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What an entrepreneur does

A couple weeks ago was the Nyamuka Zambia National Business Conference, I was fortunate enough to be involved in the design and implementation of the conference.

Prior to the conference I’d already been questioning, both to myself, and with friends, if Zambia really has entrepreneurs. This was brought about by a visiting British DFID (Department for International Development) key senior official, who had mentioned he’d had a conversation with other Zambians (or people living in Zambia), and put the same question to the small group of people (entrepreneurs/business owners and others) gathered for the private lunch at Latitude, ‘does Zambia have entrepreneurs?’. At first I think we were all vocal in our support for the Zambian entrepreneur, but as I thought about it more, I also began to wonder if it was true…

Merriam Webster dictionary defines an entrepreneur as ‘a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.

Hmmm well if we look at that definition, I question do the majority of ‘entrepreneurs’ here operate a business by taking on a great financial risk, or is it simply out of no other choice? We have a serious employment crisis and sometimes people have no choice but to start a business, but does that make them an entrepreneur?

I have fought with countless supplier and market stall holders about giving me a discount on mass purchase but they would rather I leave the entire purchase than give me a discount – is that willingness to risk loss in order to make money? Or is that stubbornness? I have too often seen people willing to lose a sale in the (miscalculated) hope that someone else will buy the product.

entrepreneur definition

Forbes.com in an article say Entrepreneurs, in the purest sense, are those who identify a need—any need—and fill it.”

So if you see your friends opening a car wash and you take the space next to it and open a car wash – does that make you an entrepreneur? Was there a need for another car wash? We see this a lot – it’s like that strip on the road to the Copperbelt, it’s like an endless stream of the same fresh produce, what makes the potatoes or the tomatoes at one stand different from the one right next to it?

An entrepreneur, as defined by, Sir Richard Branson is an ‘innovator, job creator, game changer, a business leader, a disrupter, and adventurer.’

This definition I prefer.

However, I don’t necessary ascribe to the need to create jobs, it’s a nice thing to do, especially in our economy, and to help bring people out of the cycle of poverty, but I’m not going to create jobs at the expense of my bottom line. I’m sure Sir Branson meant this too, but it’s easy to take things out of context to suit what you’re selling, especially if you’re an aid agencies.

As I already mentioned, a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of being part of the team to design and implement a business conference. The first thing that struck us was the criteria (or lack of) to determine the entrepreneurs who were to impart wisdom at this conference. The committee members were throwing out all sorts of names with nothing more than good publicity to back up their chosen candidates. Once we defined an entrepreneur by key terms, clear criteria, it got a little harder to choose.

But I then I understood where the British guy and his guests were coming from, perhaps we focus so much on the popularity of this term that any jim and jack can be called an entrepreneur now.

As I continued to struggle with this conundrum my sister sent me an article that really hit the nail on the head – 3 signs you’re a fake entrepreneur. It put even more things in perspective. The author, Dale Partridge, Founder and CEO of StartUpCamp.com, says you really shouldn’t even call yourself an entrepreneur until you have accomplished your first business goal. He added working for yourself does not necessarily make you an entrepreneur. According to Partridge, the three signs you’re not an entrepreneur (or you’re a fake entrepreneur) are:

You’re a freelance rockstar: You trade your time for money. That doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.

You’re an employee at your own company: I’mma just leave this here…(Ok this one made me cry…)

You’re employable under the right conditions: Let’s say government does create those 50,000 or whatever figure it is now jobs that they promise, and loads of other people are hiring, would you be able to get a job? Do you want a job? If you are willing to take a secure, well-paying job, over chasing your dream, you’re not an entrepreneur.

While there is nothing wrong with testing out your business as a side hustle while you still have a job, as Justin Chinyanta put it, “the lawyer who has a farm on the side, is not an entrepreneur, he is still a lawyer. Don’t confuse being an entrepreneur with a life-style choice.”

I could understand 1 and 3 but in my mind I tried to justify number 2. I mean, if we didn’t have such poor work ethics, and could find skilled labour, would this be such a problem here? It really is a bitter pill to swallow, hard as I’d like to, maybe it can’t really be justified, you’re simply not an entrepreneur if you’re an employee at your company.

So if I have to be asked again, are there entrepreneurs in Zambia? Yes. Just not as many as we think there are, and even those of us who call ourselves entrepreneurs need to examine ourselves closely.

