The first 3 lessons in business I ever learned

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I learned my first 3 lessons in business when I was 8 years old. It all started with a business idea I picked up from school.

The Business Idea

It was a hot and dusty afternoon in Government Central Bilingual Primary School Yaounde. One of my classmates came by teasing me with her mini Tartina chocolate spread. My mouth watered as she slathered a little bit of yummy gooey brown chocolatey paste onto her palm and licked it for effect. Some of my classmates who were just as drawn in asked her for some and she smiled and said “10 francs” (this was in Cameroon currency and was less than a penny but was a decent sum for an 8 year old) for one scoop of the mini spoon that came with the chocolate paste. A few of them could afford the scoop but not I. In my head, I made a quick mental calculation. The can looked like it could scoop out 12-15 moderate portions. A mini Tartina sold for 100 francs CFA so at 10 francs a scoop, it could make a 20-50% profit. I liked the idea.

Testing out my assumptions

That weekend, I went into my little ‘piggy bank’ where I kept the money that my parents, aunties and uncles will give me now and then and took out the needed sum to start my first venture. I went and bought my mini Tartina at the local store and came home ready to do business. My siblings saw my chocolatey sweetness and asked for some – that was my opportunity. It was time to test drive my idea. I informed my siblings that my little business was open and they could get a mini scoop of chocolate for 10 francs CFA. They were not terribly warm to the idea and thought my price per scoop was high. I refused to negotiate my price down because I knew they were all tempted enough. After some discussion, some of my siblings fetched their coins and purchased their scoop. Business seemed like it was off to a good start then I hit a few snags:

  • Portion: One of my sisters complained that the scoop was too small. She argued that the portion should be larger. I felt bad and increased her scoop.
  • Temptation: Just watching my sisters savor their scoops, taking their time to enjoy every bit of the gooey sweetness, I got tempted and dipped into my product giving myself a couple of scoops on the house.
  • Affordability: My younger sister didn’t mind the portion so much but didn’t have any money to purchase scoops after her first couple of scoops so she asked for me to give her scoops on credit. It seemed like a good idea so I went along with that plan until I ran out of scoops. Needless to say she had no source of income to readily repay the debt.

After eating into my profit and giving away product on credit, I ended up not recuperating my initial investment to start over.

Re-evaluate and Try Again

I hadn’t given up my desire to do business. My second chance came a few weeks later after a visit from my Godmother who brought me cookies and left me with 100 francs. I knew I had my second chance to make good on my first failed attempt at doing business.

I re-evaluated my business idea and lessons learned. I thought about other ventures to assess if I should explore them instead since I had failed at the first. Some of the mini ventures I thought about were the following:

  • The Powdered milk venture: At school, some kids will bring powdered milk mixed with ground sugar and sell in scoops. I thought about that for a moment but chose not to pursue that venture because the can of powdered milk was too expensive. Besides if I took the one from home, I was bound to be noticed and that meant trouble.
  • Sweets: There was another idea to buy and sell candies (bonbon acolizer) but the bag of sweets was not within my affordable range so I dropped the idea.

There were many other mini ventures, coconut sweets, groundnut sweets, homemade sweets and the list goes on. However, many of these ventures required me to enlist the help of someone at home and that meant my parents finding out what I was up to, which meant trouble so I dropped them from the list.

I finally decided to go back to my original idea but make some tweaks. I took my product to school instead where I knew my pool of potential customers was larger. At school, I kept my portions the same, refused to be talked into larger portions, fought my own desire to dip into my product and refused to do business with anyone who wanted to do business on credit because I could not afford to do business on credit.

In the end, I made a 30% profit.

After my first success

Now that I knew my business could work, I was excited to try again. However, one of my friends begged me to buy her a fish roll for 25 francs. She was very convincing and worked enough on my guilt that I ended up buying 2. One for her and one for me. I no longer had enough money to start my business over. I figured I could wait to save up and start again but the next day there were other temptations and before I knew it, I used up all of my capital and profits.

Lessons Learned

  1. If you fail in your first attempt, don’t give up. Instead learn from your mistakes and try again.
  2. When you decide to venture out, test your assumptions and adjust as needed until you find a business model that works.
  3. Do not spend your profits and seed capital on things that will not contribute in growing your business. Instead, reinvest in your business to grow your business


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