How I stopped working for the man: A journey into entrepreneurship

By Panashe Chigumadzi (@panashechig)

Before starting on the journey, a friend of mine sent me an article by serial entrepreneur Tim Ferris, who describes entrepreneurs as ‘manic depressives’. I laughed it off then, but now I can’t agree more. The hardest part about entrepreneurship is the mental and emotional one. It is a roller coaster of emotions where one day you are on a high over that big agreement you’ve been able to secure and the next day you want the world to swallow you up because a client rejected your proposal. Sometimes you are over being financially prudent and just want to spend on that new Ruby Woo.

I had an amazing time in my first and only job, working with the female head of the company who threw me into the deep end, allowing me to have experiences and opportnunies that still have me looking back and wondering whether she was in the right frame of mind.

I enjoyed this period thoroughly because of the exposure and skills it gave me, but by the beginning of this year I knew I wanted more. I realized that I had to leave my job. Not for another one, but to start my own business.

At the beginning of my media career, when I’d started out as a TV journalist on a mission to change narratives about Africa and Africans, I’d set out to be the next Lerato Mbele, also breaking barriers for a generation of black broadcasters.

But as many young black professionals who often find themselves disillusioned with corporate South Africa (also known as white monopoly capitalist South Africa to many comrades), I soon saw that it wasn’t enough for me to simply help boost BEE scores through employment.

It was not good enough for me to be simply retrofitted into that system if I wanted to really to see leading black faces and authentic stories weren’t. I needed to create something new, to create a new business where Leratos and Nikiwes were the default. In short, what I learnt is that you’re not gonna change somebody else’s house. You had to create your own where on Mondays we all talked about the Soweto Derby instead of having to regurgitate the crammed notes we had on the Bokke’s game against the All Blacks.

So, I began my mental preparation and immersed myself in articles, talks, podcasts and books.

One of most important lessons came from Seth Godin’s ‘Startup School’, where he advocates living like an entrepreneur before you become one. In his words, “eat brown rice and beans every night for a year before you need to”.

This is important because rule number for any start up is to keep your overheads as low as possible. That is especially true for your personal finances. Very few businesses have steady or high cashflows from the beginning, so its important to prepare for that early stage.

So I put this into practice and began to live on half of my salary. No more turn ups nje. Fewer clothes trips. Strict budgets set up front for dinners with the bae. Switching from Vodacom to Cell C. Not easy at first, but it makes life so much easier to get into the habit of lean living before you actually need to. Half is quite a big portion, but really the point is to cut out on as much ‘fat’ from your monthly budget as you can. For you that could mean losing the credit card, holding off on that new car.

What this allowed me to do was build up some savings to invest in my business (e.g. website development, six months of wifi paid off, company registrations etc) and very importantly it meant that it wouldn’t take much for me to be able to continue to live comfortably while the business was still establishing itself.

That’s the more inspirational kind of mental preparation. More practical preparation came from the founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman’s book “The Start Up of You’ in which he gives advice on how build a competitive advantage as a professional. Although the lessons speak to careers of professionals in employment, many of the lessons are applicable to entrepreneurship.

Hoffman outlines three key aspects that you need to be aware of, namely your assets (e.g. networks, ‘hard’ skills, ‘soft’ skills), market realities (e.g. is there a demand for your work, skills or products, what the market is willing to pay).

Of assets he says, “Usually, however, single assets in isolation don’t have much value. A competitive edge emerges when you combine different skills, experiences, and connections.”

Of aspirations and values, he says, “Aspirations and values are equally important pieces of your career competitive advantage quite simply because when you’re doing work you care about, you are able to do it longer and better. ..That said, and contrary to what many best-selling authors and motivational gurus would have you believe, there is not a “true self” deep within that you can uncover via introspection and that will point you in the right direction. Yes, your aspirations shape what you do. But your aspirations are themselves shaped by your actions and experiences. You remake yourself as you grow and as the world changes. Your identity doesn’t get found. It emerges.”

