Starting your Own Thing- A new book
It’s 27th of January, 2007, finally the first stroke of ink to an idea born in my mind two days ago. The idea is to write a book from my own experience about the hurdles jumped in the bid to set up a new company. This will undoubtedly serve as an asset to anybody aspiring to start his/her own company. I’ll try to capture the information day by day as things unveil, you’ll participate in the intrigues, the humour, the uncertainties and definitely the successes. Since I’m starting from the middle, I’ll make reference to the past and the present. I’ll capture some of my dreams for the future, and together we’ll move day by day into what the future would later reveal.
Some of the past
Having an Idea
The first step to starting a company is having an idea. What exactly is going to be the service provided by this company? Like all companies, I also had an idea. It all started with an idea. The idea was to start a Human Resources Specialist company that would provide information and people development services to the millions of unemployed in Nigeria. The idea was born out of a passion for people and organizational development and out of a perceived gap in the industry. As far as I was concerned, there were many HR companies that where loyal to and provided services to employers and none that was committed to and provided services to the candidates. This concept was the motivating idea behind the need to form a company. Apart for having a passion for people development I had also at this time also worked extensively in HR as a recruiter, trainer, and customer business developer. And in case you think that having the idea was something that happened 2 weeks ago, it didn’t quite happen like that. Don’t get me wrong, it does happen at times that you get the idea today and start processing the company registration tomorrow, but that as you would see was not our experience.
Successful people don’t do what they hate to make money to fund what they love. Successful people are people who do what they love and as a result money naturally comes. The secret of happiness is not money to live your dreams. The secret of happiness is living your dreams and money will come. Don’t be attracted into a business because of the financials; there are as many ways as the hairs on your head to make money. Be attracted only by an idea that stirs your passion. Go with an idea that is your own choice of how you wish to be successful. Every business has its low times, if the business is not one about which you are excited, your desire to go on can wean at such times. Finally, ensure that you have spent quality time building the skills you require to do this business.
Sharing the Idea
The next step was to share the idea with some people that I believed I could partner with and believed shared my passion on adding value to the man on the streets who also needed help but was getting none. I must have shared the idea for over a year! The more I talked about it, the more I discovered it was something I had to hit the market with quickly enough. Yes it was a profitable business idea, but beyond that, it was something I would be willing to dedicate my life to, even if it wasn’t profitable. I shared the dream with prospective business partners, with friends and finally with my mentors. I shared it with incurable optimists and with pessimistic critics. In the course of my sharing it, I heard some negative comments that made me refine the business idea; I also had some positive comments that propelled me to start. There are two instances I will never forget. One time I shared the idea with one of my mentors in an “all night laying my vision bare session”. He looked at the other plans I told him I had and told me that he had most confidence in this particular business idea. He told me that I should start it together with the work I am presently doing and watch it grow. He had always told me as well, that the business I should do is the one I’ll enjoy even if I was making a loss. The second time was when I discussed the idea in the company of an old time friend and a new acquaintance. After I shared the idea, the new acquaintance wondered if I was alright having such an idea and not haven done anything about it. She sounded really motivating about my starting it, and doing so quickly!
Sharing your idea is a good idea. In the multitude of counsellors there is safety. Your idea will gain resilience and tenacity in the presence of criticism. Your idea will gain passion, support and drive from optimistic encouragement. Some people will reduce your idea; some will blow it up in your face. If we decide to close our eyes for bad people to pass, our eyes will still be closed when good people pass; we cannot afford to throw away the child with bad water. If we say we want to only hear positive encouragement or nothing, we are likely to have neither. Believe in your idea and be certain it’s one in which your passion lies, set your sails, and every wind both positive and negative, will steer you in the right direction.
