A lesson about entrepreneurship
Money makes the world go round; well not sure who decided this, but I am certain that money always gets a seat at the table.
They say money is power and few truly manage to get it. The many descriptions of money that we hear out here make us all react, behave or respond in a myriad of ways. Many times it’s a craving that is not well thought out or a rush to a get-rich-quick scheme. It creates a huge avenue for cons and many vulnerable folk fall victim to such sad schemes.
I am no exception. The love for money is as true for me as breathing is. And so off to my first venture when I was fresh from college, new in the corporate minefield meaning your salary is at the bottom of the pyramid, barely meeting basic needs and not able to nourish my dreams.
Agribusiness has always been a passion but I had not fully indulged in knowledge gathering and research in the best ways to execute. Like everyone else, I thought agribusiness as simple farming that people engage in because they have time to spare.
A friend called saying he had found a way to make our first millions. He met a guy who had sold him the vision of us farming mushrooms. By investing 100,000 shillings, we would be on our way to making 1 million. The plan was to use 40k to get 1 tonne of mushroom substrate that would fetch us between 850-1250 a kg. You do the math. The least we could make was KES 850,000 and the most was KES 1.25M. I don’t know about you but that whet my appetite. I was sold.
We were to raise Kshs 80,000. 50% was to go to purchasing and preparing the substrate, then the rest was to build and equip the mushroom house. I will not go into the details of what that entails for now but focus on the experience. At harvest time he had guaranteed us a direct market for all the mushrooms.
We put in some good hours into this and got my pal’s father-in-law to grant us some land for the shelter which he decided to build himself to save on cost. We got one of his nephews to act as the mushrooms caretaker after the expert bought and worked the substrate for us and all we needed to do was wait.
Fast forward and the mushroom was ready for harvest. We first made a call to our partner who introduced us to the buyer. She got back to us saying the guy had not made any promise to take all the mushrooms and had no idea what we were talking about. “Ok call him again this time please tell him who you are upfront”, I said thinking that will elicit a different response. This time he hurled insults at me.
Here we are, stuck with mushrooms that have no buyer. First of all, it was less than the 1 tonne promised, we have no knowledge of handling mushrooms, and now, we have no market intelligence and no expert to advice.
How quickly fortunes change. We had to quickly think of what to do. The thing about mushrooms is that they are very delicate and go bad in 24 hrs. We, therefore, had to look for markets and learn how to harvest in record time. I would leave work at 5 pm, rush to my pal’s in-laws, and work late night to get the big mushroom out so that they do not burst open. When they do that, they are not marketable and the rot may infect the others that are still growing.
The sad part is that we had no ready market. A large portion of my day was spent looking for the next buyer. What we were not told was that there are brokers who were waiting for learners like us to make a killing. They would wait very late to confirm a delivery. They would then claim that they can’t take this at the proposed price because almost 24 hrs had elapsed and they were not healthy-looking. Remember the promised price? We never got anything close to that. The most I sold a kilo for was Kshs150. And I did not sell many. We ended up learning different ways to prepare mushroom and our friends really benefitted from visiting us. They also left with mushrooms plus a recipe. To date my children, hate mushrooms and I can’t blame them for it.
I don’t regret at all since there were many lessons learned on how not to farm mushrooms. The first lesson was to never get into any deal without a contract that clearly outlines roles and responsibilities. And it must be binding. If we had that in place, we would not have suffered looking for a market. The second lesson is no matter how lucrative the deal is but you have no knowledge in it, keep away as you fall prey to cons and most importantly you will not even know your success indicators. If you have a passion for something, research on it or get an expert to work with you. Third lesson and most crucial is there are no shortcuts to success. I had to quickly learn the market and put in crazy hours to move the product. We also failed to meet the quality and tonnage needed because the house constructed was not built to the required standards since we used my pal’s dad in law to build something he had no knowledge of and paid a quarter of the original price, we used his nephew a serious armature in things mushroom.
Last, and perhaps a very critical lesson is never let one experience kill your passion. I will tell you for sure this did not deter me from my agribusiness passion. I will tell you all about it next time when I give you my experience with watermelons.