4 essential truths you need to start and run a successful SME in Nigeria

I feel almost self-conscious writing on this topic. There is no shortage of articles on the internet sharing “essential tips for the new entrepreneur” or “how to succeed as an entrepreneur.” So I am hard-pressed to find what is new to add to that intimidating pool of information.

But I feel a sense of responsibility to those in my immediate network and those who may share the same experiences as myself. My thoughts here will resonate with a lot of you. And you are the reason I am sharing what I think are the absolute essentials a new entrepreneur needs to lock down to start and run a successful business in Nigeria.

To start and run a successful small business in Nigeria, you need to know the following truths:

1: Pick a big enough problem and fall in love with it

I don’t agree with a lot of tech proponents who push for founders to only start high growth businesses. To most of them, if a business doesn’t have the capacity to grow to billions of dollars in valuations with footprint across many countries, then it’s not worth the effort. This is as true as Mark Zuckerberg is Indian.

Truth is, you don’t need to start a high-growth business. The business you need to start is the one that solves a relevant  problem. And the one that resonates with you. The one that when everybody on your team says “we’re done”, you are able to pipe up to say “we’re just getting started, folks.”

If this business you care about also happens to be a high-growth company, then cheers to you. VConnect started to solve a problem I experienced first-hand when I could not find a local business in 2011.

But that’s how far the kumbaya goes. If you are to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to build a business that can generate sustainable revenue. If you built a solution that nobody needs but you, then, well it’s not worth the effort.

Also be careful not to fall in love with your solution. There are many different ways to solve a problem and sticking to a solution simply because it’s the first thing that came to mind is to invite early disruption. What you need to fall in love with is the problem, then continue new and relevant solutions to solve the problem.

2: You need to take the blame for failures and pass credit for successes

We love the spotlight – we entrepreneurs. Some of us live for articles like; “How the vision of {insert your name} is changing {insert your industry}.” But what stories like these do is discount the hard work of your team members.

No one likes that.

Great leaders understand that taking the credit all the time will alienate other members of their team.

The entrepreneur needs to humbly point to key members of her team and articulate what they are contributing to the company. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the decent thing to do.

More importantly: the entrepreneur should accept the blame for a wrong turn in the company’s journey.

Aside the fact that the entrepreneur is really the one who sanctions most decisions and should take the blame for wrong turns, taking the blame consistently would make your team members beholden to you forever. It also shows gratitude and motivates your team to do more.

Moreover, you have nothing to lose when you take one for the team. People will see you as honest. And investors love honesty.

3: You have to work in the bullpen (stay connected with your team)

I currently work out of the common room in our office. Been sitting next to our telesales team for few weeks now. This is not because my office is not comfortable, but I found an interesting diagram that set me off on this path:

SME in Nigeria

This diagram was an interesting reminder of a problem I have been aware of for a long time. Although the team members have tried to keep their voices low while I’m around, they have since come to see me as one of them. Now, jokes and office news flow freely. So far, this move has paid off. I have better a handle on what is going on with different teams now.

I don’t concern myself with what department heads can handle, but now I know what questions to ask.

I’m not suggesting you abandon the comfort of your office here, what I’m really saying is that you stay connected with your team and their concerns. How you will go about that means for you is yours to decide.

4: You need to keep learning

This is obvious, but it’s worth revisiting. When you stop learning, you begin to lose touch with the demands of your industry and begin a slow, sure regression towards oblivion.

Intelligent industry press and thought-pieces from industry leaders is a good start. Short courses is the absolute best way to keep in the know. I have attended the Stanford Seed Transformation Programme for the past six months and the value of insight gained and the quality of networks built has been the source of much of the growth we’ve experienced at VConnect in these past few months.


I’ll conclude with this. There is simply no one master formula to getting it right as an entrepreneur. And the list of essentials to have in the bag as a fledgling entrepreneur is a long one. These are simply the ones I have come to value in my years in the game. I’ll like to hear from you.


What lessons are you learning as an entrepreneur (in Nigeria) and how are these lessons affecting your processes?


Also read:  How to improve customer retention


Deepankar Rustagi

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