Entrepreneurial Lessons: Black Like You – Herman Mashaba, An Autobiography

Herman Book Cover Final.indd

“If this modest little book doesn’t inspire you, nothing will” – Jenny Crwys-Williams

 

VENTURES AFRICA – Honestly, the above statement emblazoned on the front cover of the book really got me so interested to find out whether the statement was a true reflection of the content inside.

In as much as there are a lot of business schools that include entrepreneurship modules within their diploma or degree programmes or offer it as a stand-alone program there are some things, for example business instinct they can’t teach.

To my astonishment this book is an insightful, concise, and instructive manual on entrepreneurship and provides a reassurance that the entrepreneurial play-ground is for fighters and you have to be willing to do battle until your dreams and visions have become a reality. Furthermore, there are some very pertinent lessons for any entrepreneur with serious goals and ambitions to become successful. Therefore, I will bring to the fore some of the vital ones in this two-part article.

Connection to your Product

In the following extract Herman Mashaba states that: “In good conscience, i could no longer sell insurance, i didn’t feel connected to the product and i didn’t have the passion to be enthusiastic about it. And without the passion, i instinctively knew that my chances of being a successful insurance agent were slim. It was an enormous setback because i had bought into the hype that surrounds the insurance sales industry without fully considering the product.”

It’s difficult for one to make a sale of a product that you can’t connect with or you have limited knowledge of. Sales are the lifeblood of any business, and to achieve substantial sales a business has to have a product that strives to gain the trust of its target market. Therefore, it suffices to state that if you are not passionate about your product, it’s difficult for it to be very successful in the market. However, some products become successful accidentally anyway, but it’s not the norm because some people chase two birds in the bush instead of concentrating on the one in their hands.

Certainly, starting a business in any industry based on the hype that it’s lucrative has disastrous consequences most of the time. Honestly, hype alone doesn’t substitute for one to do a proper due diligence of the lucrative industry because extensive research of the market and its size, competitor analysis can never be taken for granted. Moreover, just like anything that requires good luck some speculators can also become successful entrepreneurs accidently too.

Confidence and the Power of Knowledge

The following extract highlights the essence of the above mentioned: “Freedom of movement was severely restricted, but i minimised the risk of arrest by dressing well and knowing which big corporate companies had offices in the area where i worked. Whenever i was stopped by the police i was pleasant and always called them “baas”; this generally placated them and, if it didn’t, i told them that i was employed at Barclays Bank or the biggest company in the area. When they glared at me in disbelief and disdain, or sniggered, i offered to take them to the company, where they could verify my employment. Of course, this intimidated them, and like typical bullies, they usually backed off with a weak warning.”

Confidence in oneself and your abilities can never be over-emphasized as a vital trait in any entrepreneur. Even when funding is a challenge, your product has been a disaster in the market; you have to be confident enough of your ability to turn the challenges into triumphs. Once you enter the entrepreneurial play-ground you become vulnerable to competition from big companies and start-ups, therefore, without confidence in your abilities you will never survive or to put it diplomatically, you are not yet ready to be your own boss.

Once you have confidence it generally follows that you also begin to have a positive outlook on everything. Furthermore, a positive outlook on something, normally spurs entrepreneurs to be more creative and innovative to go against the tide. Impossible becomes possible. As an example, Aliko Dangote’s confidence in his abilities to extract value from the abundant resources on the African continent is what has made him a successful wealth creator when most people saw poverty, constant civil wars, governments with a penchant for corruption, as the hallmarks of Africa. To Dangote the return on investment takes out the risk.

Broadening the scope of confidence, even when faced with monumental challenges always have a positive mind-set and confidence to believe, that no mountain can’t be conquered. Otherwise, most of the finer things in life that we enjoy today wouldn’t have been there if someone didn’t have confidence that impossible is possible.

The person who coined the phrase, “knowledge is power”, must have missed on a lot of life changing opportunities. As a general rule in business, you should know your competitor better than they know themselves. Observing this rule ensures that at any time you will be a few steps ahead of the game. There is nothing close to pressing the self-destruction button for a business than always having to react to innovations introduced by a competitor.

In depth knowledge of competitors, business environments, and future trends can shape your medium to long-term strategies. Decisions made today have a substantial bearing on future revenue streams. A simple example is Vodacom, its investor policies about expansion on the continent cost it dearly, such that it has been left behind by MTN and other telecommunications companies who set-up operations when the industry was still in its infancy on the continent that are enjoying the bigger share of the mobile and data service pie.

Another example is Nokia who were the market leaders in the mobile phone industry and failed to be visionary on the impending future trend that was developing, smartphones were going to be the new must-have gadget. By failing to anticipate this future trend or devising a comprehensive strategy that took advantage of this opportunity, even as i write this article Nokia is still playing catch-up to market leaders Apple, Samsung, Research in Motion, and HTC etc. From being the market leader Nokia is now fighting and scrambling for crumbs left by the new market leaders, loss of market share has become synonymous with them.