My first act of commitment was paying for a shop. By the time the first NGN175,000 left my hand for an empty office; I knew I had gotten to the point of no return. From now on it was forward ever backward never. The die was cast, a number has to show! See, every business idea is an idea until a committing step is taken. Until you burn the bridges behind you, the journey back is always more familiar than the journey forward. It all started with an office search, I and my wife had discussed in detail about the business idea and the need to get an office space as soon as possible. We commissioned a number of people to help us with the search of office space. Eventually someone told us he had seen one, and we decided to check the place out. As soon as we saw the office, it looked like a good space in the right place. We asked about price of the space and we were told it would cost NGN350,000 for a two year period. This money was not available at this time, but we committed ourselves verbally to a date, and set out to meet the date, at least with payment for one year. At the set date, we went to the landlord together to propose that we pay half now and the other half later. Interestingly, the landlord agreed! We paid for the first instalment for the office in November with the promise to complete the other half before the year ended. All this happened after over a year that the idea was born. At this time as well, I was still sharing the vision with as many as cared to listen, in fact I took some friends over to where the office was for them to see and get a glimpse of the growing reality of a business without a name. When December came, I and a friend went together to see the Landlord. I went there to tell the landlord that I could muscle myself to pay up the balance of the money for the office, but it would be at the detriment of a great Christmas celebration (my creative version of, please sir let me pay next month). The landlord calmly told me that it was better to make two Christmases good rather than make one great and the other bad, bottom line, pay all or pay half. In the course of our discussion, it became apparent that the office opposite our office was becoming vacant that month. We had spoken about it briefly the first time, so I took it up with him again, and he told me that if I was willing to pay another one year for that, he would give it. I told him I was coming back the next day. I thought about it over the night, and decided it was better to dim my present to brighten my future. We paid for the second office the next day and from then on, it became compulsory for us to have a company!!
MALT: More Action Less Talk. Labour is profitable, but idle chatters lead to poverty. Commit yourself to your idea. Ideas without plans and actions are daydreams, wake up! You need to get yourself to a point of no return. That point means many things to many people. Some people resign and as soon as they do, they know that their future lies firmly in their decisions or lack of it. Different people have done different things, things that if they did and didn’t succeed the world would have told them, “ didn’t we warn you?” “why did you do that?”. Burn your bridges, make it difficult for yourself to turn back. Use the model of the eagles in training- the mother takes them from their nests, takes them to the clouds and drops them, to fly or to crash! Your business needs to be taken to a reasonable height where taking a walk is not an option, where stopping is crashing, where not succeeding means failing. No grey areas! You may learn all the theory behind swimming, watch all the displays of skills, be capable of explaining the styles, the day you start learning to swim, is the day you enter the water. With the help of good coaches, with the benefit of what you had learnt, with practice, you can very well be on your way to being one of the best the world ever saw. Move on confidently, commit yourself.
Writing Your Business Plan
This one, is not as easy as spelling it. Writing a business plan is one of the most harrowing processes in starting a business, paradoxically however, it is one of the best things you can do for a business. I tried hard to dodge away from the responsibility of drawing up a business plan for this business. In fact, what I have now is an excuse for a business plan, but with sufficient information to give a prospective investor basic ideas about what the business is about. How did I start? It all started in one of my idea sharing sessions, I had discussed with someone I look up to in the field of HR about the idea and the possibility of our combining forces to make this a success. In the course of our discussion, some other peoples names came up that we believed could add some value to the overall execution of the idea. We therefore scheduled a meeting with one of such people with the intention of sharing the idea and seeing how all of us can come together to make it happen big-time. For about 3 hours I shared the idea while the 3rd person I had come to present the idea to asked one question after the other. In the midst of our discussions, the idea seemed to grow, we migrated from one topic to the other and by the time we were finishing our discussions we were all convinced that it was a good idea. Now it came to the “next steps” part of the meeting and I was saddled with the responsibility of developing a business plan for the company. At this point the company still had a proposed name “career managers”. I really felt bad that day, that after all I had said, this people were asking me to write a business plan. In my mind, I felt this people want to see how profitable this business was before making an investment into it, while in my mind I felt, even if this business wasn’t profitable I would still run with it. I held up on the business plan for unduly long. If only I had known better!
Somewhere along the line I also got into discussing it with one of my mentors, I told him about the business idea and the first thing he asked me for was my business plan. I decided to put together a PowerPoint presentation that spelt out the business proposal and an Excel sheet that captured the figures.
