Lessons from running 2+ businesses

At one point in my life, only 21 years of age at the time, I found myself actively involved in running 4 businesses. I always wonder how this came to be, considering I just celebrated my 5th anniversary as an entrepreneur, four of which I was still persuing my undergraduate computer science degree.

At the age of 18, I registered my first venture, Tesh Technologies Limited, a creative design and printing agency, which formed the beginning of my entrepreneurship journey. One year down the line, my freshman year classmate Collins and I started a software company together, and named it Mesozi Systems, now the mother company to Tenderpreneur.net among several other B2B software applications that we are trying to find a place for in their respective industries.

In the same year, Emmanuel and I cofounded East Africas’ leading online retailer of urban fashion clothing, Cloud9.co.ke. Finally, I got actively involved in setting up a family business, Olooseos Adventures and Resort, which I must say has been a very exciting project.

It has been an exhilarating experience to say the least. A roller coaster that has led me to where I stand today. From projects like the Cloud 9 Movie shop and Throughpass Africa that failed,  catapulting  our resilient team to the next project; to amazing ones like Mesozi that have been able to at least pay my bills to date.

But this column isn’t about me, my successes or failures; rather it’s about something I’ve heard so many other business people either utter or ask. How do you manage to do so much? Before I go on, I must say that I mean no disrespect to those who suffer from ADD (attention-deficit disorder) – which I would presume I do, which is what the medical disorder is now formally called. It is a chronic condition including attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

Most of us are constantly juggling, striving to keep all those balls in the air at once. We have to go from one thing to another, because if we don’t, who will? We need the energy reserves just to keep up with our to-do lists and make up for the fact that we’re all really sleep deprived.

As proud as we multi-business owners  are of our ability to accomplish many things simultaneously, the truth is there is a downside to having ADD. Intuitively, many entrepreneurs and businesses believe that the key to faster growth and success is more products, features, and markets. Since we all have limited resources, and can’t add more hours to the day, the result is usually more things done poorly, rather than a few key things done better than anyone else. The message here is FOCUS.

Sometimes we’re so intent on “getting it done” and moving on to the next item that we don’t really pay attention to the details of what we’re doing at that moment, or what we’re agreeing to do. But context is not all that’s missing. Many business owners, particularly those in the startup phase or those who are struggling, are simply afraid to say “no” because they’re afraid to turn down work. So they take on more than they can handle, crowding an already full agenda.

I was recently talking to a young software developer who is working on several new business ideas. He told me what was doing but he couldn’t tell me how his ideas were different, how he was going to come out on top. He didn’t even know his competitors. No wonder he couldn’t decide which one to focus on.

As much as you think you’re accomplishing when you multitask, it’s inevitable that when you try to tackle too many things at once, something is not getting the attention it needs. But I’m not advising you to slow down, tackle one thing at a time, or purposely drop some of the balls you’re juggling. That wouldn’t be smart business and it would make me a hypocrite.

I just finished a new book “Do Less Better,” by John R. Bell, an experienced business turnaround expert, who highlights the power of strategic sacrifice in today’s complex business world. But I deliberately chose to follow another path.

I strongly believe that the one of the key differences between success and failure is a great TEAM.

More than once we have failed on one project and pivoted to the next. Cloud 9 started off as an entertainment business, selling movies. I lost my first savings of $3000 in this business. Now, our online store business thrives.

One of the great personal rewards in my career is the ability to work with a great team, wherever I work.  I have been extremely fortunate to work with some fantastic people whom I share a vision with. As a one-man business, you have limited potential to grow. It might be fun, or interesting, or exciting to be on your own, but a one-person business can only grow so much.

No matter how smart, talented, driven, or passionate you are, your success as an entrepreneur depends on your ability to build and inspire a team. A successful leader is one who can spur his or her team members to work well together toward a common vision and goals.

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” 

–Phil Jackson 

Often enough one of us may feel discouraged but working together energizes and motivates each one of us about our business, visions and aspirations. We remind each other of our purpose; and that is what keeps us going.

The sad fact is, I don’t have any easy answers for you here. Some days I’m as challenged by this as many of you are. If I didn’t multitask, I probably wouldn’t get very much done anyway.

Thankfully, those days are rare. I love what I do and where our businesses are headed. I thrive on confronting new challenges and solving problems. I may not have ADD, but I’ve caught entrepreneurial fever. And I hear there’s no cure.

Next, on doing business with friends. Stay tuned.

 

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