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Dare to be different


I got the news via email that Gregory “Cool Ruler” Isaacs had died on Monday afternoon and immediately went on to YouTube to play a selection of his hits.

His 1973 hit, My Only Lover, was credited as the first Lovers’ Rock song ever made.

It is a hauntingly beautiful rock steady tune that one should listen to either, on a Sunday morning at home, or at 120km/hr on a lonely country road.

Just you, the road, Land Rover, lyrics and music!

The point I want to make, though, is that Gregory Isaacs chose to be different at a time of rising black consciousness in Jamaica.

Long-suffering Jamaican and other folk from the Caribbean were rediscovering themselves in a wave fuelled by a new music genre that was reggae with hard- hitting lyrics about a return to Africa, Marcus Garvey’s prophecies and many a liberation fighter across the world was comforted and encouraged by more than just the AK 47, courtesy of Mr Kalashnikov.

Reggae provided the spiritual and emotional courage to fight on.

But in war, you cannot only have Comrade Chinx lyrics and Gregory stepped into the gap with hit love song after hit love song, for what is a revolution without love?

Gregory dared to be different and he is our cue for a piece on entrepreneurship.

The book Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, offers an interesting look at entrepreneurship.

Generally speaking, an entrepreneur is defined as someone who opens a business but management guru Peter Drucker has pointed out that “not every new small business is entrepreneurial or represents entrepreneurship”.

The book offers a narrower definition:

“. . . an entity, new or existing, that provides a new product or service or that develops and uses new methods to produce or deliver existing goods and services at lower cost”.

The authors of the book prefer the definition proffered by Jean-Baptiste Say who noted that the term entrepreneur “was intended as a manifesto and a declaration of dissent: the entrepreneur upsets and disorganises”.

Well that is an interesting spin on things!

Here then is the challenge to all the people who have been writing to me about wanting to run their own businesses.

Go and find something that has not yet been done and do it.

Alternatively, find something that pioneers and followers are doing and do it differently.

They say if you build it they will come! I always get asked what my unique selling point (USP) would be if I were to start a new business.

Well for KFC and Nando’s respectively, it was a new way of cooking chicken.

Human beings had been cooking chickens for thousands of years but no one had made that much money from it!

Let’s pick Colonel Sanders of KFC fame.

Ten years after he came up with the original recipe for his chicken, he began to travel in 1952 from town to town to franchise his chicken business and cook for restaurant owners and staff.

That was different!

What’s more, three years later a highway was built that completely bypassed his town and so he had to sell his service station, pay off his debts and was virtually broke and left with his social security cheque of $150.

What does the man do?

He gets on the road to sell his secret recipe to restaurant owners, sometimes sleeping in the car.

Five years later, there are 190 KFC franchisees and 400 outlets in the US and Canada.

What’s your excuse?

I used to be involved in marketing and corporate affairs and I cannot remember how many caterers I dealt with who all literally had the same menu.

The only differentiator was the price and by a few dollars!

If the likes of Lovemore Majaivana could get fame on the back of commercialising traditional songs that everyone knew, why not follow the example of people who fall back on their mothers’ or country’s secret recipes as Nando’s did with Portuguese-style chicken?

US president Barack Obama managed to get young voters on his side because he was the first to harness the power of social media for political gain, giving him the edge over a conservative McCain!

How many Zimbabwean sculptors have heard of or are using social media to market their products?

If you can sell a piece for $1 000, you certainly can afford a laptop and a modem and reach the market directly!

I remember, years ago, an advert on CNN showing how a family business making handmade shoes in Italy rose to the top.

It featured an old lady asking tourists where they were from and upon learning that they were from California uttered the words:

“We do business there,” before parting a curtain to reveal a computer with Internet connectivity.

That is entrepreneurship.

I used to love driving to Nyanga for long family weekend getaways and I was always amused when I got to Marondera.

If it was tomato season, everyone was selling tomatoes in a tin no more than five metres apart for a five-kilometre stretch and the products would change from stone sculpture to honey and everything in between as the seasons changed.

I always used to wonder why the folk there would not combine their efforts and supply a local store or have different products on display.

As for the sculptures, if one did a particular style, the rest followed suit almost immediately.

How can people hope to escape poverty in those circumstances?

The chaps selling worms on the road to Kariba were a different lot.

True, they all sold worms but their marketing efforts were commendable with all sorts of signs each extolling the virtues of their worms with fancy names like “Anaconda worms!”

Then there is the Zimbabwean beggar on the streets of Johannesburg whose USP was a placard reading “I only need another ten rand to make it to the border.”

People laughed and gave him money and he was making a lot more money than all the others who were crying poverty and woe-is -me-misery on their placards.

He was “lighting a candle, instead of cursing the darkness”.

Look, I am no expert but I have worked for and observed entrepreneurs like the boys at Innscor and seen them in action.

They innovate, turn things upside down even at monoliths like National Foods and they deliver shareholder value!

Phone and speak nicely to the man they call JJB, he loves to teach.

Tell him I sent ya!

All it requires is that you have the Chutzpah (look it up) and the innerzela to go for it. Think big, think differently!

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