By: Guest Thought Leader, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, founder and chairman of the APO Group
There is a common misconception that entrepreneurship is all about striving for an inspirational, unique idea that will change the world. But I strongly believe most successful companies start out after identifying an unique way of addressing an existing problem.
This was certainly the case for me. I didn’t set out to create a business – I was just extremely passionate about fixing a problem that no-one else had been able to solve.
Most start-ups in life begin as passion projects
12 years ago I was working as a journalist. It had never crossed my mind to start my own company. What I wanted to do was change the narrative about Africa. At the time, there was no shortage of negative news being written about the continent, and I felt it was painting an unfair picture to the rest of the world. It certainly didn’t represent the Africa I knew.
I wanted to find a way of getting more positive African stories into the public consciousness.
The problem was, even though I was a journalist at the time – I was European correspondent for a Gabonese media house – I found it extremely difficult to get my hands on any Africa-related press releases. There was no channel for those African good news stories to filter out onto the international stage.
I took the plunge and set up my own solution. I invested €10,000 (R185 897,60) of my own money, and I created what is now APO Group. At the start, I was a classic accidental entrepreneur. I tried to do everything on my own and made a lot of mistakes.
But my singlemindedness and dedication to my goal has meant that now, 12 years later, APO Group is the leading Pan African business and communications consultancy. What’s unusual is that I have never had to seek any external financing at all. Nobody else has ever invested.
I am still 100% owner of APO Group, which has made it easier for me to stay close to my original goals and ambitions for the company. That is something I am really proud of.
Journalism is one of the most advantageous professions for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit
At APO Group, we offer a full suite of turnkey solutions across three main pillars:
Our knowledge and expertise across these areas has made us a valuable partner both for the clients we work with and the media in Africa who benefit from stronger relationships with multinational organisations.
I have never had to seek any external financing
A big part of what we do is creating that connectivity between business and media.
I strongly believe that journalism is one of the most advantageous professions for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit. Journalists have an innate curiosity and resilience that is perfect for business success. They are imaginative. They tend to have strong networks and excellent powers of persuasion and communication. They can tell stories quickly and in a compelling way.
But, most crucial of all, when they ask a question – people answer them.
In my experience, that is the single biggest benefit for any budding entrepreneur. If you are a journalist you have the power of the media you represent behind you. You have credibility. You have a voice. No other profession or background will open so many doors for you.
Focus all your efforts on increasing the value of your company
So, making the leap from young journalist to business leader does not need to be daunting.
1. Put yourself out there – Whenever you get the opportunity to travel or meet new people, you need to take it. You might gain different perspectives, learn new skills or meet somebody that can help with your development.
2. Work harder than the rest – and be ready to sacrifice a few years of your life.
3. Be international – Don’t make the mistake of just targeting only ‘your’ country. Africa is 54 countries, but with just two languages (English and French) you can cover most of the markets.
4. You need to go big or go home. Do not hesitate to take on bigger, more well-established companies: 1% of the African toilet paper market is good enough for you to make a lot of money.
5. If you can do it alone, then do it alone – Avoid creating a company with co-founders, investors and so on. Why would you allow anybody to get involved who might slow you down, contest, or even block your decisions?
6. Never recruit friends or family – Hire proven talents instead. Surround yourself with people who are better than you are at what they do. Learn to pass on your knowledge and to delegate. A good entrepreneur is the one who can die today without jeopardizing the future of his company.
7. Reinvest all the money you earn in the early years – Your objective should not be to buy a Ferrari the moment you can afford it, and then seeing your company slowly disappear because of your inability to hire/retain talent. You are building something for the long run. Focus all your efforts on increasing the value of your company. That requires investment and time.
8. Be flexible – Don’t hesitate to change the business model of your company along the way. Focus on what works – even if it’s not exactly what you planned at the beginning. Do not fall in love with a single product or service.
Finally, you should never lose sight of the fact that entrepreneurship should be enjoyable. It is a misconception that people who are successful in business are all hard-nosed and ruthless. Most start-ups in life begin as passion projects. If you are 100% invested in making something work; if you are willing to put all your energies into it; if you bore your friends and family about it all day, every day – then you have half a chance!
About The Author: Franco-Gabonese self-made entrepreneur Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard is the founder, chairman and 100% owner of APO Group. Pompigne-Mognard created APO Group on his own in 2007 while he was a journalist for online Gabonese media, Gabonews and Deputy President of the Pan-African Press Organization in France (APPA – Association de la Presse Panafricaine). APO Group is the strategic partner of Getty Images in Africa and the Middle East, as well as a media strategic partner with Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, CNBC Africa and Africanews, a subsidiary of Euronews.