The Christmas holidays are over. This time of the year is one I sometimes loathe because of the human and vehicular traffic. I know I am not the only one. Welcome to the life if you share my sentiments. Anyways, before the holidays, I got the opportunity to learn so many things in a day when young men and women from all walks of life met at the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT on December 17.
The event was to highlight the importance of appropriate partnerships and corporate engagements in ensuring the success of projects, spurring wealth creation and economic growth. It featured mentors who shed light on how attendees could use successful partnerships and mentor support to scale up projects and businesses. I get people asking what BarCamp is, anytime I’m seen in a Barcamp T-shirt (Too bad I didn’t get one on Dec 17.)
BarCamp is simply an ‘unconference’ – an ad-hoc gathering of people with the simple desire to share and learn in an open environment. Unlike a conference, at a BarCamp everyone is both a speaker and a participant. The content is provided by all attendees based on their interests. Barcamps in Ghana bring people interested in Ghana together for an informal networking forum where attendees share ideas, discuss interests, network and learn how to add value to their lives and make impact in their communities. Since you now know what it means, here are the five things I learned from the event.
Iron sharpeneth Iron
The Bible says in the book of Proverbs that, “iron sharpeneth iron.” There is no better way to understand this than to attend a BarCamp event. If you thought you knew something, you go for the event, listen to other people and realize that you need to know more. Most often than not, you get some extra points and add to yours. In the “Art of Leadership” session, I met some vibrant leaders who shared a lot about leadership. I got the chance to be sharpened since leadership is a “skill.” Writers who went through the “Creative Writing” session would also testify to the fact that they got sharpened after the event. It’s better to be sharpened once in a while like a knife so you would cut through pieces of bread, materials etc so easily. Don’t wait to corrode before you act.
Mentorship is the way to go
One question was raised which caused a lot of debate. The question was “why are there few women in ICT?” I remember sharing ideas on this with a host of my friends including Kwabena, Ato, Prince, MacJordan and Amma Baffoe. I kept wondering even after leaving the premises. One answer I found was that, there are few mentors for the women in ICT. I know some of our women are in the field and very soon, Ghana is going to have a lot of prominent women who would serve as mentors. Enough of that and back to the mentorship part…. There was speed mentorship earlier in the morning. Nothing beats sitting beneath an elderly person and getting all the knowledge you can. We learn more from our elders than we do in a classroom. They have been in that position before and certainly know better so it’s so easy to tap into their knowledge and make good use of them. Creative Writing, Acting, Fashion, Banking to mention but a few were some of the knowledge imparted. One could easily get a business card from a mentor and bingo… you get the chance to forge a relationship for the future. Ghana has mentors and the young ones must realize this and make good use of them before all the knowledge is sent to the grave.
Ghana is equally greener
We keep on talking about brain drain. I know very well that it isn’t going to stop today but here is the catch: even if it’s greener at the other side, you would still have to mow the grass and also take care of the weeds. The same applies to the grass in Ghana. There are so many opportunities in Ghana. They are just wearing work clothes and seem so gargantuan. We refuse to see these opportunities. The likes of NandiMobile makes you believe that, Ghana is indeed a land of opportunities if you can see beyond the horizon. Success stories from various people who started from nowhere tend to uplift the spirits of others and that is exactly what BarCamp Ghana served. The motivation, the vim, the spirit was there and I tapped into that. Let’s mow our own grasses. Let’s make Ghana a better place to live. We can do it!
We already have the future think-tanks, Gates, Zuckerberg and Jobs of Africa
I wrote an article on the 5 lessons we could learn from the legacy of Steve Jobs (May he rest in peace) some few months ago. I must say that, there are some Ghanaians who could rise in this world and be the Jobs and Zuckerbergs of this world. The kind of ideas that are in people’s minds beats my imagination. At Barcamps, you realize how great some people think and that is contagious. Even if you have nothing on your mind, an idea suddenly pops up when someone is sharing a story. Yeah…. People started with nothing and are making something. I know very well that those people won’t rest but will aim for the stars.
I got to meet a host of these men and women. When I was young, I had a friend who would say, “Take me as a friend now because if you don’t, one day, you will join a queue just to see me.” Since our words are very powerful, he is the pastor of an Assemblies of God church in Accra and of course, you have to book an appointment if you want to see him except some of us who took him as a “friend” and can now call him to meet us anywhere when we need him. Networking is very important. It opens doors and BarCamp offers such an opportunity.
Our children/grandchildren will have the coolest of mothers.
“The surest way to keep people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family” said Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey. At Barcamps, you see women exchanging ideas. The days where the woman’s place was the kitchen in Ghana are over. The days where women were so scared to stand for their rights are over. We are in the days where women are conscious of their environment, tech-savvy and are determined to make waves in the society. I am told BarCamp Tamale had a lot of women attendees than all the other Barcamps this year. It is a step in the right direction. I only hope there would be as many women as men next year and the years after. BarCamp isn’t for men. It isn’t a tech event. It’s an event where people choose their own topics so we can share ideas on them. I therefore entreat women out there to discard that notion of a tech event and embrace BarCamp. Even if it’s a tech event, the women are supposed to be there since we live in a tech world and one cannot afford to miss out. Nonetheless it isn’t a tech event as it encompasses a host of topics that arise from the attendees.
