How I learned the rules of the business
York Zucchi is a Swiss born investor, and entrepreneur in Africa since 2007. He was previously at Goldman Sachs where he contributed towards the global financial meltdown. He has started numerous businesses (healthcare, IT tourism, academia, etc.); some failed and some succeeded. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, Africa and coffee and believes that the right mixture of these three will make Africa the continent to be for the next 20 years. He gets featured a lot in the press (Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine) but doubts anyone actually understands what he really does for a living. Amongst his recent accomplishments: the world’s first TEDx talk on the business of primary healthcare (http://bit.ly/1JRY0CL), started the Tinder for Businesses – an initiative to match opportunities to businesses all over the world (now already in 57 countries – www.JoinTheEquation.com ) and in July 2017 he is going on a two year Africa trip to write the ‘Entrepreneurs’ guide to doing business in Africa’.
Can you tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey and women entrpreneurs in Africa?
I am a 42 year old male who has worked in 11 countries, got fired 5 times, quit twice, just before they could fire me, and made money in 2 businesses. My last post was at Goldman Sachs, then I started 7 businesses, 6 of which failed (the 7th – together with my business partner Anke – is now active in over 57 countries) and yet I enjoy each and every single day. I mention all this just to make the point that I have been – relatively speaking – around the block, flirted with Mr Bankruptcy and danced with Miss Success – so have seen a few things (rough guess, ca. 3,000 businesses over the last 22 years). I certainly don’t know everything, but have seen a few things on the road, and one of these things is that in terms of women entrepreneurs – especially in Africa where I have resided since 2007 – the landscape was historically barren. It was a partcularly male dominated world. I said ”was”. It is changing and changing fast.
Are more women taking space in the business field today? And why is that do you think?
I asked my business partner Anke: She says there are more men than women, but she thinks it is a generational topic, as she is observing a shift in the millennials. New role models and changing generations, access to higher education, and a new understanding of the important role of women in society. Within one or two generations there will be an equal share of men and women in the entreprenuerial ecosystem in Africa. And I agree with her. The world is waking up to the incredible potential that is embodied in women. Anke suggests that changing role models make it more acceptabble for women to be in business. Additionally, the increasing costs of living means that the traditional role of women in the home is being replaced by the pressure to create new income, hence new breadwinners. It depends quite a lot on the enabling environment in which women work. Germany is very different from Italy which is very different from Nigeria and to Korea. But the trend is towards more women coming online in terms of becoming entreprenuers.
Could you give female entrepreneurs some advice on how they can grow themselves and their business?
I agree with my business partner Anke when she suggests that there is no difference between a female and a male entrepreneur. Nevertheless, as she says, women should learn to be bold, brave and proud of what they can do and don’t be shy and don’t hold back. Take a leap of faith. Often the best lessons are learned out of screw ups and setbacks. This is inevitably painful and a very scary prospect, especially if you are about to quit a relatively secure job for the uknown wilderness of entreprenuership. There is no hard and fast advice I can give in business aside from that income must be greater than the expenses. But there are some principles that just seem to be recurring amongst successful ventures that I picked up over a few years of doing business around the world. Agree or disagree, I hope they will get your thinking juices going.
24 The rules of business
Income must be greater than expenses in the mid to long term. No exceptions, unless you have a wealthy uncle who is part of the FFF investment trio (friends, fools or family).
Your best source of investors are your clients.
Start with a basic easy to deliver service offering and then grow as you get more clients.
Don’t just shoot for the stars: develop a nice modest business that pays the bills to start with.
Watch out for that little voice called “hope” – it can lead you to fall off the financial cliff.
Surround yourself with people who – plainly speaking – are making waves. It is more comfortable to hang around with like-minded friends and business people, but if you want to grow, swallow your pride and hang out in the lion’s den and leave the penguins on ice 🙂. Hang out with men and women who support you as a woman and as an entreprneuer.
Learn to differentiate between what you need and what you want. A fancy phone, nice laptop and an office is a want.
Whatever you do, always, always, always, tap into the selfishness of whom you are sending your proposal to. What’s in it for them first and foremost. You don’t sell for you, you sell for what they need/want.
Never forget that we all respond better when it is relevant to us. When something speaks to our core. To our selfishness.