Its 28th of January, 2006! This is one of those days when you feel it’s criminal not to record the happenings of the day. It’s one of those days when you laugh hysterically while in pain. I think we call them red letter days, the kind of days that in 5yrs time you say “once upon a time”. It was a day that had comedies, intrigues and high points. It’s a day worthy of documenting.
In other to give you a clearer insight into the happenings of the day, I’ll have to delve a bit into some of the events that preceded this particular day. It will also take me into the dynamics of creating you own business name.
Creating Your Business Name
The idea started out with a typical name on it, the initial idea was to name the company career managers as this was essentially what we were built to do. Gradually as time went by, with increasing possibilities of going into some HR consulting and some marketing services work, I decided we needed a more all encompassing name. The name that next came to mind was The Agency. This sounded like a cool name, it also sounded like an opportunity to take the entire niche of agencies by becoming “The Agency”. Everybody I bounced the name on liked it, it was a good name. With a name like that, we could do anything. The world would be our field, and anything we ventured into, we would be “The Agency”. It would literally be dreams come true.
Well, that dream did not last long, as we were rudely awaken from it. Apparently it was a daydream. The first hurdle that shook off the dream of the name came when we decided to register the company. We were asked to submit three names so that they could check for the availability. I was adamant that they should simply check for “The Agency”. After a lot of back and forth, we were told that we could not register the name, that it was too generic. Creative spells took over us and together with the team that I had formed then, we decided to look for close cut alternatives to “The Agency”, names like “the professionals”, “the managers”, e.t.c. were ideas, but we new they would be too generic. Mind you, around this time as well, we had started talking to a company and were about closing a deal on an HR/Sales support role that we would be providing for them. We were already using The Agency, which thanks to God for being generic enough we could easily say that’s how we want to be called. But we were in dire straits to come up with a name and register it at the speed of light.
Eventually we resulted into names like “The Agency Resource Network”, “Agentur”, and even “L’Agenture” both coined from Agency in other languages. One by one, all the options fell, for one reason or the other. “The Agency Resource Network” flew, but the person who got the name available had to travel for Christmas, we needed the company registered before Christmas, so we couldn’t wait. Little did I know that we were still going to be talking about this issue today!
Well, we decided to go back to the drawing board, and really really, come up with a name that could serve our noble intentions. The instruction to all was clear, brainstorm, think, pray, whatever you knew how to do, let’s come up with a name that can be the next big brand. In the process of these thoughts a good number of options were thrown up. I also decided to ask deep questions about our essence. What was our mission statement? “To create innovative solutions that develops people and businesses” What does create mean? What words mean the same thing in other languages? What are the characteristics that make up a good brand? What is the meaning of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, E-bay? All these questions were answered eventually in a name that sounded right to me and consequently everybody that heard it. The word was Generi! Somehow it felt like it was going to be a great name. It answered all the questions, at least all the initial ones.
In case you are wondering what Generi means, don’t worry, I’ll not leave you wondering for too long. Generi is an Italian work which means create; it’s also derivable from an English word with Latin origin- sui generis which means unique. Generi also has a similar formation with Google, Amazon, Microsoft and eBay, which is basically equal number of vowels and consonants. When we discussed it as a team, everybody was cool with it, we have gotten our own name, and more than anything else, it sounded right. This was a no-cost investment but it felt like a big hurdle crossed. But not just all crossed yet.
We started with the next steps, doing the availability and registering the company. This was another ball game entirely! It is true that the one whose eyes are sunken should begin to cry from a distance, for it is only then that his tears will be useful for those for whom he wishes to let his tears be seen. We started in earnest, with a number of options. “Generi”, “Generis Concepts”, “Generis Consulting”. I also decided rather than wait for 3 weeks, with all this pressure that we had with the deal about to close, why not pay for urgent registration, this would cost NGN120,000 rather than NGN60,000. This was well worth it.
To be continued...this is going to be published at a later date... all encouragements to continue are welcome ;-)