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How to Start a Business from Scratch

What does it takes to start a successful business from scratch? Are you interested in starting a business from scratch? Then below are five painful lessons i learned while starting my own business from scratch.

Today, I will be writing a different kind of article. I will be sharing with you how to start a business from scratch based on my entrepreneurial experience. If you are expecting some kind of magical pills from this write up; I am so sorry you will be disappointed.

In this article, I am not going to say anything new with respect to starting a business or building a business; all I want to do is share the business lessons and entrepreneurial experience I have accumulated over the years. So if you are ready to learn how to build a successful business from scratch; then read on.

How to Start a Business from Scratch – 5 Lessons i Learned from the Process

I have built businesses from scratch and I am still building more. It’s a game I love because of the challenges it offers. Anybody can wake up tomorrow and buy a business but not everyone has the guts to start and build a business from scratch. Now why start a business from scratch when you can buy an already established business? I will answer that question in detail in the forthcoming articles.

As I lay on my bed today, I reflected over my life and the business challenges I have faced and surmounted. As I reflected over the past, I remembered the moment when I first started out as an entrepreneur.

I remembered the feeling I had inside of me; a feeling mixed with fear and excitement. I knew the step I was about to take was a dangerous one and I was afraid; because I knew I could lose it all. But I was equally excited about starting a business because it was a bold step towards a life of uncertainty; I was happy because I was taking control of my destiny.

“Nothing gives me a sense of fulfillment more than building successful businesses from scratch. Once my goal is achieved in a particular business; I exit and start another business. Building businesses from scratch is where my passion lies and I am not quitting until death.” – Ajaero Tony Martins

It seems like yesterday, when I first started out as an entrepreneur and here I am today, still grinding it out; hoping I will get to the place of my dreams.

“It is always the start that requires the greatest effort.” – James Cash Penny

“Building Oracle is like doing math puzzles as a kid.” – Larry Ellison

Looking back over the years I have spent as an entrepreneur, I have been able to extract five lessons that will help you in the entrepreneurial process of building a business from scratch. This article is not only about the business challenges I have faced; it’s about my entrepreneurial experience in general and the lessons I picked up along the way. If you are looking for an article that deals intensively with business challenges and how to handle them; you can check the archives of this blog.

My ultimate aim of writing this article is to get you prepared. Yes, i want you to be prepared in advance for the unknown. Just as an old saying goes: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” Without wasting much of your time, below are five hard core business lessons I have learned over the years of building and exiting businesses.

Lesson One: The fastest way to build a successful business from scratch is to fail fast

What the hell is this guy saying! That’s usually the exclamation I hear from my protégés when I tell them lesson one. Nobody wants to fail; neither do they want to be associated with failure and maybe that’s why most people will never start a business successfully.

“Success is a poor teacher. We learn the most about ourselves when we fail, so don’t be afraid of failing. Failing is part of the process of success. You cannot have success without failure.” – Rich Dad

To build a successful business, you must be willing and prepared to fail. Even though your ultimate aim is to succeed; you must be prepared to accept failure when it comes, pick up the lessons from your fall and move on. I have not seen a successful entrepreneur without a stint of past failure.

Just as Rich Dad said above, failure is part of the process of success. All great entrepreneurs have had one or two experiences of failure. As an entrepreneur, I have hit ground zero a couple of times but I don’t think I am alone in this ordeal.

“The business empires built by successful entrepreneurs were erected on the foundation of past failures.” – Ajaero Tony Martins

a) Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before he invented the incandescent bulb and he went on to build General Electric (GE); one of the most powerful companies in the world. This is what he has to say;

“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison”I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

b) Henry Ford had two business failures and with the experience gathered from those business failures, he went on to build Ford Motor Company and became one of the richest men in history.

“Failure is just a resting place. It is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

C) Sir Philip Green had four business failures before he hit his first million at the age of 33.

d) Robert Kiyosaki had a major business failure when his Nylon and Velcro wallet company crashed; and with the experience from this failure, he went on to build the Rich Dad Company.

“Losers quit when they fail. Winners fail until they succeed.” – Robert Kiyosaki

e)  Mike Adenuga, the second richest man in Nigeria and the owner of one of the most successful mobile network in Africa “GLOBACOM” also had his own share of failure. His first attempt to start a mobile telecommunication company failed and he personally lost $20million; but that did not stop him from buying another telecom license.

