Road To Beijing: 5 business lessons from Enactus journey

And the winner is…

6 months ago I joined a team of students with an amazing idea to bridge the generational gap while meeting two needs in society — providing companionship for the elderly in society as well as affordable accommodation for matured students ready to give a helping hand.

The team — Enactus UCD. The idea — Generation Accommodation.

It has however gone from an idea to a running project, in fact, business already getting traction in Ireland with endless limitation since it is a very simple business model applicable almost anywhere and addresses two global problems.

No surprise Generation Accommodation went ahead to win the Enactus Ireland prize of representing the country at the world cup — attracting other national champions to Beijing, China in October.

In retrospect, here are my top 5 takeaways from the 6 months journey:

10372780_634749033281031_4472677955688330364_n

No resource is more valuable than people

Having joined a team that started with just 3 people, it was awesome to see it grow to 18. The lesson was not in the numbers but the value and talent and skill set that every member brought to the table — who they knew, what they said, the technical know-how, eye for design, and simple things as cheering others up and motivating the team.

It is really a fantastic team — 18 students from post graduate and undergraduate, 4 continents — Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, 6 Countries, and backgrounds in Commerce, Engineering, Business, Management Consulting, Art, Arts, not forgetting our Board of Advisors from KPMG (Katey), IFG (David), Aurthur Cox, and Faculty Representative (Kathy).

One problem can be a solution for another

Generation accommodation proves the above. On one side the elderly living alone with loneliness and financial woes their top 2 concerns, and on the other side matured students looking for accommodation. Match this two and you have two problems solved as the student now offers companionship and extra income to the elderly while getting a roof and a chance to have social impact.

It would have been more complex looking for a solution first for the lonely elders in society, and then another for many students in Ireland with the problem of having a roof over their heads. These are two different issues that when put together offers a solution that is simple and sustainable.

To find out more about the project, join the Facebook and Twitter community.

Having a plan B can be detrimental

Of all the teams that presented in the final round of 4, it was only UCD that had one project to pitch. Others had 2 and even up to 3, which according to one of the judges made the evaluation process complicated for them and easy for us.

Like I also said in my post here (#3), avoid the temptation of juggling more than one ball because you end up splitting focus and resource ending up with half-baked outcomes. We had 1 team, 1 project, 1 focus, and we delivered a top-notch outcome.

Storytelling is the best form of marketing

Don’t pitch me bro! Rather tell me a story. Everyone loves a good story so I was not in a bit worried at our presentation at the Enactus Ireland finals. We had stories to tell — one of a lonely woman captured in an audio interview, and another of Patricia who was an embodiment of the solution we proposed.

Yes, numbers and forecast are cool. Tech is not a bad idea. Business models are needed if you are looking for funding. However it’s the story that brings any stakeholder to the table in the first place so get that right and you have yourself an audience for what comes next.

Team UCD announced winner of the Enactus Ireland competition.

Success is the biggest validation

Just like after Alex Keany and I were announced as winners of the Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow Award 2014, it is safe to conclude that success is the biggest validation for any venture. We had top level managers from Facebook, PaddyPower, Irish Times, Accenture, NDRC, and Brand Fire tell us our idea was the best. Booom!

Same with Generation Accommodation, the end totally justified the means, and like my dear leader, Aoife Buckley said in the Irish Times interview

Participating in Enactus has been a fantastic experience for the whole team and it is a great feeling to be acknowledged for the hard work we put in throughout the year.

We’re thrilled to present the continued success of our project, Generation Accommodation, on a global scale at the Enactus World Cup

For now we celebrate and then get back to work for we have only a few months left on this road to Beijing, China to represent Ireland at the Enactus World Cup.

Road to Beijing was first published on my Medium.

 

Advertisements

Up & Down the Corporate Slave and Free Bird lane

10 lessons learned as an entrepreneur and employee

Disclosure: This piece was first published in the Alumni Entrepreneur’s corner of the Electrical Engineering Student European Association (EESTEC) magazine (p.47) so #10 may not apply to you.

Upon graduation with a B.Sc (Hons) Electrical and Electronics Engineering degree from Eastern Mediterranean University in 2011, I knew I had the option of either starting my business or becoming an employee to that dream job. It’s been 3 year since then and I have had a good dose of both worlds.

