Episode 013: Top 10 Tips on Cultivating an Entrepreneur Mindset

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Today’s episode is going to differ from my usual long-form interview with an African entrepreneur.

Today is a special “best of” episode where I’m going to highlight the top ten tips, advice, hacks for cultivating an entrepreneur mindset.

Since the podcast launched, I’ve interviewed a dozen amazing entrepreneurs with thriving businesses in Africa. They’ve candidly shared advice, tips, and insights into how they persevere in the face of challenges.

What’s remarkable is that all of these entrepreneurs share a common mindset that has been critical to their success. As renowned American entrepreneur Tony Robbins said, success as an entrepreneur is 20% skills and 80% psychology, or mindset. You have to develop the right psychology to handle the emotional rollercoaster of being an African entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur anywhere is tough, but I’d argue that being an entrepreneur in Africa is even more difficult.

When I looked through my notes from past episodes, it was incredible to see the similarities of these dozen entrepreneurs. Whatever the subject was – whether it be networking, finding an idea for your business, or dealing with inevitable failure – these entrepreneurs had similar opinions and approaches.

I thought it would be helpful to pick the top ten tips on cultivating an entrepreneur mindset from our past guests. I’m constantly pushing myself to experiment with the podcast because I want to make the best content for you, the YAE listener.

Since I’m exploring with a new format, I’d love to get your feedback. Send me an email at victoria@yaepodcast.com or reach out on Twitter, @yaepodcast.

Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Tips on Cultivating an Entrepreneur Mindset. 

What We Learn In This Episode

We learn in this episode how to cultivate an entrepreneur mindset which prioritizes action or thinking, looks to add value to relationships, and accepts failure as an inevitable part of entrepreneurship, and much more.

Actionable Tips (and Selected Quotes)

10) Get started

  • “Start now. You’re only going to lose time in the future. You can’t really control any outcome but if you can get started something will happen and as long as something happens you can control that something. But the one way to be sure of failure is not to do anything at all.”

-- Wiza Jalakasi, Africa is Talking

  • “Don’t wait until the situation is perfect. Just go out and do it. Be very conscious of your burn rate and your downside. Know how many chips you have to play with at all times.”

-- Sean Keough, EQOS Global

9) Focus on the customer

  • “Find a customer. The most important thing is getting some revenue traction and a path to revenue, which means a customer. We get intoxicated by our products and what we build as tech people generally. Once you’ve found a customer, serving that customer helps you build the right thing.”

--Erik Hersman of BRCK and the iHub

  • “Young entrepreneurs in Africa are starting companies just because of the money and making the name. But I don’t actually see it that way. Even when I started, I saw it that way: get the money, secure the funds, and try to build up the company. But, now my focus is what value added service are you giving the people?”

-- Patrick Muhire, Vugapay

  • “Start small and validate your idea. Before you invest a great deal of time and money into something, make sure that there’s a market. It doesn’t have to be a major market. When you start small you’ve made fewer assumptions. You see where the latent deal takes you. You then figure out: how do I add value? It’s a solution to a problem that they know exists and that there’s already a demand for. Trying to create demand is just a little too expensive.”

-- Feleg Tsegaye, Deliver Addis

  • “Find something that people are already paying for it and do it more efficiently, quickly better, etc.”

-- Daniel Yu, Sokowatch

8) Prioritize skillsets over degrees

  • There was someone I really looked up to when I was fifteen.  He had the house, the car. He was kind of a mentor. I remember, once, that he told me: “Education is great. But it’s not everything. People will always remember you for how you made them feel. And that can only come from being as honest as you can from yourself.”

-- Daniel Maison, Sky.Garden

7) Don’t look far to build your network and find mentors

  • "How to find mentors. Use family, friends, people around you. Here’s the kicker of it all. A lot of these people are willing to be mentors. Most people don’t think so. There’s something flattering about it – a serious young professional wanting mentor support. You have to obviously prove that you mean it. You’re serious. You have your act together. If you can exhibit those commitments, most busy people end up being mentors. I find that to be the big kicker. That I probably didn’t know while I was younger and that’s useful for people to know. It’s a nice shortcut to success.”

-- Henok Assefa, Precise Consulting

  • “As a young African entrepreneur, you need to look around you at people who are doing well and think deeply about the ways in which they’re doing well and how that applies to you.”

-- Nivi Sharma, BRCK & eLimu

6) Add value in your relationships

  • “We try to create some type of connection. When you find those names of people who are approachable, you connect and help. You show reciprocity. You do something for free for them that they need. It can be something simple but you show that you care. You invite someone over and make a meal for him/her. You treat him/her well. People will understand that you’re making an effort and it will help future interactions with them.”

-- Van Jones, Hello Tractor

5) Learn to say no

  • "Taking the wrong money. Taking money from organizations or doing projects that derailed us from our strategic objectives. It’s always tempting to take money, especially when you’re a bootstrapped entrepreneur. It’s very hard to say no to money. Being able to say no. We don’t want to work with you right now. Maybe we can have this conversation a couple years down the line.”

-- Nivi Sharma, BRCK & eLimu

4) Ignore the hype

  • "Not to believe the hype. There’s hype and there’s actual work that has to be done. It’s very easy to build a company around hype. There are terms that people in the industry use like “vanity metrics”. If you’re not careful you can conflate them with actual measures of progress. So you think you’re making progress but you’re not. If you have a product for which you have social media pages, and you have 100,000 likes, that’s great but that doesn’t translate into people actually using your product or revenue. It’s easy for you to build a startup around arbitrary metrics that you define as having value simply because there’s so much hype in the industry and no one has standardized how startups are valued.”

-- Wiza Jalakasi, Africa is Talking

3) Love the process

  • "Be patient in the hustle you’re doing because most people who start up companies these days aren’t patient. Love the hustle. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you must quit and find what you love.”

-- Patrick Muhire, Vugapay

2) Expect to pivot

  • “It’s often said that the idea that you start with is not necessarily the idea that you end with.”

-- Daniel Yu, Sokowatch

1) Accept failure and move on

  • “ In tech entrepreneurship you can only actually learn by figuring out the things that don’t work. It’s very different from any other type of entrepreneurship that I’ve seen because you have this mental model that has been painted for you that is not the real thing. But for you to get to the point where you acknowledge that you just have to fail. I’ve talked to other founders who’ve failed and they’ll tell you the same thing. Oh, you have to go through all of this to realize that it’s hype and there’s a lot of work involved.”

-- Wiza Jalakasi, Africa is Talking