Africa

13 startup mistakes to avoid on the road to success

By Lauren Said-Moorhouse, for CNN

Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT) July 30, 2015
Share
africas entrepreneurs reveal mistakesafricas entrepreneurs reveal mistakes
1 of 14
There will always be mistakes on the path to business success. But the trick is to dodge the small stuff and focus on the bigger picture. From Ory Okolloh and Erik Hersman to Mo Abudu and Adama Paris, CNN speaks to some of Africa's top entrepreneurs to find out their best words of wisdom to take with you as you kickstart your career. Scroll through the gallery and captions to read their inspirational words.
Ory Okolloh's career trajectory reads one impressive company after another. In 2006 the Kenyan activist set up Mzalendo, a parliamentary watchdog website. Just a year later she became one of the founding partners of Ushahidi, alongside Erik Hersman, Juliana Rotich and David Kobia. She then moved on to take up the role of policy manager for Africa at Google before advancing again to her current role at Omidyar Network, a philanthropic organization established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

When it comes to starting your own business, understanding the marketplace and how you are going move your company into the right position is key, says Okolloh. "You can have all the capital you want, but if the market fit and ability to adjust are not present, your startup will likely not succeed."

Read this: Ory Okolloh, the pan-African blogger
Getty Images/file
Already a celebrated TV host and presenter in Nigeria, last year Mo Abudu set her sights higher and launched Ebony Life TV. She explains: "Most entrepreneurs dream big and are, of course, the most optimistic creatures that God has put on this Earth. We get totally obsessed with our dreams and lose sight and focus on pretty much everything else going on around us.

"It's key to find balance for friends and family. It's key to breakdown and get buy-in from others. It's most important to cut the dream to size and often accept to start out sometimes on a smaller scale than we had anticipated. And of course, no vision can be achieved alone. Our successful depends on being part of the right team."

Read this: How 'Africa's Oprah' conquered a continent
A serial entrepreneur, Erik Hersman is a man with many fingers in many pies. He's one of the faces behind popular non-profit software company Ushahidi as well as Nairobi's hackerspace, iHub. He's also one of the co-founders of BRCK, a portable wi-fi hotspot device.

He says startup entrepreneurs often fall into the trap of trying to do it all. He advises: "Best way to avoid it is to have a very tightly focused vision and if the opportunity doesn't fit within that, then say 'no' to it. "

Learn more about growing your startup from Hersman, Juliana Rotich
Courtesy Erik Hersman
"Investors need to know that at least one of the co-founders is working on the startup full time," explains the Cameroonian tech entrepreneur. "Managing a startup is really hard psychologically. There are very high ups and very low downs. Founders need to find a way to manage their psychology and remain steady, focused, and charge forward regardless of how tempestuous the waves are."

More tips from Rebecca Enonchong on taking your startup to the next level
CNN
Named by Forbes as one of the most powerful men in Africa, Mamadou Toure is the founder and chairman of Africa 2.0, an advocacy group that brings together young and future leaders from Africa and the diaspora in a bid to find solutions to mutual challenges. He is also the managing director for General Electrics Africa.

He says that when businesspeople overestimate their products, two problems emerge. "One: their product may not be adapted to the market or the market may not be ready for their product and as such they need to adjust their product to market needs and revise their go to market strategy."(And) two: often when their product is finally ready they may not have the necessary team of complementary experts to execute, (have) the necessary additional funds to resist market uptake timelines or too rapid market uptake that leads to lack of stock and affect quality (and) delivery perception that could deter further clients."

Read this: Africa's emerging leaders launch 2020 growth vision
Courtesy Africa 2.0
Entrepreneur Farida Bedwei, co-founder of Logiciel, a technology and innovation company in Accra, is considered to be one of the most powerful women in financial technology in Africa.

She says: "If the company is producing a product or providing a service which requires high patronage from a cross-section of the population, then it must be built with the educational background and economic capabilities of both the informal and formal sector in mind. This also translates into the way the product or service is packaged or delivered to the consumers."

Read more about Farida Bedwei -- the tech genius owning cerebral palsy like a boss
Matthew Rugamba is the founder of luxury accessories brand House of Tayo based in Kigali, Rwanda. For him, focus is paramount. His suggestion to overcome this snafu? Delegate.
"Even though everybody seems to be pulling in their weight and putting in the hours, the results do not seem to reflect that. Their collective effort is not channeled in the right direction. I tend to fall into that trap quite often but I am learning to delegate."

Read this: Meet the 'Afro-dandies'
Olajumoke Adenowo is one of Nigeria's top architects having spent the last two decades transforming her nation's landscape. By 23 she had designed her first building and just three years later, set up her own firm AD Consulting Limited. Looking back on her career, Adenowo says support is vital.

"Most entrepreneurs would benefit greatly from having a board of directors or at least an advisory board even if the board is made up of mentors and experienced family members," she adds.

Read this: Adenowo on her top tips for success
CNN
"Entrepreneurs make so many mistakes. I believe the biggest one is the lack of building structures in your company because of the Messiah complex," says Heel the World co-founder Fred Deegbe. "There is an 'it's all on me' mentality required to start a business but without learning to share information and responsibilities the business begins and ends with the founder."

If hiring is just too difficult for entrepreneurs, Deegbe suggests forming partnerships with companies which understand your vision, until you are able to provide that resource in-house. "Slowly but surely you will get the hang of trusting others and this will help you employ others to carry the load with you.

Read this: Luxury shoes put a sparkle in your step
Senegal fashion designer Adama Paris is the founder of Black Fashion Week. When asked about the number one mistake startups often make she faults a lack of foresight. "Most entrepreneurs, when they start, they are driven by passion. But what they are lacking is planning -- they don't think of that side of the business actually."

But that isn't to say Paris is advocating going back to school in order to open your own business. "I don't think going to university is necessary. You have to surround yourself with people capable of helping with all areas of business. When you start, and I'm talking about fashion and beauty industry, you always think about the product but we don't always think about how to market it. So you need someone who can take care of that."

Read this: 'Stop discrimination, black is beautiful'
CNN
Selebogo Molefe co-founded his business events company in South Africa that provides networking opportunities to the startup community. He says the lack of focus on getting compliant with government and citu by-laws inhibits startups from accessing market opportunities "that exist for enterprise development as well as supply chain opportunities from government and corporate organizations."

Read this: 5 networking tips for startups
Courtesy Selebogo Molefe
South African entrepreneur Ludwick Marishane uses his own company's experiences while developing his DryBath product to highlight the problem he thinks most startups suffer from -- the notion that popularity equates to success.

He adds: "In the age of TechCrunch (et al) and million dollar-funding rounds, lots of startups forget that it's not investor funding that makes a business, but rather a happy paying customer."

Learn more about Marishane's own startup company, Headboy Industries
South African social enterprise Rethaka is run by Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane. Kgatlhanye says lack of funding shouldn't be a reason to avoid trying to launch a business. She adds: "I've realized that often investors, clients, or judges at business competitions all invest in one kind of an entrepreneur: those that live the mantra 'less talk and more action.'

"Starting on your business ideas means investing time and energy and doing something rather than nothing. So go on and start, before a potential investor signs a blank check."

Read this: This is not a normal backpack. It's saving lives
Courtesy Miora Rajaonary for emerging innovation