I have also learnt in this that not all great ideas are worth implementing immediately. Others are meant to be kept aside for years/months later.
Mistake 2: Working in isolation
When running a startup, it’s easy to make all decisions alone. I used to think running a business was a matter of passion, drive and hard work. I made losses and suffered unnecessary damage from not consulting other entrepreneurs who have been doing this for a while. I have now learnt to have a network of connections from bloggers and journalists to local business people and entrepreneurs to advise, correct and teach me.
Mistake 3: I allowed myself to work with no clear strategy
I made this mistake in 2019. We did a film and animation festival and put all our personal savings and investments in it without a clear plan for our sustainability and movement. One of the festivals made bad losses, we didn’t get the financial grants that we were expecting and that took me down to zero. After this, I have learnt to separate business from social impact projects. Along with that, I plan ahead of time, work with what I have in hand, not money that I expect will come.