By Jared Oundo
Wilhelm von Humboldt once noted “How a person masters his fate is more important than what his fate is.” I don’t believe in luck in a magical sense, where through some random ritual or supernatural forecast you can ensure yourself a little easier going. That’s because spirituality puts fate out of your control. I have always wanted to keep my fortune in my own hands. On the other hand, I absolutely believe that luck exists; I just think it’s a little more purposeful, and controllable, than most might believe. I also think it’s frequently the simple result of being in the right place at the right time. And sometimes that’s all you need for your life to change eternally.
So how does any of this relate to your success? Simple: you can create luck for yourself and your business by finding ways to put yourself in that right place at that right time with the right people. And sometimes that’s all you need to propel yourself to new heights. It happens all the time by seizing opportunities to constantly improve yourself, your leadership skills and your business.
Creating your own fortune begins with learning where to find opportunity. As an entrepreneur, you’re doing yourself an injustice when you don’t push yourself beyond your comfort zone to take advantage of a new opportunity, and opportunities abound when you run a start-up. That’s specially the case when your business is in the early stages because you don’t just have to wear many hats, you’ve often got to wear every hat, and there’s all kinds of opportunities, several of which you may have utterly zero qualifications for or experience handling. But forget that. Be adaptable, hunger to be an expert in new areas, in fact be passionate.
I think you’ve really got to dedicate yourself to a career of perpetual self-schooling to learn where to look for the best opportunities. Read books, magazines and blogs on your field. Get to know online aid communities where you can go to network and get guidance or even hire people. Start tapping into your personal and professional network to get individuals who may want to join or help you raise financial support. These are opportunities that will help you acclimate to your newfound executive role and seek out the most valuable opportunities. Push yourself to learn and figure things out. As you grow your venture, it won’t always be reasonable to enjoy such deep involvement, but understanding your resources and perpetually educating yourself prepares you for the wartime promotion that will take you out of your element.
It’s uncalled-for to fail because of inaction. Of the numerous reasons start-ups often fail, the very last should be inaction. And I think it usually is the result of being either lazy, overwhelmed or, more often, terrified. These feelings can encompass an entire organization, but it’s most important for you as a founder not to be crippled by anything. Whether it’s a fright like the fear of public speaking (pitching to investors, selling to clients for the first time, giving a pep talk, etc.) or simply a matter of spending time to go to the extra mile (attending a networking affair or meeting a customer in person as opposed to over the phone), seize the opportunity. Get the “Nike” state of mind and just do it, whatever it is.
I’ll give you a more common and personal instance this time: writing this very book. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to share my experiences with you in this book. But I could have just as simply decided not to take on the new challenge because I simply don’t have time for yet another task. In a start-up, time is your best friend, your most precious asset. If I’m surely with you, though, my shilly-shallying was more appropriately due to a little bit of anxiety. You write for a magazine like Business Daily for example, and you’re exposing your ideas and opinions to the criticism of thousands, and at times millions of people. As a writer, you willingly subject yourself to that criticism. As a business owner, the fear is that you’re indirectly subjecting your entire company to that criticism.
I think we all, to a different extent, have a fear of taking on new challenges because uncertain outcomes make us uneasy; but you get no value from not challenging yourself. The way I see it; the alternatives are simple with challenges like these. You either stay in your foxhole, afraid to get hit and accomplish nothing, or you take a risk and potentially end up with a major achievement under your belt. I decided that being able to simultaneously share my experiences with my peers and seniors, record my thoughts and yes get a little bit of press exposure was well worth the risk of criticism and offered more value than the alternative: nothing. This is one of the reasons why I participate in the major TV/Radio talk shows.
Fashion yourself to be in a state of constant vigilance
Along the same lines of panic, you must forget about the preoccupation with making a blunder, which is not to say be reckless. But I do mean that if you are going to make a mistake, then make it out of aspiration and courage, not out of laziness or fear. Sometimes you will be wrong. Sometimes people will disagree with you but be fearless and make a move. Be daring, be tireless, and be resilient because that state of mind needs to be the essence of your entire venture. Get something out there, generate traction and iterate based on reaction and what you learn. Jump in head first and train yourself to be unfathomable to your fear and confident that even when you do make a mistake, you’ll be flexible enough to bounce back and adjust for the next iteration or improvement.
Try getting yourself into a frame of mind of fearless ambition. If it only comes in ruptures, try training yourself to make those ruptures last longer. It’s all a state of mind, and it can be conditioned. Intentionally do things that make you uncomfortable. Get up and sing during a karaoke party. Ask a random girl or guy on a date. Turn off the TV and do some research on your competitors if you’re feeling lazy. Train yourself to always be looking for the next opportunity, your next challenge for growth, because that mind-set is exactly what allows us to create our own luck.
Opportunism and fortune are behind some of the biggest business successes
A friend of mine started a business that eventually got very close to going bankrupt. In an interview with him he told me that they were clearing out their office and found several absolutely good textbooks lying around. They started sending these textbooks out to students free of charge to get rid of them. The funny thing is that for some reason, students started sending those textbooks back to the company. With little other alternatives remaining, they thought, why not run with this? There could be a new opportunity here. They made one last spin around with their business model and started renting textbooks. Today that business has raised almost Ksh. 300,000,000 in funding, has brought on some of the most talented executive management in the region and is rumoured to be eyeing an IPO. They were incredibly gifted founders, but sometimes in a start-up, in fact, this is the case at some of the biggest companies in the world, what you really need is a little bit of serendipity. And they fashioned that serendipity by being opportunistic. Don’t you want to be able to do the same?
Creating good destiny is just like creating good luck, and it will motivate allegiance and better results
What else helps you create fortune? Being generally a good person? Not to sound banal here, but kind gestures and loyalty do come back around. How can you apply this to your venture? Talk to your customers first-hand for one. One of the successful CEO’s in Kenya told me that during the first few months of his company’s existence, he answered every single customer service call, not just because they couldn’t afford a staff, but more importantly because he wanted to understand exactly what the customer wanted and exactly what she wasn’t getting, and he’d make sure to personally see to it that she walked away happy.
Apply this mind-set to your group and tactical partners as well. Show loyalty to your people; prove to your employees that you legitimately care about their best interest. Spend time personally with your employees. Treat every client like they are the most essential client. Create a personal relationship. As an entrepreneur, valuing the human component of your business doesn’t simply help you create goodwill, fortune or whatever else you want to call it. It is crucial to your survival because when you have little-to-no capital to pay employees, and when you have no track record to demonstrate value to new clients, your faithfulness and thoughtfulness will be the deciding factors in who sticks by your side when the chips are down.
Strike a balance amid opportunism and focus
Don’t confuse ambition and opportunism with an attempt to be everywhere at once because you will drown when you fail to focus. But do challenge yourself to keep a resourceful confidence. Sharpen in on your core competencies for success, and then commit yourself to taking risks and testing yourself, but only in those areas that are relevant to your objectives.
Good Luck Verses Bad Luck
Good luck is more treacherous than bad luck. Bad luck teaches important lessons about patience, timing, and the need to be prepared for the worst. Good luck dupes you into the opposite lesson, making you think your brilliance will carry you through. Your fortune will inevitably turn, and when it does you will be completely ill-equipped. The good fortune that elevates you or seals your success brings the moment for you to open your eyes: The wheel of fortune will crash you down as easily as up. If you get ready for the fall, it is less likely to ruin you when it happens.