Thursday, 17 October 2019

The Cost of Owning an Enterprise —by Ikakke Bassey | Entrepreneurial Taxonomy Series


Ikakke Bassey 
17 October 2019 

Let's be realistic. It's attractive to see someone —sometime a young fellow —start up a company. It's kind of put the person on the spotlight. Again, it conveys a certain sense of accomplishment and forward thinking. But, it doesn't come without a cost. 

I started my first business between the age of 18 and 19. I registered the business name (IkakkeAbasi Ventures) which I didn't like and had to register another one a year after (Giant-Heart Resources). But like most young start-ups I offered all the services you could think of on earth. Just a look at my complimentary card you could understand that it was a multipurpose enterprise. 

Besides, I didn't have any previous business experience, neither did I serve under anyone. It was just the drive and the passion to succeed. I didn't know about "finding a need and filling it", nor tapping into the demand gaps. I just conceived ideas that were nice and began to run with it. And because I was passionate, I was able to pull other young people to myself, not necessarily because I knew better, but because - as usual- it's always nice to maintain proximity with "successful people". So they followed me. I made staff and a formidable workforce out of them. And we did everything possible under God (Hat making/training, Beaded jewelries, supplies, sales, name it). But I didn't know the difference between capital expenses, running cost, income, gross profit and net profit. I knew very dismissible fraction about leadership, people management, finance, communication and interpersonal skills. 

So bad, "the vision" I thought I had of a "business empire" beclouded my sense of reasoning and judgment. I knew nothing! Now this is going to make you laugh: in one of those ventures, we were preparing to launch a particular technical training and we had over 3000 fliers and 2000 posters ready to be littered around town. Because I was a very religious fellow, I had received - like many people do - from "church" some prophetic declarations to "go and prosper by the power of the "spirit". I went back home and fasted for 3 days lying down on top of the posters and fliers we printed (laughs), after which it was circulated and advertisement was made on radio and television consecutively for one week. But 14 people showed up, 5 finished the program and only 3 paid. So it dawn on me that fasting without knowledge and applicable principles is hunger strike. Fasting does not change business principles, it would amount to fraud if it does. (Now you know why I stand for Christ, but against religion). To cut it short, I lost money; mine and my partners'. I had to fall back on family to pay back other partners since it was my idea. 

Not satisfied, I took to Internet business - buying and selling and investing. At this time few people knew how to use the internet effectively from this region of the country. I would spend nights at the cyber cafe browsing and finding opportunities. Once I found one, without due diligence I would advertise and make business out of it. So, again, I lost about N300, 000 of people's money and had to pay back through taxi driving for six months to one year. I also lost my house (couldn't pay my rent) and had to sleep with friends and sometime do compulsory night classes at Unical. It continued for more than 2 years. At this point, I took a break. It was time to learn; to educate myself and prepare for that future. Passion alone can kill a visionary devoid of knowledge and understanding. And I know that many have died pursuing dreams without guidance.

I learnt the hard way and I grew the hard way. My transition in life at different stages is never without dire pressure. And I think really, that pressure is part of the process that births greatness. If you will own an enterprise worth looking at, your struggles and experiences must become your education. Harvard is good, but knowledge that comes from raw experience is a sure recipe for success if you have the right attitude.

So, I took on serious studies and research. I began to unlearn and to relearn. Every dime I got going forward was invested in self development. I believe before 50% of people in this part of the country (south southern Nigeria) began to know about online education, I'd already obtained some certifications in different areas of business studies. And because that medium of education was not popular then, I kept quiet. All these I did at the cyber cafe because I couldn't afford a personal computer. Trust me, I read what was available to be read. Studies and self development became a personal challenge. Now it's an addiction. I took other offline management and self development programs and began to be aware. Then I walked up to my first business mentor with Eva wine - who was a management consultant and lecturing in a management institute - to mentor me. That's where my professional development began. He never gave me any money, though I got my first (used) laptop from him years later. But he inspired and encouraged me and despite having little or no experience he believed in me. Now, I didn't like a few things he did to me, but I never confronted, insulted or abused the privilege and access he gave me. Till date we still maintain a good and quality relationship. He constituted part of my Management Trainers when I eventually set up a Management Training Institution soon to metamorphose into a world class Executive University in the future.

So, events rolled by and I mingled locally and internationally. I'm a very private person and I like to keep some of my personal achievements private, except for a very close few (a deliberate attempt to keep me humble and not to exaggerate my worth).  

What's the entire story about? 

Ownership is sweet, but it comes with a cost. There is a cost for owning an enterprise.

1. The cost of revelation: ownership is a function of  personal revelation - either in business or life generally. When you have a privileged insight that no one or very few have, then you can own it. But it requires concentrated thinking and undivided focus. It may separate you from friends - temporarily or permanently.

