By: Sisanda Ntshinga
Peer to peer learning is one of the best ways to understand any sector and our fellows are always sharing insights to ensure that other entrepreneurs grow and learn from their experiences. Bridgelabs co-founder and Anzisha fellow Kola Olajide who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Anzisha Prize Very Young Entrepreneur and Education Acceleration Summit shares some of the lessons he’s learnt on his journey of entrepreneurship.
Kola Olajide co-founded Bridgelabs out of his passion for building high-quality tech products designed to enable forward-thinking organizations to compete and perform in the 21st century. In 2014, he was one of the Anzisha Prize finalists and has since led several systems design projects including leading the technology development for learning systems at the African Leadership University, and more recently the digital transformation of South Africa’s largest privately owned car dealership. The Forbes 30 under 30 honoree shares eight lessons he’s learnt on his entrepreneurial journey so far.
1. Be Intentional About Your Personal Development
At different stages of his journey, Kola says he sacrificed immediate financial gains for his personal development, and spent some time reflecting on his growth and identified the skills deficiencies that were holding him back from building a successful company. “One of the best decisions I made was becoming an entrepreneur-in-residence at the African Leadership University. I believe the right Entrepreneur-In-Residence Programs can prepare you for a better future as an entrepreneur.”
2. Hard work is non-negotiable
“This actually goes without saying and I can’t stress it enough. It really doesn’t get easier the higher you go.” For Kola, bringing his A-game in every aspect of his life is important in order to create the right balance. “It is also important to know that as a leader, your energy is highly contagious and you attract what you bring to the table. I believe success is a journey and not a destination, you never own it and rent is due every day.”
3. Play according to your strengths
As a techie at heart, Kola is more passionate about finding creative solutions to interesting problems with the use of technology. So finding the right business partner that complements his strengths with sound business knowledge was imperative, while he focused on creating an enabling environment to nurture engineering talent. “It is important to know your strengths and play according to them as an entrepreneur. It is great to have a business partner I can bounce ideas with and brainstorm interesting ideas to generate revenue.”
4. Fame gets you in the room but substance keeps you there
Kola says he sees a lot of entrepreneurs focus on the accolades as they grow in business and gradually lose their focus. “Fame has opened a couple of doors for me, I believe it put me on a pedestal and one of two things can happen when you are visible on a pedestal, you can choose to create value and bolster the fame with substance or be widely known for being an empty barrel. One of my biggest clients came through a guest lecture I gave at a business school.”
5. Relationship Building
“A huge part of my entrepreneurial success is tied to organic relationships that have evolved over the years with old colleagues, mentors, and previous bosses. I believe that you need to build relationships in order to create a thriving business in this age.” So burning bridges as you evolve as an entrepreneur is a definite no no. “No, you cannot please everyone but I do my best to remain cordial with different stakeholders I have the opportunity to meet on this journey.”
6. People Development
Bridgelabs works with forward thinking organisations to build systems that are more efficient and bring interesting ideas to life and Kola has learnt it is important to invest in your people and set a standard of excellence. “Yes, it costs more but it is worth it. I am never worried about the quality of the work my team brings to the table even in my absence and without my input.”
7. Find your unique selling point
“It is important to keep up with the latest trends in your industry and identify new ways to add value to your clients. Invest in creating business models that create win-win situations for all stakeholders and the journey becomes easier.” Kola says.
8. The beauty of servant leadership
A big lesson that has kept Kola going is the concept of leading by serving. “Conflicts will always exist and people will sometimes have a different opinion to yours. A-team players have a lot of options when it comes to job opportunities. At Bridgelabs, everyone has a voice and we all work together to create an environment that works for all. A serve-first mindset focuses on empowering and uplifting my team which is done by showing empathy and humility instead of brandishing authority.” Kola says this approach has really helped the team enhance the development of staff members in ways that unlocks potential, creativity and sense of purpose.
Featured image: Anzisha Fellow and Bridgelabs co-founder Kola Olajide at the Anzisha 2020 Very Young Entrepreneur Summit in Cape Town (Photo Credit: Mfundo Mbanze)