Lessons learned from failing often


Lawrence Kagema, 25, is the man behind Spectacular Living International, a real estate company in Mombasa. He founded the company as a third-year student at Eldoret University, and it was far from his first dive into business.

In his relatively short life, Lawrence has tried his hand at growing tomatoes, buying mangoes in Mombasa for sale in Eldoret, and running a hotel and a mini-supermarket. He sometimes dipped into his Higher Education Loans Board cash to finance his businesses, but he registered little success.

But he kept at it until he found his calling in real estate. His company does project management, purchases and resells land, and constructs houses. Lawrence has employed five people, and says his business’ turnover last year was Sh6.42 million.

He shares the lessons he’s learned in a bumpy entrepreneurial journey.

1. Be involved

You cannot just start a business and sit back and wait for money to come in. Nobody knows your business more than you do, so you must be involved. I had to be in my hotel business from as early as 5am and then close it at 10pm, and I still had classes. It didn’t work for long. You need to be actively involved in your business to make changes as rapidly as they’re needed.

2. Be passionate

You cannot run a business you don’t love and then expect to make money. Think about it this way, if there’s a woman who’s caught your eye, you’re going to have to be passionate about being with her to chase after her and stay with her through the arguments and fights. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, once your business starts performing badly, you’ll quit and venture into something else or give up on entrepreneurship altogether.

3. Do your research

Learn all you can about what you want to get yourself into. Don’t do something because another person is doing it.

Before I started farming, I talked to a lot of farmers in Eldoret. I went to local agrovets to learn how to go about farming, including handling people, managing crops and using chemicals.

The purpose of research is not to make you immune to failure but to prepare you for the challenges so that when they come, you know how to cope. No detail is too small.

4. Know exactly where you’re going

There’s no room for guesswork in business. In my case, I know exactly what I want Spectacular Living International to be. I know what my company will be like in five years’ time, so anybody coming to join the business finds a vision already in place. Visualise your version of success.

5. Eliminate fear

Fear holds you back and puts you in a prison. A lot of people are afraid of starting businesses because they don’t know what to expect. I took a personal risk by selling all my belongings to set up Spectacular Living and start looking for clients. That was the greatest personal risk I’ve ever taken. But in business, you either have faith or fear.

6. Pursue excellence

Do your work thoroughly, no matter how big or small it is, or how big or small the client is. Efficiency should cut across the board. Remember, a lot of big deals come from small clients.

7. Don’t be proud

The Swahili say he who hides his nakedness doesn’t give birth. A lot of people don’t want to ask how others made it. They are too proud to learn from others. Don’t let this be you.

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