Of course, I am not an entrepreneur. I’m not smart enough to be one. Because I’m not smart, therefore, I tend to pay attention. I’m quite curious. It only follows that I’m conversant with trends and buzzwords – to a certain extent. If we are open-minded, we will learn business lessons from unexpected places. I had to learn a lot from an Akara seller.
What – or who – is an entrepreneur?
Simply put, an entrepreneur is one who, “rather than working as an employee, runs a small business and assumes all the risk and reward of a given business venture, idea, or good or service offered for sale”.
Keywords being business and risk.
Several qualities make an entrepreneur, but the one quality I consider most important is the ability to see things as they can be, not as they are.
Entrepreneurship begins with asking questions. Why and why not are the biggest in that pool – innovation usually starts with asking one or both of those guys.
There’s a woman in my dad’s neighborhood – she’s been there for over ten years. She’s so well-known her name is used as a description. What does this woman do? She sells akara. That’s right akara – or bean-balls.
On the strength of that business, she’s sent three children to the university. Her first is a graduate of medicine. The other two are still in school – the second is in 300 level; the third and last gained admission recently.
The interesting thing is that over those years she’s been at the business, she was the first but she hasn’t been the only one. There have been several others who have ventured into the business but have hardly lasted long enough. But she?
I thought about that and I decided to go see her for myself to find out exactly what she knows and how she applies that knowledge in what she does. Here’s what she said:
“I know my costumers. I know what they want, what they like. They come, I talk to them about their families, work and so on. I know who buys what. I know when they will buy and when they will not buy. Those people you said have come and gone, they only sell akara. Me, I care about my costumers.”
And I think that sums up entrepreneurship as clear as daytime.
Think about the world’s biggest creations – at least in modern times. Facebook. Twitter. WhatsApp. Fast food. Mobile phones. The iPod – even though I doubt that still exists. A basic truth runs through all these creations – the creators saw a problem and solved it.
The money came later.
I’m almost sure the person who created the mobile phone wasn’t the one who added the text messaging function to it. Innovation came after innovation until we got what we call the smartphone – a one-stop solution for all forms of multimedia messaging and social connecting these days. Less than twenty years ago a desktop computer was a novelty. Yet one can go for days without seeing a single computer – and yet be in touch and do everything necessary, be it work or play.
Why? Because we have people who are constantly not seeing things as they are but as they can be. But while this is a very necessary ingredient, it’s not the only thing needed.
Part of what the Akara woman shared with me is that some of the people who eventually became her biggest costumers initially came to her stall to read newspapers. She gets newspapers from various people (don’t even think about the health implications; I don’t) and most of the time what she has are up to date. So people on their way home, who don’t have power in their houses, and therefore, cannot watch the news, stop and ask for that day’s papers.
They sit to read. As they do, they want something to nibble on. And the akara is so good they ask for some more. Then their routine becomes of akara and newspapers, and, after a while, it becomes just about the akara.
And the rest is story.
Do I need to tell you about how she diversified and began selling soft drinks to accompany her ‘hood burgers’ (a combination of fried yam and akara)? Or how she’s learned to anticipate some of her biggest customers – she knows when they might be running late and therefore reserves some stuff for them? Or how she’s thinking about starting home delivery?
Need I stress that this woman is ‘uneducated’ in the formal classroom context of education?
I could bullet-point the valuables I gleaned from listening to her talk – but that would make this just another list and I’d rather not tread that path. Still, if really there’s a desire to change the world – or at least leave something that will genuinely make a difference, learning from that akara woman is not a bad start.
Or as the good book says; “go to the ant, you sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise.”
Not as things are.
But as they can be.
Photo Credit: ReDahlia