From the illustrations provided above, you will come to agree that failure is not as bad as it’s painted to be. Human perception towards failure is the major reason why I hate talking about my successes. Success stories; though inspiring, seem to attract fools and lazy bums into the world of business and investing. I believe you will learn more from my failures than my successes. Have I had my own share of business failure? My answer is a resounding yes.

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I cannot accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

My Personal Business Failures

1.  The very first seminar I organized was a flop. We advertised heavily, the response and inquiry rate was good; and my expectations were high. But on the D-day, it rained heavily and the expected attendees failed to turn up. I lost 100 percent of my invested capital including that of my partner.

2.  I have lost money in a couple of online investments that didn’t yield a dime.

3.  I have lost a lot of money when i started out as a stock investor; and this was due to my being ignorant about the workings of the stock market. In fact, one of the companies i was heavily invested in went bankrupt, was nationalized and my share became worthless. But did this stop me from investing? My answer is NO. I simple went back to the drawing board, get more intensive training and bounced back.

4.  My first information product flopped even after investing heavily in buying ads. No single sale was made, not even a dime. But that did not stop me from creating other information products.

5.  I once signed up for a multi-level marketing company. The company was great; the products were excellent and the compensation plan was superb. The company had a proven track record of success and successful distributors to show for it. Everything was perfect but once again, I failed to breakthrough. I think I will share the lessons learned from this particular experience; and if you must know the company I signed up for was GNLD, I still have their membership card with me. The card reminds me of the time i spent with great men and women, who rose from grass to grace.

6.  I have been a distributor for two different companies that ended in liquidation.

7.  My first major online business flopped because I lacked experience and the technical know how to run it.

8.  I have being shut out of good business and investments opportunities simply because of my nationality. I want to state categorically that I am a Nigerian to the bone and I am proud of it; I love my country.

9.  I have had good business ideas that i failed to bring into reality and i also had some businesses launched but they failed to break even.

10.  I have been offered the opportunity to invest in some startup companies but i turned them down and these companies later became big companies.

“Get mocked at for as much as you can, fail as much as you can but don’t quit. Let every mockery, every failure, be a source of inspiration for you to reach for greatness and that greatness will silence your critics.” – Ajaero Tony Martins

Despite my massive failures, the experience i gathered from these failures is priceless. You will never know what works and what doesn’t, if you don’t fail. You will never know your limitation and capabilities until you risk failing. Am I a failure? I don’t think so because I have not quit the entrepreneurial process; I am still in the game. I alone can declare myself a failure and since I have not declared it; I am not. Today, i am a better entrepreneur and investor because of the experience i have gained over time.

“For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a road block, take a detour.” – Mary Kay Ash

I believe these illustrations have opened your eyes to understand the importance of failure on the road to business success. Your ability to accept failure as a learning process is a way forward in the process of building a business.

“How many people are completely successful in every department of life? Not one. The most successful people are the ones who learn from their mistakes and turn their failures into opportunities.” – Zig Ziglar

Lesson Two: Starting and Building a business is a process; there’s nothing like overnight success

“In the game of entrepreneurship, the process is more important than the goal. When you start building a business, you begin a journey, a process. This process has a beginning and an ending and between the beginning and end are a lot of challenges. You will win only if you remain faithful to the process.” – Rich Dad

Have you ever heard of the phrase “overnight success? I bet you have and the concept may sound good to your ears. Most people are attracted to business world with tales of overnight success but the earlier you get your mind off becoming an overnight success, the better for you.

“A short cut is the longest distance between two points.” – Anonymous

Everyone wants to be the next Bill Gates, Larry Ellison or Mark Zuckerberg. Every Nigerian wants to start a business and be the next Aliko Dangote; who is the currently the richest black man in the world but not everyone is willing to go through the process these men went through.

“I built a conglomerate and emerged the richest black man in the world in 2008 but it didn’t happen overnight. It took me thirty years to get to where I am today. Youths of today aspire to be like me but they want to achieve it overnight. It’s not going to work. To build a successful business, you must start small and dream big. In the journey of entrepreneurship, tenacity of purpose is supreme.” – Aliko Dangote

“The height attained by great men is not by sudden flight. For while their companions lay asleep, these men were toiling in the night.” – Anonymous

All business begins from the planning phase before proceeding to the startup phase. When starting a business, you can never bypass the planning phase to the startup phase. My most respected mentor “Robert Kiyosaki” has this to say with respect to building a successful business overnight.

