Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My First Experience

This is my first post in a while and it was actually inspired by an essay I wrote for an application. It reminded me of my first hands-on experience in ‘doing business’ the startup way.

This occurred during September 2006, two months after graduating form the university and was an exciting and sobering experience of how together with a couple of friends we decided to actual try out one of our ideas to see what it feels like to be an entrepreneur.

Since we were fresh out of school and habits die hard, it involved organizing a movie show for freshmen during their first four weekends on KNUST campus. The planning for this venture started in a small restaurant on campus as all the guys involved (including my co-author Justin) resided on or around the campus. The ‘meetings’ resulted in three objectives; obtain funds, organize logistics and market the shows.

To raise funds we decided to self-fund a portion of the budget and to collects loans from close friends with a promise of paying one-and-a-half times the amount collected, a decision stemmed from our ‘sciences’ background since none of us had a business majored in business. Funds secured we split into a three teams of two people each.

We defined logistics as seating, electronic equipment, printing and distribution of tickets. Although we capped attendance at 300 (we just chose the number), we booked 350 chairs, the extra 50 being a contingency. We ordered 350 tickets and obtained the electronic equipment by hiring some and borrowing from friends where available. We even had our own custom made speakers from another ‘entrepreneur’ who makes sound devices as a hobby.

Marketing of the show involved use of mono-chrome posters on all public notice boards and more extensively door to door or direct sales methods.

The venue, the most important of all the requirements proved the most difficult, as ‘entertainment’ is usually deemed as a distraction by university authorities and we were refused use of numerous ideal locations. We finally managed to secure the ‘multi-purpose’ Dining Halls of one of the Halls of Residence, with its attendant problems. We were granted access on condition the Hall Students Council were given a part of the profit, an agreement reached only in consensus with the Entertainment Head of the Council, another decision lacking of business sense.

We quickly gathered momentum since our perceived greatest obstacle had been overcome. The first day of the show arrived and we quickly setup seating and the electronic equipment, where quickly means 3 hours or thereabout. With morale at the highest, we decided to sell tickets door to door and use it as last minute publicity. We found a scheme where we went to the rooms of friends of freshmen who had already bought tickets and used their friends purchase as a sales pitch, which worked well. We didn’t have any generating equipment which meant in the event of a power failure, we would be left trying to power 1100Watt projector on sheer willpower. The time advertised arrived and only a handful of people were at the venue, panic slowly started to creep in and tempers rose, each identifying a possible source for the lack of attendance. Luckily it was only the lateness syndrome of students. We quickly started the show and though the attendance did not meet expectation the show went without any major hitches and so ended day one. On the second day things went on a similar note, but we had realized the pre-movie show of popular TV series increased the likely of people coming in and then staying for the show, so we started these 2 hours before the show and it increased the numbers on the second day.

We however encountered a problem where the rest of the council and the Hall Master decided it was against SRC regulations to allow a monopoly for concurrent use of the venue every Saturday and Sunday for 4 weeks and abrogated the agreement. We would only be allowed to do so every 4 weeks. We decided to take the lessons learned from the venture as such and quit the venture since our National Service postings would be in at the next available time for the venue.

The venture helped us experience hands on the problems associated with entrepreneurial pursuits especially where no formal or practical management skills exist among all the proponents of the venture.

In this case we were managed to break even but we realized it was due in part to luck. We paid back what we owed without the rate of return promised but what is a few cedis between friends!

Next Post: Last Minute Syndrome