Starting a new business is an exciting time until failure threatens to bury your accomplishments with a single swipe. Meghan McCormick, CEO & Co-founder of OZÉ, a mobile platform that provides small businesses in Africa with the data they need to make their move to the global stage, shares her interview with Terry Macharia from Nairobi, Kenya who didn’t allow the failure of her old business to keep her down but rose above to build a new successful business. Her advice, “Hire competent people for the job”.
Terry Macharia is at the top of her game as a successful, female tech entrepreneur and engineer. Her company, Secvate Solutions, based in Nairobi, Kenya, provides customized software and cyber-security solutions. It’s a good field to be in. Nir Kshetri, writing in the Journal of Global Information Technology, puts the costs of cyber-attacks at $3.5B annually in Africa and notes that cyber-crime is growing in emerging economies as more people come online. Therefore, Macharia has a big opportunity on her hands, and this time she has the experience to capture it.
Secvate Solutions is not Macharia’s first go at entrepreneurship. In 2016 she found Omnis Limited, a company providing custom software. Before the end of 2017, it was shut down. As much as entrepreneurs fetishize failure, it still really hurts. “After we closed the company, I got into depression and was unwell for about two months. But through treatment, I managed to reflect and did a lot of self-talk which helped me pick up my pieces and decided to build my own company from scratch,” said Macharia.
Despite the pain of it, there is a good reason to celebrate failure. Macharia knew what mistakes to avoid this time around. First, as simple as it sounds, recruiting needs to be done based on competencies and not friendships. You may be thinking to yourself that of course you hire on skills, but think deeper. How did you meet your first hires? Were they your friends? Or friends of your colleagues? Before your brand has any equity, personal relationships are your best bet at hiring top talent. You don’t need to stop hiring friends, but you do need to make sure that this relationship does not cloud your judgment. Ask every applicant to submit a resume and cover letter, even if they are your roommate. If you have a hands-on advisor, you can also ask them to be a part of the final interview process to make sure that even if you are hiring friends, you are hiring the competent ones.
Second, Macharia learned that you need to get your finances in order from day one. You may put off an accounting system until you are spending or making “enough” money. You may want to wait until you get your first outside investment. If you’ve waited that long, it’s already too late. At Omnis Limited, they struggled to “stick to the budget”. Compounding this problem, “There was a mixture of business bills with personal bills. There was no clear-cut difference which affected the little income we had at the time,” said Macharia.
But, like almost a quarter of all startups, people issues were the final nails in the coffin. Internally, and at a board level, there was no clear decision-making process. This led to unsolvable conflicts of interest. Macharia and her partner knew that they had to make bold decisions, but in the end, the only one they could make was to go their separate ways.
“I looked into somebody who had an established business and requested for their mentorship.”
Reflection was very important for Macharia in the transition from the old, failed company, to the successful new one. Even more importantly, Macharia didn’t try to apply her new lessons without help. “I looked into somebody who had an established business and requested for their mentorship. It’s through their guidance and direction that I have managed to build the company from ground up with proper structures and processes,” she said.
Nobody wants to fail. At the same time, failing is not the end of the world. Macharia reminds us that “The failure of the business doesn’t define you as a failed individual.” For example, there are many investors who look for a failed first or second company before they will invest in an entrepreneur. If your business is failing, has failed, or might fail, take some time to reflect on the “why”. Then get advice from experts to prevent that same “why” from happening again, put your head down, lift your chin up, and go for it!
About The Author
Meghan McCormick is the CEO & Co-founder of OZÉ, a mobile platform that equips small business owners in Africa to make data-driven decisions to grow their business and access capital. I started my career as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in the Peace Corps in Guinea. During my service, I co-founded Dare to Innovate and scaled it to be Francophone Africa’s most active small business accelerator. I’ve spent my career trying to figure out how we can use design, entrepreneurship, and public-private collaboration to solve intractable global problems. I hold an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management where I was a Legatum Fellow for Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets and an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where I was an Adrien Cheng Fellow in the Social Innovation and Change Initiative.