I launched Dziffa.com in August 2015. At the time, I had five local partners and just about 30 products. I barely made any sales but was convinced that if I informed Africans in the Diaspora about the opportunity to shop directly from Africa, they would be so excited to get products they loved, they would naturally flock to Dziffa.com.
I was wrong. I barely made any sales my first couple of months and almost closed the company.
It’s been a year since then and I’ve learnt a lot. I’m still learning each day. I documented a few mistakes I made very early on and would like to share them with you. Although my space is eCommerce, I believe early stage founders from diverse backgrounds can relate and learn from them.
1. Have A Clear Vision
When I founded Dziffa.com, I knew I wanted to help local businesses supply African products in every corner of the world but had no clear vision on how I was going to achieve that. As a result, I was all over the place.
I tried different things each day without measuring what was working and what wasn’t. I felt like a failure anytime I did not make a sale in a week and defeated if I went a month without a sale. Not having a clear vision also meant giving power to others to steer me towards whatever direction they thought was best for my company, even if they also had no experience in entrepreneurship.
In the end, I was running around in circles, not knowing where I was going and too dizzy to stop and plan. So I kept going and the feeling of inadequacy increased with each challenge.
2. Take Your Time and Plan Well
A few months ago, a friend of mine told me that if he could relive his entrepreneurship journey, he would have gotten a job first and learned the basic skills needed to run a successful business. I cannot stress this enough.
As a young person, straight out of college, with no entrepreneurship spirit and solely driven by developmental motives, running a business was a nightmare. I knew how to plan a research paper and defend my stance but had no clue how to convert an audience into customers and a one-time customer into a loyal customer. I’m still getting a hang of this and would have probably gotten much further if I had a clear plan before I embarked on this journey.
3. Be Flexible and Open to Learning
I studied economics and political science in school so I see everything through the eyes of a developmental expert. Young, straight out of college, without an entrepreneurial spirit, and solely driven by developmental motives, running a business was a nightmare.
I had to get used to reading profit-centered books, learn ways to turn an idea into a viable business and opened myself to topics I never imagined studying. Social media went from a place I could keep up with friends and family to a place I could acquire new customers. I looked at everything from the perspective of value. What did value mean and how were we bringing value to our potential clients?
4. Don’t Make Radical Moves Until You’re Ready
I moved to Ghana right after I graduated from college. Looking back now, if I could do it over, I probably would not have come back home that quickly. I had very little money and struggled my first year.
Most people return to Ghana after at least a decade of working in the U.S., I would not recommend that either, but would say spend a few years getting some relevant work experience, speaking to the people in the field, and slowly transition so you minimize the number of surprises along the way.
5. Don’t Be a Jack-of-all-trades
This is one of the hardest things to avoid as a solo entrepreneur. Often you start with no money and sometimes cannot afford someone to fill in where you are not experienced.
It is generally commendable to know every aspect of your company within the first few months, but after some time, it helps to get skilled people on your team and delegate tasks and duties. This way you are confident that you are laying a strong foundation for the company to function independently. It also gives you space to stand back and evaluate every aspect of the company and clearly see where there could be room for improvement.
6. Don’t Compare Your Chapter 1 to Someone Else's Chapter 7
I felt like a superstar when I embarked on this journey. Little did I know that I was a small fish in a pond full of sharks and while there was room for us all, each one had to earn their way to the top. This naturally made me feel like a failure, most times I would beat myself down about not moving as fast as everyone else around me, compare myself to others, shrink and start thinking I am doing absolutely nothing right. That's when I take a step back and remind myself that I am just starting. Most people in my space started years before and probably have way more resources than I do. Instead of beating myself down and comparing myself to others, I reflect on why I started and what I need to do to grow. Then religiously chase after those resources and focus on progressing and being just a little better than I was yesterday.
Eventually, you will get to where everyone else may be but you must appreciate and actively engage in the struggle.
7. Get a Co-Founder or Partner
Entrepreneurship is hard and even harder to do alone. Your very first year, you will go in feeling like a superstar and really see that you are just an amateur after facing countless struggles. A Co-Founder takes off the load and makes life easier for you. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. A Co-Founder also acts as a support system to help you get back on track when you’ve had a bad season and really need someone to help you get the fire back.
There have been countless times I’ve felt that maybe entrepreneurship is not for me and perhaps I should have gone into policy or something instead. Anytime there is a struggle, my first instinct is to fold up and think the challenge is too big for me. My business partner Jeffrey has been my rock through it all and always reassures me that we must keep going and never stop learning. This past couple of months would have been unbearable without Jeffrey, but now we are making progress because he’s there to take on as much weight as needed to keep us moving forward.
Unlike most people, I did not have the privilege of winning a competition or getting assistance from an incubator. I came to Ghana at 22 practically broke, with an interest in policy but the willingness to implement rather than sit in the office all day. I could not tell the difference between my personal expense and company expense. Bootstrapping is hard. I spent almost every pesewa I had on the company, knowing fully well that the things I was spending on might not generate any immediate results but were necessary foundations. Bootstrapping is also very rewarding. I learnt to do a lot with very little capital and grew a key interest in spotting talent and learning how to use that talent. Human capital has been my single most important resource. My team, Nicholas, Victor, Naye, and everyone else in between has played a key role in helping us steer forward with very little capital.
9. Be Positive and Friendly
Anything worth having takes time. Smile through the challenges, and be friendly to everyone you meet, not just the people who are strategic to your growth. In the end, 90% of what you will learn will be from the people you've met. People who will give you amazing ideas on ways to grow your vision, people who will invest their time and skill to helping you grow because they believe in you and people who will always be there to cheer you on. We take them for granted but they lay the foundation for us to thrive no matter where we find ourselves. Stay curious about everything. If something does not make sense, don't hesitate to say you do not understand.
10. Have fun!
Beyond anything else, entrepreneurship is a very exciting journey. I'm not the most adventurous person in the world. I'm actually borderline risk averse, but I love to have fun and try new things at least once. I've been to so many regions in Ghana, spoken to so many people and made friends that will last a lifetime. Yes, there will be challenges and there will be times where you will ask yourself why you are struggling and if you should have listened to all those people who cautioned you but when look at everything from the lense of adventure, discover, and experience, you are able to step back and enjoy the journey.
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