In this interview series with entrepreneurs leading up to the BEEA summit in 2019, Malick M. Jarju’s,
a 38 years old Gambian, single with a BA in Financial Administration shares his challenging but promising journey with us. He is the founder of “Africa Energy Solutions” (AES) which was founded in 2014 in The Gambia and currently operates in The Gambia, Mali and in the process of setting up other branches in Guinea Bissau before the end of year. It’s an energy company and currently has close to 50 staffs.
Like every other young African, the idea of his company was propounded while he was doing his Degree and after completion, he didn’t have the starting capital. Despite this setback, he was convinced he could do much better working for himself and also inspire other young people. Coming from a small farming village, losing his father at a tender age and being the first male son of his mother gave him the conviction he needed to work hard. His father was the sole bread winner of the family and after his death, he had to struggle to pay his fee through high school.
“I knew I needed to work harder to be able to realize my dreams” When asked why he decided to become an entrepreneur, he said:
“All these and many others inspired his journey to entrepreneur and most importantly, I wanted to use my story as an inspiration to other young people facing the same situation”
How then did you move from this point to a business today?
After pitching my business idea to so many people, most didn’t believe in me or the idea. Some thought it wasn’t a viable business idea. After several rejections, I spoke to a former boss of mine who knew my qualities and the strong brotherly relationship we shared over years was enough reasons for him to buy into the idea. He came up with €35,000 which was all we had to kick start the business. We used my bedroom as an office for almost a year before we were able to get an office. From then on, everything has been doing smoothly.
As a start-up business, we couldn’t spend much on publicity. So we decided to use social media, customer service and 24 hours round the clock after sale service to build a strong customer base. Most of our competitors weren’t doing so and this gave us an edge over them. We had free publicity through referrals from customers we had worked for. What has really worked for us with all honesty is great customer care and after sale service.
What’s your greatest fear as a startup and how do you manage it?
My greatest fear was not being able to raise capital to grow the business, because in The Gambia it’s very difficult to get access to funds as a start-up business from financial institutions for the following reasons; one should have a collateral for loans to be granted, the exorbitant high interest rates wouldn’t make business sense to go for such funds as a start-up that just kick-start among others. I was able to cross over that hurdle by working over a year without salary, sold few personal assets and reinvested the profits into the business. I worked out a convincing payment period with our suppliers and managed our operational expenses.
What will you say are the best three skills needed to become an entrepreneur?
a. Resiliency: The ability to handle the ups and downs that you’ll have while running your own business is important. You have to be able to bounce back from hard times even when it feels easier to just give up. Your entrepreneurial journey isn’t always going to be a smooth and easy ride so it’s important to know how to pull yourself out of those lows that you’re definitely going face.
b. Leadership: Whether you have a team of staff or not, being a natural leader is important as an entrepreneur. Your leadership skills are what will help you guide your business. If you aren’t a leader, how will you lead your business into the direction it needs to go?
Being an entrepreneur, you’re in control of everything and don’t have leaders leading you. You need to be your own leader and also be a leader for your staff.
c. Self-Motivation: Working for one’s self can be invigorating. Not having to report to anyone gives you a great sense of independence, but also responsibility. In order to be successful as an entrepreneur you need to be able to self-motivate yourself. You need to be motivated to get done what needs to be done, even if that means asking for help or staying up all night. Being an entrepreneur can be one of the most rewarding career paths, but just like anything, it’snot going to come easy and it isn’t for everyone; although having the qualities and skills to be successful will definitely set you and your business up for success.
What are some of the challenges you face as an entrepreneur?
Ans: Like every career in life you are bound to face challenges and as an Entrepreneur it isn’t an exception. I was and am faced with challenges like;
a. Starting capital
b. Credit facilities from financial institutions
c. Unfair competition
d. Political decisions
e. High tax rates
f. Unstable foreign exchange rates
g. Distrust that you can deliver or meet an expectation (s)
What do you think could be done to improve the current situation?
The following but not limited to;
a. There is need for governments to create a Youth Entrepreneurship Fund in which young people can tap on easily.
b. Creating an investment bank that can offer long terms facilities to start-ups that would give them leverage to invest in growing their businesses knowing they have time to repay the facility.
c. Institute a fair competition commission to ensure that no company has an unfair advantage over the others.
c. To stop or limit government interference in the private sector.
d. Reduce or institute competitive tax rates to enable start-ups grow their businesses.
What piece of advice would you give young people who want to venture into entrepreneurship?
My advice would be like I told myself when I was ready to venture into it, “Don’t allow anyone/thing tell you that you can’t”. You will face lots of challenges, lack of capital, many rejections but use all the negativity as a source of motivation and inspiration that motivates you to wake up daily chasing your dream. If I can, I believe anyone can”.
By Isatu Bokum, Correspondent in The Gambia