I’m really looking forward to the next episode of the Dragons’ Den. I’ve turned myself into a little dragon, trying to analyse and assess the strength and weaknesses of the contestants and dragons and also trying to decide if the Dragon’s verdicts merited commendation. It’s been a relief from the wide array of “live-in” and dance reality shows being aired all around our TVs.
Dragons’ Den, along with bank PHB’s intern and MTN’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire are fantastic shows that exemplify and amplify values that can build nations and businesses, rather than skill and talent. I personally believe a nation and its business economies are strengthened by encouraging values that promote nation building, not entertainment. For I see entertainment, gradually becoming the driving force of our national civilization, just as America began a few years back, and are where they are today. It is a fact, non-Americans are the one building its’ economy..
Ok, back to The Dragons, I am impressed by UBA’s assemblage of some of Nigeria’s finest business entrepreneurs who have a traceable beginning and are still in the process of growing their businesses. I personally know Ibukun Awosika, one woman who has risen to join the growing list of Nigeria’s role models (I probably will feature her this month, watch out). To complete this team are Alexander Amosu, the technology Guru / Ringtone Pioneer; Chris Parks, a marketing expert, who remains the only “Whiteman” Nigerian among the pack; Tokunboh Ishmael, an accomplished financier with African Venture Capital Association. Also is the man who just battled the FG on Channels’ closure, John Momoh and Femi Tejuoso, the Private Equity Investor – who remains the brain behind Helios Towers Nigeria Ltd. The programme is being facilitated by Nwaji Jibunoh, who is currently an executive with Phillips Consulting.
The purpose of the episodes is for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn and understand simple reasons why businesses fail and to encourage and teach principles that help businesses succeed.
I: 80% of the time, MONEY IS NOT THE PROBLEM.
No lesson is more profound. You will quickly discover this as the pitchers come in one after another. If money were doled out without asking questions, the business failure rate would have been colossal. Trying to place a checklist on the business plans and strategies, you will be amazed at the kind of unintelligent reasons you will discover for not giving cash to the contestants. Imagine people who come to ask for over a million of investors’ fund with just a single sheet of business plan. Many a time, lack of funds has been our number one reason why we think we cannot succeed. But in truth, lack of the right understanding of how businesses work has been a major reason why we would fail every time, even if we were given a lot of money to begin. Imagine another pitcher who comes into the programme asking for over a million to create a business after just testing their products on less than twenty people! An ancient Chinese proverb says that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
The idea you need money to start has been overrated. When you start a business, what must lead the way should be your own interest in or love for whatever it is you want to do. Loving what you do miraculously attracts all the necessary resources, people and opportunities. You definitely don’t need money to start. Bootstrapping will stimulate your creativity and that is worth much more than money anyway. When the money comes (the student is ready), you will not only expand the business; you’ll fly.
II. Not only the investment is a risk, the entrepreneur is
Many at times, we think we are taking a major risk when we are putting the money into the business, but the dragons have shown otherwise. They have depicted that the greatest risk is how much trust and belief we put in the entrepreneur pushing the idea. The success or failure of a start up business rests on the shoulder of the entrepreneur. An entrepreneur with a misplaced priority is a disaster waiting to happen. An entrepreneur who had planned what to do with the remaining of investors’ funds after failure is the worst thing that has ever happened to the business idea. The most important decision made by the Dragons is, ‘can we put our money in this idea, and can we trust this entrepreneurs’ foundation’.
With the way some of the contestants appeared with their plans and proposals, it was Dragons would be committing an industrial suicide if they fell for their goofs, sorry ideas. There were brilliant ideas, but no strategy, no preparation, but they still wanted investors’ funds. They only needed a strong pioneer, a visionary, who had started before he needed money, who had considered his environment and competition before thinking to expand and dine with the sharks. There were investors’ fund, sound business idea; the business only needed its prized asset – the sound entrepreneur.
III. If you don’t pack small stones, you won’t hit it big
This is one of the most important lessons for Nigerian entrepreneurs. We spend a lot of time complaining about the Nigerian factor, the power problem, and the inconsistencies of government policies, we become good at everything except facing the problem with the right perspective and turning the problems into opportunities.
If you cannot move your business without money, you will kill it when the money comes. Go, search for the opportunity, start the business, shut the mouth and get to work, the opportunity of funds will come but never wait for it. If you do not start small you can never grow big. I remember the engineer who spent energy and money to build and patent for a bike-powered tractor. It was obvious he only needed funds for the project to fly. He got it.
The little stones you pack are the real ones you need to hit it big. The energy and ideas needed to manage a big business is generated at the baby-steps of the project when the limelight is not on you; when you are not under pressure to meet investors’ targets. It was Benjamin Franklin who said that the secret of success when success meets preparation.
IV. Absolute business illiteracy
Now do not crucify me. But then, It is almost clear to some and to all that most of us and the contestants know the technicalities of the business; how to make soya and orange drinks, running a print firm, but then they’ve only been trained to work as employees and not to run and manage business ideas and finance. Our educational systems need revamping; British colonialists trained us to be employable, not to own businesses. When such educational institutions cannot take you into the future you desire, then your education becomes your responsibility. How to write proposals/business plans, techniques of marketing and product presentation, basics of accounting and management. It becomes imperative to augment your educational certificate with those skills and techniques. I also remember the woman who came asking for investors funds without remembering the name of her business – was that stage fright? Or the man who messed up his financials while hoping to convince the dragons he had credibility? I mean, this lesson is too obvious to ignore.
We need to learn and understand the basics of business and work ethics. That is to say that not everybody should catch the entrepreneurial bug, without first learning…learning and understudying someone else, or serving as an employee.
For now, these are the only few ideas I’ve been able to glean considering I’ve missed about five weeks of the programme. I’ll keep you posted. Any other ideas?