We are no longer living in the era when few companies offered products and services, these days, with lowered barriers to starting and running many kinds of business, new competitors spring up all the time.
You can no longer really get away with offering limited choices and you can no longer easily command a monopoly over your sector. Those days seem long gone.
Yet, we must look for ways to stand out in crowded markets.
I believe that no matter how crowded the market may seem, there is always a place at the top for people who moved in because they really cared about the market and not just because they want to quickly cash in. People say passion cannot be faked and I tend to agree because I seem to realise that if you are passionate about what you do, you will naturally become better at it, eventually knocking off the market leaders and commanding your own monopoly.
Seth Godin proposes that new business owners just starting out need to ask themsleves the question: “What will I have a monopoly over?”. This question goes deep into committing you to focus and establish expertise in a defined area. There might be a dozen restaurants in town, but I could choose to decide I want to have a monopoly on fufu for example, and I focus on delivering excellent fufu everyday and there… I am standing out of the crowded market.
We have to continue to focus on our mission, work with passion and continue to daily improve what we are working on. We must continuously innovate and stay ahead of the crowded market.
If we avoid the trap of competing solely on price or offering the same thing as everyone else, we might just win.
Making real progress in the real world will also require making mistakes along the way. If you are really interested in becoming better and making real progress, not all your moves will work out, and that is fine.
Mistakes need to be seen as a precursor for progress, if you are not making mistakes, you are not pushing your limits and trying to get better.
There is this saying in Dutch: waar gewerkt wordt, worden fouten gemaakt that translates to “mistakes are made if you’re doing work”.
So, is it ok to make mistake at work? No. And that is the problem.
At the conventional workplace, you are not paid to make mistakes. You are expected to do your job and deliver as promised. This is the challenge many people face, we need that allowance to make mistakes, because that is how we can have enough confidence to explore the unexplored and make progress in fresh areas.
Everyone should have a place where they can run free and make mistakes without fear. This is a needed ingredient for creativity.
Maybe I should be thinking of creating a Mistake Workshop where creative teenagers can come and just fool around with stuff, trying to create things through unfamiliar methods. A “crazy place” where mistakes are encouraged! He he!
Michael Phelps is arguably the greatest Olympic athlete in the history of the games. He recently added a curious feather to his cap: He now possesses the most individual gold medals EVER, breaking a record dating back all the way to 152 B.C.
The previous record holder, a runner named Leonidas of Rhodes at the age of 36 won 12 individual gold medals in races of 200 and 400 meters, and a shield-carrying race in 152 B.C. (The Olympics officially dates back to 776 B.C. but the Games as we know them now started in 1896)
What I find to be the most interesting thing about this development is the mind blowing fact that the organisers had such indepth records that goes back such a long way!
In these digital times, it is easy to do, all the emails I ever sent can be easily retrieved with a quick search in my email client, I even recently recovered some of the earliest photographs I ever posted online from my Hi5 account and I still recently re-read my first ever blog post online…. but really, preserving records in pre-digital and pre-internet times is truly an herculean task!
Even in this modern age, institutions that we trust to keep our records routinely fail to do so, they have so many tools at their disposal, but they simply do not care enough to use them.
I dare you to contact your primary school (after about 10 years) and ask for your detailed records from say your primary 2 final examinations. I have heard stories that some universities in Nigeria actually destroy records every 10 years or so to make room for new ones. They only keep “relevant data” like final CGPA and certificate, but the individual course records are wiped off.
If The Olympics could keep the 2,168 year old record for Leonidas of Rhodes, this should tell us that doing things the right way is not a function of available technology. It is an outflow from the spirit of excellence.
If you give 2 people the same resources and assign the same tasks, the man who has embraced mediocrity will exhibit it and the man who has cultivated excellence on the inside will display it.
This is what I observed from this affair.
Industrialisation, the process of making something at scale is cool, no doubt. That is also where the big bucks lie.
Until you are able to industrialise what you do, you might not be able to maximise your financial returns from the project.
However, there is an aspect of industrialisation that bugs me, and that is the impact of it on creativity.
Industrialisation has only one outcome: average products for average people.
You cannot make products that are too powerful and expect it to be a mainstream hit. More than half of your target audience might not be smart enough to use it!
Research taught us that over 90% of your users will only use about 10% of the features of your product.
The movie industry is not left out, Movie Studios cannot create completely new movies because it is too risky, they have to borrow concepts and ideas from movies that people liked and use them to make new movies. Why do you think everybody is making superhero movies and rebooting old movies people liked?
Creativity starts from “this might not work”, you do not want to take that risk when you are at the process of industrialisation.
So, you want to start producing your work at scale? Cool! Good for your wallet! As long as you realise it might come at the expense of your creativity.
Businesses don’t run on autopilot, at least at the initial stages. A lot of work has to go into it.
