I have been asked to contribute an article to this magazine and my plan is to use the opportunity to rant about my experience in starting and scaling SME businesses in Nigeria.
My name is Olamide and with my Business and Life Partner, I have started and scaled three businesses in Nigeria over the last seven years; this is not a glamorous task. Forget social media, this is a hard ulcer-inducing undertaking.
In this article, I will try and elaborate on some of the challenges and victories we have encountered and lessons we ought to have learned (phrasing intentional) as we scaled.
My Biggest Challenge – Bar None
As a business owner, my biggest challenge over the last decade has been finding and keeping the right people to work with me, cliché but true. And it has gotten even more difficult in the last five years or so. Another dimension has been added to it, now everyone wants to be a business owner. Every member of my team wants to be an “Olamide”, especially since am a 46-year-old who looks 36 on most days (and 76 on bad days). So if this young(ish) guy can do it, why can’t we?
Well, wanting to be an Olamide is cool, but Olamide spent 15+ years working for other people/Organisations before he started his first business, while you, on the other hand, graduated in 2016 and finished NYSC in 2018! In a hurry much?
Truth be told it is difficult to blame the two-year veteran who is ready to be CEO. That is what Social Media tells him to do, and Social Media is super accurate, right? I mean look at Mark and Gates and Job.
Let me at this stage take out time to explain the concept of Survival Bias. When Bill Gates left School to start tinkering in the garage, how many other young Men/Women had the same idea? Thousands!
Do you know how the other thousands did? Probably not so well. Bill succeeded and so all attention is on him and this appears to validate his strategy. This is a very risky strategy.
Survivorship Bias or Survival Bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. This can lead to false conclusions in several different ways.
When you state that some people started business at a young age and became very successful and claim this as a viable strategy, you are guilty of Survivorship Bias. Basing your entire future prosperity on this is, to say the least, risky. And this is what our young ones have been doing for the past decade or so, and this is not only hurting them, it is also hurting the entire SME field.
Lack of Seasoning
The Nigerian workforce is no longer getting seasoned, professionals are not spending enough time in structured business environments to learn the ropes. I am not even talking of 20 years’ experience here, just basic 5 to 10 years; enough time for you to learn and sharpen your technical skills, have an inkling of organizational structures and hopefully be a Manager of people and things.
Nigeria needs SME businesses that can scale to employ hundreds of people. More importantly, we need seasoned managers who can start and/or manage these businesses. Unfortunately “negative” social media and weird inspirational speakers are depriving us of this pool and invariably denying us of the needed SME energy to power Nigeria’s engine of growth.
Do not get me wrong, I am not saying people should not aspire to own their businesses that is not the point of this convo. My point is you cannot be a good Entrepreneur if you did not first learn to be a good Manager and you become a good Manager by learning under a good Manager. Consider it a long term internship during which you are also paid a pretty handsome Salary.
If you do not get seasoned, if you have just 2 – 4 years experience you can still start your business and make some money off it, but I assure you that you will most likely end up playing the equivalent of street soccer while with some quality experience in your pocket, you could have become a Premiership star.