Although I would love to start this article with a meme-worthy catchphrase about entrepreneurship, where I inspirationally summarize that the path to success is the difference between “working hard or hardly working”. Or working smart. Insert obligatory platitude about self-belief [HERE].
Now don’t get me wrong, working smart, confidence, discipline and all of that good stuff is extremely important. It’s story-booked right there in the lure of being an entrepreneur. To be honest, it’s refreshing to log onto Facebook and see some inspirational text in between the all-cap political rants and trolling. But while the memes sound noble and earnest, they’re edited. Because you can’t really capture any true educational or developmental moments of an entrepreneur’s journey in a meme.
I also don’t want to romanticise anything because starting and running your own business is stressful. Especially when you use all your personal savings or put yourself in debt to finance the operation. What’s great is that although entrepreneurship is hard, it’s not impossible. It’s not really about having it all figured out at the beginning because markets change and stuff that’s completely out of your control happens all the time. … Here’s looking at you COVID19 pandemic.
Therefore, running your own business is basically starting it and figuring it out as you go. Yes, I know that sounds insane but that’s exactly what entrepreneurs do every day, we figure it out. Picture it as a Rubik’s Cube (yes, I’m old and it’s an old guy reference) and even though you got all the red squares on one side, the rest of the cube is a multi-coloured mess but you need to solve it to move forward. It’s not an understatement to say that problem solving is 80% of the job. Which is why the mind of the entrepreneur is so important. And it doesn’t mean you need to have a wall of Business Degrees or be a child prodigy, it’s a mentality you must have to be able to figure things out.
So I’m going to skip past all the clichés about entrepreneurship and “Keep it real”… ok I couldn’t resist that one.
Everything Over Talent!
Well, not literally everything, but the list of things that come before being talented in your chosen field is so long that the word “Everything ” covers it. To name a few: discipline, organization, work ethic, confidence, money management, time management, business strategies, marketing, advertising and brand awareness all come before being talented.
So who in the comments section is raging like “You’re wrong, Jamal! If I want to start a food business, I need to be a talented chef!” [*angry emoji, *angry emoji, *angry emoji].
I’m sorry but, “No, you don’t”. I could cop out and say that many talented cooks have opened food shops which have failed but broad generalizations are not why you’re reading this article. You want the experience, you want the real deal… another damn cliché.
Inna real life, you just need to be an “okay cook” in order to start a food business. From there, you just figure out everything as you go. Also because food is practical, every day presents the opportunity to become a better cook while running your business.
Using myself as an example, the Bar Cutters Rum Sauce was the first sauce that I ever made in my life. I was not a learned Saucier from a fancy restaurant, I just wanted a Bajan themed sauce to go with our Ham Cutters. Even though at the time we were selling out a side door, I saw that every successful food business had its own unique flavour so Bar Cutters needed ours. No one else was doing a savoury Rum Sauce so after we decided on that, I headed directly to Google. I found 3 different Rum Sauce recipes and combined them by choosing the ingredients that I had access to in our frustratingly limited Barbadian market.
The only test was done at a friend’s Super Bowl party. When everyone there liked it, we started Bar Cutters the following week with our Rum Sauce. That was the lack of talent part, and here’s where “the figuring out” part comes. Our Rum Sauce was originally a hot sauce. A literal legit hot sauce. Later I would speak to the owner of Star Products, Glendine Greaves who told me that “Bajans talk hot, but don’t like hot” and I learnt that directly. As time went on, I used feedback from the customers to tweak the recipe, and we gradually took out the heat and added the sweet and it became the sauce we have today and has never changed since. I didn’t start with any talent making sauces, but I figured it out as I moved on.
To be fair, you can obviously build a brand from exceptional talent. The greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan was brilliant at the game, but he did not create the name Air Jordan (that was his agent, David Falk) or come up with the iconic “Jumpman” logo ( that was shoe designer, Pete Moore and graphic designer, Tinker Hatfield) or any of the other things that the executives at Nike did which made Jordan a billionaire. But here’s the good part, none of these people predicted that the Jordan brand would do as well as it did. They were all figuring things out as the business grew from strength to strength.
While Jordan’s talent was a fantastic foundation which provided initial success, his talent alone is not the key to the brand’s longevity. To put things in context, Michael Jordan has not played professional basketball in almost two decades, ( his last game was on April 16th, 2003) yet his shoes remain the most popular in both basketball and pop-culture. According to thehoopsgeek.com basketball shoe database, as of March 2021, the Jordan 35 is currently the most popular basketball shoe. But that’s not all, Jordan actually has 3 shoes within that same top 20 list, more than Lebron James or any current player.
The Jordan brand also capitalizes on its popularity in hip hop culture and has done collaborations with Drake, Nicki Minaj and Eminem among others. The brand is no longer exclusively about Jordan’s talent or what he does on the court. There are a few sayings in sports that actually echo “Everything Over Talent”. My favourite is “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. So just because you are talented at something, that doesn’t give you a pass to not work hard and because you are not the “Michael Jordan” of your field, it’s not an excuse to procrastinate your startup. And either way, neither of these two realities guarantee that you’re going to be good at running a business, you could still fail. So don’t ever think you’re not good enough or be too hard on yourself or focus on what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do and figure out the rest as you go.