“Most people say the Rich Dad Company is an overnight success and I admit, we are an overnight success but it took us 10 years to get there.” – Robert Kiyosaki

Becoming a medical doctor is a process that comes with a lot of study and hard work; same goes with building a business, it’s a process. I don’t know how best to stress this point but what I want you to carry along is this: overnight success will not happen; I have gotten first hand experience of it. Abandon the “get rich quick” or “overnight success” concept and you will save yourself a lot of headaches.

“I started and built a business from scratch. One thing I love about the entrepreneurial process is this; no matter my level of fame and success today, the thought of my early days in life, when I had nothing; will always keep me humble.” – Ajaero Tony Martins

It took Aliko Dangote approximately 30 years to become a billionaire and richest black man in the world. It took John D. Rockefeller 25 years of oil drilling and distribution to become a billionaire. It approximately took 10 years for Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jerry Yang and David Filo to become billionaires. But Mark Zuckerberg became the youngest billionaire in the world in less than five years.

Can everybody successfully go through the entrepreneurial process? My answer is a resounding yes but there’s a catch to it; you must be adequately prepared to undergo the process. All successful entrepreneurs went through a process to get to their present status.

Now I can’t tell how long it will take you to complete your own process and you will never know because you don’t have a crystal ball to foresee the future. All I can tell you is that everybody’s entrepreneurial path is different. It’s up to you to find yours and you will never find it except you start the entrepreneurial process.

“The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and continue to work. Life is a journey, not a destination. That’s also true in business; your objectives keep moving.” – Thomas J. Burrell

Lesson Three: There will never be a perfect time to start a business; all lights will never go green

“Without the element of uncertainty, the bringing off of even, the greatest business triumph would be dull, routine and eminently unsatisfying.” – J. Paul Getty

I was reading an article on YoungEntrepreneur.com and in that article, the writer emphasized the need to make proper calculations and make sure that everything is in its rightful place before launching your business. A commenter wrote in supporting the writer’s point of view. The commenter claimed the reason he hasn’t started a business was because he’s a perfectionist. He wants to make sure everything is right before taking a leap into the world of business; he was waiting for the perfect time. Though I commented on that article and challenged the view, one truth I never told that commenter was this; he may never start a business.

“My best advice to entrepreneurs is this; forget about making mistakes, just do it.” – Ajaero Tony Martins

My mentor Robert Kiyosaki once said that there are three components to starting a business. One is the right plan; two is the right team and three is the money. He said that rarely do these three components come together when starting a business. But the most important point he made was this;

“It’s the duty of an entrepreneur to grab one piece and start the business, the remaining two pieces will be found along the way. Finding the remaining two components may take a year or more than 10 years; the point is, start with what you have.” – Robert Kiyosaki

“You stick it out. You’ve just got to.” – Steve Case

Once again, I restate my lesson number three: “There will never be a perfect time to start a business; all lights will never go green.

I have a lot of friends who are enthusiastic about starting a business; sometimes, they share their plans with me and I can tell you that their plan sounds great. But when I ask them why they have not started the business despite the wonderful plan on ground, the reply I usually get is this: Don’t worry Tony; I am waiting for the right time to start. You know I can’t afford to make the wrong move; I just can’t afford to make mistakes.” Whenever I hear this; all I do is shake the hands of this friend and wish him/her good luck.

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

“You have to act and act now.” – Larry Ellison

But the sad news is that these friends never get to start their dream business. Year after year, I still see these friends of mine keeping their jobs and when I remind them of the wonderful plans they shared with me in the past; I still hear the same old pitch from them. “I am waiting for the perfect time to start a business.” My question now is; when will this perfect time come?

“Screw it, let’s do it.” – Richard Branson

The truth is that there will never be a perfect time to start a business; there will never be a perfect business opportunity and there will never be a perfect investment opportunity. There’s no perfect economic environment and perfect business plan. Entrepreneurship is all about risk taking; “calculated risk” to be precise.

It’s the risk involved that makes starting a business or building a business exciting, worthwhile and rewarding. You don’t need to have everything in place before you start a business; start with what you have and you will pick the rest up along the way.