In that short span, I have co-founded 2 startups. First was Nigeria’s first online takeaway site — EasyAppetite.com, and the second a new media outlet offering internet solutions to businesses and brands. I also found myself taking up employment as a Digital Media Strategist for 4 different companies, and even had my spell as a Chief Operations Officer to a technology media company.

It’s 2014 and I find myself alternating between entrepreneurship and employment but here are 10 lessons I have picked up. Hopefully they become valuable to you whether you find yourself in either of these places or need a push in one direction at the crossroads of these two paths.

Photo Credit - Frederic Poirot - Creative Commons - Flickr

1. Entrepreneurship is no easy alternative to being an employee

Many young people and even seasoned professionals often make the mistake that running your own business or being in charge is easier than working for or under someone. This might just be a myth. While entrepreneurship affords you the luxury of control and decision making, it comes along with a lot of responsibilities. I remember taking up the role of product developer, accountant, business developer, operations officer, restaurant relation manager, and even customer care agent at the early stages of EasyAppetite. So be ready to work odd hours and do odd jobs just to get off the ground.

2. No sitting on the fence. All in or go home

I call it the fly or die philosophy and apply it to all of my entrepreneurial ventures. No point starting what you are passionate about and giving yourself enough runway to fly or crash. So I make a 3 months plan, list my goals and objectives as well as get the resource to sustain the effort. If after the time elapses there’s no validation I close shop and move. No point beating a dead horse when you can always mount (or groom) another. That said…

3. Don’t yield to the temptation of juggling more than one ball — at most two

Better to have 100% focus on one venture — whether as an employee or entrepreneur than half efforts here and there. Nothing comes out of it eventually and you waste time and resource. This is one lesson I learned that hard way after summing up how much resource had been lost on about 10 failed startup ventures — average of $500 each (not taking account of time).

4. You can actually get employed as an entrepreneur

Consider the shock when I saw a Google, Microsoft, and Accenture flier all having ‘Entrepreneurship’ as a trait be sought after in potential recruit. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup uses the term ‘intrapreneurs’ — referring to hired entrepreneurs. You still get to work on building products with an uncertain outcome but in an environment that breeds discipline and following through on ventures — something lacking in most (internet) entrepreneurs.

5. Don’t start a business with a double

Ah! I thought this was a fad till I experienced it myself and got to learn about leadership at Accenture. You don’t want a co-founder that is just like you in terms of thinking and areas of strength. Get an opposite. If you are visionary, get a realist or an opportunist. Complement each other.

6. Embrace failure but hate it

Don’t be mistaken. Failure sucks and it’s not cool to be tagged one, but your story is more inspirational if you failed failed failed then succeeded. No one really learns anything if you succeed on every attempt. So whether as an employee or entrepreneur, don’t be afraid try with the aim of getting better. If you fail, learn from it and move forward.

7. Nothing wrong in getting employed to raise capital

Don’t know where to get funds from but have a skill? Then get a job and save up some money for your startup capital. You are certain to also learn on the job some transferable skills and lessons. So don’t go starving when you got a skill you can trade for cash.

8. It’s either you know how to code or how to sell

I can’t code jack (and trust me I have tried Codeacademy, Learn street, Codes for Dummies) but I can sell you stuff I am passionate about. If you can do both, respect. I’d however recommend you try learning programming — at least the jargon if you looking to start a digital business or any business that would require working with web and mobile technology. While people say selling is in the DNA you can also hone your sales and marketing skills and the best way to do so is actually selling.

9. Ideas are overrated. It’s all about execution

Everybody has a $1bn idea but only 0.0000000001% will actually execute (Ok, I made up that stat but you get my point). One lesson I picked up from the NDRC during the development days for a startup competition in Ireland was ‘startups can out-design and out-innovate bigger (resource and size) companies’. So after all said and done, it’s how well you do your job as an employee or build and sell your product an entrepreneur.

Recommended book: Execution — The Discipline of getting things done by Larry Bossudy & Ram Charan (available on Amazon)

10. Your Engineering degree makes you cool either way

So this is not really a lesson but I have seen that having an Engineering degree especially Electrical (and Electronics) does place you in a special place when having a conversation with peers, investors, employers, and just random people. I always get the nod of approval when it comes up. So you can be proud to know you are on the right track.

