In 2014, after a year in the UK studying for a PhD researching on industrial growth which allowed me to visit many factories in Lancaster & Liverpool and the Mersey Dee Alliance, I was motivated to abandon studies and set up my own factory back home so that I can already implement what I had seen – I wanted to be a rich man!
So I left school and decided to come back home – but I didn’t have enough capital – so I got a job and borrowed, and borrowed heavily, then put my monthly salaries into the business.
I bought machinery from China and South Africa and rented an entire factory in Livingstone. I hired plumbers and electricians from Lusaka, took them to Livingstone, rented them a house and paid them a decent wage.
As I had to service the loans, I had to keep my job running 5 days a week as a full time employee – therefore my business was run remotely on phone and occasional travel over the weekend – an additional cost!
I was constantly driving to Livingstone – a risk on my life due to exposure to road accidents.
It wasn’t easy.
I had to be on leave regularly so that I can be in Livingstone to check on progress. In some cases, I had to be absent without leave – this ended up compromising my performance at work – and my bosses noted this too.
At the same time, because my employees had minimal supervision, work didn’t move much. I kept subsiding the business from my salary to keep it moving – I had hope!
I borrowed more to invest more – and I did invest – but things didn’t just move.
Then disaster struck:
1. 2015 Loadshedding – we could only work for a few hours, and with a spider wave loadshedding schedule, we continuously made losses.
2. The depreciation of the Kwacha and the double digit inflation increased the interest payments on the loans – yet factory was not making profits nor was my salary increasing!
3. My staff started running the project as their own in my absence – no growth! They became Don’s, bwanas – they only produced when broke and then buy raw materials to replace – then they “eat” the profits!
I had to make a choice – either I leave my job and focus on the factory full-time – without guarantee of success yet have salary tied obligations or I focus on the job for a while,maybe forever – because just perhaps, business “wasn’t for me”?
I chose a middle point – temporary suspend operations until I am “ready” for a full-time commitment. This meant I continue to rent the factory yet no production is taking place.
This was in 2016.
By 2018, after two years of paying factory rent and loan interest on a project not running, I opted to completely abandon my business idea and focus on being an employee. Sadly, I had to sale my business at a loss to those who are more committed than I was. It hurt, but it could have been worse.
So since then, I focus on being an Economist whose business is that of working and giving advice.
It took time to stabilize financially, but when you have a business idea you love, you just have to put in all – the best or nothing!
Bottom line is I failed in business and I accepted it – it made moving on easier.
My greatest lesson is this:
Fail early in whatever you attempt – that will give you an opportunity to correct your mistakes for future success or an opportunity to explore other career paths.
Don’t hold onto something not working for long, hope alone is not enough, logic and reality before you must guide your decision.
I look back and I say to myself – “Not bad huh? You tried, lost, then lost, but you are still making progress in another area!”
Do I have any regrets?