“Do you want to start your own company?” Hell yes.
-Edward Amartey-Tagoe, Founder of Nandimobile, MEST Incubator
After interviewing around 30 African entrepreneurs and talking with many more, the one thing nearly every one of them has is the startup mindset. This way of thinking is fundamental to their success. Not every successful businessperson has it, but these success stories show how a startup mindset can put you on the path towards success.
Let’s look at four entrepreneurs and what a startup mindset means to each of them.
##Nandimobile: Always Looking for Opportunities
Edward Amartey-Tagoe, Founder of Nandimobile, MEST Incubator was always looking for new business opportunities. When he was still in university, that led him to become a mobile minutes reseller for a local Teleco. That business quickly expanded and when he couldn’t manage it anymore, he sold it to a friend.
“It got profitable very quickly and I needed to outsource the management I needed to get staff. I moved from staff of 1 to 2 in 2 months to 4 in 6 months, because people really were coming to me for credit.”
He wasn’t interested in abandoning his education or changing his life just to meet the needs of this business. He was interested in selling it and using the money to move to the next business idea. This is a theme we see recurring, he wasn’t attached to a single business but to the idea of improving and finding new things.
“I did the same thing from Monday to Friday and there wasn’t so much room for innovation. I really wanted to innovate. I wanted to make an impact somewhere. I wanted to go back into entrepreneurship but I just didn’t know how or when.”
He then worked for a bank for a while. While Edward doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with working for someone else, the bank didn’t work for him. When he saw an ad for a new program to train people in software development and get them to start businesses, he immediately resigned and signed up. After completing the course, he looked at the biggest problems in Ghana and decided customer service was where he could have his impact.
“There seems to be a gap between consumers and enterprises, and that’s the gap we wanted to fill.”
Edward could have stuck with reselling mobile credit, but he wanted to have more of an impact, he wanted to find a big problem to solve. That’s what brought him his success, that’s what drove him. In doing this he also avoided a classic mentality problem that his co-founders in MEST also discovered.
##Suba: Fighting the Sunk Cost Fallacy
Eric Hackman and Nelson Klutse, the founders of Suba and co-founders of MEST along with Edward found that having a startup mindset required them to overcome the sunk cost fallacy. David McRaney defined it pretty well:
"The Misconception: You make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, investments and experiences.
The Truth: Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.
Or, as Eric and Nelson put it:
“you can be really stubborn within because you feel like you’ve wasted your time and energy, and all of that. But, again, like you said, you just have to let go.”
In other words, like with Edward, Eric and Nelson are always ready to move on to the next thing based on data. They actively try to avoid getting too emotionally attached to something they worked on so they can stay agile and keep an eye out for opportunities.
##Slimtrader: Don’t Let Vision Get in the Way of Reality
Femi Akinde, the CEO of Slimtrader sees following data and clients as the heart of his startup mindset. Sure, vision is important, you need a vision for your company. But not everyone is Steve Jobs, IE someone who can give people what they didn’t know they wanted.
“Don’t be in love with your solution, be in love with the clients or the consumer. We were never in love with our solution, we were in love with the client, our clients.”
Femi Akinde, the CEO of Slimtrader
Alongside that, Femi believes in challenging everything. These two ideas are closely connected. Instead of just assuming people will like a certain idea, he insists on proving it.
“Back then the mantra was “Challenge everything”. Challenge everything literally means challenge everything. Nothing is sacred. You can always poke holes in stuff, so don’t believe until you poke and prod, you shouldn’t believe a thesis. That was the first thing I learned.”
-Femi Akinde, the CEO of Slimtrader
For example, in areas like hotels and booking sites, most people would just assume they can’t contribute something or make a new business in that area. But Femi insisted on challenging that idea. As a result, he found his business niche in making it easier for Africans to book airline tickets and hotels.
“Oh hotels have been around a long time. They must have everything going for them. There’s nothing new you can do for them.” I’m sure the existing booking sites have done everything. You see a lot of booking sites, you’re like, “oh they must have fixed this whole sector. There’s no advantage to going into that sector”, but I went back to my Chicago mantra; challenge everything."
Femi Akinde, the CEO of Slimtrader
But there’s still a balance. Femi found he couldn’t ignore good data, but there’s something to be said for having a vision in spite of those telling you it’s a bad idea.
##Leti: Sometimes, You Still Have to Follow Your Passion
For Eyram Tawia, another co-founder of MEST and a Co-founder of Leti Arts a Ghanian game design company, sticking to his vision was at the core of his startup mindset. His professors all told him that game design isn’t serious and that it isn’t something that’s done in Africa.
But he challenged that idea, much like Femi. He saw that this idea wasn’t based on data, it was more of a prejudice. So Eyram had to hold onto his passion no matter how many people told him it wasn’t the right thing to do.
“It’s not easy, so you should have passion more than money. I always thought before being rich, I need passion than money, because money will run out. That one, trust me, because it’s your passion that keeps you going for you to grab the next money that will come in. Be richer in passion than in money.”
Source for the Sunk Cost Fallacy quote: https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/03/25/the-sunk-cost-fallacy/