I think I did start out as an entrepreneur – all my co-founders did. But at some point to ensure your survival (at least in the Zambian context), we had to become the technicians, the employees to ensure the business delievered. This happened more recently because of bad hires and then a fear of hiring the wrong people again! (Never underestimate the financial cost of hiring the wrong person).

entrepreneur quotes

But what do you think, do we have entrepreneurs in Zambia? And how do you define an entrepreneur?

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An entrepreneur, according to Dictionary.com, is defined as “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”  Forbes goes a step further to state that ‘entrepreneurs find a need – any need – and they fill it’.

An entrepreneur is said to be a money multiplier – they invest to gain rewards, but at the end of the day, they run businesses.  What is the point of a business if it’s not going to make a profit?  In that case it’s not a business, it’s a charity, or a non profit organisation or maybe even a non-governmental organisation.

The reason I’m banging on about this is because I’m not sure if the point of being an entrepreneur is really understood in Zambia.  Some of my clients think I should lower my prices or discount everything for them because they work in developmental work and so I’ll be aiding in national development if I do this work for free!  Erm, no, I’ll be aiding national development if I am successful enough to provide jobs for other citizens of this country and pay taxes (more than I pay now due to more revenue :)).

Or the other day I was told about a three day event from a foreign government to learn about how entrepreneurs can aid in sustainable development.  I was baffled.  I costed out the potential lose of business to the company – as in my line of work, everyone’s time is charged out – and the outcome of this venture was for the business to understand its role in sustainable development?  Not the potential to win a really large contract?  Not an opportunity to pitch a sale?  Not an opportunity to showcase our work (so that we can attract new clients)? Potentially an opportunity to network (which is never a bad idea, but can be done in one day).

 It got me thinking – is it that we have a different role as entrepreneurs in Zambia?  Is entrepreneurs seen as the new darlings of development, the NGOs and non-for profit have had their day so now it’s all about the cute, fuzzy entrepreneurs cropping up around Africa trying to make it on their own?  

 Ok perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, I’m sure the thinking behind these entrepreneur workshops are well intentioned, and maybe if the workshop was specific to my industry, or just a bit more clearer on its objectives as a whole I won’t think of it as so ‘insulting’ to my entrepreneurial spirit!  

 I guess it came at a time where I was just angry, angry at how difficult the path is for an entrepreneur with challenges that can’t solely be solved by workshops (though you can make great connections).  Unless the workshops are targeted at real business challenges that all SMEs face, about operational cash flow, about access to finance (and not the BS ones the bank tries to sell you), on management, on product development, processes and whatever else entrepreneurs get caught up on, it’s just time away from growing my business. 

 The entrepreneur in Zambia is not applauded, despite the fact that in our economic climate, it might be the only way to go, it’s certainly not easy to get a job!

 Though with some of the young people out there, who think it is easy to get a job, maybe this is why being an entrepreneur is not such a big deal.  I have had two young people work with us recently, who frustrated me no end – it’s amazing how kids today can say they want to be the best of the best and then not actually do the work or learning to make them the best of the best.  Anyway, there was a real disconnect, as if they were doing us a favour by working here!  In fact one who left recently was totally chuffed that they were going to work as a PA for a start up they know nothing about!  It was like being here was a holiday, and now they suddenly have a real job.  I shrugged my shoulders, thinking was I really than vacuous at 21?

 Don’t get me wrong, by no means do I believe that we’re the best of the best (yet), or the number one choice place to work (yet), or the super successful, trail blazing business (yet), but hey, I do know potential when I see it!  And I think for some businesses maybe those type of workshops are necessary and important for them, they’re just not for the type of business I want to be.

 Ok perhaps if they asked me to speak at the event I would have gone 🙂  Seriously though, I think when you set out to run your own business, you have to know what you’re in it for, and there are lots of reasons to run your own business that aren’t based on profits alone, but at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, if your business isn’t making a profit, and it can’t sustain your needs, then why have the business?

Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.  It’s hard, it’s long hours, it’s emotionally draining and there is so much failure involved.  But it’s also fun, rewarding, and life affirming!  I just wish that people in Zambia would regard it as a serious endeavor instead of some new craze.

 Oh dear, am I beginning to sound just a little bit too angry?!

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