Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On Being Each Other's Keepers...

I’ve been writing this for weeks on end and I’m sure it will still not be as coherent as I’d like it to be.  I’m sharing now because ;

 I receive those quite often but these days I just buckle up and wait for the next opportunity to apply. But a dear friend of mine can’t even go so far as applying. Why? Simple. Fear. This might seem like a flippant reason but it’s not. See, I was her just a few months ago.  Self-doubt plagued (still does) me till it crippled me. I was my own worst enemy. The only reason I got (still getting) over it is that I have an amazing support network. God created the most passionate cheerleaders a girl could ever need and placed them in my yard. From my co-founders, my friends to my family (in its own interesting way). 

I got possibly the biggest rejection of my life recently (professionally). I was thousands of miles away from my troupe, my army. I couldn’t leave my bed. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I had failed myself, my daughter, the company, everyone. Somehow, one of them (my awesome cheer-leading troupe) managed to get through to me and what followed was a whirlwind of crying on Skype together, pep talks and lectures for the entire duration I was huddled in my bed. Slowly as the day went on, it didn’t feel so terrible. My jar of hope started to be refilled. I managed to get out of my room at the end of the day and face the world again.

But that is not all that this troupe provides, emotional support is great but man cannot eat hope. I don’t know how many emails I receive in a week with opportunities, people to meet, and customer referrals. Frankly, it overwhelms me sometimes. (I’m not complaining ooh. Don’t stop!) But yes, people out there really have my back. And that is why I fiercely (sometimes too much) support the entrepreneurs around me. Because I know what I have, not many people do. In fact, I’m the exception. 

Entrepreneurship is a lonely lonely journey.So it befuddles me to see entrepreneurs tear each other down, knowing this first hand. There’s been a lot of talk lately about African startups not sharing, first it was being whispered in hushed tones but now we are out and proud (See Tech Cabal article here). I’ve ranted several times on twitter about this. My tipping point; I just got invited to a B2B event with investors/business owners from the UAE. The RSVP had strict instructions; COME ALONE. DO NOT SHARE! What the hell! This mind you is a not a private function. It is organized by an agency that is run by tax payer shillings. So I wonder at the secrecy. Why are we hoarding investors (and other resources) from each other? To what end?  What is this poverty mentality?! Why are we so bent as a society on holding each other back?  

But then I guess misery revels in company and we are a miserable lot. I thought I’d tell this story when I’m old and grey and when it has seized to be relevant but apparently not. It seems, it needs to be told and told urgently. Just months into launching Zimba, someone I highly respect(ed) in the Tech Community dared to try and bad mouth the company to one of our partners, luckily for us, our partners saw through their lies and petty and paid them no mind. But this baffled me, why would someone go out of their way to try and sabotage a company that wasn’t even 6 months old. We already have so much working against us (lack of funding, novelty hard to understand product), there is no need for vindictiveness to get to us. Thankfully, this just spurred us on. But I will wonder to my grave.(No, being me, there will be a confrontation. I’m just bidding my time) The target market for our companies is very different and even if it were the same, I’m sure as Zimba we are never going to reach even 40% of the people we would like to reach, and here is someone squabbling over virgin territory. What shall happen when the market is saturated, shall we turn to physical violence then?

Anyway, I digress. I truly believe that the only way we will get to be competitive as the rest of the world is when we start to work together as opposed to silos. We have to so much to learn and gain from each other, different strengths that if brought together would be formidable. Across startups, across ecosystems even. There are components of Zimba and The Baby Store that I’m happily handing over to other startups, business for them and time for me to focus on my core strengths. Imagine if instead of duplicating each other’s ideas, we just complimented each other. Even across borders, I’d be happier to help another African startup scale to Uganda than set up local competition for them.

The gist of this long incoherent tirade; we need each other. Urgently. Desperately. We need to be our brother’s keepers.

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