For nearly 20 years, I’ve ridden the highs and lows of entrepreneurship as a never-ending parade of challenges, accomplishments, setbacks and hurdles to be overcome. Building my company, Midcom Group, has been a wild ride, never knowing what’s around the corner, yet always on the lookout for new opportunities and the next challenge- but I wouldn’t change this for anything.
Entrepreneurship is a true vocation; it’s not for the faint of heart, or the easily intimidated. You could say it’s almost a calling– you’re either prepared to dedicate your life to an idea, or you’re not.
There is never a simple “path to success,” or a set of rules guaranteed to push you and your business to the forefront of your industry, but there are always lessons and examples to be had from those who have come before us. I’ve spent my life looking for opportunities, and I’ve never listened when someone told me something could not be done– I had a vision, and I was prepared to see it through.
I started Midcom Group as a forex exchange in Rwanda, and grew it into the largest telecommunications distributor across East, Central and West Africa, a manufacturing company, an educator and the largest independent dairy farmer in Uganda, among other business streams. From that initial business idea, we now have operations across 18 countries.
Along the way, I’ve learnt some valuable lessons that have shaped my view on entrepreneurship and building successful businesses. Hopefully, some of these experiences can help, or at least inspire you, on your own path to success.
1. There is no substitute for hard work
Failures will always be part of the entrepreneurial journey; it is how you react to these failures that defines who you are, and often, your success. Self-belief is important, and once you decide on a project, giving it your utmost is important. Half-hearted attempts at anything rarely ever lead to success.
Business is hard– the reason so few companies and people achieve their potential is because it’s not easy. You’re going to have to work for it.
2. Surround yourself with trustworthy and capable people
This has to be one of the biggest factors in my success as an entrepreneur and the growth of my company. I always surround myself with likeminded and dynamic individuals- experienced people who I can learn from, as well as young and hungry people whose energy I thrive on.
More importantly, I surround myself with people who are onboard and working towards the same vision; I have complete trust in them. In this regard, I believe attitude plays an integral part. Skills can be learnt, experience comes with time, but attitudes are difficult to change.
People often fail to understand that human resources are the foundation of any business. The energy we have at our place is very high and contagious. We believe in hiring the right people, fresh minds with a will to train and adapt. The better your team, the higher you can aim for, and reach.
We all know diversification is important, as it helps to hedge risks and create more sustainability in your business. I always wanted to have a well-established internationally diversified group. I wanted my organization to be varied in terms of balanced risk in geographies and industries.
Early in my career, I took the extreme approach to this philosophy, and have embraced industries so far removed from one another as to be unrecognizable. From flower farming in Uganda to a forex exchange to education institutes, dairy farming, manufacturing and telecoms distribution across 18 different countries, I’ve embraced it all. This diversification is what has allowed us to grow and prosper throughout economic uncertainty and market declines, while many fell by the wayside.
Whether it is diversification in terms of geography or industries, this is a key factor in creating a sustainable business.
4. Never chase the money
Money has never been the driving motivation in what I wanted to do. I strongly believe in building businesses which are sustainable and creating a legacy. It is also very important to build businesses that lead to economic growth within the community it exists, that is to say it has to have a positive effect on its environment. I have never chased money; it is merely a byproduct.
5. Love what you do
Be passionate and live your life doing what you love. You’ll have your ups and downs, everyone does –I know I have– but if you love what you do and have passion for it, the achievements should always be embraced more than the disappointments, and when you are down, you’ll still have that fire inside you that keeps you going, keeps you pushing for the top and for success.
Like diversification, innovation is the key to progressing and growing your business. Without innovation, you’re standing still, and it’s only a matter of time before your competitors are overtaking you and you’re left behind. We are living in an era of disruptive innovation. Time flies faster than ever and anyone who fails to evolve and adapt will be left far behind.
To further drive home the point, let me ask you a question. What do you think is the largest hospitality company in the world? What about the largest transport company? It might surprise you to know the largest accommodation company in the world doesn’t own or manage a single room and the largest transportation company doesn’t own even a single vehicle- Airbnb and Uber have completely redefined their industries. These organizations are living breathing examples of what an innovative idea can do when backed by belief, passion and dedication in yourself.
7. Take risks
Failures will always happen. How you react and overcome them is what defines you and ultimately builds the foundation for your future success. In the last couple of years, I started a dairy plant in Uganda, completely against people’s perception of Africa being a dry country. This particular region in Uganda had thousands of liters of milk being wasted every day due to inefficiency problems relating to lack of infrastructure, and I saw an opportunity. My factory now exports African milk powder to many developed countries including Japan and the Middle East. It was a huge risk to take, considering people’s perception, but you will never know if something is possible unless you do it, and the risk for us, in this case, paid off.
8. Be the best at what you do
For an entrepreneur, identifying an opportunity is not difficult. But understanding the opportunity and assessing what value we can add to make it profitable is what makes business sense. Executing your idea in a way that is innovative and better than anyone else is doing is how you win customers and keep their loyalty. It’s really a combination of everything on this list– you need to be innovative and have the right people on the team who can see your vision to fruition. I get to the top of an industry by bringing on the right person to lead the sector. That's how we break through in any field. Having the right leaders on board is essential to make it work.
9. Balance family and work
The fact is that being an entrepreneur is a huge responsibility that is going to take more and more of your time. It is important to find a balance outside of work– whether it is your family, or something else that’s important in your life. Once I am through with my day at work, I head home, and that is my time with family. It would be unfair to them if I put in so much attention and energy into the business, yet missed out on the little joys of life. They are my anchor and have stood by me over the last two decades while I built this business and hopped from one country to another. It is thanks to them I have a well rounded, fulfilling life– both in my work and outside it.
10. Be true to yourself
Starting out, I was going up against business tycoons who had been in the industry for years, but that did not bother me. While they had experience, I had passion and drive. Today, Midcom Group is the exclusive distributor of some of the biggest brands in the world to 18 countries, and it has bagged numerous outstanding achievement awards. Earnings and recognition come; all you need to do is be true to yourself and your values.