In many ways, it is true that profits are better than salaries as Jim Rohn used to say. One way to look at it is that salaries earn you a living but profits can earn you a fortune. In both cases, you can make more than you do now because you can become more than you are. When you grow, your income grows. The big question becomes, do you really want to be an entrepreneur or is it just the allure of freedom and being own-boss that is drawing you? Valid as that reason is, it’s important to decide. Yes, decide to embark on the journey to solving other people’s problems.
Two years ago I visited a family owned distillery established in 1833 in the fringes of the Scottish Highlands some 40 minutes from Glasgow. I was about to return to Kenya after over 400 days living in Scotland; my plan was to become a clean energy entrepreneur in East Africa. I had found a millionaire mentor and on this day, my Ugandan friend Ceasor Akwanya and I, had come from further north where I visited a megawatt size biogas plant which used cow dung and distillery waste. While at the distillery, a few lessons on business and entrepreneurship came to me and would like to share some of the thoughts triggered as we toured this small and neat operation tucked at the foot of a picturesque hillside.
One, preserving family heritage is on top of our agenda as we grow up- whether or not we are conscious about it. It is mostly by default rather than by choice. If your parents were running a distillery or winery or fruit farm, and lived happily, chances of fitting into the same art are very high. Career parents tend to beget career children. Businessmen tend to have entrepreneurial children. Why? Because they have one way they know very well- one that they have lived since childhood- from the language to the disciplines. That is why the rich agree that the most expensive advice is the free advice given by parents, colleagues and relatives about money. I tend to agree because this kind of advice keeps you in the same socio-economic zone. It is the kind of advice that makes you a better version of what they were. Of course it is hard to accept that this is even true because it’s all we know. It is natural that as an engineer or doctor, I would have authoritative advice to my child or nieces/nephews on how to succeed in these disciplines. Need I say, like father like son? This is why you would find 5th generation-run distilleries like Glengoyne or engineering companies Bosch or Philips or Giertsen still having strong and proud family control. What’s the point here? If you were not brought up by (I didn’t say born of) entrepreneurs/businesspeople, and you want to take that path, best you seek an entrepreneur mentor- personal one or study them exhaustively.
The second thing I learnt from this small distillery tour is continuous learning and staying in your lane. In every profession, the top 1% earns 95% of all the money there is in the profession. That’s to say, the top 1% doctors earn 95% of the money available for doctors. The other 99% share the remaining 5%! That is the same for business. As an entrepreneur, you must learn all there is and keep improving in your trade. Of course it starts with what you choose to do. It helps to be an expert in an area. If you are trained in a certain area, then you have an advantage. Malcolm Gladwell explains that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert; sadly, it’s 10,000 hours of doing otherwise all super-educated people would be highly valuable experts. If you grew up in a vineyard making wines, you could be an expert by the time you enter teenage; depending on keenness and interest. That means if you want to be an entrepreneur and did not grow into it, then you must deliberately learn- from books, trade fairs, exhibitions, business executives and most important, successful ones in the field. I have come to learn that most successful people are always willing to share their journey; but few of us are willing to listen or read about, let alone live their path.
The third thing I learnt is relevance. Why is what you are offering necessary who needs it; and why should they buy from you? Loyal customers tend to be particular. As a start-up entrepreneur, what you want is not how particular they are but how to create a pipeline of loyal paying customers. If you deal in capital goods and/or services, then obtaining the trust and loyalty of strategic partners who will either grow with you or help you grow is a factor of what value they believe you will add to their own product proposition.
You patience will be tested; constantly; always. This is the fourth lesson. It starts with when selling your vision. An idea starts with one person but it only grows as big as how many other people buy into it. The likelihood of co-founders disappointing you is high and real. So it is best it happens early and gets resolved or out of the way. Some will run away from responsibility. And that’s fine. Then there is the quick-fix syndrome especially for career professionals. If you’ve had a job or hold one now, you need more than a good idea to stay the course. You will face the temptation to conform; to revise your dream downwards to fit into the crowd of others who are living flashy lifestyles and partying more on a salary. All that is fine but an entrepreneur must invest themselves in becoming better and delaying gratification. It is written, you reap what you sow meaning that you only reap if you sow and that if you don’t sow you don’t expect to reap. But beyond the obvious is the fact that sowing leads to multiplication– ancient writings call it tenfold and hundredfold. So you reap a lot more than what you lost at planting time. Do you see why profits are better than wages albeit riskier? At Glengoyne for instance, they age whisky for 65 years! That’s right, 65 years. Ceasor and I were shocked when they said, “This here will go to market in September 2079! The current generation will be gone, the new one aged and, all staff retired; gone.”
The earlier you start a business in life the better, most of the time. This is because, again, we are what we have been doing the most. More educated people have spent years in school learning how to work in a business rather than work a business. Therefore, to run a business, such a person needs more re-learning; unlearning and swallowing the humble pie. It also means they try to start a business within their exact academic which is comfortable. When entering a new frontier, take time to learn and become an expert, become the go-to person. This is luckily possible to everyone who will decide. And if you have a PhD in an area, you may still not be an expert enough to run a business in that arena. Life has strange ways, right?
In conclusion, one definition of an entrepreneur is a problem-solver. People pay to get their problems solved. And it is those that solve most problems systematically that get paid the most. You must be willing to be on the receiving end. That is why the greatest leader who ever lived said, “the way to greatness is (to find a way) to serve the many”. The more people you serve, the more successful you become. Essentially implying that the more people you help solve their problems, the more your problems will disappear. Then there is what we get paid for; salaries tend to be pegged on time-like X USD per month and then we feel like the more time we put the more we earn. Well, only partially true. The market pays us for value not time. Jim Rohn used to say, “it takes time to create value, but the market only recognises value.” Entrepreneurs that create a lot more value within the same amount of time are the ones that will join the top 1%. And it is possible to become more valuable as a person, so much so that, many feel safe bringing their problems to you, and they pay you.
Have an unhurried approach to business, won’t you?
About the author
Zeph Kivungi is TGSS alumnus from Kenya. He studied Sustainable Energy Technology at Glasgow Caledonian University. He is an energy professional and entrepreneur from Kenya who is seeking to create economic opportunities to the masses by commercialising biomass and other readily available energy resources in Africa. He is currently working on a program to create biomass briquetting mainstay in Kenya.