Failure. The word that entrepreneurs dread. And for some reason starting entrepreneurs associate failure with a lack of start-up capital, but this is certainly not true for many African entrepreneurs who have made successful businesses without the official financial support of banks or other organisations, or have made their businesses successful despite failure.
Over half of Africa’s gross domestic product is made in the informal sector and with Africans being the hardiest people on the planet, it is no wonder that the continent may hold the greatest potential for entrepreneurial success.
If you are worried your business and idea will get nowhere without funding, or if you believe that failure means you will never be successful, look at these people and companies for inspiration:
1. Walt Disney, the founder of ubiquitous film production company Walt Disney, saw his first attempt at an animation company go bankrupt. He was fired because of his supposed lack of imagination. He failed to secure finance for Disney World several times. Now, the company makes around $30 billion a year.
2. Mike Adenuga. This man is the second-richest man in Nigeria, but the
road there was not easy. His first venture was selling lace fabrics and Coca-Cola before he became the first to prospect and discover oil in commercial quantities in Nigeria after his mother, Chief Oyindamola Adenuga and many others questioned the value of wasting his money in the venture. His next venture was a bid for a telecom licence, which fell through, resulting in his loss of a non-refundable deposit worth millions of dollars. However, he was not swayed by this failure, instead winning a bid later for Globalcom. This company has gone on to sign a roaming agreement with T-Mobile in the UK, which had previously refused to sign anyone in Nigeria. 3. The Nairobi Dev School was built on a
failed dream. Young Kenyan developer Martha Chumo, after teaching herself how to do computer programming, decided to head to the US to study further, but despite raising money through IndieGogo to go, she was denied a visa. She did not allow this to stop her and she launched the school. One of the biggest mistakes she made at the start was teaching for free, but now she knows to think things through.
4. Ethiopia’s SoleRebels today has over 100 employees and is expected to make as much as $10 million in sales by next year. But starting the company wasn’t easy for Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu. She started the company in 2004 with less than $10,000 in money raised from family. SoleRebels makes unique, 100%-handmade footwear that uses local and recycled products.
5. Nigeria’s Ruff’n’Tumble was launched at a time when support for small businesses was non-existent in the country. Adenike Ogunlesi, who had dropped out of school, discovered a love of making clothing while working for her mother’s Betty O business. When she could not find pyjamas for her children, she decided to make them and sold them from the boot of her car. Today, the clothing company has spread beyond Nigeria’s borders and, with several outlets, the company has a reputation for manufacturing some of the best clothing in Africa.
6. South Africa’s Anna Phosa started her pig farming business in 2004 with only R1,000 and four pigs. She had originally made a living selling vegetables in Soweto but after being introduced to pig farming developed an affinity for it. Anna quickly built up a good reputation and in 2008 she was contracted to supply Pick n Pay with 10 pigs a week, an order which expanded to 100 pigs a week in 2010. Anna has since purchased a 350-hectare farm with 4,000 pigs, and she supplies as many as 120 pigs to South African retailers.
7. Patrick E. Ngowi’s first venture was his mobile phone business, which he started with only $1,800 he borrowed from his mother. While his mobile phone business grew, he realised that many clients did not have electricity to charge their phones. He continued travelling to China, purchasing solar supply systems while studying renewable energy at Dezhou University. Since these humble beginnings, his company Helvetic Solar has installed over 6,000 rooftop solar systems in East Africa. Helvetic reportedly made over $5 million in revenue in 2013 and was featured in KPMG’s Top 100 Mid-Sized Companies in Tanzania in 2012.
8. Axel Fourie from South Africa had tried to start several businesses with no luck by the time he was 27. He hit the big time when he taught himself how to fix faulty iPods, iPhones, and iPads. He ran his new business, called iFix, from his room at university in 2007 and today he has several stores a few dozen workers. He now also manufacturers accessories for mobiles for export to 12 African countries. He started with no capital.
9. Kenyan Geoffrey Kago bought his first chicken with 20c his mother gave him. He managed to breed 200 chicks but expanding his business required an incubator. However, incubators available in the market were targeted at larger hatcheries and unaffordable for smaller farmers. With only $6 he made from hawking cigarettes, he built an incubator especially for small-scale poultry businesses. The Kaki
Incubator is the most popular of his inventions and Kaki Village Enterprise is regularly approached by NGOs assisting farmers groups and Kenyan government officials. 10. Ghana’s Farmer Brown started his rabbit
farming business with only $3, three does and a buck. All of his profits were put back into his business and as of 2014 he sells as many as 500 rabbits to local grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels a week.