#256TechTalk: Founders, Startups And The 7 Golden Rules


This is a Guest post by Joshua Okello.

Across the globe, unemployment among the youth is rife, more so in Africa. In fact, the situation has become a thing of political fodder or poison (depending on how ‘your’ politician tackles it). Regardless, the youth themselves have not sat back and waited for Rome to be built, they are trying to build it themselves. And so it is that Africa has been bitten by the start-up bug particularly among those that have been schooled in the high-risk-and-great-potential field of technology. Urged on by the world and the success of the likes of Facebook and African contemporaries like Agosta Liko’s PesaPal, not to mention the wave of the internet and ‘global village’ phenomena, everyone seems to be creating a start-up company.

A startup, according to Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur who’s written an number of books like Startup Owner’s Manual, says that a start-up is a business in search of a repeatable and scalable business model. It is unchartered territory and as with such territories, your success depends almost entirely not on what you know but rather how you react to the unfamiliar events  you encounter therein. Sadly, few of the founders have any knowledge of how to navigate the ‘startup’ waters. Furthermore, there is no magic formula on how to run or create a startup.

However, not all is gloom and doom. There are resources and knowledge to make your expedition into the startup world less terrifying :).

Here a list of 7 things to watch out for and do:


Build Around Your Values – Ask yourself: what is the one thing that if I did that would make everything else easy and unnecessary? In other words, what is that one thing that you would do and be so content that everything else would fade into in-existence? That is the thing that matters most in your life. Some will call it your purpose in life and that coupled with passion will make you invincible.

I believe that where there is passion, very little comes in the way of achievement. I suppose it is true that when you believe, you achieve; or if you are the kind who have a persuasion for such things, that by having sheer will to survive or have something, the universe somehow conspires to deliver it.

This is what you should build your business around. If your passion is writing, build it around writing. Truth is that making money from a business is one thing, but building it is another; there are times when the money will just not fill the void and you will call upon your passion to move on.

“You are the creator of your brand” – As Michael Niyitegeka (@niyimic), a consultant and trainer who has helped many a startup, said during a tech talk at Uganda’s Hive Colab, your business is a reflection of you. Steve Jobs (RIP) lived to that because his bordering-on-insane desire to have quality products ultimately reflected in Apple products.

The genesis of all this is your personal values. If you have no integrity, it will be clear as day in your business processes and products. Put another way, what you are is your brand. The one thing people forget about this is that there is the ‘reflection’, that is the mutualism. Because you are your brand and your brand is you, in order to sell your business, you must sell yourself. The qualities that you possess are often directly ascribed to your business.

So, what is your value system? This rubs off onto your business and processes. In fact, it must. Otherwise, the disjoint between your value system and your business fast becomes detrimental.

Have A Story – “Behind every successful brand is a story”. You have heard how Facebook and Google started. These founder stories endear the brand to clients. Quite frankly put, they help the client understand your business better and where you might want to go. But more importantly, who is telling your story? It is one thing to tell your story but scarily different thing to have someone tell your story. You see, how they tell your story can make or break you.

Before Trying To Be Unique – Uniqueness helps your business or idea stand out. Everyone seems to know that. However, uniqueness is not a yardstick for usefulness. A ‘spoilt’ tomato is unique among the basket of good ones but that does not make it useful. This is not to say that we should do away with the endeavour for uniqueness. We only need to change how we think of uniqueness. I believe uniqueness should not be in features or looks or design but rather in how we deliver usefulness. Primarily, this would be in terms user experience. To paraphrase Aral Balkan, we are no longer in the era where we need to deliver more features that the competition, but rather in one where we need to create better user experiences to gain that competitive advantage.

Invest In Your Trust-Worth – “Trust comes out of character and competence”. Build your trust and competence by delivery quality products and services, on time and having great customer care. Time doesn’t bow to any creed or geographical location. Therefore, there is no such thing as “African”, “Swiss” or “English” time. You are either on time or you’re late. You don’t wanna be late.

Invest In Your Network – Michael Niyitegeka loves to say, “Your network is your net worth”. Nothing else can be added to that.

Think Big – William Ward said, “Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed imagination”. The best part about all this is that it all begins with YOU.


Footnote: This blog post was inspired by talks by Jason Nazar (@jasonnazar), Co-Founder of DocStoc; Michael Niyitegeka (@niyimic), consultant and trainer; and Aral Balkan.


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