Like the floating mountains of Stephen Speilberg’s 2009 blockbuster, Avatar, Diary of an Under 30 CEO has become one of the most unusual, frequently outrageous oasis of entrepreneurial knowledge of our time. Africa might be home to a handful of dollar billionaires; however, it is waiting for its first truly dominant global organization. And before we start, Robert Kiyosaki says, “It’s about getting to the top, not working for those at the top.” Cesare Prandelli also states that, “When there are no economic resources to call upon, what you need is new ideas.”
Africa has the natural resources in abundance, why is it then, that we fail to have a multinational that grows its financial muscle to become a dominant global enterprise? Mention Rio Tinto, Apple, Facebook, IBM, Pfizer etc., and you attract everyone’s attention on any continent, because they all want to know what is going on there. Nevertheless, mention some of what we believe are, the big African multinationals, and all you attract is unforgiving stares and frowns on some continents.
It’s not in my nature to heavily, and violently shake my head wondering with disbelief, why the African business landscape has experienced a steady growth in numbers of business ventures appearing on the scene, but unfortunately few have grown to behemoth proportions? If you want to build a long-term, enduring business and brand, read on.
Barely a fortnight and with delicious timing, since clearly we at Diary of an Under 30 CEO became a data dump for mistakes made by entrepreneurs, facts and assumptions about building an African corporate behemoth will bury themselves violently in the reader’s face this week.
In many respects, please forgive the following bad example, unfortunately my aging-memory is now failing me as no African one, came to mind at the click of a mouse (maybe MTN?); essentially Africa has its fair share of multinationals now, employing a sizeable small percentage of the global employable population. However, Starbucks grew from being more modest, albeit with a fundamental goal of offering high-quality coffee beans roasted to perfection, to more recently, opening a new store somewhere every day. Starbucks is another exemplary success story, which is identified with innovative marketing strategies, and a product that has become a subculture.
Amid the confusion, trying to make the slightest sense of my random bad, awkward, and atrocious earlier quotes and questions, it bears repeating without being too dramatic, that the Starbucks example should give you the faintest idea of what we are advocating for, in this article. Something doesn’t sit right when the African continent’s business landscape is dominated by the big international multi-nationals with headquarters on other continents; whilst not even the big African corporates we consider to be multi-nationals, can even dominate the backwater markets of Europe, USA or Asia. As a matter of fact, we are not advocates for protectionism by any government whatsoever; we are steeped deeply in capitalist ideals on this column, and unshakeable in our beliefs in free markets.
However, it’s about time we also back-track a bit from our normal position, and state loudly, African governments should protect the entrepreneurs a bit more, so that they can grow some financial clout to be able to compete globally. More on protectionism and the role of governments will be written about in later articles. A divergence was necessary because some things are so obvious, such that it bears repeating anyway. Nevertheless, this guide is about things that young companies must get right to build ventures of behemoth proportions.
Most of the successful start-ups have multiple founders: the notion of a lone ranger willing a giant company into existence is rarely correct, but an exception to the norm. Usually before you get to capital requirements, projections and bottom lines, there is one necessary fundamental aspect that an entrepreneur should get right: simply find a co-founder(s) who serve as a critical exercise in improving the validation of your company. As a matter of fact, a co-founding team should bring a diversity of talent and high dedication, because it’s stressful when developing a young company. Therefore, pay more attention to character and commitment, rather than ability.
Importantly, the goals and passion of the founding members should be similar. Furthermore, the best founding team of any organization is one that doesn’t have overlapping skills, rather synergistic ones. However, it’s critical that you look for people who complement your skills, and not just rubber-stamp all your decisions. Only a strong co-founder has both the perspective and authority to challenge another co-founder’s ideas at any given time, helping a company remain an intellectually honest enterprise.
Nevertheless, complementary skills are not enough, essentially getting on well with each other and working smoothly as a team is far more important. In addition, the relationship of start-up founders becomes more like a marriage, because you will see each other most of the time. Due to the fact that, initially the founders would be the whole company, the relationship is far more intense than you usually see between co-workers, partly because the stresses are so much greater.
Any venture doesn’t require all the skills for long-term success; in any case, just the basic ones get the job done. Moving forward without a co-founder is risky, and moving on with a bad co-founder is a poisoned chalice, almost unimaginably costly.
To be honest, you are better off signing an agreement before you get stuck into anything, regardless of what kind of a relationship you have with your future partner (s). In that agreement you should include: responsibilities, equity, vesting etc. Case studies of ventures that succumbed to the adult world of lawyers and money are right in our midst.
The Core Values
No serious entrepreneur can profess ignorance about why it’s important to have core values in any organization. A great entrepreneur has the ability to instil values into the hearts and minds of their employees. The ability to establish a set of core values that makes their company unique compared to any other competitor is advantageous, and this is what makes them stand out from the crowd. These values are such that employees and customers alike are proud to work for, and indeed associate themselves with such a company. A set of genuine values makes life much more efficient.
In no way is it a coincidence that Apple, Google, Starbucks, and Facebook, are among the most admired companies globally, and few employees would pass an opportunity to be employed by the quartet. Fortunately, the founders of these organizations were unconventional and upset the apple cart, whilst creating a set of core values that have made these companies unique. These core values will shape the culture that will prevail within the organization.
You want to create a stronger company culture, which will make your employees happier and create more employee engagement, leading to higher productivity. Michael Useem, Wharton professor of Management, and Director of its Center for Leadership and Change Management responding to a question on how you create a common mind-set and culture, remarked that, “It is one of the toughest challenges in management -whether it is a start-up, a mid-term company or a mature company. We all think culture is vague.”
Furthermore, he said, “Culture comes down to what you value. It’s good to have four or five things that we value clearly articulated. You want implicit rules or ways of behaving, and we all are guided by our values. In building a company, though, we are the makers of culture, not just the recipients. We are not just the consumers of culture. To make the culture, there’s no rocket science. It is simply four or five steps of, in a sense, heavy lifting. You have to do it. It’s not easy. But it must get done.”
“With everything you say and every gesture you make, unconsciously this happens. It’s not your conscious intent for the culture to come out of that. But in early start-up phases, people look at you as the definer of how they should behave. In the first instance, it is just you, how you operate: Are you quiet or do you explain? Do you come respectfully into a room or not? As the firm develops, there are often what you might call rituals -that is, celebrations and confirmations. A new product goes out the door, champagne is popped and speeches are given. What was the magic moment when you went from an idea to the first service or product going out the door? Offering that account in as graphic detail as you can is critical for shaping the culture,” he concluded.
From a personal perspective, it is our strong belief that a lot of hard work goes into creating ventures of behemoth proportions, however, your co-founding team and the core values of your organization create a path for you to become a global phenomenon and a legacy builder. Diary of an Under 30 CEO, hopes to see one Africa company employ people across all continents in its lifetime, at the least.
Nathaniel T. Mafemba is a versatile writer with a keen interest in fostering the entrepreneurial spirit on the continent. His belief is that most of the challenges on the continent will not be solved by the big corporate companies, the lifeblood of sustainable economic growth in these challenging times are the small-to-medium enterprises. His other interests are business analysis, business development, book reviews, and financial management. He also enjoys reading and innovation. His writing experience includes being a football columnist in the Zimbabwe Daily News publication. In addition, he is an aspiring Consultant in strategy formulation with a drive to contributing towards the goal of achieving financial and economic emancipation on the continent. He is also the Co-Founder and the Business Development Manager at Rand One Inc. Follow on Twitter: @Natemafe