We can all make Ghana a better place. This nation belongs to the youth. Africa belongs to Africans. I learned a lot from BarCamp but have shared five of them. Let’s hear what you also learned. God bless you and see you at the next BarCamp event.
- Remember your One Thing. Your startup can only do one thing well at a time. Know Your One Thing. Write it on the wall. Repeat it every day. Put it at the top of every regular company-wide communication. Don’t let anything distract you and your team from it.
- Remember that you’re only as good as The Team around you. Spend time cultivating your team. Bring in people who are better at their jobs than you could ever be. Motivate them and drive them to do things they never thought they could do. Give them freedom to roam and discover while guiding them towards the One Thing. Treat your co-workers like family. Startups can be a grind. Getting your team to love being part of your company is critical to success. A startup is not just a place to work, it’s a way of life. As CEO, your job is not to do everyone else’s job. Your job is to help everyone else do their jobs better. Also make sure to give regular feedback to your executives on your expectations for them and areas where you need them to improve.
- Set the Tone. Everyone — your co-workers, your customers, your partners, your investors, the press, your Twitter and Facebook followers — takes their cues from you. Does your company value Speed? Analytics? Innovation? Customer Service? Ultimately your company culture will largely reflect how you function as CEO. So, don’t be a rude jerk. Walk the walk and personally act the way you want people to think about when they think about your company. It’s easy to get this wrong. If you run around like a chicken with its head cut off, your company will too. If you forget to smile, your company will too. If you lack patience, your company will too. If you don’t say please and thank you, neither will your company. The company is bigger than any one individual but it reflects the personalities and work habits of its employees, and you’re the leader.
- Spend at least 75% of your personal time on your Product. Your company is only as good as its product. Put your stamp on it. Insist that it be excellent. Dig in and get your hands dirty and manage features and user benefits. Where I come from the CEO must be the Chief Product Officer. As CEO you should feel responsible for every pixel on the screen. I know that may seem like overkill but your product is the user-facing output of all your hard work and its every function should reflect your goals and objectives.
- Run the Numbers. I’m talking less budget and cash flow here and more key metrics. Send a weekly email to your team summarizing all the key data that drives your business. Write this email yourself. Writing the email will force you to dig in and analyze the data. Own the data. Share the data. Make it your job to make sure that everyone in the company is focused on the numbers that really drive your business. Boil it down to at most 3 to 5 metrics that really matter.
- Exercise. I can’t stress enough the importance of this. Make yourself go to the gym at least 4 days per week, preferably 5 or 6. Working out gives you the energy and stamina to solve complex problems. Being CEO is incredibly mentally challenging. Use the gym as a way to stay fresh and to clear your head. If you don’t do this already, I promise you you’ll be shocked at how much easier life gets when you are regularly working out. Step away from the keyboard and enter the gym!
- Ask for Feedback. Guess what? You’re not as smart as you think you are. And you will make mistakes. Ask your employees, customers, partners, etc. for regular feedback. Make sure you have at least 1 executive on your team who can give you honest feedback about your own performance. Make sure you have at least 1 outside board member or close advisor who can give you regular input on corporate development issues (e.g. fundraising, board management).
- Get Out of the Office. It’s all too easy to manage from behind the keyboard and just live around your email inbox. Get out of the office and talk to real customers, partners, suppliers, bloggers, press, etc. Listen to what they have to say and take it to heart. Don’t just feed them the vision. Stop and listen to the reality.
- Blog, Tweet, Read, & Participate in CEO forums. Writing stuff like this is therapeutic. Share your lessons learned, pain points, and your tips and tricks. Don’t be afraid to hang it all out there and get feedback from your virtual network. Read hacker news to keep up on what other startup CEOs and tech geeks are sharing. Leverage your investors’ networks to get advice and input from other CEO’s who are in similar situations.
- Manage Cash. Cash is your lifeblood. You must know at all times how much cash you have left, how long it can last you, and what the impact of decisions you make will have on your cash position. And don’t forget to raise more money long before you need it!
- Act Like an Investor. At the end of each week, ask yourself the following question: Did our actions this past week increase value? What was the ROI on your time spent this past week? If you go 2 weeks in a row or 2 weeks in a month without a positive ROI on your time spent, you’re clearly doing the wrong things.
- Have fun. This stuff is too hard and takes too much energy to not enjoy it. Make sure to have fun every single day. Even the tough days need to have some joy in them. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing the wrong things. One of my favorite sayings is, “mature, but don’t grow up.”
- Love. Love your company. Love your co-workers. Love your investors. Love your partners. Love your suppliers. And most importantly, love the people you come home to — the people whose support makes it possible for you to get up and do it again each day.
What does your list look like?