I reflect on how I become an entrepreneur by looking at important events from my childhood and early teenage years.
When I think about my early childhood, there aren't any clear moments or things I did that indicated I would land up becoming an entrepreneur. Entrepeneurship isn't always about selling or making money though. It's also about taking initiative.
The earliest example of me taking initiative is "Entrepreneurs Day" when I'm about 12 years old. Entrepreneurs Day happened once a year in my primary school. It was a day when the grade 6's would have to be entrepreneurs. All of the "entrepreneurs" would have their own stations setup on the playground during break time. You were allowed to sell whatever you want. Some kids would bring home-made biscuits or cupcakes. Others would sell bracelets and decorations. Simple things, really.
That year it was my turn to be an entrepreneur. Instead of selling the common things, I decided to go with something much more adventurous. I brought a jumping castle, and charged R5 ($0.5) to play on it. I remember my mom suggesting the idea, and that I had doubts but agreed to do it anyway. I also brought a pogo-stick, and charged R3 ($0.3) to use it for about 2 minutes.
There were so many kids who wanted to play. Of course, a jumping castle is quite a big object so naturally it was easy to notice. It was also the only available jumping castle, and so different to what everyone else was selling. The sense of FOMO was real. The idea was a huge success in my eyes, and I was also Mr Cool Kid for the rest of the day.
Really, I should thank my mom for this idea and convincing me to do it. She had to be there to help me manage all the kids and make sure no one got hurt, so really she was the entrepreneur of the day. That being said she also took all the profit 😑
Fastforward to when I'm in grade 9, I managed to get a job working in the tuckshop inside my boarding house at school.
I made some good friends working in the tuckshop. The owner of the shop was two years older than me and also acted as a mentor while I unconciously learned business concepts. Every Monday and Thursday morning I would fetch the pizza and pie deliveries at the school gate. During break time I would open the tuckshop and manage it along with someone else. I was getting paid R120 ($15) per week. At the time that was great for me. Unfortunately I landed up spending most of it on goods in the tuckshop - I had no self-control.
I worked in the tuckshop for over a year. Eventually when the owner was leaving the school I wanted to buy the business from him but was unfortunately beat to it.
Looking back on it, working in the tuckshop was probably the most educational work experience I did. And it was all unconcious. Simple things like managing a till, doing a stock-take, being sales-savy, understanding pricing and costs, and especially being disciplined and putting in hard work were all lessons I learned not from a textbook, but from real life experience.
It's now 2013. I'm no longer working in the tuckshop, but am starting to take up more adventurous opportunities. At this time Uber Eats does not exist. So if you wanted takeouts, you'd have to drive there yourself.
Coming from boarding school I can tell you that the guys loved their takeaways. However, you weren't allowed to have takeaways delivered to school during the week. But if your parent were to drop it off for you as a surprise, of course no teachers would complain - they'd look like a jerk if they did!
Me and a friend came up with an idea to take orders for McDonalds from the boys in the boarding house and mark up each order by R5 to R10 ($2 to $5). My friends' parents were living close to the school. So we'd get about 20 orders in total and somehow convinced them to drive to McDonalds and buy the large order for us. They'd deliver it to the school during break time, and we'd hand out the meals to the boys.
It was almost the same idea as Uber Eats except we abused our parents.
It's my final year or school. Somehow I come across the idea of mixing hot chocolate and cappucinnos together - hence the word "chococinnos".
Me and a friend were convinced that the drink was so good that we had to try sell it. We'd buy all the ingredients; milk, polystyrene cups, spoons, hot chocolate, and cappucinno saches.
I remember taking a cup throughout the boarding house and asking people to try it and tell us how much they thought it would be worth paying for. Little did I know that this process of getting feedback is exactly the kind of thing you do when you launch a new product.
It turned out to be a hit. We'd sell a cup for about R10 ($1.5).
We ran into one problem that would eventually shut down the idea - tax. Our boarding housemaster had a policy that businesses operated inside the boarding house had to pay a 10% tax. They wouldn't calculate exactly how much tax you owed, but they could tell when you were paying too little.
Word spread that our chococinnos were so good, to the point that we had people queing outside our rooms to get a cup. The housemaster got wind of this and eventually told us that we have to pay tax.
I thought the idea of paying him tax was so ridiculous that we just stopped the business right there and then.
Thoughts on tax
In the context of this story, I still don't like that we were enforced to pay tax. I'm not against tax - I understand its purpose and recognize that it is necessary. The finer details are debatable so I'm not getting into that.
I'm more concerned with the idea of a teacher enforcing that they get a cut of the revenue for no real reason.
You can argue that enforcing tax makes for a more realistic business setting, so it better prepares you for the real world. But in our case it was more demoralizing than anything. I hated the idea of someone getting a cut of revenue that I've worked so hard for - and that they have no right to.
Imagine enforcing tax on Entrepreneurs Day for twelve-year-olds - it defeats the point.
I've now finished with school and am moving onto university. At this time I have two friends - Cairo and Sae - that are going to study engineering with me. We also live in the same neighborhood so I figured it would be the perfect group of people to start a business with.
This is the first time I start learning about SEO, ad-revenue and how the world of making money on the internet works.
So after learning a few things I decided to make a website about pick-up lines! Yes, you read that correctly. Pick-up lines. I created an Instagram page, and a wordpress website all about pick-up lines. I convince my two friends that we're going to make this website gain so much traffic that we can eventually apply for Google Ads and make money through advertising. I even managed to get one of my friends to write a 300-word blog post about pick-up lines.
Unsurprisingly, about three weeks in I find that I'm the only person who's really working on the business.
There were so many new concepts I was learning at this point. I really didn't have a clue what I was doing though. The website never really took off. I managed to grow the Instagram page to a few thousand followers which I was happy with, but nothing ever came from it.
Being an entrepreneur
Today I've managed to grow a YouTube channel to 40k subscribers, and build a well-known website for learning how to build web applications specifically with Django.
So far it's been going really well. I'm quite happy with the progress I've made since starting the project. I hope that going into the future it will continue to progress, and that ultimately I can share more stories about entrepreneurship.
If this has inspired you to take action, let me know!