Monday, 14 January 2008

When I Grow Up

When I grow up I am going to be a teacher.

Sort of.

Well, an educationalist (is that a real word?). A professional educator.

I think it is very important for an entrepreneur to have strong interests outside of your primary venture. Your start-up can be so all consuming, so emotionally draining, so hard that sometimes it overwhelms you. When the pressure becomes crushing and you wake up with tears just behind your eyes at the thought of yet another VC pitch, yet another high pressure interview, yet another technical knife edge challenge, you will need another reason beyond your venture to get you out of bed that morning. You will get up because you know that you can only play your BIG GAME if your venture succeeds.

However big the vision for your company, and for me I really want Garlik to become a global success story, it needs to sit inside an even bigger vision of what you are going to be when you "grow up".

Well when I grow up, I am going to build schools in Africa. And when life as an entrepreneur gets tough for me, I remember that if I am successful I get to play the BIG GAME and that brings me bouncing right back.

But I'm not going to build just any old schools. I want to make my contribution in a way that has the potential to cause a transformation in Africa in years to come. Africa is an amazing continent with amazing people and it's prospects will be transformed through the talents of its own people. And from my experience there are some exceptionally talented people, some real genuises. But a huge amount of that talent never sees the light of day due to the harsh realities of African life for many. I sometimes wonder how much true genius has been wasted over the years, never seeing the light of day. So, I want to build schools for geniuses in Africa.

It's a big challenge. There are something like 800m people in Africa and it is the youngest continent with 44% of its population being under 15 i.e. a continent with over 350 million young people!

Now identifying "gifted" children varies a lot but in the UK, for example, the National Academy of Gifted & Talented Youth aimed to identify the top 5% of the population as the "gifted & talented" pool. If this cut off is applied to Africa then there is a pool of over 17m gifted and talented young people in Africa.

17m gifted and talented children! That is staggering but if only these young people could be identified, inspired, supported and unleashed, imagine what could happen on the continent of Africa. So, that it what I and a few others are setting out to do. We are going to build a network of Gifted and Talented Academies across Africa from North to South, East to West, in partnership with a continent wide network of governments, charities and companies.

I am right at the start of this journey and at the moment it seems like a completely impossible challenge but, boy, does it feel worth doing. This is the most exciting stage of a new venture and I have found that there is no difference between this stage of starting up a commercial venture or a charitable venture. You are staring nervously at a blank sheet of paper, holding the pen, dreaming up schemes, pitching vision and possibility, inspiring people and partners who can help and gradually, step by step it starts to take shape, starts to become real.

The scale of the challenge and the problems we will face are breath-taking, but you know, for me, taking on huge, impossible challenges makes life worth living and when life as an entrepreneur gets really, really tough then I can think if 17 million good reasons to keep driving forwards.


Gormengast said...

Mr Bojangles : When I Grow Up

When I grow up I would like to be like Gormengas't, one of the characters in my quasi-novella. It is set in the Nacirfa continent in 2060 after Omi Nla, the great flood.

Gormengas't is an inago Tiwani, and an important member of the Ogboni caliphate. With the destruction of most of the coastal habitations by Omi Nla, the caliphate replaces present day Nigeria.

Gormengas't is a wanderer who practices Obligations, the underlying doctrine of the rotating democracy at the heart of the Ogboni caliphate.

I can believe in much of what he believes in.

Gormengas't in development.


samuel meheux said...

Mr Bojangles

I love this particular Blog. My name is Samuel Meheux and i am a winner of the SIE Business Plan Award which you were a speaker at in 2007, location Dundee.

I am of Sierra Leonean background but was actually born in Glasgow although i spent many years living in Freetown (till the militia war overwhelmed the country in 1997 and then truly in 1999).

I have to admit, i am in love with innovation, business, technology and importantly, big challenges.

Since winning last year at the SIE awards, i have been living my dream (when i manage that is, to actually fall asleep), and have learned an immense amount about what it takes to actually succeed.

In saying this though, i did not fully comprehend what actually lay in waiting for me, even though chaps like yourself and B.J Cunningham were wearing T-Shirts and hats blatantly spelling out the risks and sleepless nights ahead!

Nonetheless, i wanted a piece of what of guys were selling, the event was like watching the Jools Holland show (for executives and wannabes), you possibly being an exuberant Linonel Ritchie, B.J Cunningham more Liam Gallagher/Mick Jagger about him and the lovely Anne Summers lady, small yet immensely captivating a more attractive Maria Calais i think (what a mix you have to agree).

Mr Bojangles, nobody really told me about how lonely it is being this solitary MD figure. The person who has to make all the decisions, rally the team, 'blag' what you can when you can and so on. Neither was i told of the nerves you feel when faced with meetings involving potential investors and the tight rope that situation actually is.

Or how about this, explaining your technology to certain business advisers and they start of with what appears to constructive criticism but by the end of a 3 hour grilling, you actually have to help them of they try to control their fits of laughter as a result of what you have just presented to them. Yes, you don't learn this at University.

But things have gotten a lot better i must admit. The fate of Sounds Good Advertising (my start up company) looks good. We have moved on considerably from what we thought was our ground breaking advertising piece of technology.

Yes SGA has received a bit of breast enhancement and is now looking to release an exciting 'e' and 'm'-commerce transaction protocol which will bring its own daunting but extremely exciting challenges.

And like you what happens when i grow up, when i can prove that i was not just a hard working student with a bright idea who managed to get people to believe in his idea and help him make it happen?

Mr Bojangles when i grow up i want something similar to your African dream.

My plans for a business institution and advisory service in Sierra Leone (initially) and then beyond are what drives me to make a success of what i have now.

It really is part of my plan to make Sounds Good Advertising a success which would allow me to (A) Raise the required funding (B) Show i have a proven business record, to open a business institution in Freetown,Sierra Leone.

This institution will play a similar role to services we have over here such as Business Gateway, Scottish Enterprise and so on. If you have ever been to Africa, you will probably have seen the huge amount of petty traders and market holders who are mainly young men, all selling literally the exact same products for very little profit.

I know how valuable free and professional business support and guidance can be when you are starting out and i think it would be great to have a service whereby the young men/women can receive business advice, business plan support, accounting support and actual grants (initially) and then loans which will actually bring peoples ideas to life.

My experience in Africa has taught me the importance of educating people at the same time and i believe it is vital to link this business support with some sort of Social Science and Political education which goes hand in hand with the business support we will offer.

The political education does not have to be hard and heavy but merely aims to get the mind going on the institutions that operate in African government and also areas of EU Policy and so on. I believe this latter area will be very helpful especially if the businesses that we have nurtured actually start trading outside of Africa.

Department for International Development (DFID) offer grants for major projects like this but i know i would want to invest my own funds into this to show my commitment.

The Institute i am proposing will hopefully involve the support of Academic Institutions in the UK, business figures, UK government agencies and importantly the respective African governments. Being able to have qualified staff from both Africa and 'guest lecturers' from UK institutions to run the day to day service that the institution provides, is really the plan here.

Anyway, i have rambled on a bit about this and i'm sure you get the idea now.

Mr Bojangles i would appreciate you contacting me on my email address;

I have an enquiry which i believe only you can help me with, it is to do with e-commerce and the viability of my transaction protocol/payment system which is the new innovation to my business. I also think you might find it particularly interesting from a geeky techi angle.

Anyway, thank you ever so much for your time!