Personally, I like big ideas and I am fascinated by big problems but what I have learned to appreciate over a period of time is that not all brilliant ideas translate into successful innovations.
For the last one decade or so, the Government of Rwanda has continuously promoted practices that create an enabling environment for young entrepreneurs to succeed in the job market.
One of these ongoing initiatives is reflected in government’s intervention in the form of Hanga Umurimo programme.
This programme was initiated in 2012 to support startup businesses by providing advocacy and financial support through the Business Development Fund.
Ironically, what is interesting is that despite all these ongoing initiatives to harness the entrepreneurship culture in Rwanda, there has been a gradual increase in the overall number of startup entrepreneurial companies failing and running out of business.
How do we reconcile these two facts?
Our current entrepreneurship norm is that once you have a great idea, the next best thing you need to do is write a 30-page comprehensive business plan with a five- year financial projection, raise income through grants, investors, family and friends and that when all this is said and done, customers will run to you with open arms.
I must say, like Mike Tyson once stated, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
This means that when you try to predict the future for five years in advance within a vacuum, you are going to get punched in the face.
To put this into perspective, I can attest to this from personal experience. Sometime back in 2015, I happened to interact with a client who had a grand vision for a software product.
He raised nearly $40,000 in outside capital and cashed in every favor he ever had all because he was so confident in a business plan that had taken him months to write .Unfortunately, when he launched the product, customers didn’t behave the way he had anticipated.
He had executed perfectly a flawed plan and spent more time planning and building than he did interacting with the customers to figure out if they were actually interested in buying and using the product.
This story is a clear depiction of our entrepreneurship norm where the majority of our start-up entrepreneurs spend most of the time planning the perfect structure to project their business plan and, within a minute or so left, they remember to interact with the most valuable piece of the puzzle, which is the customer.
Believe me, failure hurts but not nearly as much as regret. Therefore, the longer you dedicate your life to work on this comprehensive plan in a vacuum, the more likely you are to fail.
How do we fix this dilemma?
If we have any chance of building a sustainable entrepreneurial and innovation culture in Rwanda, we need to return to the drawing board and review our education curriculum, especially how we teach young entrepreneurs to start new companies and launch new products.
We have to stop teaching young entrepreneurs that they have to be fortune tellers who can predict the future. Instead, we need to teach them that they should spend more time experiencing and testing some of their core beliefs about how their customers are going to behave.
We have to teach them how to be detectives who are inclined towards using facts and evidence to back up their assumptions about how their customers are going to behave. This is premised on the fact that human beings are quite difficult to predict and, therefore, you cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.
More so, if we want to create entrepreneurial companies in Rwanda that survive more than just business plan tournaments, we need more than hope that they are going to be successful.
We need proof and a reason to believe that the assertions they are making about their customers are more factual than fiction.
The writer is a project manager at Private Sector Federation