Never Say It Canít Be Done

By: Tim-Knox

I ran across an interesting article in Wired magazine this week that told the tale of Kolo Soro, an elementary school teacher in the tiny village of Tomono in the northern Ivory Coast of Africa. This is an area so remote and void of technology that for generations communication between villages has been done by tying notes to rocks and having passing trucks toss them out the window at pre-described locations.

Kolo Soro changed all that when he purchased a cellphone during a visit to a larger city and found that if he held the phone seven feet off the floor in a corner of his bedroom he could get a decent signal. Being an enterprising young man he hung the phone on the wall, hooked up an earbud, and started charging his fellow villagers 80 cents per minute to make calls. He earned $200 the first month.

Being a smart entrepreneur Kolo plowed those profits back into his business. He bought a PlayStation 2 game console and connected it to a 13-inch color TV and charged 10 to 20 cents to play games. He made $20 in the first three days.
Now Iíve worked with some pretty sharp entrepreneurs over the years, but in my mind Kolo Soro leaves them all in the dirt. He lives in a tiny African village where the average income is probably no more than a few dollars a month, yet he has founded a thriving enterprise that continues to grow. Koloís next purchase will be a computer, which he plans to connect to the Internet using the cellphone signal.

You have to wonder how Koloís tactics would go over here in the good old US of A. Heíd probably be fined for operating an unlicensed telco and arrested for contributing to the delinquency of minors. Or some superstore would move in next door, slash prices, and drive poor Kolo out of business. I guess there are some advantages to starting a business in a region of the world not as advanced and competitive as our own.

What entrepreneurial lessons might you learn from Kolo Soro? The first lesson is as old as the rocks Tomono villagers used to communicate with: think outside the box. Iím pretty sure people used to say that even before there were boxes, thatís how creativity works. In fact, give the box to the kids and let them think with it. You never know what those little buggers might come up with that can make you a fortune.

Next, know your market well. Kolo knew his fellow villagers well. He knew what was lacking in their lives. He identified a critical need and when he filled it, people literally beat a path to his door.

Find out what the customer wants and give it to them. Boy that was an MBA moment, huh. Kolo knew communication with the outside world was a crapshoot and the moment he discovered that cellphone signal he knew he could make money from it. There is no more basic tenet of business than to find out what people will pay you for and sell it to them. Make waves, then sell boats.

Reinvest your profits back in the business. It speaks highly of Koloís entrepreneurial acumen that he saved up all the money from his first venture and plowed it right back into the business. Iím sure it would have been very easy to take that $420 and spend it on food, clothing, and shelter, but Koloís vision was much bigger than that. Iíve seen entrepreneurs kill their businesses by spending the profits on themselves. Kolo brilliantly avoided that mistake and so should you.

Diversify to build revenue. Iím sure Kolo realized that to grow his business he would need to diversify his offering. After all, thereís only so much you can make from a single cellphone hanging on the wall. With the addition of the gaming business he unplugged a second revenue stream that complimented his initial offering instead of competing with it. It was win/win for Kolo and his fellow villagers who were hungry for some kind of recreation other than kick the rock.

The final lesson is this: never say, "It canít be done." If you think that you donít have the brains or the money or the time or the resources to start your own business, think of Koloís thriving enterprise in that tiny African village and remember this: those who donít know things canít be done are usually the ones who end up doing them.

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Tim Knox Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, Radio Host "Check Out Tim's New Radio Show!" Preorder Timís New Book: Everything I Know About Business I Learned From My Mama

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