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OpEd

10 lessons I have learnt since quitting my job to start a business

Founder/Managing Director of Wazi Vision Limited, Brenda Katwesigye

BRENDA KATWESIGYE – Today marks one year and 8 months since I officially resigned my job at a top consulting firm to start my own business(es). For the last 20 months, I have been filled with either extreme anxiety or euphoria and sometimes, both feelings have coexisted. It has been an experience like none I had had before; extremely excruciating but also immensely fulfilling. Taking the leap to quit a comfortable job with potential for growth was not a difficult decision for me to make. I grew up believing I had the “midas” touch — that everything I touched would turn to gold. I was optimistic. The prospect of extreme success was very exciting. I wanted to build the next Bloomberg or the next Warby Parker. I was like a child on their first day to school. And indeed — my entrepreneurship journey has been more of a school than anything I had imagined. Here are just a few of the lessons I have learnt and feel anyone planning on quitting their job to start a business should know.

1. Your 9–5 job is just as important to your dream as your dream itself

I have read alot of social media articles “bashing” employed people for building other people’s dreams instead of their own and I feel that these “motivational” quotes and articles are in such bad taste. Alot of my progress and support have come from connections I made while at my job. My job taught me so much about managing my business and through it, I interfaced with top CEOs and management people that have since become personal friends and supported my business. My first client came from my former employer. I am mentored by my former boss. The beautiful people modelling Wazi glasses on our website are my former work mates. If I had not had that job, I would not have much mileage today.

2. Keep your business simple

Always keep your core business simple. Simple to implement. Simple to understand. Simple to pitch. Simple to share. Simple to scale. Innovation does not always equate complexity and just because your concept is complex does not mean it will be profitable.

3. Before you quit your job, have enough savings to last you at least a year

Nothing sucks like having to invest in business and also worry about your house rent at the same time. Stow away enough cash for yourself to survive for atleast a year before taking the leap. And by “survive” I mean your budget should also have an entertainment budget line — to fund those business coffee meetings and social gatherings. Do not go into business thinking your business will feed you from Day 1 because reality is that it wont. And yes, some people will argue that you can never save enough. I disagree!

4. Do not quit your job unless you have actually started your business

Yes — they say no one wants to work for a part time CEO. But no one wants to work for a broke business either. If I could do it again, I would wait till my business has clear cut cash flows before I take the leap. Sometimes strategy works easier and more efficiently than “hustle”.

5. Do not stop learning

The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself as an individual. Ofcourse, we have heard success stories of ‘kikuubo’ men who have made lots of money with no education. But education and business success are not mutually exclusive. As long as you have the opportunity, learn as much as you can. Do that online course. Take part in that workshop. Do that masters. Do that professional course. Granted, you may not need the degrees and certifications in the short run, but they will come in handy later and add to your credibility.

6. Start a business you understand

Nothing takes longer and costs more than a business you have no experience in or understand. I cannot begin to count how much money I wasted paying ‘experts’ to make me furnaces that did not even work or molds that were defective. Don’t even get me started on how much time I wasted back and forth with excuses from the said experts as to why work was not getting delivered on time. Although I eventually pulled the business model off and actually started to make revenue, I think it gets any entrepreneur more mileage, success and fun doing something they actually know and understand.

7. Beware of the busy bee syndrome

Many times entrepreneurs get busy with everything. Busy taking boda bodas or driving to meetings to discuss new ideas. Busy running up and down to make meetings that add no value to their business. Busy trying one idea after another day after day. Busy applying to every startup competition. Busy busy busy busy. Busy does not always equal efficiency and entrepreneurs need to treat their time like they treat their money.

8. Get a mentor or two

I have been lucky to have mentors throughout my entrepreneurship journey. They have not only offered me invaluable entrepreneurship advice but have also opened up their networks and shared their skills. They keep me accountable and on my toes every time I slack.

9. Grow some thick skin

If anyone had told me entrepreneurship would make me lose sleep in the middle of every night for a week straight, I would probably not have started. I have wanted to give up an average of twice a day over the last one year alone. As an entrepreneur, somethings will hit you so hard you will want to close shop and with your tail between your legs, go ask for your job back. You will hear terrible things about yourself and about your product. You will get aggressive competition. Your workers will go on strike, and your most trusted ones will leave. You will want to give up. But everyday you dont, your skin grows thicker and you go harder. Eventually, it gets easier.

10. Do not be a parasite

Overtime, I have learnt that as an entrepreneur, you are as good as your network. But sometimes we forget and become the parasitic types of entrepreneurs. Always calling people only when we need favors. Keeping people’s phone numbers only to tap onto who they can introduce us to. If you want to build a strong network, add value to it. Call your advisor just to take them to lunch to talk about anything but your business. Buy a present for your neighbours dog. Offer to connect other people in your network to each other. Encourage someone to apply for that opportunity. Buy another entrepreneur’s product. Whatever you do, always add value to the people in your network instead of only being on the receiving end

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Brenda Katwesigye is founder/Managing Director of Wazi Vision Limited, a firm – incorporated in Uganda- that provides more affordable eye care in Africa through designing and manufacturing custom eye-wear from recycled material. She is a seasoned writer/blogger.

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