I recently had a chat with a friend called Mitch. She owns a cake making joint in town. She also bakes cakes for sale and sells cake making ingredients and kitchenware. Her business has been operational for the past four years. It was one of those random catch up talks you have with someone in the evening in a restaurant in town over coffee after work.
Then I began thinking whether I’m the only one who thinks, “Where do you see yourself in the next few years?” is a cliché’. I however still went ahead and posed the question to Mitch.
Chuckling lightly, she intimated that she sees her ka-stall growing to the size of a supermarket in the next eight to ten years. That sounded reasonable enough. I must admit I was impressed by her response. A smile escaped my lips.
I played the consultant.
“Aiiyyy of course we always have that figured out in our heads,” she added.
I was about to ask, “Ati in your head?” when she went on.
“All I need is secure more funding to actualize that vision. Unfortunately, investors hawapatikani.”
She looked up at me, and sarcastically asked, “Have you seen a crocodile chewing up on a piece of meat?”
At this, I could not hold back my confusion. I wanted to know how the crocodile had found its way into our conversation.
Since I have seen a crocodile eat, in National Geographic channel, I said, “Yes”
“Imagine putting your hand inside its mouth and trying to take out whatever it is holding with its teeth?”
By then, I had made a decision that I definitely would not do anything close to that. Who does not love their hands? What if it’s bitten away? I bemusedly wondered how I would eat if that happened.
Mitch intercepted my thoughts, “There you have it. That’s how it feels trying to get a-would be investor to part with their money.” That must be hazardous, I thought.
The conversation, being undirected, then flew away into randomness and soon it was time to kiss goodbye
However, even when I was home, my curiosity persisted. Perhaps I need to let you know that I am all about the survival of start ups, judging from the deathly pang that is the unemployment levels in our country. It fills me with a strange altruism. It makes me ask myself, “What could we be doing wrong?”
Being a millennial, we have a long-term and rock-solid relationship with the internet. I googled Investors reluctant to part with their money for start-ups? The night was about to die and get reborn as a new day. I was going to exit that page when I saw an ad pop up.
It’s an event ad to an entrepreneurship summit in town targeting small business owners. The theme revolved around funding for the businesses. Five of the panelists were bigwigs in the business in the country. We could use their insight, I mean Mitch and I.
I phoned Mitch the following morning and she was game. We arrived early with a view to ‘reaping maximum utility’ out of the session. One of the panelists was in the business of connecting start ups with would be investors. He let on that, “An investor is least interested in those stories. They need numbers and a written down plan.” By way of conclusion, he added, “unfortunately, most local start ups do not keep any records. While the plan is kept in their head, literally.”
From the summit it was clear that an entrepreneur seeking to fish out an investor had better bait them with a written down plan and up-to-date records.
On our way from the session, our conversation went like:
“Aaaahh those guys spoke about me kabisa. Its high time I download ‘the stuff from my head into a paper. It is less trouble than facing a fallen business and getting back to the tarmacking menace.”
“Yeah. How hard is that? Si it is just downloading a file from one storage space to another. Ama ata huna kitu? And I drowned with a naughty grin.
Mitch looked at me with eyes that seemed to say, “you make me sick. Get out of here.”
She later called me that evening to tell me that she’d decided to attend this class at Hurlingham where they teach how to write business plans and maintain books of accounts.
Two months later, I bump into her at a friend’s wedding reception. When she spots me in the crowd, her eyes light up. We walk towards each other.
“Hey how’s it going? Did you ‘download’ the file? Don’t tell me you’re enjoying some sharks chumz while I’m still struggling with not snoozing my alarm five times on Monday mornings?”
Bursting into uncontrollable laughter she puts in, “Kwenda ati am eating what?”
We find ourselves a quieter spot now.
“So, tell me?”
“Wuehh! Let me tell you, I think I might land a fat deal soon! There is this CEO we connected with at a pitching event and they were impressed with what they saw. Their firm funds startups for a stake.”
“Where did they see it?” and I wink.
“Aaahh go away. My business plan is no longer stored in my head. At least not only there. Waah the class I told you about was the discipline I needed. I now have the plan saved in my laptop. That’s what the investors “liked after seeing,” she says while doing this thing with her hands that looks like a happy clap.
“Aaahh sasa wewe uko sawa. Did they also demand that you show them your books?”
“Not exactly. It was more of doing what I can best then out-sourcing what I’m not strong at. You know I suck at numbers. Thus I’ve contracted this accountant who stops by every month to check our records and update. Things are looking up!”
She says this last sentence with a twinkle in her eyes. The sun is fast descending down the hills. While it is at it, it leaves us those beautiful golden rays to bathe in. I love beautiful sunsets.
Soon, the reception winds up and we are strolling away towards the busy town.
Then I get this thought, “Did someone say that what you look for, you eventually find.” Okay, I’ve just constructed the words in my mind. But I think my primary school Swahili teacher wouldn’t frown much at my translation. No?
Dear start up owner, will we now keep books and a plan that can be pitched?