Every big thing starts small.
All big, mighty trees start as small seeds.
Every hardy adult was once a fragile baby.
And if you believe in it, act on it, nurture it, and give it time, a small idea in your head could someday become a big, thriving company.
The ability of small and inconsequential things to grow into big marvels is a principle that applies in nature, life and business.
Hi, I’m John-Paul Iwuoha.
On the night of February 15, 2013, I started plotting my escape from the world of corporate employment.
Like most people, I am a product of the formal school system.
Like most people, I was encouraged to go to school, get good grades, get a job, and enjoy a happy life. And that’s exactly what I did.
I actually loved school — every bit of it. I particularly loved the challenge and thrill of preparing for, and passing, exams. I was an all-round A student. I earned two university scholarships, and graduated in the top 10 percent of my class with a degree in mechanical engineering. I was going to be an engineer in one of the oil and gas multinationals. I was locked, loaded and ready for the good life.
But two years before I graduated from school, during a holiday visit to my aunt’s, I stumbled on a small book that shook my reality to its foundations.
That book was “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”
It dawned on me that all my life until that point, the school system and my environment was exclusively grooming me for one option: to fit into a job.
But where do jobs come from? Who creates them?
Rich Dad, Poor Dad gave me my first peek into an unknown world of special people called “entrepreneurs.”
But how could I become one? I had no clue.
I was only two years away from graduating into the real world but I was financially illiterate; I knew practically nothing about money or business.
To be fair, until that time in my life, I didn’t have any interest in business. I actually looked down on business as that “thing” people do when they can’t find a job.
A good job is safe, respectable, and rewarding. Why in the world would anybody choose anything else?
But from the moment I read that book and discovered entrepreneurship, a small seed was planted in my mind, even though I didn’t exactly know what it would eventually become.
I got the job! …but not the dream one.
Every year, thousands of well-educated young people across Africa languish in the labour pool as they desperately search for good jobs.
We have a lot of bright, capable people. But the jobs aren’t just enough to go around.
I was one of the lucky ones — I landed my first job at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) straight out of school.
According to my plan, PwC was supposed to be a staging area while I waited to go through the semi-finals and finals of the recruitment process at ExxonMobil.
PwC turned out to be my admission into business school. It exposed me to the workings of corporate business and I finally had the opportunity to address that curious question that had nagged my mind since I first read the book that changed my life — how does a business work?
The job at ExxonMobil didn’t come through. I was disappointed, partly because I was used to winning. I totally believed that because I was smart, I could get anything I wanted in life. And until that point, this belief had worked perfectly for me.
The loss of the Exxon dream was a blow to my ego, but the exciting (and stressful) time I was having at PwC didn’t give me enough time to grieve.
The strange road that led me here
From PwC, I landed another job in business development in the energy industry.
That too was exciting because I had the chance to work with real entrepreneurs who didn’t have the corporate garb and niceties I was used to at PwC.
The energy industry was my real introduction to the raw, rough, and unforgiving contact sport that entrepreneurship really is.
But while I was rising in my corporate career, I was getting busy on the side.
Over a 7-year period, I started several businesses on the side of my day job. I started a crop farm in the outskirts of Lagos, which landed me a feature on CNN.
I started a business that traded in poultry products. I started a motorcycle leasing business, and a logistics and trading company in refined petroleum products.
But of all of these, it was the one I never considered a real business that beat the others hands down — helping entrepreneurs solve business problems.
It took me time to realise I had a gift in business analysis and strategy, but I never seriously considered making money from it.
The first clear signals came from my earliest customers.
I would help friends critique business ideas, analyse markets, craft strategy, and help develop business plans and financial models. It was exciting and passionate work, and getting paid to do something I love was more than I ever dreamed of.
So, while at the office waiting out the notorious Lagos traffic on that evening of February 15, 2013, I clicked the button that published the first and ugliest version of this website. For a few months before that night, I had been learning web development, HTML, and CSS.
Smallstarter.com didn’t look pretty at birth, but it represented the start of a journey I had waited so long to start.
Two years later, I quit my manager position and entered full-time entrepreneurship. I was recently married, had a 4-month-old baby, and very little savings. And it was the scariest decision I have made in my whole life.