Risk — If one has to jump a stream and knows how wide it is, he will not jump. If he doesn’t know how wide it is, he’ll jump and six times out of ten, he’ll make it.” – Warren Buffet

Amazon was started in the garage by Jeff Bezos; so also was Ford Motor Corporation. Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Dell computers were started in the dorm of various schools. The entrepreneurs behind these companies had great business ideas but had little capital and no business team. But did lack of startup capital and a business team stop these men? The answer is no. If these men hadn’t started with what they have; they wouldn’t have been approached by partners, investors and Venture Capitalists.

Begin to weave and God will provide the thread.” – Anonymous

Now take for instance when I started my first blog, I never knew what a cPanel or plugin was. I never knew WordPress or blogger existed and I was a total novice when it comes to search engine optimization. But I still went ahead to start a business blog because I believe in active learning; I believe in learning while undergoing the process.

(That blog was hosted on Tripod’s server and it was neither hosted on WordPress, Blogger, Drupal or Joomla platform. Sincerely speaking, I never knew these platforms existed back then because I was a total novice). As expected, my first blog flopped but with the experienced gathered, I started this business blog you are reading now.

Notwithstanding, this blog had and still has flaws which I am constantly working to improve and correct. For instance, when I started this blog; I was so deeply involved with my offline businesses that I was strapped for time. I had much work on hand and less time to write but I still went ahead and started the blog.

So based on the nature of my startup, my initial articles were poorly written and it was only recently that I re-edited them. If I had waited for the perfect time to begin working on my blogging idea; I am not sure this blog will be where it is today.

Secondly, i have crashed this blog several times by messing up the code; just because i wanted to make some changes and improvement. But i wasn’t discouraged; after all, i was learning from the process. So take the risk and start something today. Just as my lesson number three states: “There will never be a perfect time to start a business; all lights will never go green.

“In today’s rapidly changing world, the people who are not taking risk are the risk takers.” – Robert Kiyosaki

Lesson Four: Preparing for the best is important; expecting the worst is most important

“Prepare for bad times and you will only know good times.” – Robert Kiyosaki in his book Conspiracy of the Rich

The basis of this lesson four was formed after I read the book “Rich Dad’s Conspiracy of the Rich” As humans, it’s normal to pray and always expect good times. Even in school, we were instructed to always prepare for the best but never was it mentioned that we should expect the worst.

“Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. – Anonymous

As an entrepreneur, I can confidently tell you that the business world is filled with bed of roses but you have to go through a hedge of thorns to get to the bed of roses. Business ideas are interesting to behold on paper; building a business is exciting in the planning phase because of its future prospects.

“Things never go smoothly.” – Jeff Bezos

But the reality of starting a business manifests the moment your business is launched; and this reality is the major reason why most entrepreneurs give up after the failure of their first business startup. They wish they never started the process and they vow never to repeat it. At this stage, I want you to take a glance again at my lesson number four.

Preparing for the best is important; expecting the worst is most important.

To successfully start a business and navigate the harsh business terrain, you have to be adequately prepared but most importantly, you must also expect the worst. When I am approached by budding entrepreneurs who are over enthusiastic about their self proclaimed “fool-proof business idea,” I politely remind them about the 50-50 probability of success and failure. No matter your level of success, the odds will still be there.

“Business, more than any other occupation, is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight.” – Henry R. Luce

The ultimate reason I advocate you expect the worst is because when you expect the worst and prepare towards it, the worst will never happen. You may go bankrupt or lose your investment capital. To the outside world, you are finished but deep down in you; you know it’s not the worst. Why? The reason is because you expected and prepared towards it. Donald Trump has gone bankrupt twice but he roared back after each bankruptcy because it wasn’t the worst situation for him.

When I organized my first seminar, I had great expectations. I worked closely with my partner to make sure everything was in place. We advertised heavily and the response from interested attendees was encouraging but on the D-day, it rained heavily and nobody showed up. I was devastated, all our initial investment capital went down the drain with the rain and we became indebted to some individuals who were supposed to collect their balance from the profits of the seminar organized.

But this incident didn’t stop me from organizing other seminars because I prepared for the best but expected the worst. Unfortunately, my partner and friend quit the process and went looking for a job; he wasn’t prepared for the worst and that was why he quit the entrepreneurial process.

Building a business is not like having a job, where you can predict your time of promotion and expected pay. In business, you must thrive on uncertainty. Employees expect the best, entrepreneurs expect the worst and when the worst finally come to entrepreneurs, it won’t be the worst.

