Entrepreneur vs corporate

Born entrepreneur? Never.

CEO of IBM.  That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.  It was one of the biggest companies in the world, and so it was worthy of a 25 year old’s ambition.  Get to the top – not just in South Africa, but the world.   Entrepreneur – shmentrepreneur.

I was fortunate that my parents had friends who were CEOs of large companies, both in South Africa and Globally.  They were school friends of my parents, and family members – so deep, genuine relationships.  I guess that made it within the realm of possibility for me as I grew up.

I took a rather circuitous route to start.  I’d been advised by a guidance counsellor that all good girls who were academic and sporty should go into medicine or physio.  I knew early on I’d made the wrong decision when my first patient had an ax in his head and I proceeded to pass out!  But I was on a bursary, and it was a difficult time for my family financially.  My options were to continue and get a university education or drop out and get nothing.  And I was also stubborn – admitting ‘failure’ or making the wrong decision wasn’t in my DNA.

I reached a cross roads in my career in my first year out of university when I got offered a job at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa.  It was a dream job.  But I knew deep in my heart that I’d pack up and move to Cape Town to find myself 3 years later wanting to leave for the corporate world.  I loved business.  The underlying ‘subject’ changed every minute.  The body was the body – no new body parts discovered lately.  Simplistic and very debatable, but for me I wanted something that had a steep learning curve.  So I declined the job and gave myself 3 months to find a job in the corporate world.

But it was NEVER a thought to start my own business.

I rose through the ranks very quickly in my 20s.  Very chuffed with myself – on my way to IBM.  And then like all great cartoons I smacked at high speed into a wall, and slowly slid down it.  The combination of having children and being on the wrong side of a regime change following a battle for CEO meant my career ground to a halt.  And I spent four years in purgatory.  Unable to move companies as I had newborn twins.

It was over that period that the thought of being master of my own destiny started to grow.    Why not be ‘CEO of my own dreams’ as one of my podcast guests says?  So I started reading, and reading and reading.

The biggest challenge was finding what I’d do.  I had absolutely no clue.  I read Robert Kyosaki’s book ‘The Cashflow Quadrant’.  Franchise, that’s what I’ll do… get a printing franchise. I fortuneately bounced this off a childhood friend who already had his stripes in entrepreneurship.  Are you nuts?  What do you know about that?  Have you even used printing services?  Back to the drawing board.

Ironically I discovered my passion in an attempt to secure a corporate CEO role.  My twins were 3 and I finally had the strength to leave purgatory.  Whilst interviewing for the position, I was asked how I thought they’d sell my qualifications – a Physio with my postgrad in Theology from Oxford.  “I can massage the numbers and pray?” I joked.  But it really smacked me that in South Africa, unlike the UK where my early career had flourished, they needed a commerce degree.  My year long certificate in Corporate Finance from London Business School and all the other non-degree education just didn’t count.  Doing the job well wasn’t enough.  They wanted the doo-doo blanket of a degree.  Or maybe I wanted the doo-doo blanket of a degree?

The company restructured mid-way through my interview process, and the role was scrapped.  But I took the reprieve as a chance to study.  I chose the B.Com honours program in Financial Planning.  At least I’d learn something useful for myself along the way of slogging for a degree I didn’t think I needed.  On the positive side, I could use it for philanthropy – to help others in need of financial advice.

And then the unthinkable happened.

I fell in love with Financial Planning.  Every lecture exposed me to fascinating concepts that could help me or someone I knew.  Divorced?  Small business?  Tax return time?  Small children?  This was every day useful stuff.  And the fire of passion grew.  I could solve so many people’s problems.  I could help people.  I could help myself.  I was born for this.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

I often get asked, how do you come up with an idea of something to do?  If, like me, there’s nothing obvious to you, here are a few thoughts.

Coming up with an idea

  1. Passion – many people say follow your passion, and you’ll never work a day in your life. But until I was already studying, I had no idea what my passion was.  I like solving problems.  That’s when I’m on fire.  But how do you build a business on that?  But if you have something you love doing, start with that.
  2. Fix a problem – I had an a-ha moment listening to a one and a half minute podcast by Rich Mulholland, Entrepreneur? Do what you hate. I think it’s a pivotal thought.  Find something that frustrates you and solve that problem.  Because if it’s a problem for you, it’s a problem for others
  3. Get a franchise – I know I dismissed the idea. But Robert Kiyosaki’s viewpoint holds merit.  It enables you to learn how to run a business using a copy and paste concept proven to work.  And you’ll learn a huge amount that will help you refine your ideas for anything else.
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