I was discussing with a potential client and he mentioned that 90% of startups in Nigeria. Without thinking of it, I quickly replied to him and said over 90% of Igbo businesses succeed. This means that there must be something the Igbos are doing that most startup founders in Nigeria don’t really do.

I started my first business which failed after resigning from a job. I did so well in that job that I thought that I could build a business. Then I didn’t know that there was much more to building a business than just having an idea that I love. Someone who also believed in me made available the money for me to start.

Some people can believe in you so much that they support you to your destruction. At that time, I thought I knew everything that people need to know about building a business. I was arrogant and proud. I felt it is impossible for me to fail. Yet, a year after starting, the business failed.

From that, I went into consulting with the government and after that into the not-for-profit world. I came back into the business and repeated the same mistake I made in the first business. So, this time around, I evaluated why I failed in business twice.

My second business was located at a business center where many Igbos have their businesses. While I wasn’t making money, they were making. So, I took the time to start studying them. I wanted to learn how they were able to keep their business running and getting ahead each day. The insight I gleaned was profound and will be useful to anyone in the startup space.

Even though Igbos don’t attend a professional school where they are taught the rudiments of business, they have a system that equips their people with the right tools to start and build a system that works. They focus on the practical aspect of learning and not the theoretical. As such the lesson learned gets assimilated and becomes part of the person.

You may learn management in the classroom, but you don’t need to learn business in the classroom. Businesses fail in most cases because people are trying to invest in their ignorance of how business works. You have to start a business before you know how ignorant you are in starting and running a business.

Without the right mindset, knowledge, and capability in a business, it is hard to succeed. In most businesses, entrepreneurs spend their money developing the knowledge, mindset, and capability that makes a business work. This is why you should never get a loan to start a business afresh. Until you have validated every part of a business, reduced uncertainty, and minimize the risk into in a new enterprise, you should not take a loan to build a business.

The Igbo apprenticeship is a seven-year system that allows business people to develop the right mindset, knowledge about the market, capabilities required to succeed, and the business model. After seven years of training, the person is ready to scale a business not start. It is more like a branch of the business they learned from.

Here are what they learn in 7 years

  1. Acquire Knowledge of the Market: While serving as an apprentice to an already established business, the prospective business person is exposed to how the market operates and everything about it. They get to know the market in and out. They learn about the market’s value chain: the suppliers, the manufacturers, and so on.
  2. Develop Right Mindset: Every business needs a kind of mindset to see opportunities. Opportunities are seen with the mind, not eyes. With a mindset that is in tune to the industry and market they serve, they see more opportunities within it. For instance, most people who start a business may have been employees for years with an employee mindset. This is our default mindset.
  3. Capability: We all need a mixture of skills to succeed in business. As an apprentice, the Igbo man is exposed to different circumstances that enable him to learn the right skills to succeed in business. It takes seven years of doing the same thing each day to gain mastery. They need these capabilities to capture the opportunities they see with their mindset.
  4. Customer Needs: The apprenticeship system helps the prospective business person to understand the customer and how best to serve the customer. This understanding ensures that the lifetime value of a customer is much more than the cost of acquiring the customer. Igbos get into businesses that don’t require spending money on marketing to get clients. They get into the kind of business where there are always people who want the products.
  5. Business Model: Learning from their master, the apprentice gets to understand how the business model of the masterworks. When they start their own business, all they do is adopt the same business model to what they do. Adopting what already works makes it easy for their business to work.
  6. Customer Acquisition System: Apprentices learn that Igbos don’t compete in the market space rather they collaborate. They have a simple system for acquiring clients by forming a cluster. Igbos with similar businesses stay around each other. They hardly tell a client that they don’t have goods. They will rather tell the customer that it’s in their other store giving the impression that they have a branch They can walk into any store and pick a good and bring it to their own shop to sell and make a profit out of it.

It is very hard to see an Igbo man invest in a business he has never been trained in. They don’t build a business on ideas but on what is proven. If entrepreneurs can take the time to test their business model and validate it, they will have a business that works just like that the Igbos do. It takes the Igbo man seven years of practice to test and validate the business model he will be using in his business. Instead of paying cash for the learning process, he pays by working for the master.

Oladimeji Olutimehin is a Keynote Speaker, Value Giver Coach and Truly Human Consultant


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