It’s not enough to acquire wisdom, it is necessary to employ it

Starting a startup

I was 30 at the end of April, so I reflected on the 525 600 minutes of employment I experienced in one year before starting afresh on 1 May, my 31st birthday. This instantly gained me some wisdom. So, here’s my story.

I was employed at a corporate. On the day after my anniversary at this company, I submitted my resignation and decided to go solo. I was fun-employed and excited for the challenges ahead.

I attended many entrepreneurship events hosted by fintechs and business incubators. I gave talks at businesses schools and women’s day events on entrepreneurship around “starting a startup” – I now have three businesses. They are called:

  • 2016 – AWEddingday: hires out table decor with an African theme, ranging from vases to table runners and napkin rings made from printed fabric, sourced from different countries across the continent.
  • 2017 – LoveTeatime: distributes and resells imported tea from Kenya under the brand Kericho Gold, sold at selected pop-up markets, expos, Spar, Crafters Market, Takealot and other retailers.
  • 2018 – Inclusion Fusion:  a consultancy where I took my love for payments and people, and created a thought leadership and entrepreneurship publication called Inclusion that focuses on different aspects of life from financial and digital to gender, cultural and racial – through different initiatives such as workshops, reading material, and product sampling.

During the season on fun-employment, I focused on expanding the tea business onto e-commerce platforms and a few retailers. I had time to catch up with old faces and discover new places.

It was all fun until November when I realised my savings were dwindling. I started panicking as the fun part in fun-employment had left the building.

I was out of autopilot and reality struck. Some customers weren’t paying invoices as I found myself chasing non-payments daily. I would visit the retail stores; the product was not selling, yet the likes on Instagram were increasing.

Selling online was picking up as my product continued to sell out, but I didn’t have enough capital to restock since my salary was funding the business. Petrol prices increased, which impacted my bottom line as the cost of delivery escalated from both sides of the value chain i.e. bringing the goods into the country as well as delivering to customers.

It was at this stage that I found myself reconsidering going back into corporate. More than 75 job applications and three interviews later, I considered myself an unemployed youth in South Africa with more than ten years’ experience in financial services, two years’ experience as a small business owner, over one thousand LinkedIn connections and a 3,000-odd following across all social media platforms.

I decided to stop the pity party and go back to the drawing board by embarking on a cost cutting exercise and proactive sales drive.

I reduced the tea storage space to a smaller unit and reduced our rent by 60%. I found partners for AWEddingday and outsourced the business. I pimped my LinkedIn profile and became active by engaging on posts that are in line with my experience in payments by providing recommendations on products and partnerships.

Through this, I secured clients in the fintech space, which I now consult to, therein diversifying my income stream to not only the tea business but other areas too. However, I use the tea business as a case study when engaging with other entrepreneurs.

The last three seasons are all that self-employment is about. I earned stars and scars. I embraced full-time entrepreneurship. It’s been a journey… from the comfort zone of a full-time corporate gig with a paycheque on the 20th of every month to the growth zone where, in March 2019, I entered the terrible twos of running LoveTeatime.

It was just a side hustle that opened the door to many more hustles. My advice from all of this: start your side hustle. It’s a gig economy. Self-disrupt before you are disrupted by retrenchments, restructures and other unpredictable events.

It feels great to have found my purpose.

“I’m a big fan of non-traditional career paths. Every experience builds a box of skills that make you stronger and more prepared for the next.” – Dan Brown. 

Dan Schawbel posted on Instagram: “Finding your purpose happens when experience meets self-awareness meets timing…”

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