Ownership in Startupland

Friday, 20 June 2014

by Silumesii Maboshe

Welcome to the final article of my reflections on the Startupland documentary series. Entrepreneurship is a journey. The better prepared you are to handle the risks, the better you will be able to navigate these unchartered waters. An important factor to consider while getting your startup off the ground is the question of ownership. Your honest answer to that question could mean all the difference in how you ultimately run your business.

The Three People Who Could Own My Startup

It’s Their Business

I have never actually seen what a startup accelerator works like. I hope seeing the rest of the Startupland series will better my understanding. I do not work well under pressure and get the impression that the tight deadlines and urgency would not be a good fit for me. I also wonder about whether the startup would still be “mine” at the end of the process. With all the expert advice and professional insight, would I be making decisions because they really were the best or because I trusted someone I assumed knew better.

The ownership discussion opens the door to a conversation about venture capital. If my business were a piece of software, would I not be tempted to simply add more features and functionality simply because I could now “afford” to do so? It is actually hard to keep software lean, targeted and simple. I worry that having several opinions on how the product should work would only make that process more difficult.

Could I be trusted to be focused with access to rounds of funding? Would the business be mine or theirs?

It’s My Business

If I can’t access external funding, a completely viable path to get my startup off the ground is to bootstrap. Basecamp (formerly 37signals) does a great job of blowing the bootstrap trumpet on its blog. One of the most memorable talks from Y-Combinator’s, “Startup School 2008”, was by David Heinemeier Hansson who made a rousing case for bootstrapping your startup to make it profitable. It went completely against the grain. Bootstrapped, Profitable & Proud, is a set of profiles of companies that are wildly successful and did not take on venture funding.

It bears mentioning that the bootstrapped path is usually longer. This resonates with me. Where are businesses in a rush to get to in the first place? If you already have an exit strategy for your startup, perhaps it was not the right business to start in the first place.

Zambian startups will likely have this is the only realistic path available to them. There is no shame in that. I actually consider it a point of pride. I look forward to the kinds of businesses we’ll be able to look back on in 20 years and see how creativity and dedication allowed them to flourish through some desperately difficult times simply because their ownership was clear.

It’s His Business

One day I want to be able to show my parents that my choice to be an entrepreneur paid off. I took the road less travelled and it made all the difference. The root of that, however, is pride. Part of me wants to be able to look at them one day and say, however diplomatically, “I told you so”. That is simply not right.

I’m reminded that ultimately, nothing I have is truly mine. I believe in a God who owns the heavens, the Earth and everything on it and in it, including me. The money my startup makes is not mine. I, therefore, need to shift perspective: instead of thinking, “how much of this should I use responsibly”, I need to consider that it was never mine in the first place and be a good steward. How much of this that God has given to me do I get to use?

Whether the money came from a venture fund or work I did, I think this is the best perspective to have. This is God’s business.