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Ugonna Nwaeze: Dear Entrepreneur, Can Your Business Survive Your Absence?

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I never thought about this question while I was present at my online grocery store Nkataa.com, but since my absence I have realised its importance. Had I not been lucky enough to tailor my business to run without me, I would have some serious problems right now.

No one ever plans to be absent when there’s a lot of money to be made and a lot of business to be done, but sometimes life has a way of forcing us to be absent at some critical points in the lifespan of our businesses.

I have seen that we are just as addicted to Apple products after the passing of Steve Jobs as we have ever been. Despite the high foreign currency exchange rate in our country, many of us already have the iPhone 7 and are eagerly anticipating the next Apple product to hit the market. Nigeria remains among the highest purchasers of luxury goods and electronics regardless of the incessant ranting on social media about the Federal Government, the recession and the rising cost of FOREX.

This has caused me to think a bit deeply. Are there ways that businesses can be set up to outlive and outperform their founders? I am interested in this subject because I believe that even when I am present, a successful business is one that allows me to spend more time doing leisurely activities and spending time with loved ones.

As a CEO, regardless of my presence at work, my business occupies my mind 24/7. I always think about salaries, staff welfare, how to break even, profitability, etc. In fact there’s always something business-related on my mind. I believe that these issues would be better attended to if they were the only issues on my mind. Sometimes, one needs to be absent from the running of business in order to focus on these issues.

I would also like some time off to play, after work and on weekends. Furthermore, I need to reflect on what I’ve done so far and how I can keep improving. This is better achieved when I can step back from the day-to-day operations of my business. I certainly would not like to continue this cycle of overworking myself, until I am unavoidably absent again; something needs to change.

The basic requirement for business survival for start-ups is having a team. I have come to see a lot of start-ups with brilliant ideas impeding growth because they have refused to set up a team. They run their businesses so intelligently when they are available, but whenever they are away it is a different story. The business and customers wait impatiently while they flood their customers’ social media timelines with fun pictures of their holidays or family functions. Followed by an apology post when they return saying “Sorry I wasn’t able to respond to you guys, Nigeria was driving me crazy and I had to run away, but I’m back now. Yaay!”

Let me quickly make it clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with running your business like this. Maybe sometimes it is better to enjoy your holiday without getting calls from customers that their food has still not come. However, if you want your business to out-live/out-perform you as a founder, and operate in your absence, then you need to get a team.

There are a million ways things can be done and there are also a million excuses why things cannot be done. I would normally encourage young CEOs like myself to invest in a team. A lot of people would always say to me, “I love your team, give me Bose, she’s pretty and intelligent. It is not easy to find smart people in Nigeria. There is a serious gap in Nigeria for “good hands.” It is not easy to find people who understand your vision. “Nigerians? They will just run down your business…” I can keep going on but I think you get my point.

Bose was always a pretty girl but she has not always been an intelligent girl. In fact we used to call her an olodo. I worried that I had made a mistake in hiring her and we decided to just ‘dump her in customer care to talk to customers jarey.’ That was a BIG MISTAKE! We had customers and friends calling me and saying, “Get that girl off the phone.” However, today Bose is known as valuable and intelligent and people are wondering, “where did you find her?”

What happened to Bose? How has she in a short space of time been able to transform from being an ‘olodo’ to being an asset? I have seen this ‘Bose-like transformation’ happen to quite a few members of my team. It has been a roller coaster with different personalities out there. It has taken a great deal of investment. How did it happen? It took patience, capacity building, team-building exercises, and a lot more. In fact, I have lost some members of my team that I love so dearly because they refused my investments. Like I said earlier there are a million ways things can be done and there are also a million excuses why things cannot be done. One thing you must get done is to “get good hands.” You must build the capacity you need. This does not come through firing everyone who doesn’t meet your standards; it comes through building up the individuals you have to become the team you want.

Which leads us to the next point: The second requirement for your business to survive your absence is having a team that you have invested in. My team is my brand and I will deploy the same level of effort and finances I use to build my brand, to build my team.

I will conclude this article with saying that usually the ones who we feel are the good hands are often beyond the reach of start-ups in terms of being able to afford them – unless your dad gave you a “small loan” of a million dollars like President elect Donald Trump. However, this is not a problem because the people you have invested in will manage your start-up better than ready-made people you have employed.

I am looking forward to the next article because I will focus on writing about setting up the right team and how you can invest in them. In the coming weeks, I will also cover other impediments start-ups face with setting up a team.

Until next time, happy building!

