Not everyone wants to “do their own thing”. Some would rather remain in what they see as the safety of an ‘office job’, instead of heading into the uncertain world of entrepreneurship. They consider the risks associated with running their own venture as too great for them to live with.
But there are those who defy inertia and the negatively inclined storms of the startup terrain to found new enterprises. Unlike other people, they don’t seem to be held back by contrary opinion (unless they think it’s reasonable); they just go ahead and do what they believe they have to do- start a new business. The question is, what sets them apart from those who don’t think being their own boss is any more desirable than working for someone else?
Perhaps a look at the stories of a few startup founders might help.
In 2015, Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi cofounded Paystack, an online payments solutions provider. According to them, they had observed a problem with payments in Nigeria that needed to be solved- existing systems were far from efficient. They had figured out that they could help improve things, so they started Paystack. Today, Paystack helps Nigerian businesses accept payments via Mastercard, Visa, and Verve from across the world. About what informed their decision to kick start the payments solution, Shola says: “The problem of payments has always been there and begging for someone to pick it up and fix. There’s a big gap, and people are looking for means to get paid….when the opportunity came to really fix the problem, the prospect was very exciting.”
Compare Shola and Ezra’s story to that of Femi Kuti, founder of Kangpe, a startup which created an app that enables people to consult doctors from wherever they are. Femi, who is a trained medical doctor and former investment banker, says that Kangpe was founded “because it was clear that people had issues they wanted to discuss with the doctors that weren’t considered serious enough to warrant a visit to the hospital.” He wanted to cut the frequency with which people self-medicated for ailments they considered as ‘minor’.
One thing that Shola, Ezra and Femi have in common is the fact that they spotted gaps in different aspects of life that needed to be plugged. But the more important thing about this is that they moved to fill those gaps. They didn’t just moan about the problem they saw. They knew that an opportunity existed in getting the problem solved, and they jumped at it. This is one trait that marks people out as entrepreneurs.
Another trait that entrepreneurs have in abundance is passion. If they’re going to be in their business for the long haul, they will have to be passionate about their enterprise. One person who demonstrates this is Chris Kwekowe, the 23-year-old who founded Slatecube, an e-learning and internship sourcing platform. He was one of a number of young African innovators who met with Bill Gates in a TV interview that took place in August 2016. Kwekowe says about the interview: “my favourite moments were watching his (Bill Gates’) reaction after I told him I turned down job offers from Microsoft (which Gates founded) to pursue something more defining for me…” That moment got him a lot of attention from the international press- but it also pointed people to his desire to build his startup into something that could help solve Africa’s unemployment challenges. The thought of gaining the prestige and big pay cheques that came with working for a global tech giant could not lure him away from what he wanted to do. He was passionate about Slatecube, and his vision for it was probably too vivid in his mind for him to let go.
In a nutshell, entrepreneurs are what they are because they are able to spot the opportunities that exist in market gaps, and passionately move towards filling them.