Every year during Mandela Day, my colleagues and I hold mentorship sessions with young entrepreneurs.
We get to sit one-on-one with about 20 entrepreneurs for an hour each discussing their business challenges and future plans.
We then recommend, advice, guide and agree with them on various tactics and strategies to follow and implement.
Last year , I sat with this young, energetic and smart entrepreneur, Katlego who makes clothes.
Initially it started with him helping his mom as a survivalist business to look after him and his siblings. He fell in love the business and now wants to take it from survivalist to growth.
He has these grand plans and ideas that he would like to do in the business.
He lightens up when we talk about entrepreneurship, he listens and takes notes.
He is hungry and excited about overcoming the challenges that lie ahead.
The problem is, he studied engineering and just recently graduated, and his family [uncles and aunties] wants him to stop entertaining this entrepreneurship thing and look for a proper full time job.
It is even getting to a point where they threaten to cut off his allowance, so that he can be serious about getting a job and look after his mom and siblings.
He needs to choose between entrepreneurship or getting an engineering job.
He is a first generation entrepreneur in a family that doesn’t truly believe in entrepreneurship as a way of life.
The reason why most families don’t believe in entrepreneurship as a way of life is because they have never seen successful entrepreneurs in their families.
To them entrepreneurship is something you do when you run out of options and can’t get a job. It’s a last resort sort of thing.
“O bone mang a re ke Rrakgwebo mo lapeng?” meaning “who have you seen as an entrepreneur in our family?”
And they conclude: Go get a proper job, be like everyone else in the family. Stop with this entrepreneurship thing.
We sat with Katlego in a mentorship session for an hour, we advice him on various ways to convince his family on his choice.
We advised him on making a deal [with a deadline] with his family. If he doesn’t reach certain milestones within that deadline, he must then start looking for a job.
We advised him that when he concedes to finding a job, he must use his salary to continue running the business part-time until it can support him financially, then he can leave the job to run the business full-time.
We advised him to try involve his family in the business so that they get to see the potential of the business from an insider perspective.
You see, it is easy to criticise something from the outside, especially when you don’t understand it, but when you are on the inside, you get see it differently.
When we don’t understand things, instead of being inquisitive, we tend to be critical and walk away.
After 6 months of our Mandela Day session, I called Katlego to follow up and he is still running the business, he implemented our advice and the family is now supportive of his business because they understand it better, see it’s potential and are involved.
It is easier to get support from people when you involve them.
He was frustrated in the our session about his challenges, but because he involved us in his business, we were able to support him with our advice and tips.
Getting our inputs helped him see things in a different perspective.
As a startup entrepreneur, ask for help, ask for inputs and advice, involve someone in your business.
Getting a mentor as a startup entrepreneur is critical.
A mentor helps you see blindspots, things you wouldn’t ordinarily see about your business.
A mentor is like a soccer coach, because he stands on the sideline, he is able to see and understand what’s happening in the entire pitch than a player who is in one side of the pitch and can only see what’s happening only in that side.
Your mentor is not there to do the work for you, they are there to help you do your work better.
Ngwana o sa lleng o hwela tharing is a Sepedi proverb loosely translated: A child who does not cry will die unnoticed on their mother’s back..
Ask for help when you struggle.
“Italians have a little joke, that the world is so hard a man must have two fathers to look after him, and that’s why they have godfathers.”
The entrepreneurship is a tough and lonely journey, get a mentor to travel this journey with you.
PS: There is nothing wrong with getting a job. If you believe in your heart that this entrepreneurship thing is not for you, that’s okay, by all means get a job and prosper.