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‘Hustling’ is not entrepreneurship

Saturday November 10 2018


While entrepreneurship is thriving in many parts of the developing world, starting a business in Africa remains an uphill battle. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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This is a recent conversation I had at an entrepreneurship forum:

Me: What do you do?

Joe: I am a hustler

Me: (Confused). What does that mean? What do you do?

Joe. I hustle. I bring in things from China, Japan or India sometimes and sell.

Me: What do you import?


Joe: Anything I think will sell. Electronics, phones, furniture. Last week I brought in a car from Japan.

Me: How long will you do this for?

Joe: Until I’ve made enough money and I am sorted. And you? What do you do?

Me: I train people in personal finances and entrepreneurship

Joe: Oh (Looks bored and uninterested. His eyes start scouting room for Chinese suppliers).


Let’s be clear: Joe is not an entrepreneur. He has a ‘hustle’. He is in it to see where he can find gaps to make a shilling as quickly as possible. But entrepreneurship is a whole different ball game.

So what does entrepreneurship look like? How different is it from Joe’s hustle? It has absolutely nothing to do with the size of the business. It has to do with focus.

Joe will sell anything – carrots from Angola today, rabbits from Meru to Mombasa tomorrow – to make money.

Entrepreneurs are not willing to do everything; they want to do fewer things but do them well. We are interested in the journey and where it could take us. Building excites us. Seeing something grow and change along the way drives us. There is a vison that is constantly unfolding and we never quite ‘get there’ because we keep seeing something different.

Entrepreneurs are committed to more than just money. Many of us would have given up if money was all we wanted. We get out of bed despite the financial challenges because we believe in the possibility. Sometimes we get rewarded with money, sometimes not. But we keep moving. We understand that there is no instant gratification.

Joe, however, is after the money. We all want to make money in the business but we do understand that the cost of that dream is learning to live and deal with financial uncertainty. The beauty about it is that you stop being defined by money.


I have spoken to people who are in the early stages of their businesses as well as those whose companies are 100 times bigger. They still have something in common: Entrepreneurs solve problems.

Instead of simply importing furniture from China, an entrepreneur might investigate why people want to import furniture in the first place and rectify that.

My sister Wanjiru, a fellow entrepreneur, summed this up in a recent conversation by stating that entrepreneurs put authenticity and value creation on the table. You are after solutions that not only work for you, but play a part in correcting a bigger wrong. You don’t just do transactions; you are more interested in building relationships.

Some of these relationships have been there for years and even decades. We don’t just want to have employees, we want to create culture and great working environments for people.

So what would a conversation with Joe as an entrepreneur look like? For starters he would also have been interested in what I do. Entrepreneurs learn from anybody; we know somebody usually is a connection away from the person you need to meet to solve your problem.

Since we don’t take a short term view of things, we do not dismiss conversation. We would exchange stories of challenges faced, fears, markets and general pleasure at just having a conversation with someone who actually gets you. Maybe the current Joe just hasn’t found IT.

Sometimes you can start as a hustle but you find yourself pulled in a certain direction and you then discover the entrepreneur in you. As Michael Gerber in his book The E-myth, stated: ‘Do the things that entrepreneurs do so that entrepreneurship can find you’.


Waceke runs a course on entrepreneurship. Get in touch with her on [email protected]|Facebook/WacekeNduati| [email protected]