BY Ogaba Agbese

I have been following a series on the blog Signal vs. Noise called “Bootstrapped, Profitable, and Proud”. The essence of the series is to debunk the myth that a company has to take outside investments to succeed but I think their aim is to make people aware of the old models of business that seem to be eroding with every new IPO company that have no profits to show. They’re trying to reeducate entrepreneurs on the need to make something people want and charge for it from the very day the product goes live. In these days of IPO craziness, it is really potent advice that frees you from the clutches of customers who don’t really have a need for your product but only use it because it is free, it helps you focus more on what is truly important which is customer satisfaction through a great product, helps you improve your product, and best of all, you’re not accountable to any venture capitalist. That is true freedom.

Sometimes outside investments might be necessary to get things moving but it is not a requirement. The big problem most budding entrepreneurs seem to have is “I have this awesome product idea but I need outside investment to begin”. Seeking investment moves the companies focus from its need to create something of true value to something that will probably have no impact on the product. Entrepreneurs have lamented about this fact. History best teaches that creating something of value usually stems from mostly three schools of thought; Dissatisfaction with the current offerings available in the market, Creating a tool to solve your own problem (which a thousand other people have but just don’t know it yet) or just plain spotting a sliver of opportunity in a perhaps already saturated market. Businesses were founded with those principles in the past and they are now. The only difference now is people tend to start businesses with the idea of profitability as an afterthought. People seem to prize the amount of users over the actual monetary turn over hoping an IPO or a buyout will pay for all expenses incurred during the run. The party isn’t that pretty after an IPO. In this Facebook world, charging for your product has become a sin.

Old fashioned ways of starting business still work and I have proof. It is especially humbling and most inspirational to know a person, who bootstrapped, enjoys his business and is proud. I bring to you a friend of mine and a trusted advisor whom I knew ran a business but never bothered to ask how it all began until a few days back. Christopher Akin Jeje, the founder of the bespoke shoe brand Haus of Hercules is a prime example of what the Signal vs. Noise series is about albeit on a smaller scale. The amazing thing is Christopher scratched an itch. An itch to make a shoe more to his taste not a pair of shoes that will change the world but a pair of shoes just for himself which is the way a lot of the companies we admire now came to be. Word of mouth took over and demand came like a hurricane. Even more amazing is the first pair of shoes from the Haus of Hercules was made with just =N= 5000 (Naira) which is US $ 31.

Something comes from doing something for you first. It gives you the opportunity to focus on what you really want and most importantly quality tops the list because you are making it for you. Let’s face it; you will be the best market your product really has so you have to work hard to make it work for other people as much as it does for you. People will only adapt your product when they see how well it works for you. That’s where word of mouth comes in. Christopher puts it this way “With N5,000 , a vision, my word, my balls, hard work and God’s grace + direction. I started with one shoe, and then 2 shoes, and then 5 shoes and then people referring people, and as fate would have it, the rest they say is history.”  Though Haus of Hercules is not competing with the Kings of Bespoke right now, I believe one day it will and it is because of a sentence I’ve heard uttered by the greatest entrepreneurs in this time and past “But it’s funny though, I never feel like I’ve accomplished anything. I wake up every morning, feeling I have to start all over again” .This is not a praise post but a post to assert that what made great businesses in yester years are still existent in today’s economy.

I hope people who want to achieve their dreams of being successful entrepreneurs recognize that it starts with solving an actual problem while providing value, lots of hard work, a vision, unwavering belief in oneself and above all profitability. Plus you don’t need a marketing budget initially if ever. Make your product so good people can’t resist talking about it. To me, Christopher has proven that US $ 31 and a dream maybe all you need to get the forces of success behind you. I look forward to competing with him for the cover of Forbes one day.


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