Finally as far as market realities goes he says,Your skills, experiences, and other soft assets–no matter how special you think they are–won’t give you an edge unless they meet the needs of a paying market…And keep in mind that the “market” is not an abstract thing. It consists of the people who make decisions that affect you and whose needs you must serve: your boss, your coworkers, your clients, your direct reports, and others. How badly do they need what you have to offer, and if they need it, do you offer value that’s better than the competition?”

Once I had assessed those aspects, the next lessons then came from ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries, which essentially provides an approach to creating and managing startups to get a product or service into customers’ hands as soon as possible with as little resources as possible.

Ries says, “Too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want. They then spend months, sometimes years, perfecting that product without ever showing the product, even in a very rudimentary form, to the prospective customer. When they fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it is often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. When customers ultimately communicate, through their indifference, that they don’t care about the idea, the startup fails.”

One of the core components of Lean Startup methodology is the development of the ‘Minimum Viable Product’, which is “the version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” The goal of a MVP is to test fundamental business hypotheses (or leap-of-faith assumptions) and to help entrepreneurs begin the learning process as quickly as possible.

Once this is created it’s about getting in front of your market as quickly as possible and learning from this. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s all about failing fast and failing cheaply.

This was a very empowering lesson for me necessary because I realized that I didn’t need a huge sum of money to start my business nor did I need to start it as a cash-guzzling magazine.

With the money that I had saved by heavily reducing my salary, I could put money into a website, that over time I would get to test whether there was an appetite for the kind of content I wanted to produce, build an audience and eventually develop this into a print organisation.

Before starting on the journey, a friend of mine sent me an article by serial entrepreneur Tim Ferris, who describes entrepreneurs as ‘manic depressives’. I laughed it off then, but now I can’t agree more. The hardest part about entrepreneurship is the mental and emotional one. It is a roller coaster of emotions where one day you are on a high over that big agreement you’ve been able to secure and the next day you want the world to swallow you up because a client rejected your proposal. Sometimes you are over being financially prudent and just want to spend on that new Ruby Woo.

Despite the many times I question my decision to quit my comfortable job, I know that working for myself has been one of the most challenging and rewarding things that I have ever done.

We haven’t hit the big time or arrived just yet. We’re going to keep pushing for the time, remembering another quote on entrepreneurship that goes along the lines, “until you’ve made it, there’s a fine line between being delusional and persistent”. We hope we are just persistent.

What gave me the final push to quit my job and work on this start up was the realisation that I’ll never be younger, and I’ll never be fully prepared. The perfect day to commit to your dream will never come. There are things you can never learn or prepare for except by actually doing them.

There are many people who find personal and financial fulfillment in their jobs. This article is not for them. This is for the many others who don’t and for whom entrepreneurship may be something they want to try.

There are many doors in. You don’t have to quit your job first. If your job allows you to pursue outside interests, you can invest the money that you have saved on building a side project.

Panashe Chigumadzi is the founder and editor of Vanguard magazine.

 

34 Comments
  1. it’s like you were eavesdropping on my conversations earlier today! i love this part:

    “What gave me the final push to quit my job and work on this start up was the realisation that I’ll never be younger, and I’ll never be fully prepared. The perfect day to commit to your dream will never come. There are things you can never learn or prepare for except by actually doing them.

    There are many people who find personal and financial fulfillment in their jobs. This article is not for them. This is for the many others who don’t and for whom entrepreneurship may be something they want to try.

    There are many doors in. You don’t have to quit your job first. If your job allows you to pursue outside interests, you can invest the money that you have saved on building a side project.”

  2. I simply want to say I’m all new to blogging and really enjoyed your blog. More than likely I’m planning to bookmark your blog post . You definitely have amazing article content. Thanks a lot for sharing with us your web site.

  3. Wow, marvelous blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is fantastic, as well as the content!. Thanks For Your article about sex.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>