To really understand what makes a person tick. However you really need to learn the power of listening. Learn the art and power of really listening to your users and clients. Don’t listen to friends who think they know what a client wants (usually they don’t).
The “once we have a million users we will monetise it” business works in probably only five thousand out of one million businesses. If you read this and got excited about your prospects, go and attend a refresher course in stats.
If the muck hits the fan, ignore everything that is a distraction and focus on the core issue of the problem.
You will have limited resources no matter how successful you become. Watch those margins!
As you grow, putting out fires will consume 95% of your time. Just try each day to put 5% of you into making progress to your goals.
Don’t give away equity to every person that promises to add value. Give it to those who work for it, pay or it or sweat for it.
Make sure you have a financial person (your sister, accountant, CFO etc) who protects you from yourself. Put a safety net between you and the money you are making so that you can’t risk it all on the next best idea that creeps into your head.
Stay positive. Even when things don’t work out well.
Focus on the solution and not the business model. The solution is what you are trying to find – the business model you can (and should) change regularly.
If you can’t figure out how to make money out of your business idea, start small but do start. If after a while you still can’t figure it out, it is not a business but a hobby. Hope you can afford your new hobby 🙂
You will face financial duress (multiple times probably). Write on a BIG board in your office “KEEP OVERHEADS AND FIXED COSTS TO AN ABSOLUTE MINIMUM AND LOVE VARIABLE COSTS”. You’ll thank me later.
If only you had an investor is NOT a business model.
NPOs (Not for Profit) organisations still need to make a profit. The only difference between them and a ’For Profit’ is how they share or invest that profit.
You have the responsibility to try and leave the world in a little better state than you found it in. Don’t forget it. As citizens of this wonderful egg-shaped thing called earth it is our duty to improve life for all – humans, fauna and flora.
Try and enjoy each day. In entrepreneurship it is the journey that counts. The destination doesn’t exist – it is constantly changing. Enjoy this beautiful, scary, exciting, uncertain, powerful, fulfilling, roller coaster called entrepreneurship.
Why is it important for you to empower women in business?
For me, women are just better business persons in my experience. Business is a juggling act that requires a careful balancing of many elements which taps better in the multi-tasking talent of a woman than the singular attention span of men (as a generalisation of course). Women have a different way to run a business which is more sustainably oriented than the typical male transaction orientation.
As a man, a businessman in particular, what are your thoughts around more women getting empowered and successful in business, and how will this change the future in business?
My business partner Anke is a woman. My girlfriend Tamar is an entrepreneur. My best friends – from the multiple restaurant entrepreneur Ansel to healthcare impresario Dr Mashadi, are women entrepreneurs. I am surrounded by phenomenal women entrepreneurs in different stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Women have always been entreprenurially minded – despite the suppression by men over the years, especially so in relatively male dominated cultures as found in Africa.
In the last eight years particularly, I have witnessed a renaissance of women entrepreneurs: it is almost as if the world suddenly woke up – as a generalisation – and decided that 50% of the world’s population is full of talent and potential. I don’t know if it is thanks to the internet, thanks to great women and men taking a stand for equality or if it is because men finally realised the idiocy of suppressing this incredible pool of entreprenurial talent. What I am confident in saying is that – in my experience – women will probably be better entrepreneurs than men. I generalise grossly of course, but in my dealings with women they are better planners, negotiatiors and can take the pain that the entreprenurial journey inevitably brings much better than men can. The sh*t that women had to deal with for so many years – from glass ceilings to income gaps for the same work, to the inaccesibility of ”boy’s networks” only made women stronger, more resilient, and fitter to deal with this amazing roller coaster called entrepreneurship.
My colleague at Goldman Sachs did a study a few years ago (2003 – http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/investing-in-women/research-articles/womens-work.pdf ) which showed the impact of women in business on the global economy. The results were staggering. If there was ever more proof of men idiocy to raise the tide for all boats, it is to be found in men’s barriers and hurdles that we put in place to make it more difficult for women to participate in the economy. Here’s to the incredible power of women everywhere! Here’s to an amazing future.
York Zucchi can be found on Linkedin and Instagram and as YPZ on Twitter. Blog: https://yzpafrica.org