Congratulations and all the best in your future endeavors — whether as free bird or corporate slave.

Up & Down the Corporate Slave and Free Bird lane was first published on my Medium.

10 Start-up Lessons From Fast & Furious Franchise

From stepping up to new challenges to milking the hell out of the cash cow

It’s not a common occurrence to find a franchise as successful as Fast & Furious, which has now gone on to set box office records with its 6th film, with the world waiting for the 7th. But what can entrepreneurs take away from this, aside the desire to drive fast cars and date pretty girls?

Here are 10 start-up lessons that I’ve drawn out and hope you enjoy it:

Be Fast & Furious

After the first movie in 2001, we have seen 5 sequels and 2 short films spin off over a 12 year period. That’s an average of 2 films every 18 months. Now that’s fastin terms of rate of releases. With writers, characters, directors, producers, and other players stepping in and out of production, nothing best describes this venture than furious.

Always Value Team & Family

The underlying message all through the series of films is the ‘value for family and team’. With every member playing a role and bringing something to the table, it’s always important to be on the lookout for one another. The team is as strong as its weakest link.

Know When To Step Up

Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto could be said to be the center of the earlier films, but after mastering and delivering on his part as just an actor, he had to step up as Director and Producer in the 4th film. At this point, he took ownership of the responsibility of telling a better story.

Quick add: Knowing when you are not needed on the scene as Vin Diesel was off on the 2nd film.

Work With Other Power Players

Collaboration cannot be overemphasized. Always find ways with work with folks with quality clout. Little wonder, characters like: Dawyne Johnson, Ludacris, Tyrese, Eva Mendes, and most recently Jason Statham — another fast car actor popularly know as The Transporter. No doubt, fans of all these players get sucked in to either back the individual star or the collective product.

Think Diversity — Team & Market

A closer look at the characters and location in the series of films sees an undertone of diversity covering: Black, Asian, American, Military, Pop Culture, Government, South America,Technology, Music, among other themes.This is turn pulls in a diversified market. Little wonder Foreign Box Office Revenue started to outdo that of the United States from the 3rd film — Tokyo Drift and now at more than 100%.

Always Have That Backup

It’s almost cliché to hear the words: An entrepreneur is one that goes all in without any backup. This only makes sense when your backup is the reason for you not going all in. The odds of your failing are high, and so you do not get screwed for the rest of your life (or get killed by a sniper like it almost happened with Vin), have a backup — the type that keeps you going after every failure.

Consider Result-Oriented Compromise

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is one scenario most entrepreneurs find themselves and most decide to work alone and then crash. Sometimes you just need to work with a competitor (or in the real sense complimentor), get a technical or business co-founder in turn for shared equity, sign an exclusive deal with (the devil) a big corporation . As long as it’s for the greater good, go for it; same way Vin Diesel worked with the Police to take down bad guys.

Bad Things Happen

Sh*t happens is a better way to put it, and it’s not all rosy for any startup venture. If it was, everybody will be doing it. Even in the successful Fast & Furious, Vin Diesel went to jail, 2 of his team mates died, his girlfriend lost her memory (and shot him), et al. So be prepared for losses — time, money, people, product, and ultimately failure. That’s where the backup plan kicks in.

Be One Hell of a Closer

A bunch of folks that saw the fifth film missed the post-credit scene and went back to the cinemas for a second viewing. That was an epic ending, but nothing compared to how the sixth film ended introducing Jason Statham. So no matter what you do when pitching, making that product video, writing that blog post or press release, make the closing as epic as possible. That’s what is stuck with the other party — they remember and share if epic enough.

Milk The Hell Out Of The Cash Cow

Total budget of Fast & Furious till date — $569 million. Total box office revenue — $2.38 billion. That only happens when you milk the cash cow — giving the best value possible and asking for payment. The 7th film is scheduled for release in June 2014, and Vin Diesel is talking about another trilogy to follow after, and Dwayne Johnson is also to get a spin-off of his own character (Hobb) into a number of films. When you got something of value, then get the most value possible out of it. Simple.

10 Start-up Lessons From Fast & Furious Franchise was first published on my Medium.