“Starting a business is like building a ship and embarking on a voyage, armed with a plan, a map and a team. You will have to sail against storms, unpredictable weather and uncertainty. If your ship sinks, it’s either you quit or you swim back to shore, build a new ship and sail again.” – Ajaero Tony Martins

Now how do you prepare for the worst? I definitely don’t have the answer to that question because I can’t teach you how to expect and prepare for the worst. But a great way to start is by having a contingency plan; or better still, an exit strategy or plan B.

“Always start at the end before you begin. Professional investors always have an exit strategy before they invest. Knowing your exit strategy is an important investment fundamental.” – Rich Dad

Before I go into any business, I prepare and plan for the best; after which I prepare for the worst by putting a contingency plan in place. A contingency plan is always my landing haven should in case I’m eventually hit by the worst. It’s the sole reason why I still have the audacity to start new businesses even after a business failure.

Most hunters go hunting inadequately equipped, praying they don’t come across a lion. Experienced hunters go hunting with the expectation of being confronted by a lion. So which hunter would you prefer to be? The business world is just like a forest, you can never know what is ahead of you so it is best you are prepared.

“In the business world, the rear view is always clearer than the wind shield.” – Warren Buffett

Lesson Five: Your successes or failures in business are all hinged on one important factor; YOU

“The biggest challenge you have is to challenge your own self doubt and your laziness. It is your self doubt and your laziness that defines and limit who you are.” – Rich Dad

“You are the architect of your own fate.” – Anonymous

This is always my final lesson and advice to those who want to start a business or those already in the process of building a business from scratch. It is not just a lesson; it is also a fact.

Everything to succeed might be in place but if you are not prepared, if you are not in the right mindset; you will fail even when armed with a perfect idea and business team. My lesson one to four will be useless if you lack the mindset to undergo the entrepreneurial process.

“Getting rich begins with the right mindset, the right words and the right plan.” – Rich Dad

Being in the right entrepreneurial mindset means being prepared to fail; it means being prepared to go beyond your comfort zone and finally, it means being prepared to give your business everything it requires to make it a success. Being in the right mindset means being prepared to hold on to your dreams even in the face of criticism.

“The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire, the size of your dream and how you handle disappointment along the way.” – Rich Dad

After analyzing my past experience, I can confidently tell you that starting a business or building a business from scratch takes pain and sacrifice. A time will come when you will need to give up certain things just to get your business off the ground. A time will come when you will need to put in at least 60-80hours per week to see your business get through the small business startup phase.

A time will also come when you will experience sleepless nights, emotional stress and critical business challenges. As a result of all this, you will be disappointed because things are not going the way you expected and eventually; you will have a strong urge to quit.

“You must not only learn to live with tension, you must seek it out. You must learn to thrive on stress.” – J. Paul Getty

“You can always quit so why quit now.” – Rich Dad

Now how do I know all this? I know because I have had the same experience. When I started out as an entrepreneur, I gave up most of my old friends and gained a new set of friends; new friends who play the same game I play. I gave up my lifestyle and I had to automatically become humble because I knew nothing with respect to running a business; and I stood to lose all. I denied myself some pleasures of life including sleep, just to make sure my first business gets off the ground. The experience wasn’t pleasant as I expected but it was worth it.

“I enjoy myself a lot but I derive more joy in working. I believe in hard work and one of my business success secrets is hard work. It’s hard to see a youth that will go to bed by 2am and wake up by 5am. I don’t rest until I achieve something.” – Aliko Dangote

Building a business from scratch needs everything you’ve got. You must be prepared to sacrifice some things to breakthrough in business. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Richard Branson, Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg sacrificed their education to build the business of their dreams; others gave up their job security. I am not asking you to do any of these; all I want you to understand is that it’s up to you to do it. Entrepreneurship is a personal undertaking, only you can decide whether or not to go through the process.

“And obviously from our own personal point of view, the principal challenge is a personal challenge.” – Richard Branson

In conclusion, these are the five main lessons I have picked up over the years in the process of building a successful business from scratch. I know more lessons are still forthcoming and I am prepared to learn. I know more business failures await me in the future but I am not afraid to fail. Rather, I am afraid to quit the process having come this far.

As a final note, the ultimate key to building a successful business from scratch is you; so my last advice to you is this: Be yourself, stick to your philosophy, believe in your dream, pursue that dream with undying determination and I will see you at the top.

“You are nuts and you should be proud of it. Stick with what you believe in.” – Trip Hawkins

“Remain true to yourself and your philosophy.” – Giorgio Armani

“Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Ray Kroc


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