By Offiong Ita
Funke Susan Medun is the director and founder of management consulting and business support organization Leap World Limited, an organization that is helping Small-to-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) take their businesses to the next level. She takes delight in ensuring that SMEs get the right access to the market and reach their desired target. Starting out… I do not think that starting out takes rocket science. Also, it is not as if you can just sit comfortably in your house and hope that things fall into place. Starting out is about you putting your mind to it. It’s been a whole lot of work trying to even understand how entrepreneurs work; it is completely different from the daily, nine-to-five job, where you don’t have to worry about many things. Starting, for me, was a bit of sitting and putting things together. It’s not something comfortable, but it could be rewarding if you put your mind to it. To buttress that, I would like to borrow a quote from the founder of the Hilton Hotels, Conrad Hilton, who said, “I learnt that you don’t get anywhere by sitting comfortably in a chair.” I stepped out and did something different.
Challenges… I would not want to generalize – the way a number of people do – by saying that doing business in Nigeria is like this or that, though, to be candid, there are a number of things one has to face while doing business in Nigeria. Infrastructure, for one, poses a huge challenge. Simply put,
There are different challenges in different areas. In HR, which is my area of specialty, one of the challenges is finding people to key into your vision; knowing that you look small today, but still back you, because they know that you have a vision. Getting them to see and work with you can be a major challenge. Setting up structures and processes was another challenge, considering that I am a process and structure person. So, I do all I can to encourage setting up structures from day one. It might look small today, but if you want to be big, you have to behave like it. During the American presidential elections campaign debate, Hilary Clinton was criticized by her opponent, Donald Trump and she replied, “He just criticized me for preparing for this debate. You know what else I prepared for? It is being president.” So, for me, it was telling myself that I have to prepare to be big, even though I am starting small. Putting structures in place was something I
Wanted to do, but it came at a huge price, because as a small business owner, as soon as you open your door, you have various business agencies coming at you like enemies. That was a headache for me. It took my time, but it was worth the sacrifice. Setting up processes is the part where you draw up your business plan and all. Getting
The regulatory bodies to know that I was just starting out but was ready to be compliant was a lot of stress. Even when you show them that you have the documents signifying compliance, they will query this and that. It’s really absurd! I had to tell one of them (I won’t mention the name of the agency) that I voluntarily registered and not even the law says that I must do what I was being asked to do, going by the size of my staff. But, because I was thinking big and wanted to put my structures straight, I gave them my audited account, which most startups don’t give from day one, even to regulatory bodies.
Yet, it did not make them stop doubting my sincerity. Worse, they would not let you have your certificate of compliance, they won’t visit you, and all they do is sit and tell you to ‘come today’, ‘come tomorrow’. That was a big headache. Getting finance was another thing entirely. I usually say money should not be your headache. Have a vision, know what you want to do and be able to pitch what you want to do to people that will fund it. So, you need to show that you have capacity. I won’t sweep under the carpet the fact that finances was a problem, as there were some things I would have loved to put in place, even from day one, but was unable to, due to a lack of funds. You have to
Juggle what you have, taking one step at a time. Even though I would have loved to go two steps, I just took the steps gradually. I wanted to be big and I wanted strategic alliances, so one of the things I did was to seek alliances beyond the shores of my base in the global market, to align with institutions and bodies already playing big. The challenge, I thought to myself, would be getting them to see me, considering
I didn’t have the track record. That took a lot of fight and conviction. As for access to the market, I had to start by doing pro bono work, because people wanted to see what I could
Do before patronizing me and that helped me build my brand presence.
Standing out… I would say that one of the things that have helped me stand out is personal conviction. I continuously tell myself that it won’t be rosy, so I work on my mindset. This I do constantly, especially when I am having low moments. I tell myself that it is not going to be comfortable; not that I should not get my reward, but that’s also part of the business. I try to have a positive disposition, even when I feel like giving up. Another thing that has helped me is perpetually looking for relationships that will help me. It was a strategy I applied from day one. It has not been easy, but it has helped me.
I seek to improve myself always and in the little time I have spent in the business, I have attended many international programmers and have many people I shadow. So, looking at what I can do differently has helped. Mentoring and coaching have been helpful. I read about people, follow what they do and I’m constantly looking for my 50,000 coaches and mentors, in order to share my challenges and get feedback. Another thing that has helped me stand out is my network, the people around me. I try to choose the people I associate with carefully; people that can help me accomplish my dreams and focus on important stuff.
Vision for Leap World… When crafting Leap World, my vision was to take a leap, not just to stay small. I’m looking at a company with high growth. Also, I’m looking at something that is global, something that will be the ‘world part’ of our business. The name signifies a high-growth global company and that’s where I see myself. A step I have taken in that direction is having an alliance outside of here, like a working relationship and it is clearly thought out. That is what I’ve been doing. So, I see myself going beyond here, doing things that complement our services and also, growing our line of business from just HR and management consulting into assessment, capacity building and business support. We consult for the Bank of Industry (BoI) and at the
National level, we are on a growth employment project funded by the World Bank. There are also some strategic schools we have aligned with here and we operate beyond Nigeria. In five years, I see myself living the dream of the name Leap World, going global – going beyond the shores of Nigeria and building a high capacity company and impacting lives. It is not just about money. I try to reflect that in my corporate social responsibility routine yearly. As I round up each year, whether I’ve made a lot of money or not, I must give back to my community. Also, I ensure my employees grow individually by training and retraining them, not minding that they will leave me someday. I left somewhere also, but if it is possible that I can reap from what I have developed, it will be a plus for me. Word for start-ups… From my experience as a business support consultant, money is important, no doubt, but you don’t start by looking for money. You have to meet a need. If you meet a need, people will buy it.
You might not make a lot of money from day one. The challenge is that people want to run before they crawl. I ask, have you seen a child that wants to run without first crawling? That’s absurd. In starting out, learn from others. Get a paying job and learn. Volunteer as an intern. Get mentors and read their biographies. See how they survived in the past. Without capacity you cannot manage money. Learn from people. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest specie that survives nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” Change is inevitable. Respond to change and move with it. If you don’t, you might die.
By Offiong Ita