I don’t watch a lot of television. I can count on one hand the TV series I’ve religiously followed to the end.
I followed “How I Met Your Mother”. That one was fun to watch. And “Breaking Bad” – I’ve never forgotten the main character, Walter White. I only caught it because Stephen King (the writer) really liked Walter White.
I also followed “Grey’s Anatomy”. It had one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard. It’s in what feels like it’s 100th season; I stopped watching it at season 12. I don’t remember where I dropped “Modern Family” or why, because it also made for entertaining TV.
What else? “Abstract: Art Of Design”, it’s a Netflix-produced series with only one season. I watch and rewatch it often. “Chef’s Table” is also as inspiring.
I’ve never caught an episode of “Game Of Thrones”, and I doubt I ever will.
Now when I have half an hour to kill, I catch “Shark Tank”.
In “Shark Tank”, entrepreneurs who are seeking for funding for their businesses pitch their ideas to the ‘Sharks’. The Sharks are billionaires who’ve built empires out of their own ideas. I’d never heard of anyone of them before except Daymond John, the guy who invented FUBU. He who likes mink coats and diamond-studded earrings. And he’s black.
Anyway, if one of the Sharks likes your idea, he’ll invest his own money to become part of it. They usually buy equity to become part of the business. They also bring on board mentorship, contacts, exposure and a boatful of other goodies every young entrepreneur needs to jumpstart his business.
Sometimes, they opt to keep a percentage of future revenue.
The show is 10 seasons in.
I watch the show to understand why the Sharks choose to invest in a business and why they don’t. Sometimes, before they deliberate, I press pause and ask myself what I’d do if I were in their shoes. Or what particular questions I’d ask the entrepreneur.
I don’t recall what drew me to the TV show in the first place. It was probably one of those weekends when GB was away and I was looking for something easy and quick to watch, something I could fall asleep to without feeling like I’d missed anything.
Well, I’ve never stopped watching. And I never fall asleep when watching it.
Several episodes in, I’ve picked up some crucial lessons I take to mind as I run my own business:
1. You must retail: This means that your product or service must be on the shelves of all supermarkets and outlets where Kenyans go to make their purchases. They call them big box retailers, I call them Tuskys, Naivas, Carrefour, Text Book Centre, Prestige Bookshop, Sunbeam, Jamia Mall, any mall…it’s not an exhaustive list.
You won’t manage to scale your business and boost sales without these retailers. It doesn’t matter what you’re trading in, the rule of retail constantly holds.
2. You must have an online presence: Be it through your social media platforms or through a website or blog. Doing your sales online also falls here.
Like something of the Titanic, brick and mortar establishments began to sink into the sea the moment the undersea cable docked on our shores and brought us internet.
If your business demands that you run it brick and mortar, then you must still have an online presence for your marketing and advertising.
Another thing, you must build an online community around your presence and engage with your audience.
3. You must know the value of your business: And quantify it in terms of money.
Before the Sharks even begin to consider the viability of your business idea, they ask questions about equating the business to measurable numerical values:
What’s your starting capital? What was its source? How much more have you pumped into the business, for working capital? What are your sales in units? What’s your margin on selling these units?
How much profit have you made? How much do you project you’ll make this year? What are your overheads? How much cash do you have in the bank right now? What are your cash flows like?
What have you used to get the valuation of your business, the value per share? How will you use the money you are asking for?
Business ideas are only as lucrative as the objective, non-emotional, non-judgemental figures that back them in quantifiable values.
4. Interact with the products/services as if you are the consumer: One thing that sticks out for me about the Sharks is the practical immediate questions they ask.
I’ll give you an example – an entrepreneur had an idea for bed sheets that had seven layers you could peel off, which means you could have fresh bed sheets without replacing them with a fresh set. He called it, AfreSheet.
The Sharks pointed out things like: people like cotton beds sheets because they’re soft and can breath, I’d be trapped in sweat if I slept in your bed sheets. Plus, they feel rough on my skin. What did you say they’re made of again? I’ve poked this corner with my fingernail and it’s made a hole. For the price you’re offering, are they reusable?
You as the entrepreneur must learn to empathise with your consumers. Ask the seemingly dumb questions that a consumer interacting with your product for the first time would.
5. Don’t be afraid to take your idea behind the barn and shoot it: If you’ve been working on an idea or running your business for a relatively long time, and it’s not showing hopes of turning a sustainable profit, then abandon it all together.
How one of the Sharks aptly puts it is this barn-and-shoot analogy.
Businesses are built to become sustainable and return a profit. Period.
Be bold to admit to yourself when your business isn’t on the path to this destination. Don’t fall in love to the point where you can’t kill it as need be.
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