21 LESSONS BY 21 — #1: START A BUSINESS

This is possibly one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Ever since I was little, I always wanted to be independent. My parents have taught me that anything unearned by my sweat and my own effort will never bring me inner satisfaction, and that anything of the sort was easy come easy go. They also brought me up with the conviction that nothing was granted. Our wealthy situation today may not be the same tomorrow, and that the only asset left after everything is gone is your personal skills and abilities instead of your financial and material wealth.

When I was about 6, I initiated myself to art. Later, I started drawing Picsou comics characters, coloring them and selling them during breaks at school for about a few cents. I would then use the tiny revenue to buy myself chocolate bars during those same breaks. It was a real pride at the time since I never asked my parents to pay for my snacks like the other kids did. And to boast about it, I was sharing it with the others almost all the time. In a sense, I was investing my money in future childhood friendships.

At around 8, I had another idea. I started selling my old and used books to my parents at home for a few Moroccan dirhams. I would lay them on the floor in my room and hang an « OPEN SHOP » sign at the entrance. Although now I know they had no interest in my Level 1 Mathematics or beginning Arabic, they still did encourage me by showing interest in my business and accepting to buy copies. Once they went to sleep, I reached out to my sold books and brought them back to my room, in order to resell them the next day. Eventually they realized the fraud (while I came to realize they actually had no idea what they were buying), and that’s when I had my first lecture on business ethics from my dad, who also insisted that I had to “create” added value to earn a profit margin, and so that was a start to a shift in business, when I started making collage books on the side, on the other side switched to sewing kitchen apparel that I later sold to my parents’ friends and friends of friends.

Later when I grew up, I tried launching a few businesses in Morocco and outside, but they never succeeded. They had no real vision, no real reason for me to pursue them except for the fun. I earned some money out of a few tries, but the money went to pocket money for week end trips and drinks, not real investments.

Something was actually lacking: and that was drive. Not knowing what you were really after in life, what really stirs you from the inside and pushes you to transform passion into capital.

Now and since last September, I have been working on my start-up company Securella for quite a few months. The idea of Securella bursted out of a multitude of experiences and personal stories that drove my will to create a solution to a global issue in Morocco and around the world (which I may talk about in a later article). But if I had to point out, for the purpose of this blog post, the most crucial lesson I learned from this journey so far: It is the fact that I realized how important it is to at least start a business and stick to it for a long time, no matter the hardships, the struggles, the rejections (and they are in the two 0-digits upward!), the team conflicts, the distance, and also, the solitude. We usually focus so much on the success and forget that 80% of it is made of a lot of break-down nights, times when you’re on the edge of quitting, times when you have to deal with your dying social life, when you have to set up a coffee time with your friend on the 6th of the next month and reassure them that they still have a special place in your life even if you haven’t answered their facebook messages in the last weeks.

« And the worst part of it all? », I once told my very good friend, mentor and co-founder, « it is that you have to display positivity 24/7, as an entrepreneur, even when your whole world is a mess ». Sometimes you will really feel alone in this, you will feel as if everything is going wrong and against your vision, as if the whole world is conspiring to battle against you. You will feel alone, abandoned, hopeless at times, and powerless (because you realistically can’t do it alone). And you end up even fearing to step back right in the red sea. You will fear to cross the line, to take further risk, because you are afraid to go beyond a point of no return, a point where you can no longer guarantee your emotional, professional, personal, nor financial stability.

But as Mark Zuckerberg said in his latest speech: « It takes courage to choose hope over fear. To say that we can take something and make it better than it has ever been before. You have to be optimistic to think that you can change the world. And people will always call you naive, but it’s this hope, it’s this optimism, that is behind every single step forward. » And I honestly believe in the power of entrepreneurship to create impact. If not change the world, it does change the lives of a few people, somewhere in this world. It is a shame to believe that anything you do has to solve starvation somewhere in Africa, or end a refugee crisis, or totally eras poverty on the surface of this planet. If you can change the life of one single person in this world thanks to your business, you can do wonders.

A few people might tell me: but why start a business? Isn’t just joining a non-profit a solution in itself if it is just about impact? Well, being able to start your own business, for me, is one of the most beautiful gifts of capitalism. Because you can not only make profit and guarantee a decent living and bare minimum survival, but you do it all while turning something you love, or something you care about, into actual capital, to save you time from having to run two things at a time.

And I can’t see anyone putting it in better words than LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman himself, « An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff, and builds a plane on the way down. » So jump into the abyss, build your craft, and raise above the cliff, and eventually… your own fear.