December 16, 2022 in Africa, Entrepreneur Advice

POV: 10 Lessons Learned from Working Directly with Entrepreneurs

This year, the Village Capital Africa team has supported 43 entrepreneurs across various programs. We are living up to Village Capital’s credo of fuelling the growth of sustainable and impactful businesses by unlocking capital for early-stage entrepreneurs. It has been a year of remarkable joys, successes, and learnings. As we end 2022, we are unpacking lessons we picked up working with brilliant, African entrepreneurs.

1. As an entrepreneur, your elastic limit is a cut above normal folks

We cannot help but admire the resilience of entrepreneurs. A common need for many of the entrepreneurs we've worked with is funding, and we've seen them continuously push and get a step closer to their goals with each push. They have shown us how to keep showing up, even in the toughest times.

2. There is an ongoing pursuit of knowledge

We live in a fast-changing world. Entrepreneurs are always looking for new learning opportunities. They look out for sectors that are relevant, growing, and attracting funding. They strive to incorporate new trends into their business. Entrepreneurs have learned the humility and internal fortitude to be comfortable saying, “I don’t know - but I can learn.” As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Learning never exhausts the mind”.

3. Change is inevitable

To borrow Mike Tyson’s words - “everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face.” The business world is a lot less physical, but just as demanding. To succeed in the business environment, entrepreneurs have become good at rolling with the proverbial punches, and changing plans as needed, whether on the product, the market, or the team.  Entrepreneurs have shown us that it is okay to change our minds, and we can always pause, take stock and re-evaluate our options. 

4. Celebrate diversity

The work we do is borderless. We work with mosaics of diverse entrepreneurs with different beliefs, values, and perspectives. The entrepreneurs also serve diverse markets with diverse people. We are learning that to succeed, we must fully embrace the diversity of Africa and its people.

5. Expect the unexpected while thinking through your risks

Risk is baked into the DNA of entrepreneurs, which is why we celebrate them. They are willing to walk where few dare. Risk is an essential component of business building, but there is also a need for risk management. Uncalibrated risk-taking results in ruin for businesses and entrepreneurs. It is essential to balance risk and return.

6. “Respect is a two-way street, if you want to get it, you’ve got to give it.” - R.G. Risch

We treat people with dignity and respect at Village Capital. It is in our DNA. We extend the same to the entrepreneurs we work with. We want them to feel that we value them as founders, business leaders, and people. We see that this pays remarkable dividends in how entrepreneurs engage with us, trusting us to shepherd their businesses through the investment readiness process. Entrepreneurs deserve to be and to feel respected. We have learned if we want to sustain long-lasting partnerships, mutual respect is the key.

7. Creating and innovating

We have designed our programs to be equally valuable, meaningful, and compelling. This means we select curriculum content that will generate clear value for entrepreneurs. Sometimes this material can be challenging to entrepreneurs. We thereforehave to be creative in how we deliver the material. We constantly innovate in our delivery approach. We bring humor, utilize language creatively, use different intonations and more. 

8. Patience is a virtue

Village Capital works with entrepreneurs who are building solutions for social, economic, and environmental challenges around the world. As you can imagine, people who are solving global problems have demanding schedules. Entrepreneurs are often balancing competing demands from their businesses and families, and virtual learning is both a blessing (great accessibility) and curse (low barrier to quitting the program). We have learned to continuously remain patient. Entrepreneurs are thinking about customers, suppliers and employees while also upskilling themselves. If we want to change the world - we must be patient with the people doing it.

9. The power of synergy

There can be a temptation to structure programs using an expert-learner dynamic, especially when working with entrepreneurs whose businesses are lower on the growth curve. However, we have found that the inverse approach works better. While we view each entrepreneur as a subject matter expert in their business and industry, we co-design strategies and tactics to support and grow their business. Remarkably, this helps with the “stickiness” of our lessons and the entrepreneurs love it.

10. Prepare for surprises!!

Entrepreneurs will surprise you. Every time you think you have found the limit to their capacity, they show up and level up. They have a remarkable ability to do hard things, innovate, lead, learn, and build. 

After a year of running vigorous programs with entrepreneurs from across the continent, stretching from the Red Sea to Cape Town and from Dakar to Nairobi, we feel safer and more at ease with what the future holds for the continent. We are literally building that future together. 

2022, what a great year you were - and such great lessons you brought! 2023, shall we?

Written by Njeri Wakaba, Program Associate, Africa & James Gicheru, Investment Analyst, Village Capital 

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