I loved the safety of a salary. I miss my colleagues and the prestige of a job title. But to make big leaps and changes in your life, the first (and most painful) step is to leave your comfort zone.
Starting small is a gift
Over the last several years, I have truly understood the power of starting small.
I have received hundreds of testimonials from entrepreneurs who have benefited from the knowledge and insights here on Smallstarter.
The most touching have been from parts of the world I never imagined — from Nepal and the Fiji Islands in the Far East, to Somalia and Lesotho in sub-Saharan Africa.
Working with entrepreneurs, both as clients and students, and being able to walk in their shoes without an employer or salary to “de-risk” the experience, has been an a tough, amazing and rewarding journey.
Entrepreneurship changed everything I knew and believed about life.
It has taught me that failure can be a good thing and a better teacher than success.
It has taught me that starting small is a gift that allows you to take hits and make mistakes you can learn and recover from.
It has taught me that hard times are important because they build character and inner strength, and create the unique opportunities we need to learn, grow and succeed.
It has taught me that anyone can start a business, but not everyone has the will for it. That’s because it takes guts to buck convention, to take risks, and to withstand the mental pressures and strong winds that are inevitable in business.
Entrepreneurship has taught me that intelligence alone is not enough to succeed; you need to learn other important life skills like self-awareness, selling, communication, leadership, and how to deal with people.
The future belongs to entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs are creative thinkers, action-takers, and efficient problem-solvers.
We are believers and optimists; we see and appreciate opportunities where others see and complain about problems.
We are skillful and relentless at taking on challenges.
And we know how to thrive in the face of adversity and limited resources.
While most people are content with fighting for a piece of the pie, entrepreneurs focus on enlarging the pie.
And in the process, we end up creating wealth, jobs, opportunities, and progress for humankind.
But still, a lot of entrepreneurs around the world are choking on their dreams and businesses.
Despite the world’s pressing need for more entrepreneurs, there are very few places entrepreneurs can find the information, training, and support they need with an affordable investment of time, money, and effort.
That’s why I built Smallstarter.
This is a place where anyone with a big dream and access to the internet can learn and follow the small steps they need to reach that dream.
Whether you’re trying to start a new business, grow an existing business, or turnaround a failing one, I created this platform for people like me who have a business dream but need help to cultivate and nurture it.
You’re welcome on board.
The Smallstarter Creed
The first and most important thing I had to change in order to transform into an entrepreneur was my mindset: I had to change how I saw myself, and how I saw the world around me.
It was a tough battle.
After years of indoctrination by schools and the general society, it takes a strong will to retrain oneself, to break bad mental habits, and to adopt a new mindset.
That’s why I created the Smallstarter Creed.
The Smallstarter Creed is a set of six principles that represent my values; how I see myself and the world around me.
It reflects how I think, and it guides how I act.
If, like me, you are a dreamer on your own journey to self-realization, I invite you to adopt these principles as you start and grow the business of your dreams.
As a Smallstarter, I shall actively pursue and create opportunities within my environment and outside it. I choose to see possibilities in every bad and challenging situation. I choose to see the potential for profit in every problem. I choose to think of solutions rather than whine about the difficulties. I choose to make the very best out of everything life gives me. I choose to think this way because I can.
As a Smallstarter, I believe in the infiniteness of opportunity. I believe that there is an endless supply of business ideas as there is an abundance of resources in Africa. I believe there are business ideas everywhere I look, feel, live and interact. I believe there is an abundance of wealth behind all the broken roads, hunger, unemployment and homelessness in Africa. I believe that by solving these problems, wealth will naturally flow to me as satisfaction and relief flows to the people my ideas and businesses will help. I choose to believe these things because I can.
Time will not wait for you.
The proverbial hands of the clock are the only moving things that never stop.
The world will not wait for you; the earth has been rotating on its axis for 4.5 billion years, and has never stopped for anyone.
Your dreams, ideas, plans and strategies will never materialize unless you act on them. Without your action, nothing is going to change.
Here are the three key ways I can help you get what you’re looking for: