Many people intending to go into business usually ask me what is the one thing that is most important. My answer in the recent past has been consistent. START SMALL.

Unfortunately not many people want to hear this, because the reason we go into business is to become rich and to build a BIG humongous money making business.I find it amusing how almost  every startup has Safaricom ,Barclays bank or similar big companies on their hit list. They all seem to know someone on the inside who has promised them a contract. 6 months down the line the contract is elusive, and if it comes through they get paid in 120 days,deep in debt and disillusioned.If you are keen on starting big, you might be better off walking into a casino and trying your hand there. Your chances of riches in the casino might be higher,and if you lose all your money, you will not have auctioneers and angry unpaid employees at your doorstep. The only place a business should start big is in your head, DREAM BIG!

The reason I give this advise is because if you have not been an entrepreneur before, the biggest mistake you can make is to go into a big investment right away. These come in the form of plush offices with new furniture, computers,gizmos,randomly hired staff and unnecessarily high rent. Sometimes the entrepreneur will even buy a sleek car on loan to impress their potential clients. Even if you have saved up millions of shillings, or have access to large amounts of money through a partner or investor, I still insist that you start small. Heres why…

Entrepreneurs begin with very unrealistic assumptions about the market. In fact,those who come from big companies and have identified gaps in their industry , are likely to make the biggest mistakes.They bring their big company mentality into their small business. What they dont realise is that their small business is a very different ball game from the big company they worked for, and in a few months the reality begins to sink in. They soon discover that they dont have the bucket loads of cash to waste on lunches that their former employer had, they dont have the trust of the clients, they dont have the brand name and legacy and sometimes, they dont have the capacity to deliver on the same scale.Their  may even have their golfing buddies quickly abandon them and even if they move with 1 or 2 big clients, they soon realise that they have to work even harder to attract and retain more clients.

Starting small mitigates unseen risks. Starting small has no prestige in it, and definitely doesnt promise big money in the short term. But it can save you a lot of problems in future. If you want to start a restaurant, before you go and put millions of shillings into a facility, start with outside catering for your friends and see if they like the food. If you want to start a marketing agency,nothing stops you from doing trial jobs while still employed just to see if people are happy with what you do. If you want to start an airline , do what richard branson did and hire a plane and see if you can do one route succesfully even if its from Nairobi to Lodwar several times. The beauty with such low risk ventures is that if something goes terribly wrong, you have the opportunity to rectify it quickly without causing much damage, and also you can manage the growth without losing a lot of money and making lots of enemies in the process in the form of disappointed clients,re-possesive bank,  unhappy employees or competitors out to destroy you and your descendants to the third and fourth generation.

2 things to keep in mind today

1. If you are employed , start on a part time basis on weekends and after work or during holidays before quitting.

2.If you were brave enough and already  jumped ship ,look for an unserved market or a gap where the  industry you are venturing into is doing a bad job.  It could be a fully fledged product or service, or a support service to the industry. For example, if you want to venture into insurance, you could either start selling insurance directly or you could go into training insurance sales people if you identified that every company did a bad job in training their people. If you want to go into construction, you could buy a rare piece of construction equipment and hire it out to established players or offer a rare service as a subcontractor to the big companies.If you want to start a school, how about tutoring the neighbours kids and see if their grades improve.

Starting small may take years to yield fruits, so you could do something else in which you have a competency to supplement your income before your company takes off. Lecture at a college, be a freelance consultant to your former employer, be a part time employee at your industry lobby association. Be creative, find something.

There is definitely many people who may start big and make it big ,but I usually find that they either have large sums of money to kickstart them, have venture capital backed by expert advise and management from the investors or have an experienced business partner who has cut his or her teeth in business and therefore can help them navigate the terrain. The rest of us mere mortals have to sweat it out for years. Sometimes one is just lucky to step into something new that is just about to take off that makes them extremely wealthy in a short period of time.Early telecoms  dealers made billions by being the first movers in the new industry.  However, this is normally the odd story rather than the norm.

Finally, be proud of whatever you do. Dont look down upon yourself. Every great company today started small in a public phone booth,  garage, SQ, street corner or at a kind friends office kitchen. My business partner  told us today that the only difference between a small elephant and big elephant is time and food.

Categories EntrepreneurshipTags

22 thoughts on “THE BEAUTY OF STARTING small

  1. Great article!
    Indeed starting small allows one to test assumptions against reality and make any necessary adjustments before implementing on a large scale.

  2. Joram,
    Once again you blow my mind. Very true on the facts presented and well localized to Kenya.

    1. Thanks for breaking it down into chewable chunks… the only way we can eat the biz start ups elephant.

    2. you are welcome, I hope I can keep helping and inspiring you

  3. powerful thoughts…and extremely practical. May the entrepreneurs in the land read this and rise up to do something smart from right where they are!

  4. Good stuff,how true. I wish someone had told me when I was starting

    1. Its never too late for an entrepreneur, dont worry I also started by trying to be big and paid for it dearly

  5. awesome read! Especially like this one:

    The only place a business should start big is in your head, DREAM BIG!

  6. Ha haa! you are so right… entrepreneurship ain’t for the faint hearted. At some point, stats read like this… only 10% of business survive the first one year. The way capitalism works is that it rewards those who are able to deliver what the market wants. There are risks and those who manage those risks best are the ones who are most likely to succeed. There are other factors too… however, the best way to benefit from the learning curve is to start small, that way, your lessons won’t be expensive.

  7. The beauty of starting small boils down to this, managing expectations. It is realizing that you are in this for the first time, and as such you need to proceed with a sober head. Your exposure is reduced as you will concentrate on only what is essential to take your business to the next level.

    As you correctly put it, many start-ups fail is due to “big-business” mentality. They have an unrealistic expectation of who they are and what they do. In the process, how they go about setting up their business is all wrong. For example, they may invest heavily in fixed-assets that are capital intensive in a bid to look big. Instead, they should invest in as few strategic fixed-assets, the first step that will give them leverage to get onto the second step. These assets need to be driven by smart talent, the people who will drive the business’ vision.

    We can learn from sports. World record high-jumpers do not start off a competition jumping from a 2-metre height. They build up slowly from a lower height (start small) and aim for the higher height (big dream).

    Start small, dream big. The dream will keep the fire in your stomach alive!

    1. Thanks Kimunya, seems like you should be writing about business too! 🙂 Unfortunately our culture today encourages hyped up expectations that only set people up for failure…..

  8. This is really motivational. I particularly agree with the part where you said “6 months down the line the contract is elusive, and if it comes through they get paid in 120 days,deep in debt and disillusioned.”
    I have learnt that retaining the trust of the people we know on the inside of big companies is a skill we all, as small entrepreneurs need to nurture

  9. Food for thought especially for those that have Big Audacious Dreams! Very True though .. just heard the Story of how Tuskys started from a Duka in Nakuru.

  10. I appreciate the article. Big dreams need to be started small since they help us learn so much along the way as we grow with the venture.It call for patience and being realistic.

  11. I totally agree with this article though there’s something I’d like to share – my 2 cents.

    Sometimes in life – especially in the world of entrepreneurship, you have to take risks. Its actually what sets the difference between a Business Owner and an Entrepreneur.

    A business owner usually almost sacrifices their time and lifestyles to make their business venture a success and more often than not, they do not allow themselves to think outside the box, they rarely allow innovation to be a part of their business decisions hence making their work mechanical and repetitive needing motivation to stay focused in their endeavors thus taking much longer to achieve wealth than an entrepreneur.

    Entrepreneurs tend to be risk takers who love to learn & grow. They will typically achieve limited income from their business but will seek to obtain wealth mostly between 3-5years.They are accustomed to innovation and diversification and what they offer and services tending to be ambitious and have a high drive to go beyond surviving reflect more on their passions other than just doing business as a means to survive. They work on their businesses on a more strategic level, evolving it, & thus redefining “zeal” when it comes to their committment to wealth creation.

    So what’s my point exactly?

    Both these enterprising persons view risk and reward through different lenses, thus approaching their business ventures from opposite stands. I personally don’t think its wrong to think (and go after!) big and have blue chip companies on your hit list because truth be told, thinking small only makes your journey to wealth creation so much longer! Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m also doing business and I have hit many bumps (so to speak), but at no one time will your journey when starting a business be smooth. Even when you start small, there are always obstacles to overcome. I guess at the end of the day, its up to you to decide which lens you want to view risk and reward through. Great business aren’t built overnight, true; but then again, don’t limit yourself. Think outside the box.

    My 2 cents 🙂

  12. Really nice article Joram, if only people would head to the advice. I have seen people loose their shirts out here all in the name of starting a business.

  13. What an encouragement!!!! I think am afraid of risk, however small it may be. Thanks.

  14. Very encouraging!can we meet to discuss further?

  15. Yes this is very true and even as a christian i learn that salvation also starts very small, it begins by repenting of ones sins and as we surrender the seconds of our lives to Jesus and He begin to take care of the minutes, hours, days, months and years of our lives to eternity. Friends as we look at the happenings around the universe one thing becomes very apparent, Jesus Christ the Messiah is now coming back for a holy church and He has sent his word of repentance to a waken the awake to prepare and be ready for the rapture of the church and also worn people of the pending wrath of God for the disobedient. Please visit Thank you. Let us return now to the Lord.

  16. Absolutely powerful. Feeling the starting small thing because it gives us room for process which is critical…its a steep learning curve at the beginning and it helps to have the stakes low.

  17. This is really spot on! I think some of the most humbling lessons that one learns in business are: (1) the real meaning of ‘patience and (2) the importance of ‘delayed gratification’!

  18. I like the part about Gaddafi haha funny…brilliant article

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