Seek out part­ners, find suc­cess

Bud­ding moguls need an ecosys­tem of like-minded peers to rise to the top

Sunday Times - - BUSINESS TIMES | OPINION - Com­ment on this: write to tel­lus@sun­day­ or SMS us at 33971 www.sun­day­ Zipho Sikhakhane

LAST year proved un­for­get­table — with enough so­cial, political and eco­nomic tur­moil to have us talk­ing about the events of the past year for decades to come. The new year is upon us and we wait with ea­ger an­tic­i­pa­tion to see what it has in store for South Africa.

This is the time of year where list upon list of goals is com­piled.

Those who nor­mally suc­ceed at achiev­ing their per­sonal goals know that cer­tain mea­sures need to be put in place to en­sure that th­ese lists last be­yond the first week of Jan­uary.

One mea­sure to im­prove the chances of suc­cess in­volves get­ting other peo­ple in­volved — friends, fam­ily and men­tors. They can ei­ther work with you to achieve th­ese goals, or hold you ac­count­able when you fall off track.

The same en­abling mea­sure holds true for the en­tre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney.

Merely mak­ing a goal to fol­low the en­tre­pre­neur­ial path is not enough — there are peo­ple who have had this goal for, say, 15 years . . . and have still made zero progress. We need to avoid this trap, es­pe­cially given how low the level of en­trepreneur­ship is in this coun­try.

We have a long way to go to catch up with our peer coun­tries, and it will start with in­di­vid­u­als ac­tu­ally fol­low­ing through on their as­pi­ra­tions to make progress on their en­tre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney this year.

In the same way that the as­pir­ing run­ner starts by join­ing a run­ning club, so should the as­pir­ing en­tre­pre­neur tap into the ex­ist­ing ecosys­tem de­signed to sup­port en­trepreneurs.

The Aspen Net­work of De­vel­op­ment En­trepreneurs once com­piled in-depth re­search show­cas­ing the role that var­i­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions played in the en­tre­pre­neur­ial ecosys­tem in South Africa. The re­sult­ing re­port was ti­tled “South Africa’s En­tre­pre­neur­ial Ecosys­tem Map” and fea­tured 214 or­gan­i­sa­tions that sup­ported founders at dif­fer­ent stages on the en­tre­pre­neur­ial growth curve. That means hun­dreds of or­gan­i­sa­tions ex­ist to help those who em­bark on this path.

Th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions end up play­ing the crit­i­cal role of en­abling en­trepreneurs to con­nect with like­minded peers — who can, in turn, hold each other ac­count­able on their goals and as­pi­ra­tions.

Hu­mans are so­cial crea­tures who thrive on con­nect­ing with oth­ers and th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions can help foster such con­nec­tions.

For ex­am­ple, strik­ing up a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one work­ing in a shared en­tre­pre­neur­ial work space cen­tre or at­tend­ing the next Hookup Din­ner could be a solid start.

The en­tre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney is lonely, and get­ting out there to in­ter­act with oth­ers can mul­ti­ply the size of your sup­port net­work.

This lone­li­ness is not to be un­der­es­ti­mated. It is one of the rea­sons that en­trepreneurs com­ing from a back­ground of full-time em­ploy­ment some­times strug­gle to stand up on their own as en­trepreneurs.

When you’re em­ployed full time, there are al­ways peo­ple sur­round­ing you. Peers, bosses and sub­or­di­nates, con­stantly aware of your ac­tions and ready to give di­rec­tional in­put upon re­quest. Proac­tively cre­at­ing a sem­blance of this sup­port when em­bark­ing on the en­tre­pre­neur­ial path can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween mak­ing it and not mak­ing it.

Be­yond ac­quir­ing a sup­port net­work, get­ting your­self out there can in­crease the level of ex­po­sure to po­ten­tial co-founders.

Th­ese are the peo­ple who are out there work­ing to­wards the same goals as you — but could be com­ing at it from dif­fer­ent an­gles or lo­ca­tions. Case stud­ies show that even to­day’s big­gest suc­cess sto­ries did not start out alone.

Her­man Mashaba of Black Like Me and Elon Musk of SpaceX are good ex­am­ples. Th­ese mas­ter­minds made sure to bring co-founders to work with them.

Spread the word and you could be im­pressed by the qual­ity of peo­ple who are keen to get on board.

I am sur­prised when I come across founders who are scared of shar­ing their ideas with oth­ers for fear of those ideas be­ing stolen. I find this fear more com­mon here than in other coun­tries I have vis­ited. My hunch is that the po­ten­tial loss of hav­ing an idea stolen by some­one could be far less than the po­ten­tial ben­e­fit they stand to gain when they bounce their ideas off oth­ers for in­put.

In Sil­i­con Val­ley, en­trepreneurs are way too ea­ger to share their ideas — the big­ger chal­lenge is get­ting them to stop talk­ing. Their pas­sion for the idea drives them to en­gage. But when you see the qual­ity of the feed­back they re­ceive and the po­ten­tial part­ners they meet from this ea­ger­ness to share, shar­ing an idea be­comes a no-brainer.

Let’s make the de­ci­sion to fol­low our en­tre­pre­neur­ial dreams this year — but let’s also bring oth­ers along on this jour­ney.

Sikhakhane ad­vises and funds African en­trepreneurs. She is an in­ter­na­tional re­tailer, writer and mo­ti­va­tional speaker, with an hon­ours de­gree in busi­ness sci­ence from the Univer­sity of Cape Town and an MBA from Stan­ford Univer­sity

I am sur­prised when I come across founders who are scared of shar­ing their ideas


RE­VEAL YOUR DREAMS: Her­man Mashaba, founder of Black Like Me, in Sand­ton

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