I’ve always loved stories. It’s true everyone loves stories but I guess mine was different. I’m obsessed with stories.
So about 4 years ago, I made the decision to build an online storytelling platform to enable other young Africans like myself to connect, share ideas and tell stories. And since then, my journey towards building this platform has been everything but rosy. It’s been a rollercoaster of wins, failures, disappointments and most importantly, Learning and Growth.
Building a startup is very difficult. According to Investopedia, 90% of startups of fail within their first 3 years. The fact that we’ve been able to survive till our 4th year is a feat I’m immensely proud of and do not take for granted.
In this article, I will attempt to share 5 of the top lessons I have learnt while on this journey.
Lesson 1: Focus on Building A Strong Relationship with your Users
These days, for every startup idea there is atleast 3 or 4 startups that are executing that same idea and delivering the same value proposition. For every Flutterwave, there’s a Paystack, Stripe and PayPal. For every Piggyvest, there’s a Cowrywise, Crowdyvest and Risevest. So how then do you stand out from your competition?
Years of research and data have shown that Startups who seek to establish a more cordial relationship with their users often have the best chance of surviving and thriving. Humans are emotional creatures and we make decisions not entirely based on logic but also how we feel. So whichever platform or product can help us feel good is the one we will patronize.
Jeff Bezos once said this about Amazon “The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer. Our goal is to be the earth’s most customer-centric company”. Today Amazon is worth approximately $1.7 trillion.
So just focus on your users. Everything else is just noise.
Lesson 2: Build a team of highly talented people
I honestly don’t know where Tell! would be today if we didn’t have the team we currently do. The Tell! Team are literally the lifeblood of the startup and I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to lead such a diverse team of brilliant, creative young people.
I remember the first time I approached my cofounder Habeeb Asudemade to join the team as our Head of Business Development. Before then, we had only truly conversed through WhatsApp and had not really met in person. His reputation preceded him. I still wonder till today what he saw in me to have said yes to coming onboard when all I had then were just rough drafts of an idea.
Same goes for my cofounders Fope and Melody whom I am eternally grateful to have had the chance to work with. Melody is literally the most creative person I know while Fope is the most hardworking person I’ve ever met. These people constantly inspire me to become a better version of myself.
So if you want to build a startup that lasts, build a team of exceptionally talented people who can go the extra mile with you,
Come win, come loses. Come rain, come sunshine.
Lesson 3: Failure should be part of the plan
One of my favourite quotes from Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel states that
“Planning is important, but the most important part of every plan is to plan on the plan not going according to plan”
In 2020, we had alot of plans and projections for Tell!. We had just received additional funding and were looking to successfully scale our products and activities to other African countries, after all to us Africa is a country not a continent – there is more that unite us than divide us.
But then, COVID happened…
It took the grace of God and sheer resilience for us to keep the lights on till today. Our plans and projections were promptly thrown out of the window. There were times when I considered quitting, but I had to constantly remind myself Why I started in the place, and that was what kept me going.
It’s okay to plan, afterall doing the opposite – not planning – could lead to a much greater chance of failure. But for every plan there should be a “What if this plan fails” plan and for every “What if this plan fails” plan there should a “What if this plan also fails” plan. You get the point.
Everyone no matter how successful has experienced one form of failure or the other. Personally I believe the greatest form of failure is giving up and the worst thing you can do when you fail is to not learn from the mistakes that led to the failure in the first place. So please by all means, fail forward.
Lesson 4: Storytelling is more important than you think
I’m a huge fan of publications like The Startup and The Mission on Medium. These publications are a collection of personal essays rich in important life lessons from various people. However most times I find myself not being able to properly relate with these type of stories, because the writer is European or American, and so their experiences seem farfetched, and even fictional to me – an African man living in Africa.
Stories are powerful not only because they help us broaden our horizon and see beyond what is around us, but also because they can help us achieve the feeling of solidarity.
That crazy thing you’re going through, I’ve been through it before and here’s what I did about it.
However, as a platform built for African storytelling I believe we haven’t yet fully maximize on this opportunity to enable people share important life lessons with the world through personal essays. That’s why I am excited to announce that moving forward, we would be giving more attention to personal storytelling, encouraging people to tell more nonfictional stories about their lives. We’ll also be offering as much as $10-$20 for Personal essays published by African writers on Tell!. This payment would be made through their Tippings.me account To learn more about this, click here.
Lesson 5: Keep making mistakes, Keep Innovating
In 2014, Amazon took a shot at mobile phone development by launching the Fire phone. Never heard of it? Well that’s because the product failed just few weeks after launch. On this failure, Jeff Bezos – CEO of Amazon said:
“If you think that’s a big failure, we’re working on much bigger failures right now — and I am not kidding. Some of them are going to make the Fire Phone look like a tiny little blip. It is our job, if we want to be innovative and pioneering, to make mistakes and as the company has gotten big — we have $100 billion-plus in annual sales, 250,000-plus people — the size of your mistakes needs to grow along with that.”
As children, we were thought to shy away from failure, avoid mistakes and just stick to what works. But if there’s one thing experience teaches us, it’s that Mistakes are the source of world’s most innovative ideas. You can’t pioneer anything new by doing what everyone else does, you have to choose to do things differently and doing things differently means not being afraid to make mistakes.