Obinna Ekezie is the co-founder and CEO of Wakanow.com, the leading full-service, online travel company in Africa. Obinna played in the NBA for eight seasons and was selected with the 37th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies after playing with the Maryland Terrapins from 1995-1999. Following his basketball career, Obinna founded Wakanow out of his personal frustration that there were no options to easily book travel online between the U.S. and his native Nigeria and Nigeria and other parts of the world.
To say the world of startups is challenging is an understatement when 90 percent of tech startups fail.
The reasons are many, whether the business offers products or services that nobody wants or has poor leadership. Regardless, to succeed one must have an optimal mix of strength, persistence and patience.
I know the struggles well. I endured them while building Wakanow, an online travel agency for people traveling to and from Africa. I feel it's always best to pay it forward and share what has made my business a success today. Here are eight essential tips that were vital to me, and to which I directly attribute my recognition by CNBC as the 2015 Entrepreneur of the Year for West Africa.
Get Started Now
As Wakanow grew, more and more young entrepreneurs began asking me for advice. But only about 10 percent of them had actually started their respective businesses. Before you go any further, get started now.
The philosophy is simple. The ones who stall either don't believe in their ideas 100 percent, are afraid of rejection or don't have enough passion. I had the idea for Wakanow in my head for a while but wasn't able to fully pursue it until I had retired from the NBA. From there, I wasted no time. I immediately got things in motion. If I had waited, other noise would have surely surfaced that would have pulled me away from my idea.
Build a Strong Team
You are truly only as strong as your team. Keep this in mind when you began building out your team. It all begins with the obvious: a strong resume. Search for people who have showed progress and achieved (or superseded) goals and quickly ascended through the ranks at past jobs.
But a resume is only a starting point. The next measurable vitals will arrive during the interview. How's the candidate's attitude? Does their knowledge match their resume credentials? Would you want the interviewee talking with your top client? You need to trust these people with your business, which is basically your name. I used this guidance when hiring at Wakanow, and 95 percent of those employees are still there.
Study the Industry/Competition
Education is a must for any entrepreneur in any industry. But for true success, this education must be ongoing. Learn by studying everything about your industry, including top competitors, publications and current trends in business.
When I began Wakanow, I read everything about the travel industry and studied online travel giants like Travelocity and Expedia. Besides following the PR of these companies, I set up Google alerts to know when either was mentioned in the news. Most of these articles were from a business perspective, which can help with strategic planning.
One of the unexpected challenges of a startup is the willingness to accept change. Young entrepreneurs spend serious amounts of energy creating strategies, and are usually so focused that unexpected changes can quickly throw them for a loop. But to be successful, learn to embrace these changes, even if that means restructuring your entire business model.
Online traveling agencies change as quickly as technology changes, whether it's a new online platform for booking or a better mobile experience. Keep up with all trends, and adapt to make things easier for the customer--even if you're rock solid on something you've been using for years and can work with your eyes closed.
Sharply Focus on Purpose
Clarity is key to success in just about anything, and an absolute must during the startup phase of any business. Keep a precise focus on the task at hand, which is hopefully prioritized from a well-thought-out business strategy. For example, if you're focused on building out your digital marketing, remained focused only on that. Raising funds? Only focus on that.
During the beginning stages of Wakanow, I successfully employed this tactic. When creating the Wakanow website, I was so focused that I was able to assist in polishing the user experience for smoother transitions throughout the site.
Prioritize Daily Tasks
Prioritize your daily tasks and schedule the toughest tasks for the mornings, when your brain is freshest. I wake up early every day (around 5 a.m.) and plan my day. I sit down without any distractions and prioritize tasks based on challenge levels. From there, I start knocking things off one by one. Though distractions are inevitable within the startup world, try to keep the schedule of daily tasks in line.
Exercise and Make Room for Downtime
As entrepreneurs, our schedules are packed with everything business. Make sure to also include some downtime and periods for exercise. Of course I shoot a few hoops every day, and make it a point to play some games every weekend. Maybe you can go for a jog or a long walk. It will help with your overall health. Besides increasing your body's health, exercise also improves your mental state. Make sure to get an equal amount of downtime and exercise every week. It'll not only help strengthen you both mentally and physically, it'll also help your business.
Persist No Matter What
This tip is easy: never give up. If you believe in your idea or product, push on regardless of obstacles. Some people may tell you your crazy or say you're wasting your time, but don't take this criticism to heart. Turn it around and use it as energy to persist and get your startup, well, started. And remember--the best time is now. So get moving with that idea.