2. The  cost of solitude: loneliness is an asset if you can give it a purpose. I've had moments of extreme loneliness which I converted to moments of personal studies and prayer.

3. The cost of time: If you think you're wasting your time, then you're wasting your time. But if you think you're investing it, then you'll be productive with it. Time reveals essence.

4. The cost of quality relationships: If you do not have relationships that have lasted for more than 10 years in your life, you have a problem. And it's a serious problem. In fact, that may be your only problem. It means you can't live with people. If you can't live with the pressure and annoyances of people, how will you cope with your customers in business? There are relationships you must pursue and maintain. You might need just that as a spring board in the future.

5. The cost of humility: humility affords you the opportunity to learn and to grow. Know this as an upcoming entrepreneur; pride is empty and unpopular. My greatest asset in life is the ability to assume a zero knowledge base in other to learn knew things from new people. 3 years ago, I learnt a particular key function in my computer from a member of our lowest staff cadre (not as the boss, but as a learner). There is a disposition a humble person assumes in learning. You can't possibly learn by saying "I know" while someone is trying to teach you. (Have you encountered such people before?) Quietly listen and try genuinely to make sense of that person. 

6. The cost of self-discipline: you will not keep time to people if you haven't been keeping time to yourself. The first time to respect is your time. Because discipline is not just something you do, it's something you must become. Live up to your words despite the inconveniences. That's character. I can actually run a business without a paper agreement and I won't forget what I said. 

7. The cost of delayed gratification. I used hired (Audi) taxi - with no air conditioner - for a while as a CEO before I got an official car. Not because there was no money then to buy one, but because it fell far below in the scale of preference. Car is good, a good one at that, but there were things that preceded it in importance and productive value. When the need for a personal car arose it was obvious and we got one. I used just two pairs of shoes. All my wrist watches were nicely fairly used. And I still use them. (I don't have to apologise for that, it's my wrist). There was money to buy new and brand names, but they fell far below the scale of preference. I didn't change my phones. I was still using my C7 techno tab. I changed it when the screen was dead. If you cannot delay gratification and learn to buy only the things you need and not those you want, you may not own an enterprise.

8. The cost of studying and learning: now I study averagely 6 hours per day. So, a good part of me is given to studies. I can't survive without it. I have video materials and books (digital and traditional). I order some from libraries abroad. Books and learning cost takes about 55% of my personal budget annually. When my brain is made, my wardrobe shall eventually. A nice guy is not a well dressed guy with plasma TV in his house, it's that guy who's mentally transformed. The Bible says I should work out MY OWN SALVATION with fear and trembling. That's my job.

9. The cost of mentorship: many people genuinely wants mentorship, it's the price that they're not willing to pay. And it's even more tricky if your mentor is within your peer group, age mate or very down to earth. Sometime you may be tempted to think that you came to mentor the person. Please, be humble. Your mentor does not know everything - and he does not have to - but he knows something. Learn that thing. You'll need patience, longsuffering, love, forgiveness and hope. Give him/her absolute respect. Sometime they might be very undeserving, but you're learning from them. When it expires, you may stop the mentorship - nicely - but nurture and grow the relationship. You'll need it.

10. The cost of starting: to start, first of all you must challenge your perfectionism, pessimism and nay sayers. Start, and grow into perfection.  

Note. starting without everything being perfect does not mean starting in disorganization or without a plan. It means you've done due diligence and despite limitations you've chosen to begin from somewhere - and strategic too.

11. The cost of uncertainty: sometime as a CEO you may find yourself envying your staff. Why? They're free. If the business empire crumbles what they lose is a job, but what you lose is a life. And it happens that sometime you may be the only one returning home at the end of the month without a paycheck, having done all to stand. There would be moments you borrow outside of the business to settle staff and other concerns - and doing so enthusiastically. Everybody goes home happy, you return home thinking and strategizing. There is nothing as intimidating as not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from. This you must get use to.

12. The cost of family and friends: sometime if you're not careful, you may forget the most important things in your life - family and friends. You know, when you're in a system where the entire conversation around there does not reflect where you come from, you might forget you came from somewhere. The pressure to make it work can drain your life and social capability. This you must fight never to happen. Factor into your workplan family and friends you must call.

I rest my case. The above list is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive, but I believe you will also learn your personal lessons. Don't give up. There is also a reward for owning an enterprise. 

With love,

Ikakke Bassey is an Accredited Management Trainer and Business Development Consultant. He receives training and seminar invitations around Nigeria and beyond. He's helped to setup over 15 start-up companies from the scratch and his platform includes; faith-based organizations, NGOs, Business Colleges, Universities and Corporations. So far, he's trained over 6000 workforce accumulatively. He can be reached at ikakkebassey@yahoo.com



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