Mental health issues within entrepreneurship circles are not often talked about.
However, because of the pressure and stress that comes with starting a business, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs can find themselves in the grips of anxiety and even depression. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) estimates that one in six South Africans suffer from depression.
There have, however, been entrepreneurs who have begun to speak out about their struggles with mental health in an attempt to fight the stigma around it, which often makes it hard for sufferers to seek help.
One such entrepreneur is Soweto-born Langalakhe Nxumalo. Nxumalo has first-hand experience with dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of getting a business venture off the ground.
“Entrepreneurship can be a long, difficult, dark and lonely place. You need to be prepared emotionally and prepare those around you”, says Nxumalo.
After years of working in the electrical engineering sector for large companies, in 2011 Nxumalo left his full-time job to launch his own venture, Ceracure, a company which offers a range of engineering projects and programme management services, including supplying imported components to electrical contractors.
Nxumalo’s difficulties began when he took the entrepreneurship leap, in the aftermath of the global recession and only a month after getting married. “Everyone asked if it was the right time to start a business, if I did not want to wait until everyone had recovered and if I was certain I wanted to leave my job.”
“One can only imagine the amount of pressure I had to deal with. I was just starting a new life and now I was bringing my wife into this whole thing.”
SME South Africa speaks to Nxumalo about the struggles of feeling like a failure and the light at the end of the tunnel.
Business did not pick up as fast as I thought it would
There were mixed reactions from people close to me. My parents were very worried that I was going to be unemployed and suffer. When I first sold the idea to everyone around me, I thought I was going to see a quick turn around time.
I did not anticipate certain glitches along the way. I found myself having to downgrade my lifestyle and cut down on certain things like playing golf.
Having to rely on my wife not only to support my decision of going into business, but also to support the family financially was the hardest experience.
Founder of Ceracure
Mentally I was fine, but not emotionally, I had promised to provide and protect my family but at this point, I was unable to keep my promise.
I started to question my decision
I spent close to a year and a half trying to make a breakthrough in the industry with no luck. At some point, I started to question whether it was a wise idea to start a business.
The desire and drive to keep the business going started to fade. Waking up in the morning became difficult. I felt like I had failed myself and my family.
Job offers from big and established companies came from all corners. I knew that all I had to do was say I was back on the job market and all my financial problems would be a thing of the past. I won’t lie I was very tempted to take up the offers and just throw in the towel.
I didn’t want the business to fail
The one thing that kept me motivated besides the support from my wife was knowing that failure was not an option. I wanted to leave a legacy for my children, but I was not going to do so working for someone else.
Entrepreneurship is a journey that requires one to be emotionally prepared. You need to know what you are getting yourself into and remember that the road to success is not easy. There are many sacrifices to be made and without proper preparation you are putting yourself at risk for failure.
My breakthrough was the day I stopped doubting my abilities to make my business a success. The day I changed my mindset and believed that everything was going to work out for the best.
Lessons I learned from my experience
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. Many don’t understand that as much as being your own boss comes with a high level of freedom, it also comes with challenges and responsibilities – responsibilities, not only to yourself, but to other people as well.
Not all businesses are the same. What worked for someone else might not necessary work for you. Not every business will break even in its first year.
Don’t be frustrated by not breaking even in your first year and [worry] that there is something wrong with the business, for some it may take as long as three years.
Landing a multimillion-rand deal gave me hope
The highlight for my business was landing a multi-million rand deal. I am now looking forward to a great future. My vision is to expand the business into the rest of Africa.
We want to become the preferred, most innovative and technological driven engineering project contractor of choice, offering high-quality products and services in Africa.