I always find it amusing when wantre-preneurs (that class of people who want to start an enterprise, but are still joking), talk about starting a business somewhere, employ people to run it while they go face other things…. Like partying around the world, or even running a “bigger” business elsewhere.
Here’s the thing: you cannot start a business and not nurture it personally in the initial stages. A new business will always need direct input of whoever is founding it.
Can you imagine a woman giving birth to a child and then delegate the feeding and nurturing of the baby to “some managers”? Probably not.
Employees, (the usual ones) do not stay up at night, thinking about how to improve the business or how to beat the competition.
It is the Founders that carry that kind of burden.
Someone brilliantly concluded that part of the reason Yahoo! collapsed was because their founders were too nice, they failed to toughen up and make “alpha bets” that would position their company for multi-decade relevance.
Overtime, when you have established the business well, you can “wean” the business from your day-to-day burden. At the very least, starting a business would require up to 18 – 24months of your undivided attention. From pre-planning phase to growth phase, after which you can delegate to managers and you can be sure the business will continue to boom.
Seasoned entrepreneurs are not necessarily bound do things this way, A Aliko Dangote or Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos can today start any kind of business they want and not need to run it day-to-day because they have developed a certain capacity to handle anything in all their years of work.
So, unless you are a seasoned entrepreneur, it might be helpful to listen to me:
You can start a side business, but never assume the business will run itself, never assume your managers will run it effectively for you and please never for a moment think that the business will run without your involvement in the early stages.
The real winners do not look left or right for ideas on how to forge ahead. They look within.
Looking left and right implies you are watching your competitors, obsessing over them, and this usually comes at a cost to your own focus.
Winners focus where they should: on their own business, on their front, in their own lane!
The wisdom of Joseph brought wealth to Egypt,
The wisdom of Nikola Tesla brought wealth to USA during his lifetime.
The wisdom of King Solomon brought wealth to Israel,
The wisdom of Henry Ford enriched USA.
So, 2 questions:
Where are the wise men God sent to Nigeria? Are they here or have they ported to ‘greener’ pastures??
Will you be a Joseph/Tesla enriching foreign lands or will you be a King Solomon/Ford who attracts wealth to their homeland.
Food for thought, certainly.
I’ve observed that most of the times, the things that stop us from forging ahead with our plans are all in our heads.
They are not real obstacles, we are the ones that magnify them and make mountains out of the molehills!
A mental block is such a powerful thing.
Once you convince yourself that there is something stopping you from making progress, it will take something special to make you change your mind again.
So, please…. Until you have PROOF that the obstacles stopping you are real, can you please forge ahead?
Money challenges, sadly also falls under mental blocks… There is ALWAYS another way to get stuff done when you don’t have money.
In all of my days of building tech systems and businesses, I have observed that what matters most is not how it looks but how it works. You have to keep asking yourself over and over again: this thing I am building, is it functional?
Design is not just how it looks, it is about how it works.
That sentence looks so straightforward, yet so many people just don’t get it. They keep designing things might look beautiful to the beholder, yet totally useless when it comes to achieving the set task.
When building tech systems, the most important thing to ask includes things like “how obvious are the call-to-actions?”, “Will our users need to consult a manual before they can use the service?”, and “How can we reduce the number of steps required to get things done?”
If your focus is on actually building tech systems that make money, you want to be more obsessed with the functionality of what you are building and not the fancy graphics. I am speaking from personal experience here.
I worked on Gistcaster for over a year before I made some change by serving a little advert. On the other hand, ZabarSMS was not so polished or beautiful on the day we launched it, but it was functional – the goal was to send bulk SMS, and it did that very well and so, the platform started making us money from day 1.
The focus on Gistcaster was to make it cool, more features to make the experience of posting or commenting or sharing on Gistcaster as nice as possible. Nothing of real economic benefit or tangible business advantage.
People on the consumer side want it beautiful, people on the business side wants it functional!
It needs to be functional.
The bare necessities of life in this era now definitely includes power supply and connectivity. While I am more or less used to the idea that I cannot expect 24 hours power supply from the national privatised electric grid, I have learnt to lean on the telcos to deliver round-the-clock connectivity.
This is why it is disgusting that for the past 24 hours, there has been no signal on my mobile phone. Cutting me off from phone calls, SMS and the internet.
This got me thinking a lot about the modern life and how much we are depending on these infrastructures for our day-to-day business and the fact that they could just go off tomorrow morning – without much notice.
We need to develop more efficient systems for power and connectivity, Facebook is doing a great job with their Internet.org project and their connectivity lab, and I am sure a lot more will still emerge from them. We too should not be left behind.
There is a role we can play, everybody needs power and connectivity as much as they need food and water. It should also be a basic human right.
Power and connectivity are definitely bare necessities of life, more people should be looking at building a business startup in either of these industries.