Bravo! You’re planning on becoming an entrepreneur, fulfilling your dream and perhaps transforming your country, continent or the world.
The only source of new wealth in economies is entrepreneurship and if we are going to transform Africa into a wealthy continent, we will need a large number of entrepreneurs to step up and start the companies that will create the products and services, wealth and technology of the future. We need more like you.
Yet entrepreneurship is such a difficult undertaking, fraught with failure and many start ups inevitably don’t make it. The goal in sharing my experiences is to help increase the percentage of entrepreneurs that do make it especially in the difficult environment presented by the nascent African start up scene.
What I intend to do in this blog is to arm you with the mindset that will help transform the inevitable failures that you will encounter into an opportunity either for you or for the entire industry. You will have to identify failure quickly, understand it, learn from it and come back with an improved product or service.
The Reward System is Different
We are built to respond positively to reward and to avoid punishment. While going through school, you realize that there is almost a direct relationship between efforts and rewards. The more you study, the more likely you are to do well. That motivates you to keep working hard as you get more reward. Most professional careers follow a similar reward system; you usually get promoted as you gain more experience and work harder at your job. This is easy to understand psychologically and emotionally.
Entrepreneurship throws you a curve ball with regards to the rewards you can expect. Your efforts will most likely be met with failure multiple times. You’ll try a different strategy and still meet with failure. For a long and seemingly endless while it will seem that your efforts lead to more punishment than reward. That will be difficult for you to take emotionally and is perhaps the reason that you might go through a depressive stage during your entrepreneurship journey.
Dealing with repeated failure is one of the most difficult parts of being an entrepreneur and requires the emotional structure to withstand those shocks and even better become more motivated by them; be anti-fragile. If you are new to entrepreneurship and coming from an effort=reward background this will be one of the toughest transitions for you to make.
Therefore, be ready to fail.
In his book “Anti-Fragile” Nassim Taleb introduces the idea of anti-fragility; that you can get stronger by going through shocks or failure. He gives the example of a scientist that gains from each failed experiment, getting closer to the right answer through a process of elimination.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.”
~ Thomas Edison
The important requirement for being anti-fragile is that you have the ability to quickly gain intelligence from each failure you encounter so that your next effort has an increased chance of success. Else you will either keep trying a flawed experiment for too long and deplete your resources or you will move from failure to failure and be none the wiser.
By becoming anti-fragile, you have the unique ability to convert setbacks into fuel that powers you forward. Then you have to stay in the game as long as possible, because the longer you stay in, the more likely you will succeed as you have better information that leads you closer and closer to success.
Dealing with Society
Due to the different payoff structure of entrepreneurship, be prepared to look like a failure for a while before you figure things out. That can often be one of the toughest things to deal with as an entrepreneur. While your siblings in an effort=reward environment continue with their incremental success be prepared to look like a loser for a while especially during those social events when they come in a gleaming new car while you worry about bootstrapping and product-market fit. It will be a lot to deal with and will likely last a long time. Comments even from well meaning parents or a spouse about how so and so is doing so well now will carry with them an unspoken rebuke about your present pursuits. But soldier on!
However, if all goes well and your big pay off finally comes, you will receive some vindication. Such is the nature of the bet you’re making. You’re making lots of sacrifice everyday while enduring daily pain for the opportunity to enjoy a huge potential upside that makes it all worthwhile. Just like the scientist that labors for years trying to find a cure for an important disease and finally gets a massive upside when she finally discovers it.
A Heroic Endeavor
Ultimately, despite the best efforts, entrepreneurship will remain a heroic undertaking and unfortunately some of the heroic soldiers will not come back home; their companies will fail, they will lose their money and have to deal with the other difficult outcomes of a failure. Yet if these share their learnings with the entrepreneurship community, it will help to prevent more failures in the future, just like in the aviation industry each crash leads to increased safety standards because the learnings from a crash are shared and implemented by the entire industry.
Those heroic soldiers will play an important role in the transformation of our society despite their failures and will deserve to be honored for taking a large risk for society, just like those heroic soldiers of old who never returned but become legends for the selflessness. I end this with a quote from Nassim Taleb dedicated to entrepreneurs.
Most of you will fail, disrespected, impoverished, but we are grateful for the risks you are taking and the sacrifices you are making for the sake of the economic growth of the planet and pulling others out of poverty. You are at the source of our anti fragility. Our nation thanks you.
~ Nassim Taleb, Antifragile.
Those of you who succeed will create a brighter more wealthier future for humanity by pulling many out of poverty, developing new technology and creating opportunities for the next generation.