Today l attended the Hypercube Hub Lessons Learned event held at the US Embassy in Harare public affairs section. Call it a reflection on what lessons can be learnt from the closing of Zimbabwe’s pioneering co-working space. Hypercube Hub was Zimbabwe’s first Innovation Hub which sadly closed its doors in December 2015. As the first of its of kind a lot was riding on it becoming a success and becoming a major support for the Zimbabwe startup community. l was always encouraged by the enthusiasm around that space, from the worker bee spirit of coders, to the deep conversations about our nations future and our responsibility towards it l had with other co founders.
The hub was started after the 6 co founders received a grant from the US Embassy, HIVOS and Indigo Trust. At its peak it was hyper active as the name suggests successfully hosting Startup Weekend Harare, Tedx Harare and many other networking events. It was at Hypercube where l learnt about the Mandela Washington Fellowship and for a time it was home to our startup TV Yangu. It was an important platform in Harare’s startup ecosystem. As l listened to the co-founders sharing their experiences, l realized that most Zimbabwean startups are on the same boat. Their mistakes could easily be my mistakes. Here are some of the point that stood out for me (paraphrased from the conversation we had) for anyone attempting to build something that matters.
- Prototype First
Test your business model before going out and looking for funding or sponsors. This allows you to validate or invalidate your assumptions. This is important because you will then engage potential partners from a level where you actually have proof, data based on your prototype that your methodology, approach, or business model actual works and is worth investing in.
2. Have a plan B
When the messenger of misery knocks on your door, you need to have a contingency plan, a fall back strategy e.g. If you are dependent on donors, what happens when they cut your funding? Will your business survive if your biggest financier walks out the door/ Plan B doesn’t been you have no faith in Plan A. It just means if you have thought through all sides of this businesses risks.
3. Its A Numbers Game
Numbers don’t lie. Numbers are your friends. If your expenses exceed your income. Then your ship is sinking. You should not wait a whole year to figure that out. When the numbers don’t add up it should send alarm bells to the whole team. You should take decisive action early. Plug the wholes early. Don’t wait until the floor is flooded to try and save the ship. Its a too late!
4. Six Co Founders Is Four Co founders too many
For this please refer to my earlier post on the Co-founder conundrum. The larger the committee the harder it is to manage. Egos and character clashes come into play. The problem becomes trying to please everybody on the team and the result is you end up pleasing no one. And the business suffers. My mentor always said “anything with 6 Heads is a monster”. If you are running a startup on a small budget its better to have fewer players multi tasking than a board of Cellphone farmers. Which leads me to the next point.
5. Don’t be Cellphone Farmers
A Cellphone farmer is a phenomenon which occurred in Zimbabwe where new farm owners would manage their farms via cellphones i.e. They would call the farm managers to checkup on their farms and would hardly be present. A startup requires all founders to be hands in the formative years. Leaving the responsibility of running the day to day business to some of the members may result in unnecessary pressure on the team that runs daily operations.
6. Location, Location, Location
Its an age old business principle based. If you are going to ca sell lemonade, you need to position yourself in an area where you maximize on traffic. For Hypercube unfortunately the Hub was located in Belgravia, which is viewed by some as being detached from the community that they where trying to reach.
7. Know your priorities. Don’t sweat the small stuff!
Interestingly Hypercube Hub co founders mentioned that they spent a lot of money on repainting the interior of the Hub and getting really cool features (lighting fixtures) but to their surprise startups subscribed to the hub didn’t care much about the fancy stuff . In hindsight the money could have been used for more productive things.
8. Build In Accountability From Get Go!
Its hard to enforce accountability measures when business is in full swing. From the start, establish who does what, where, when and why. And further more establish what are the consequences of non performance for each team members role. All this should be clear, accompanied by a way you handle internal disputes i.e. Arbitration, Voting, Court etc. This is absolutely important because most startups are started by friends and sadly most relationships get destroyed by failure to resolve business conflicts or an inability to hold each other accountable.
This article is written by Munyaradzi Dodo 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow & Co-Founder of TV Yangu