Ugonna Nwaeze, or ‘Mr. Nkataa’ as he is more popularly known, is the CEO of Abuja’s favourite online grocery store, Nkataa.com. He is an engineer by profession, with a first degree in Engineering from Loughborough University and a Masters in Business Administration. Ugonna is an entrepreneur by heart who has built Nkataa from a concept to an online dependable solution. Nkataa provides food (fresh and cooked), groceries and household items at customers’ doorsteps within 2 hours of order placement. Ugonna believes that “invention is the mother of all necessity,” and these challenging times are grounds for further invention and expansion for entrepreneurs. He has other interesting businesses in the pipeline, which he is currently developing. Ugonna also provides tips and advice for upcoming entrepreneurs based on his business background and experiences as an entrepreneur.

14 Comments

  1. cHIKITO

    February 24, 2017 at 1:29 am

    This was refreshing

  2. anonymous today

    February 24, 2017 at 4:18 am

    Ahh Mr Nkaata,
    I run a service based company and I set it up from the outset hoping that 1. It would run independent of me and 2. that it would outlive me and be a generational business so help me God.
    When planning it, I said to myself, after 5 years, I would step back and see if the business can continue without my physical presence for 2 months but God had other plans. After 2.5 years, “due to circumstance beyond my control” I have had to be away for almost 6 months now and mehn, MY SERVICE BASED BUSINESS IS STILL GOING ON!

    One thing that has worked for me was communicating the vision with my staff, understanding their individual motivations and showing them how the success of the business invariably achieves their own goals.

    I am grateful to God that for the inspiration to set it up that way at the outset. Grateful to him for sending staff who despite our differences, have the same same vision and thankful for the small effort of mine that is yielding fruit.
    I hope one day there would be many generational business in Nigeria which would tell their own success stories too.

    God bless the SME’s in Nigeria. We shall not just survive but thrive!

  3. wellness

    February 24, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Thanks for posting. Setting up a team/ partnership is one of my greatest fears /stresses about starting up a business. This has been helpful.

  4. olanna&odenigbo

    February 25, 2017 at 12:14 am

    I am eagerly waiting for the next article…. struggled with this for long, gone through many people, but hopefully now making progress….I pray we keep growing.
    The few times I had to travel, even with a not-so-stable team, I have always organised for work and monitoring to continue in my absence, and it does…I must confess it’s a bit stressful to follow up on work and multiple explanations when my brain is on vacation.
    After a hectic year last year, I pretty much let go of my entire former team (each one at a different time and for different reasons) and reassembling another started again this year, with clearer intentions of what I required from the people I hire, and I noticed my more recent trip was better than my previous ones, my new assistant was more efficient handling things and communicating between other staff and myself… I on my part, was also more patient with communication cos I realised I couldn’t expect them to just know everything at once… So I am learning patience and hoping to keep building a better structure as we progress.

    I have learned I also don’t need to die with -the devil I know’ ….Let them go if they no longer serve the mission and/or refuse to be aligned. I offered a staff free training that I usually charge upwards of 200k for, and she was a no-show…not even phone call to cancel or reschedule. this is someone who was already slowing us all down and refusing to do something about a fixable problem…and she had the nerve to roll into work on Monday by 11am… how do we deal with such people biko… I’m learning o…different days with different lessons.

    • Anon

      March 19, 2017 at 5:05 pm

      And Mr nkataa is gone. Like a meteorite. Sad ?

  5. Mila

    February 26, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Loved it. Thank you.

  6. Anonymous

    March 19, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Reading this. So many thots going thru my mind. This was barely a month ago and now u r gone. Did u know u were leaving earth forever?? Sad news on a sunday morning. Rest well

  7. Chiomah

    March 19, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Mr Nkaata this is a big loss! Mourning the loss of a great entrepreneur. By Gods grace your business will outlive you. Rest in peace.

  8. ify

    March 19, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    rest in peace

  9. Nadine

    March 19, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    Found this article when I heard of his death. He was such a promising young man I know would’ve changed so many things in this country. He was already changing the country #RIPUgonna #RIPMrNkataa 🙁

  10. Maims

    March 20, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    A brilliant and inspiring piece from a promising young man who has left us too soon ? Rest well Mr Nkataa #angelugonna

  11. Shade

    March 21, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    Had to revisit this article after the news of your death. Rest in peace?

  12. Abiodun

    March 23, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    Ugonna, I knew about you after Kunbi’s demise. I somewhat afterwards developed some sort of interest in all of Adekunbi’s friends and family. I knew you were doing well in Abuja and was glad. Then, I heard about your departure from this world. In Yoruba language, I would say ”Oye Olorun”. May the good Lord be with your family. The follow-up writings that you planned to write will never be posted on Bella Naija…. Rest in the Lord’s bossom!

  13. Happy Rugbere

    March 11, 2018 at 6:12 am

    Great words, kinda seems like you knew you were leaving us.

    So glad that 8 stumbled upon this article. Been struggling with my start-up and this just gave me a better way of looking at things.

    You still inspire from the afterlife, tnx once more.

    You will be remembered

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