“It will NOT work”

And they are probably right

If I took count of every time someone I pitched Eazyhire to told a sad story in response, I would literally have lost count, even though that doesn’t really speak well of my memory, considering that a certain Bello Abubakar who has 86 wives is still able to keep count of the number of ALL his children.

The western world is a beacon of hope for many people in Africa. Lots of us look to the west for leadership, inspiration, innovation and even greener pastures. Every year, thousands of African immigrants attempt to cross into Europe by boat, through a sea that is even more turbulent than the one Jesus calmed. They go looking for a better life. Even though many of them never make it through, it was the promise of getting a better deal that drove them on, despite knowing the enormous dangers of the journey ahead. The very high chances of failure were not a deterrent but most of them paid the ultimate price for daring to hope, against the overwhelming odds. In the face of reality, hope is sometimes not enough.

According to Forbes, nine in ten startups fail. Huffington Post thinks the percentage is even higher. Like those immigrants, that has never deterred “full blood” entrepreneurs. Maybe it’s the unbridled passion they burn with or the pressure of everyday work, milestones and pressing needs or maybe I shouldn’t start a sentence with maybe but whatever the case, failure never really seems to be an option for startup founders, until they actually fail.

They usually say shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars and I have always asked myself why whoever the what-I-say-when-I-do-not-want-to-cuss-someone-out came up with such a quote. I do have a feeling that there was once a merry band of teenagers who came up with silly quotes, sang them, danced around in circles, wrote them down and sent them by post to piss people off. How about, shoot for the moon and when you miss you’ll end up in a dark galaxy of three foot creatures who stand on their heads and never did well and are trying hard as hell to pull you into one of the nasty black holes Stephen Hawking talks so glowingly about?

Most startup founders get into the grind, bursting with confidence, optimism and no matter what the odds are, what other people say and even how they really feel, they never exhibit the slightest fear of not meeting up to their set goals. I mean, isn’t that why you are in it in the first place? To succeed? I saw an article that read “Real entrepreneurs never consider quitting” or something like that. In fact, the ability to hold on and not quit even when things are falling apart is often considered a priceless virtue in startup circles. This is both a good thing and a very bad thing.

While it is advisable to go into any positive endeavor with the optimism of a monk and aspire for success at almost any cost, the consideration of the possibility of failure is no guarantee that you will fail and should not be discountenanced. Many entrepreneurs dress themselves in an oversize garment of positivity and choose to live in an alternate universe. Reality doesn’t faze them, they use facts when they are favorable but switch to faith for projections, planning and everything else. They dream and hope and pray and wish until they burnout, wind up in debt or get into bigger trouble and then it is too late to even get out. I have seen and read about many entrepreneurs who have been broken to smithereens with the failure of their startups. A failed startup does not imply the founder is a failure, it should simply (well, not so simply) be a learning curve if you handle it well.

As a founder, be open about what you’re going through with people you trust, be truthful to yourself, never set unrealistic pressure on yourself, the chance of a miracle happening should be a bonus and never an active part of your plans, be positive all you want but know where to draw the line.

If you are starting a business of any kind, here’s a simple reality check you can help yourself with. There is a one in ten chance that your business will stay alive until its fifth year. If you do make it past five years, you’ll be part of an elite minority that survive the five year barrier. A minority so small that if they were people in a single country, we would consider them victims of extreme marginalization and human rights violation. The percentage of million dollar companies in Africa when compared to the whole lot is so tiny that you are more likely to graduate as a US Navy SEAL than join the ranks. Incubators and accelerators across Nigeria are gradually becoming cemeteries for great (and not so great) ideas. How many startups graduate from incubators and go on to raise funds, become household names or succeed? Information on such is not readily available but from my experience with a number of them, the success rate is less than 2 percent. Scary!

With all of these unsettling stats, failure can be much closer than you would like to admit as a startup founder or business owner. One false move and it creeps up on you. Expect to succeed, work to succeed but consider the option of failure and have a contingency plan in place. When you don’t do that, if it ever comes, it’s usually such a shock that it gets accompanied by deep depression, dejection, frustration and in rare cases, mental breakdown, suicide and other dark consequences. If you survive it, you might never recover. If you recover, your life might never be the same. Know when to take the “me against the world” stand and know when to get out. If you ever want to rise again when you fall, you need to not fall to pieces. Time does not heal every wound.

May the force be with YOU!