Ngo Nwanze: Dear Entrepreneur, Can Your Business Survive Your Absence?
This article originally appeared on BellaNaija
I never thought about this question while I was present at my online grocery store Nkataa.com,
but since my absence I have realised its importance. Had I not been lucky enough to tailor my business to run without me, I would have some serious problems right now.
No one ever plans to be absent when there’s a lot of money to be made and a lot of business to be done, but sometimes life has a way of forcing us to be absent at some critical points in the lifespan of our businesses.
I have seen that we are just as addicted to Apple products after the passing of Steve Jobs as we have ever been. Despite the high foreign currency exchange rate in our country, many of us already have the iPhone 7 and are eagerly anticipating the next Apple product to hit the market. Nigeria remains among the highest purchasers of luxury goods and electronics regardless of the incessant ranting on social media about the Federal Government, the recession and the rising cost of FOREX.
This has caused me to think a bit deeply. Are there ways that businesses can be set up to outlive and outperform their founders? I am interested in this subject because I believe that even when I am present, a successful business is one that allows me to spend more time doing leisurely activities and spending time with loved ones.
As a CEO, regardless of my presence at work, my business occupies my mind 24/7. I always think about salaries, staff welfare, how to break even, profitability, etc. In fact there’s always something business-related on my mind. I believe that these issues would be better attended to if they were the only issues on my mind. Sometimes, one needs to be absent from the running of business in order to focus on these issues.
I would also like some time off to play, after work and on weekends. Furthermore, I need to reflect on what I’ve done so far and how I can keep improving. This is better achieved when I can step back from the day-to-day operations of my business. I certainly would not like to continue this cycle of overworking myself, until I am unavoidably absent again; something needs to change.
The basic requirement for business survival for start-ups is having a team. I have come to see a lot of start-ups with brilliant ideas impeding growth because they have refused to set up a team. They run their businesses so intelligently when they are available, but whenever they are away it is a different story. The business and customers wait impatiently while they flood their customers’ social media timelines with fun pictures of their holidays or family functions. Followed by an apology post when they return saying “Sorry I wasn’t able to respond to you guys, Nigeria was driving me crazy and I had to run away, but I’m back now. Yaay!”
Let me quickly make it clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with running your business like this. Maybe sometimes it is better to enjoy your holiday without getting calls from customers that their food has still not come. However, if you want your business to out-live/out-perform you as a founder, and operate in your absence, then you need to get a team.
There are a million ways things can be done and there are also a million excuses why things cannot be done. I would normally encourage young CEOs like myself to invest in a team. A lot of people would always say to me, “I love your team, give me Bose, she’s pretty and intelligent. It is not easy to find smart people in Nigeria. There is a serious gap in Nigeria for “good hands.” It is not easy to find people who understand your vision. “Nigerians? They will just run down your business…” I can keep going on but I think you get my point.
Bose was always a pretty girl but she has not always been an intelligent girl. In fact we used to call her an olodo
. I worried that I had made a mistake in hiring her and we decided to just ‘dump her in customer care to talk to customers jarey.’ That was a BIG MISTAKE! We had customers and friends calling me and saying, “Get that girl off the phone.” However, today Bose is known as valuable and intelligent and people are wondering, “where did you find her?”
What happened to Bose? How has she in a short space of time been able to transform from being an ‘olodo’ to being an asset? I have seen this ‘Bose-like transformation’ happen to quite a few members of my team. It has been a roller coaster with different personalities out there. It has taken a great deal of investment. How did it happen? It took patience, capacity building, team-building exercises, and a lot more. In fact, I have lost some members of my team that I love so dearly because they refused my investments. Like I said earlier there are a million ways things can be done and there are also a million excuses why things cannot be done. One thing you must get done is to “get good hands.” You must build the capacity you need. This does not come through firing everyone who doesn’t meet your standards; it comes through building up the individuals you have to become the team you want.
Which leads us to the next point: The second requirement for your business to survive your absence is having a team that you have invested in. My team is my brand and I will deploy the same level of effort and finances I use to build my brand, to build my team.
I will conclude this article with saying that usually the ones who we feel are the good hands are often beyond the reach of start-ups in terms of being able to afford them – unless your dad gave you a “small loan” of a million dollars like President elect Donald Trump. However, this is not a problem because the people you have invested in will manage your start-up better than ready-made people you have employed.
I am looking forward to the next article because I will focus on writing about setting up the right team and how you can invest in them. In the coming weeks, I will also cover other impediments start-ups face with setting up a team.
Until next time, happy building!