SUNDAY TIMES - Seek out partners, find success
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Sunday Times Opinion By Zipho Sikhakhane, 2016-01-10 00:00:00.0

Seek out partners, find success

Last year proved unforgettable - with enough social, political and economic turmoil to have us talking about the events of the past year for decades to come. The new year is upon us and we wait with eager anticipation to see what it has in store for South Africa.

This is the time of year where list upon list of goals is compiled.

Those who normally succeed at achieving their personal goals know that certain measures need to be put in place to ensure that these lists last beyond the first week of January.

One measure to improve the chances of success involves getting other people involved - friends, family and mentors. They can either work with you to achieve these goals, or hold you accountable when you fall off track.

The same enabling measure holds true for the entrepreneurial journey.

Merely making a goal to follow the entrepreneurial path is not enough - there are people who have had this goal for, say, 15 years ... and have still made zero progress. We need to avoid this trap, especially given how low the level of entrepreneurship is in this country.

We have a long way to go to catch up with our peer countries, and it will start with individuals actually following through on their aspirations to make progress on their entrepreneurial journey this year.

In the same way that the aspiring runner starts by joining a running club, so should the aspiring entrepreneur tap into the existing ecosystem designed to support entrepreneurs.

The Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs once compiled in-depth research showcasing the role that various organisations played in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Africa. The resulting report was titled "South Africa's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Map" and featured 214 organisations that supported founders at different stages on the entrepreneurial growth curve. That means hundreds of organisations exist to help those who embark on this path.

These organisations end up playing the critical role of enabling entrepreneurs to connect with like-minded peers - who can, in turn, hold each other accountable on their goals and aspirations.

Humans are social creatures who thrive on connecting with others and these organisations can help foster such connections.

For example, striking up a conversation with someone working in a shared entrepreneurial work space centre or attending the next Hookup Dinner could be a solid start.

The entrepreneurial journey is lonely,and getting out there to interact with others can multiply the size of your support network.

This loneliness is not to be underestimated. It is one of the reasons that entrepreneurs coming from a background of full-time employment sometimes struggle to stand up on their own as entrepreneurs.

When you're employed full time, there are always people surrounding you. Peers, bosses and subordinates, constantly aware of your actions and ready to give directional input upon request. Proactively creating a semblance of this support when embarking on the entrepreneurial path can be the difference between making it and not making it.

Beyond acquiring a support network, getting yourself out there can increase the level of exposure to potential co-founders.

These are the people who are out there working towards the same goals as you - but could be coming at it from different angles or locations. Case studies show that even today's biggest success stories did not start out alone.

Herman Mashaba of Black Like Me and Elon Musk of SpaceX are good examples. These masterminds made sure to bring co-founders to work with them.

Spread the word and you could be impressed by the quality of people who are keen to get on board.

I am surprised when I come across founders who are scared of sharing their ideas with others for fear of those ideas being stolen. I find this fear more common here than in other countries I have visited. My hunch is that the potential loss of having an idea stolen by someone could be far less than the potential benefit they stand to gain when they bounce their ideas off others for input.

In Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs are way too eager to share their ideas - the bigger challenge is getting them to stop talking. Their passion for the idea drives them to engage. But when you see the quality of the feedback they receive and the potential partners they meet from this eagerness to share, sharing an idea becomes a no-brainer.

Let's make the decision to follow our entrepreneurial dreams this year - but let's also bring others along on this journey.

ziphosikhakhane@gmail.com

Sikhakhane advises and funds African entrepreneurs. She is an international retailer, writer and motivational speaker, with an honours degree in business science from the University of Cape Town and an MBA from Stanford University