Its only after I started a business that I realised how rough it was. Before that, stories of successful entrepreneurs like Mo Ibrahim and Wale Tinubu, in Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs by Moky Makura, made me think that entrepreneurship was just… different. I also had this idea that divorced couples had support groups to deal with the trauma of “failed marriages” yet people were getting married by the millions. There weren’t entrepreneur support groups (not that I knew of) for failed businesses so entrepreneurship couldn’t be that bad – with that reasoning, I won’t be getting a Nobel Prize anytime soon.
I think the hardest thing about a startup is the lack of certainty. In high school you know that in a year you’ll be in the next grade, in tertiary, you know that if you pass all of your modules you’ll be studying the next set of modules in the following year. Honestly, I don’t mind not knowing where I will be in the coming year, the excruciating part is not knowing whether you’re on to a gold mine or not. The inconsistent bouts of confidence, validation and then you have a series of bad meetings which makes you question, doubt and think twice. There are few startups that manage to emulate Facebook’s early exponential growth of monthly active users which just proved that they had hit gold, for everyone else, we face the long and hard road of trial and error and most likely failure.
Sometime ago, while immersed in my dark abyss of doubt over my startup I bumped into a very soothing article, The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship. It touches on different stories of entrepreneurs who went through near bankruptcy before their businesses started making money, the fact that entrepreneurial personalities also have strong emotional states(depression, despair and sometimes happy and motivated) and that it gets so bad that entrepreneurs even commit suicide.
I could relate with the article and that’s why it was so soothing, like talking to someone who understood. That is a challenge that entrepreneurs face, South Africa small business owners rely on themselves(31%), family members(26.6%) and their spouse(21.7%) for business information as opposed to people they network with(4.1%) and SMME organisations(3.6%)1, evidence of their isolation. I have a friend who goes to events for entrepreneurs for the sole purpose of meeting like-minded individuals because his startup has him cooped up at home and I understand what that feels like.
I’m struggling to end this blog in any other positive way than to suggest that one of our young, bright therapists take a stab at an entrepreneur support group. A support group won’t increase entrepreneur success rates, help us make payroll or improve our business models but it’ll definitely make us feel better about those flops
1 Finmark Trust, 2010, FinScope South Africa Small Business Survey 2010
Founder and Director